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Pinoy in ‘land of tulips’: It’s a blessing

He belongs to the wave of Filipinos who sought opportunities outside as the local scene was lacking severely in new avenues due to the destruction caused by the 20-year rule of the Marcoses.

The economy was at its lowest and coup d’etats were regular fare.

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Many migrated to the United States, a few went to Europe—Jessie Manaog was one of them.

First he wanted Germany but he was not able to get a visa. Upon the invitation of an aunt, she went to the country of tulips.

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In 1993, Manaog went to The Netherlands, “land of tulips.”

For the past two decades, he has worked in different electronic companies like Quanta Computers, LG, Hitachi-LG Data Storage and now manages the European operation of Ubee Interactive, a leading network technology supplier.

“My hobbies are my alter egos. I like photography and music; once in a while I also (become the) DJ in parties. On Sundays I’m a choir member. I also play the guitar in Catholic Masses in the nearby towns of Purmerend, Zaandam and Amsterdam.”

Jessie supports church charity initiatives. “Right now through my community, which we call the Steylstreams-Zaandam, we have been supporting the Sibol project, a pre-education program of Gawad Kalinga. Our beneficiaries are children from poor families of Don Manuel village in Barangay Balingasa, Quezon City. Since it was established in 2002, Sibol Preparatory School has been giving free kindergarten lessons to poor children between the ages of 3 and 6 years.”

Filipino way

Manaog found his mate, Cathy, in tulip land—a Filipina who used to be with the Philippine embassy and is now with a United Nations organization. They have two girls.

“My kids were born here. They are typical Filipino children raised by our way of discipline. As parents in Europe, we try to teach them the Filipino way of life as much as we can by attending Sunday Mass, speaking Tagalog at home, and most especially by keeping them aware of the importance of embracing the Filipino values while allowing them to explore and integrate to the European mindset.”

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“We are blessed with very talented kids—Katrina, 14, is very musical. She plays the piano and guitar, and is into singing. She’s in the finals of the Voice Kids-NL (Netherlands) and just recently landed another finals berth for the Junior Song Festival, a singing-songwriting competition. If she wins, this contest will give her a chance to represent Holland in the Junior Eurovision contest, which will be held in Bulgaria later this year.

Mikaela, 13, plays the piano and violin, and is her sister’s confidant and jamming partner.

Manaog studied at Colegio de San Juan de Letran and took up business management.

“Going to college was nothing compared to my high school days. College was more about building up a future, gone were the playful barkada hangouts. It was the time where I needed to be more serious and responsible about my studies and future goals.

“My childhood classmates were with me from elementary to college. We have formed strong bonds. We consider ourselves brothers.

“We always find time to meet up for get-togethers, parties and (watch) NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) games.”

Manaog had very few options for countries to migrate to other than The Netherlands.

Getting a visa

“I had very little option. I was so focused on leaving the country then. The country was struggling to recover after the fall of Marcos, an era I won’t forget. Being a martial law baby, I grew up basically knowing only one President. Everyone is a politics freak, very few on economics. It was so difficult then to find the opportunity that could fit to my personal demand for growth. The economy was in shambles and job searching was a battle.

“I tried several times to get a European visa, I first intended to go to Germany but I was denied. I got another chance when I was invited to tour Holland by my aunt. It was my tipping point, I jumped at the chance and did not hesitate at all. I can still remember when my visa was released. I was so excited, at last I could go. My focus was on one thing—leave. My attitude was bahala na, whatever will be, will be.”

Manaog says he now speaks “broken Dutch.” I’m still learning it day by the day.

“Speaking this language successfully depends on how far you have integrated and interacted in the Dutch society on a daily basis. I had a language school stint but speaking the usual street lingo became my best teacher. Listening is key and then I started to imitate. The challenge is to save a reasonable amount of vocabulary in your pocket and to know how the Dutch alphabets are pronounced. Funny but I get congratulated sometimes by Dutch friends by doing my best or should I say trying very hard.

My children are my worst critics; I get surprised by their corrections whenever they hear funny words coming out of me. Believe me, it is not easy to learn this language. How I manage to learn is by speaking it impromptu, by choosing very common words and using the common expressions, and by keeping the conversation as simple as possible. On a very formal context like reading and writing, it is always advisable to ask for assistance from the natives.

The Dutch are very good and willing English speakers though, along the conversation they care more for better understanding. The notion that you both understood each other, that’s the most important thing to them,” Manaog says.

“Living here is such a blessing, the Dutch are wonderful and warmhearted people, they could be very blunt especially when expressing themselves, and it should not be misunderstood as arrogance. A ‘yes’ is a yes and a ‘no’ is a no. You’ll gain their respect when you say, ‘I do not like what you have done.’ In other words, just be honest and show them your true feelings.

They too have humble beginnings, and it is very evident of their being very thrifty and practical in all aspects of life. You can see their politicians or celebrities biking to work or doing the groceries themselves—bodyguard-free. The middle class is about 80 percent of the population. It is very uncommon here to see rich people employing personal drivers. Train and bus schedules are on time,” he says.

“Coming a few minutes late to work or to a scheduled appointment will not be appreciated. Miss your appointment with the dentist and you’ll surely end up receiving the bill for the professional fee you skipped. About our ‘Filipino time,’ you will agree that we are missing an essential wheel to drive our country forward,” he adds.

Pragmatic, liberal

“The Dutch practice tolerance by heart, that’s their way of life. They are pragmatic but very liberal. Something I like my kids to be very aware of. Their way of being democratic is what I like most. Governments more often are run on a coalition, on a power-sharing basis.

The government may collapse every now and then, but it is all business as usual. You may hate taxes here but you will see how it is being spent. Controversial issues like soft drugs, legal prostitution and euthanasia are being regulated here; though they may sound bizarre to a religious Filipino standpoint but the Dutch are observing these very intelligently. Controversial and intriguing as it may seem, I believe these have strengthened the fibers of the Dutch society,” he says.

Like most Filipinos living abroad, Manaog hopes to someday retire in the Philippines.

“I’m quite accustomed already to the way of life here. At the moment, there are so many reasons why I would prefer to stay; for now we’re inclined to settle here until our kids are ready to live on their own and then we’ll cross the bridge when we come to it. Returning to the Philippines though is never ruled out.

‘Bejaardentehuis’

“I never would want to be in their bejaardentehuis (home for the aged) though I know this is a decent place to spend my old age. I would rather be back home and be with the caring hands of my family instead of caregivers. I heard some stories that old people are less visited by their loved ones; even missing important dates such as birthdays, anniversaries. This is probably because their kin are very preoccupied with the fast-paced way of life,” Manaog says.

“I hope to retire in the Philippines. When I come back, I plan on doing a humanitarian project, one that could make a difference; perhaps venturing into agricultural land development, waste management, recycling and wind energy.

When I visited the Bicol region during our previous holiday, I came to see the dire land condition in my town. During heavy rains, ricefields are literally turned into unwanted lakes and farmers are deprived of the much needed incomes from their ancestral agricultural lands. Farmers cannot plan ahead; always risking their season’s harvest,” Manaog says.

“This watered land can be reclaimed easily through proper land and water management. I see how the Dutch are doing it here; considering 26 percent of The Netherlands is under sea level, their fight against water coming inland never stops.

They have mastered their artificial dams, polders and megawater projects very well. They are so effective and have been the envy of so many countries. Through the years, their fight against water became their identity. As the Dutch saying goes, ‘Het hoofd boven water houden’ (Keep your head above water),” he adds.

Right direction

“I believe the Philippines is now heading in the right direction.

However, I think our country is not yet ready to embrace the return of its overseas Filipino workers and retiring immigrants. Perhaps, until the promise of economic stability is felt at the grassroots, until our country is ready to receive the balikbayan back for good, I’m afraid we won’t be seeing a drastic return of our kababayan as yet. But we are getting there,” he says.

As The Netherlands is landlocked, Manaog and family have spent summers in Luxembourg, France, Spain, Austria, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Turkey, UK and Monaco.

“We have been to Scandinavian countries, too, like Norway, Sweden, Finland; and Asian countries, Thailand and China. We have visited Cuba and Jamaica, too, and often to the US where my wife’s family resides.”

Meet everybody

“Holland is a small country, Filipino communities are relatively small unlike communities in Paris, Barcelona or Milan, chances are you will come to meet everybody; from the visiting Filipino politician or celebrity to the current ambassador, Joma Sison. At one point in time, you will be meeting them in a Filipino gathering.”

There are many Filipino organizations around, but they also come and go. Here you’ll see groups of Kapampangan, Bicol, Bisaya, etc.; you’ll be amazed to see the Filipino gathering at Spaarnwoude Park, a local park, during the annual Independence Day celebration, our way of celebrating our yearly fiesta.”

The rise of different religious groups and foundations is also worth noticing; there are Catholic Masses and prayer meetings held in different Dutch cities,” he says.

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TAGS: Jessie Manaog, ofws, The Netherlands
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