There’s life outside, too.

For almost two months now, my world has shrunk and has been incredibly reduced to a mouse, a power adapter, and my macbook Odie. If I’m not doing chores or being with fellow Pinoys here–which is very rare–I am just at my desk killing time with this white piece of electronics. And I am contented that way, promise.

Concerned for my lack of interaction with real people, my sister took me to ride the Dubai Metro the other night. She knew my Dubai experience wouldn’t be complete without having taken a train ride. And since I am but a few days away from exiting the UAE, she thought it wise to take me there on a weekend, Friday.

So off we go, giddy Jaja with Sissy and Abang. Countless safety signs greeted us at the entrance. There were no security guards to check our bags. Big boxes and baggages were allowed inside. Our tickets called Nol Cards are still the credit-card size but are embedded with antenna and radio frequency identification chips. This contactless ticketing scheme works by just placing the card near the reader. It is now widely used in most metropolitan areas all over the globe. This ready-to-use card can be reloaded using machines provided near the entrance. As of May this year, the Metro Rail Transit or MRT in the Philippines employed the use of the same smart card system but only partially. To date, the magnetic cards are still the most popular among Filipino commuters. But what makes Dubai’s Nol card better than ours is that it can be used in buses and other modes of transport here as well.

This payment scheme is not just about convenience. They say it’s also about being economical. For a minimum of 1.80 AED (0.49 USD), you can get from one station to another. For the VIPs, who have their own carriage, obviously, it costs them 5.80 AED (1.58 USD) per trip using the Nol card. And, for greater value for your money, you only need 14 AED (3.81 USD) for unlimited use of the metro, buses, and water buses for one whole day. That’s a sweet treat from the Dubai Road and Transport Authority for those using the card.

But enough about the smart cards. It’s all about the experience anyway. Besides that the terminal is air-conditioned, there are too many electronic bulletin boards that consume too much electricity. Add to that the fact that lifts and escalators are common features here. (Of course, back home they’re almost always “out of service.”)

This is the good life, I thought as I stepped inside the carriage. Definitely my first time to board a driverless train which, upon completion, will run along the world’s longest fully automated rails— a stretch of more than 50 km at present, with 3 more lines still underway.

Back home on our own trains, I would usually stand near the doors so I could easily get off at my destination. But here, since there were only few available seats, I chose to stand right in the middle of the train to get a feel of the carriage. And that turned out to be a good choice. Most of the guys stood near the door with their arms stretched upwards and their hands flat on the roof of the cabin. You wouldn’t wanna be standing there with them towering over you that way. Inside, it felt like I was trapped in a tin can filled with all sorts of odors. Name it, it’s there. And for the sake of propriety, I would not dare name the station where most of its “source” came from.

I planned to time our trip before boarding the train just to compare it with our MRT and LRT. But I got distracted. I forgot about all those things and just focused on, well, not fainting. Lucky for us on our trip back we got to sit during the whole trip. Unfortunately, the man beside me forgot to take a bath this morning. I got knocked out.

Sissy woke me up when we arrived at our station. Although a bit light-headed, I somehow managed to push myself up and walk past the door. Thanks to the escalator, we made it up. Once outside, I deeply inhaled the fresh, humid air; my lungs almost popped. It was such a relief to feel my feet again. My golly, that was one long train ride.

I’m sure it’s not like that all the time. Maybe it just wasn’t our lucky day. It’s a good thing though that we did that on a weekend. I can’t imagine having to go on a busy day when there are more passengers—some 117,000 commuters based on their daily ridership stats. I’m afraid that would be one heck of an interaction with living, moving and some perspiring human beings!

PROBE: Ang Ating Kwento

Last night, I dreamt of being inside a production house. The atmosphere was like that of Probe–homy, busy, panicky, ecstatic–all the adjectives you can think of. The dream replayed a fast-mo and uncut version of my three years with the team. I was depicted as an unseen observer of the things that were happening inside the office. To those who know me well enough, you know for sure that it is a miracle for me to be able to retell what I had dreamt about because I seriously rarely remember anything upon waking up.

But the moving pictures in my head were so vivid that I just had to post something about Probe here. So, I rummaged through my old drafts and decided to finally publish this one–a tribute to Probe’s 24 years in Philippine television. The show Probe: Ang Aming Kwento aired last July 18 on ABS-CBN.

BODY 1 or what we call Teaser shows how the Team evolved, the people it nurtured and gave employment to, and the stories of each and every Filipino that had significant impact in our lives. (Click on the image to view the segment.)

BODY 2: PROBERS PRESENT (clockwise): Tony Velasquez, Cheche Lazaro (CLL), Kathy Quiano, Owen Santos, David Celdran, Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, Maria Ressa, Judith Torres, and Manny Ayala (separate interview).

Owen: Hindi pwede ang pwede na sa Probe ano. When Luchi and Maria were the script supervisors during my time, talagang ang hirap-hirap noon magsulat ng isang script na talagang masa-satisfy sila. But that’s how it is eh, diba. You really want to make it the best that it can be so that it will serve the people who will watch it. //

CLL: Ano’ng working atmosphere natin sa Probe noon?

Kara: Kung bisita ka, pagpasok mo yung mga tao mukhang bagong gising or hindi pa natutulog. We were always ugly.

Kathy: Actually, there was a time in the very beginning, kami ni Angie Ramos, we actually lived in the office. Yung kapag may bisita, bababa sila, naka-tsinelas pa yata kami ganyan.

BODY 3: PROBERS PRESENT (L-R): Twink Macaraig, Ruben Canlas, Jr., Marga Ortigas, Carol Garcia-Ogawa, and Cheche Lazaro.

Marga: Angie was my Supervising Producer that time and she just basically said, “Nasa ospital ka ba?” “Hindi.” “Eh di kaya mo yan!” Kasi walang excuses. Kasi for them it was, “If I could do it, you can do it. And if you can’t do it, you don’t belong here.”

Twink: Oh, and another thing I think that’s significant is that no one in Probe is just like an on-cam talent. Everybody knows how to edit! Everybdoy knows how to write! Nobody does it for you, you do it for yourself! And that’s where you earn your stripes, right?

BODY 4: PROBERS PRESENT (L-R): Jay Orense, Cheche Lazaro, Nike Lorenzo, Bernadette Sembrano-Aguinaldo, Alexis Loinaz, and Eliza Zamora-Solis.

Nike: Ang paborito kong stories ay lahat ng mga nag-e-expose ng plight ng mga child laborers natin. Hindi ko makakalimutan yung sa Manila Bay kasi gandang-ganda sila, yung mga crew, nung pumasok si Bernadette Sembrano. Kinalimutan nila ako, diba? Pinabayaan nila akong mahulog sa Manila Bay! // I have this underwire thingie on my bra. Sumabit siya sa balsa na kawayan! Pero dala-dala ko yung tapes in one hand, diba? Sine-save natin yung equipment more than ourselves.

BODY 5: PROBERS PRESENT (L-R): Booma Cruz, Macky Fernando, Lucille Sodipe, Cheche Lazaro, Zanneth Tafalla-Lago, Kala Sukib-Reyes, Eliza Zamora-Solis, Hera Sanchez, and Celery Aganon-Villamarin. CREW PRESENT (clockwise): Jonathan Catubay, Tiong Ladra, Gil Ladra, Denor Alindogan, Bernie Castil, Juan Alindogan, and Rudy Aceron.

Gil: Ini-report ng mga nanay doon sa pulis,’no? Kasi meron na palang kidnapping doon sa eskwelahan na yun. Ito, lagpas tayo sa isang checkpoint, pangalawa sinadsad na tayo diba? Hinarang na. Pagbaba ng mga mama 45 sa akin nakaganun.

Bernie: Ako, tago akong ganun sa upuan oh.

Gil: Ito naman ang laki-laki oh! Nagtago sa likod ko! Hindi niya alam armalite nakatutok sa kaniya sa gilid oh. Tapos si Mandy 45 din. Tapos sumisigaw ako, “Camera! Camera!” Sabi nung ano oh nung nakatutok sakin, “Ay mga media pala ito sir!” Yun pala ang order shoot-to-kill kami kung may batang-

Bernie: -makita sa loob.

BODY 6: PROBERS PRESENT (clockwise): Daniel Abunales, Booma Cruz, Macky Fernando, Akiko Thomson-Guevara, Cheche Lazaro, Zanneth Tafalla-Lago, Kala Sukib-Reyes, JB Del Rosario, Celery Aganon-Villamarin, Hera Sanchez, Adrian Ayalin, Lucille Sodipe and Janice Ponce de Leon.

Lucille: First time ko yun na magkaroon ng ganung shoot. Alam ko na ngayon yung feeling siguro ng nanay na iyak na iyak. So I was a PA and yung mga sinasabi nga ni Hera na hindi ka dapat nag-e-exploit. Lumuluha na ng balde-balde ang nanay, ‘wag mo naman masyadong itutok yung camera mo sa kaniya. All the other crews were like, nakaganun. Kami, and yung cameraman, medyo lumayo pa. Pero parang lumayo pa na, yung ethics of journalism na talagang ino-observe talaga ng Probe. And napaka importante niya, more than, siguro, getting an exclusive. //

Lucille: There was this one time ang lakas ng ulan. Wala akong makuhang taxi tapos male-late na. I was new then, PA ako. Si Booma yung head ko noon. And then she said, “Ah wala ka pang taxi? Oh sige teka lang.” Nagpaalam siya sa admin. Mamaya ng onti, binuksan niya na ang crew cab, “Tara na!” So parang ako, bago pa ako nun. “Ah, bakit po kayo magda-drive?” So, parang ay wow, ang galing naman nung mga tao dito. Wala palang maliit or malaking trabaho sa kanila.

BODY 7: PROBERS PRESENT (clockwise): Booma Cruz, Fernan Mascariñas, Cheche Lazaro, Zanneth Tafalla-Lago, Elsie Cansino, Jen Aquino, Paterno Esmaquel, Hera Sanchez, and Janice Ponce de Leon.

CLL: Ikaw, ano ang high point mo?

Paterno: All Stars, nung pagkatapos na. Nung unang draft na sinend ko kay BC parang una niyang-

CLL: Pinutol-putol ba?

Paterno: Ang unang line ng sabi niya, “Pat, are you really up to the task of writing this story o napipilitan ka lang? I know you’re not a dancer and I know it’s difficult to write a story.” Parang gusto ko na talaga isumpa ang sarili ko, parang sabi ko, “Ano ba ‘to? Ganito ba mag-e-end yung ano ko sa Probe?” (Hera: Katapusan ng career mo.) Eh sumabay pa yun doon sa constant reminder ni Ma’am na our last four episodes should be the best. And that was the third to the last episode.

BODY 8: Ma’am Cheche talks about the people she’s worked with for the past 24 years and her memorable experience to be their mum in PPI. Also discussed in this last segment is Probe’s positive contribution to society.

CLL: Nung nag-uumpisa kami ng kumpaniya, hindi ko naisip yun na aalis, pupunta sa ibang lugar, maghahanap ng mas mataas na sweldo. Alam ko na kapag sinabi nilang pagod na sila temporary lang yun. Lahat napapagod, nagco-complain na walang social life, hindi daw sila makapaghanap ng boyfriend o girlfriend dahil sa puspusan yung trabaho sa Probe. Kikimkimin mo na lang dahil sa ganun naman talaga ang takbo ng buhay. kaya lang, sa isip mo at  sa puso mo, ay sana wag na, sana kasi ang galing-galing mo, ang galing-galing mo para sa Probe. Pero, pumapasok din sa isip mo na, kung magaling siya, i-share mo.

CLL: Sabi, “Bakit naman puro kabahuan ng Pilipinas ang nilalagay niyo? Bakit hindi kayo maglagay ng magandang storya?” Ang sagot ko naman doon, ang storyang ginagawa natin ay reflection ng nangyayari sa ating lipunan. Kasi ang reyalidad eh meron din naman tayong mga problema na hindi pa nare-resolba na kailangan dalhin sa atensyon ng namumuno, ng kapwa Pilipino para alam nila na ito ay dapat baguhin, na dapat palitan, na dapat galingan.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

It is this power to positively influence society and to hopefully help people make informed choices that fuels me to strive more and work harder in the field of journalism. To Ma’am Cheche, Booma Cruz and the rest of the Probers, maraming salamat po sa masaya at madugong tatlong taon! =)

P.S. If you’re still wondering about the details of my dream last night, you’re not alone. By the time I finished cutting, pasting, transcribing my favorite sound bytes, and hyperlinking the photos in this post, all the bits and pieces of the dream had already gotten lost somewhere in my head. Haha! Me and my memory, just another crazy combination!

No deep English please…

On most days, I am left alone in the flat. All my housemates are out to earn a living. So, the other day when we ran out of drinking water, I called sissy to ask for directions on where to order water. She instructed me to call Mr. Niyas, our building guy who’s in charge of everything from faulty electrical wiring to water delivery.

While taking note of Mr. Niyas’ contact info, sissy gave me specific instructions. “Ja, just talk to him in broken English. Just say specifically what you need. Don’t use deep English, okay?” “Okay,” I replied.

Sissy has been in the UAE for more than two years now. She’s a civil engineer who works as a QA/QC at a construction firm that builds posh villas somewhere in Dubai. She works with a number of laborers, most of whom are Pakistanis and Indians. She used to speak perfect English before coming to the UAE. Well, she still does, occasionally.

Don’t get me wrong. My sister has a good command of the English language. But she says that at work, you only need a few words. If you bombard your laborers with too many words, chances are, they won’t respond. Hence, you won’t get the job done. And since her arrival, she has gotten all praises and commendations for her accomplishments in her career. She even got promoted earlier than scheduled.

But sissy has become so used to talking to the laborers that she uses this tone and limited vocabulary even when she’s conversing with us or with other people. When she’s driving and a car suddenly cuts her on the road, you’ll hear her exclaim, “Why like this, uncle? Too much fast!” When she’s buying groceries or ordering food and doesn’t get her order right, she’ll call the waiter and ask, “Why like this, my friend? Too much small!” You’ll hear her say almost the same words you can actually replace some of them with just any other adjective, and bingo! You can use her lines again somewhere else.

With this in my mind, I dialed Mr. Niyas’ number. He answered after the third ring. “Hi, Mr. Niyas? Order. Four. Bottles. Water. 1302. Yeah?” I said in an awkward fashion, deliberately pausing after each word. “Oh, you’ve run out of drinking water at Unit 1302? We will deliver four bottles of water in 10 minutes,” replied Mr. Niyas on the other end of the line. As I pressed the end call button, the image of this tall Indian guy who goes around our building checking for leaks, mopping the floor and fixing the elevator flashed through my mind. And there in the middle of our empty, white-walled living room, I smiled.

P. S.

Prior to going to the UAE, I prepared myself for a “new” life by reading online news and other personal accounts about life in the gulf. I stumbled upon a blog that’s called Life in Dubai. This entry made me burst into laughter more than I could count.

Conversations we’ve had

I was rummaging through a folder of old stuff and came across a classic from way back, originally published in Far East Economic Review. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel in the Far East you’ll probably have had exactly this conversation – we have them on a daily basis in Dubai too. Read it out loud to get the best out of it.

Room Service: “Morny. Ruin sorbees”
Guest: “Sorry, I thought I dialled room-service”
RS: “Rye..Ruin sorbees..morny! Djewish to odor sunteen??”
Guest: “Uh..yes..I’d like some bacon and eggs”
RS: “Ow July den?”
G: “What??”
RS: “Ow July den?…pry,boy, pooch?”
G: “Oh, the eggs! How do I like them? Sorry, scrambled please.”
RS: “Ow July dee bayhcem…crease?”
G: “Crisp will be fine”
RS: “Hokay. An San tos?”
G: “What?”
RS: “San tos. July San tos?”
G: “I don’t think so”
RS: “No? Judo one toes??”
G: “I feel really bad about this, but I don’t know what ‘judo one toes’ means.”
RS: “Toes! toes!…why djew Don Juan toes? Ow bow singlish mopping we bother?”
G: “English muffin!! I’ve got it! You were saying ‘Toast.’ Fine. Yes, an English muffin will be fine.”
RS: “We bother?”
G: “No..just put the bother on the side.”
RS: “Wad?”
G: “I mean butter…just put it on the side.”
RS: “Copy?”
G: “Sorry?”
RS: “Copy…tea…mill?”
G: “Yes. Coffee please, and that’s all.”
RS: “One Minnie. Ass ruin torino fee, strangle ache, crease baychem, tossy singlish mopping we bother honey sigh, and copy….rye??”
G: “Whatever you say”
RS: “Tendjewberrymud”
G: “You’re welcome”

still can’t get myself to write..

It’s been a month since I arrived here in the UAE. There have been developments in my application. But they’re as slow as the pace of a turtle and a snail combined.  I am slooooooowly running out of my most precious stock of patience.

I try to write to at least rid myself of frustration. But I can’t seem to finish anything I’ve started. I click on ‘new post.’ Start with a sentence, then a second one. On my  third line, something always comes up that I easily get distracted. I go check it, go back to the entry and click on ‘save draft.’ The draft remains as draft and joins the stockpiles of drafts waiting for a second look, which, unfortunately, never happens. And that has become a habit.

Every week, I wait for something “good” to write about. I have been promised to get good news numerous times that I am beginning to think that people here love giving out promises they don’t intend to keep. Fate is definitely toying with me. Until now, this supposed dream job, which is practically within reach, is still floating somewhere in my empty universe.

I know that if I keep waiting for something worthwhile to write about, I just might not write again. And that is just foolish, right? Maybe I can focus on the month-long visa extension. Or, probably get excited about the fact that Ramadan will be over soon. Ergo, we are nearing hiring season. But even with all that, I still can’t get myself to write. The days are moving fast, and I can barely keep up.

iPad, what for?

For lack of something productive to do the other day, my friend and I got into talking about computers and Macs. His laptop died and he’s now thinking of buying a Mac as a replacement. So, I gave him the pros and cons since I’ve been a Mac user for a good three years now. And I agree with those who say, “Once you go Mac, you’ll never go back.”

“I plan to upgrade to a Macbook Pro next year. You should buy one, too,” I said with the hope of not sounding too pushy. “Okay, I’ll see how much a Mac costs here when I go out later. But why don’t I buy an iPad instead?” He asked thirty minutes into our conversation. “An iPad? What for?” I replied with sarcasm. “No reason,” he said, “I just thought I could buy an iPad.”

It seemed as though he was just planning to buy vinegar at a sari-sari store next door. It was that easy, that casual. And like it or not, where I am now, iPads literally can be bought just like vinegar. They’re everywhere, screaming at you to buy them and to take them home. And if you don’t shut your ears, they’ll crowd your house fast.

Where I am, you can easily be lured by all things that glitter, that move, that promote socioeconomic status. You can buy a car faster than getting a driver’s license. You can get loans by the hundreds of thousands quick and easy. Spending, they say, is good for the economy anyway.

Where I am, money talks so loud it’s like music to the shopaholics’ ears. But of course common sense will tell you that you don’t have to be a shopping addict to make a mess out of your finances. Impulse buying could be another culprit. But you won’t feel the cash out literally because you can always swipe your card. And where I am, having many cards is the norm. They are the shoppers’ lifeline. And you’ll see some who use it as if there’s no tomorrow.

But because of the crisis that hit major economies, including Dubai, many were laid off and lost their source of income. Their debts increase by the day and there’s no stopping the banks from coming after them. Government has stepped in by enforcing stronger measures to ensure debt payment. Expats are threatened of losing their residence visas if they fail to settle their obligations, which is quite very often. Credit card woes could spell the difference between jail and deportation. In the latest survey conducted by the International Swiss Debt Management (ISDM) Consultancy, 85% of expats in the Emirates are in deep debt. Leading the pack are Indians and Filipinos, many of whom have either fled the country or have landed in jail.

But of course wherever we are, jail is not an option. Now, once you flee UAE because of debt, that is the end. There is absolutely no chance of going back. Ever.

P.S.

Oh, did I mention my friend and I are both unemployed at the moment? Yeah, My Mac Pro can wait. I don’t know if his iPad could.

To be treated like a princess

My sister and I went to a salon doubling as a spa the other day. She suggested that I take the Moroccan bath, where I’d be naked in front of a stranger who would spend an hour and a half scrubbing off my extra dead, dead skin cells. Naked and stranger, not a pleasant mix.

So, I wore my mini board shorts and went on to the tiled platform to wait for my masseuse “Ate Em.” Barely half my size, she greeted me with a big and heartfelt smile. I requested for her because she’s Filipino and she’s been servicing my sister for a couple of years now. That, I thought, would somehow lessen the awkward moments inside the cubicle.

I laid flat on my belly while the steam filled the room. I could hear her from inside as she talked on the phone right outside the bathroom door. “I love you,” she said, almost giggling, to the person on the other line. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but her voice echoed in the concrete walls of the cubicle. Speaking in perfect English, Ate Em’s sweet tone almost kept me from zoning out. She exchanged good-byes and more I-love-yous. Then went inside the room to apply Moroccan oil to my already drenched body.

“This is how princesses, sheikhs bathe,” Ate Em said while massaging oil into the back of my things. “They just sit or lie down while their staff do everything, even washing their private parts.” I cringed when she said the last part. “You are the princess now, so just relax.” Then, as if by instinct, I closed my eyes and fell lightly asleep.

“Since you’re Filipino, you can do this once a month. For non-Filipinos, I recommend they do this twice a month,” Ate Em’s voice faintly sounded in my ear as her scrubbing of the back of my thighs suddenly roused me.

I didn’t know race or nationality had something to do with getting a Moroccan bath. Ate Em added that since Filipinos take a bath once, or in my case twice, a day, our skin cells are healthy. But for those who find it hard to make it a habit to bathe, then some intervention like this hard scrubbing will do. But let’s not get into that.

Our “talk” went on and on while she squeezed and rubbed my skin with loofah. I couldn’t agree nor disagree with her; there was practically no dead air. Her voice resonated around the room without pause. And for what was supposed to be a de-stressing moment, I felt as if I was listening to a radio soap opera during afternoon siesta time slots.

She applied mud mask all over my body and asked me to stand still and wait a few minutes. She went out and spoke in Filipino. I thought at first that she was talking to me until I heard, “Oo, sa sweldo ko na lang ipapadala. Bayaran mo muna ng pera mo yung pang field trip mo tapos padalhan lang kita.” (I will send you extra money for your field trip on my payday. Pay for it using your allowance for the meantime.) That’s when it occurred to me that she was talking to her daughter. After a while, she spoke to someone who seemed to be her husband. The line was cut and she exclaimed in frustration how her phone credits had run out in just a few minutes of call time overseas.

As she went inside the cubicle to give me a shower, Ate Em shared more stories about her life in Dubai. Her words drowned in the sound of water splashing on my face and shoulders. It was then that I remembered my sister’s description of her the night before we went to the salon. She said that the forty-year old woman was practically a Curacha because even during her off days, she would still do home services. One time, she went home at three in the morning after massaging six of my sisters’ housemates in one night. It was tuition season and she had no choice but to work extra.

Not long after, the bath was done and I was in front of someone who was no longer a stranger to me. I realized that she represents the prototype of a Filipina who flies abroad to find work and means to support her family back home. And that, by going almost-naked every month, I get to help someone send her child to school.

Cool.

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