EDMONTON, ALBERTA—It is estimated that about 11 million Filipinos or 11 percent of our population live abroad. That’s a lot. We can create our own country: population-wise we are twice the size of Singapore or half the size of Australia. Our remittances, which make up 13 percent of our Gross Domestic Product, is enough to sustain a country.
About 670,000 of these Filipinos live here in Canada—and the number is growing every year. About 110,000 are adopted Albertans. Some of us are immigrants, some are temporary foreign workers, back home we are called OFWs (overseas Filipino workers).
I can write many things about being an OFW: the ordeals we go through in a foreign country, how distance affects marriage and relationships, how we feel about our government, and the list goes on. But at the moment, I want to write something light. I’m a fan of “feel good” movies. So here goes.
The little perks of being an OFW:
1. Every time you get on a full packed bus, you always see Filipino passengers inside. If you are a lady or elderly, somebody will immediately offer a seat. “Dito na po kayo.” This line says everything about our culture. It’s so heart warming! Our parents and teachers should be proud that anywhere we go in the world, we carry the values they instilled in us from grade school.
2. Buy coffee at McDonald’s or Tim Hortons, you will always meet an OFW. These places are obviously run by Filipinos. Sometimes, you get an upsize for free. Sometimes, you hear Gary Valenciano or Eraserheads music being played in the background.
3. One time I bought a picture frame at the mall. It was scratched. I went to a till manned by an OFW. I asked if I could get more discount. She phoned the manager. Request granted. I got a discount for an already-discounted item.
4. You dial a 1-800-number to complain or to request for some changes made on your account, big chance you will talk to a Filipino. Some of them are call center agents working back home. It’s nice to talk in Tagalog when you least expect it. You are able to convey the message clear and your requests are all granted.
5. You fly home for a vacation at any time of the year, you will always meet two or three OFWs at the airport. When you are alone, seeing another Filipino gives you a feeling of relief. And immediately you bond together like you have been friends for years, when in truth you have only met at the airport.
6. One time I went home, I flew Philippine Airlines. Up in the air half-way to Manila from Vancouver while everyone was sleeping, an announcement was made: “If there is a nurse or doctor aboard, we need your help with a passenger who is sick. Please come to the front.” Immediately, I saw five Filipino passengers approach the front. I was reminded that our nurses are all over the world, some of them work as caregivers. It was a nice feeling to sit in that plane for the remainder of the flight to Manila, knowing that if I get sick, someone will take care of me.
7. You are never alone at Christmas time. Go to any Filipino house, there is food, party and karaoke. We can’t deny party is part of our culture. And OFWs brought that trademark abroad. Did I mention dancing too?
8. In Canada, Tagalog is the fastest-growing immigrant language. And you can feel it. Sit inside the bus and you hear a conversation in Tagalog. Go to the mall, the couple walking in front of you and behind you are talking in Tagalog. In fact, at Western Union outlets, there are already flyers in Tagalog. Someday, Tagalog will become the other language in the “bilingual skill” referred to.
9. If you are homesick, go to church on Sunday, you will meet hundreds of Filipinos. Needless to say, this is also part of our culture. We may belong to different religious denominations but generally we are a church-goer flock and mind you, people notice. I have been asked countless times by strangers if I was on my way to church on a Sunday.
10.The “bayanihan spirit” is very much alive abroad. Where I live, we take care of each other. We have a strong and tight-knit Filipino community. This was proven and tested during the tragic car accident in March 2012 where four OFWs died. We gathered, we prayed, we mourned and we gave financial support even if we didn’t know the victims.
I know I shouldn’t have called the above list “little perks.” They are actually blessings in disguise sent from somewhere over the rainbow. Some days, they could mean the world to you. Just when you think it’s time to give up, you realize life is worth moving on after all.
The author, an engineer by profession, writes a column for the Alberta Filipino Journal (http://www.filipinojournal.com/alberta/)