10 August 2019

Karaoke - Love it or hate it

What Filipino home would be without a karaoke machine? What gathering or party would exist in the  Philippines without karaoke/videoke making an appearance at some stage?

videoke and karaoke in the Philippines

I can remember many years ago when I first heard of karaoke, and sorry to say I thought it was a really dumb idea. No issue with singing or with music. Music has always played a major part of my life. Always a rock 'n' roll boy. Used to go and see bands in Sydney when I was a teenager all the time. I think it was the idea of singing to a TV screen that I had trouble getting my head around. Seemed like a very strange thing to do.

Oddly enough though, I used to sing as a kid. Not in front of anybody. Far too humiliating, and I suppose it was just part of growing up in 1970's suburban Australia was that many decisions you made were to avoid ridicule. Certainly a more critical and meaner lot than Filipinos tend to be.

So question is: Does Jeff ever pick up the microphone and sing?

Yes, I most definitely do. When and how? I had sworn never to ever sing to a TV screen over many years, and I had stuck to it. Then in 2010 at a party at a friend's place in Philippines I finally decided to have a go, much to the amazement of my wife and especially my kids. Jaws were dropping like flies! I even had a go at Martin Nievera's "Be My Lady", and seemed to manage the high notes.

Know what's odd? Never been able to hit those high notes since. The song requires someone who has a broad range, and I have my limitations. I suspect it was the quantity of red wine consumed that encouraged me at the beginning was sufficient to hide the fact I probably wasn't hitting those high notes as well as I thought I was. I guess we'll never know!

Karaoke in the Philippines

Is karaoke common in the Philippines? That would be an understatement! Almost everyone has a go, and a notable thing is you never hear criticism even when someone is clearly tone-deaf. Even those who invent notes that don't exist and cause the paint peel off the walls, they still get a clap and assorted words of encouragement. Me? I wince if I hear a single bad note in a song on shows like American Idol. Filipinos? Seem to never notice.

Therefore to get a household where everyone there has some singing talent, this is fairly rare. A few average singers and a whole lot of people who sing like they're "singing through a large sock full of custard with a mouthful of buwad (dried fish)" (credited to Perry Gamsby from Philippine Dreams) is more the norm. And the more alcohol consumed at a gathering, the worse it gets as the voices deteriorate and bravery increases. Add some heavy Filipino accents to English songs, and you can get a very unpleasant sound bellowing across the neighbourhood!

In fact when my daughter Remy first came to Australia, we played her the amazing Wing (singing Mama Mia, I'm fairly sure). How did Remy react? She started singing along! Didn't get the point at all! (Click on the link if you don't know what I'm referring to). This is because she grew up surrounded by singers who would make Wing seem like Celine Dion in comparison!

But basically, nearly everyone sings in the Philippines. Alcohol helps, but it's not a vital component. Birthday parties...house blessings.....even funerals. Yes, people will sing at the wake in the days before the funeral, and back at the house afterwards. Open coffin on display in one room, and a rental videoke machine set up outside for the mourners to enjoy.

And families with machines at home (like the Harvie family) will usually have a machine hooked up to the TV set and an amplifier. Requests of "Can we sing tonight, dad?" are pretty common. Remy and myself are the most enthusiastic, and Maggie (5 years old) is catching up. Remy and I sing "Way Back Into Love" and "What's up?" as duets, and Maggie likes "Eternal Flame" and "500 Miles" with me. And I'm so glad that all the kids have forgotten "Let It Go" from that awful "Frozen" cartoon movie.

Can be a great deal of fun, and it brings people together. Much better that a house full of people all glued to phones and devices.

28 July 2019

Forgiveness - That great Filipino tradition

Filipinos and Forgiveness

I touched on this before when I wrote about family tambays.

We had one of our nieces go off the rails many years ago. She was 14. Fell into a bad crowd. Was disappearing for days on end and they couldn't find her. She was openly defiant of her father. I was always fond of her since I met her at the age of 7 and she was very sweet. Got her Tita Mila (my wife and her auntie) to write to her. I asked her to add the line "....and your family will all turn their backs on you" as a threat. Veiled threats are good parenting, I've always found.

Then Mila said no, because she would never believe it. No one ever tosses a family member out. They'll give them hell. The more physical will give kids a good walloping with a belt, rattan or some part of the banana plant. But to turn their backs on them? Not that I've ever seen.

Australia and Philippines - and Forgiveness

Yes, I grew up in Australia. My parents generation? They were born in the 1930's. Grandma was born in 1911. Yes, they had their black-sheep. My great-Uncle made the terrible error of marrying a Catholic, and appeared to have been on the outer for many decades. His mother said the Irish are hoarding guns and would take over once the Pope gave the order, etc. And my fathers relatives? Never met a single one of them. Not sure what terrible crime they all committed. Apparently my grandmother on his side lived a few km away and no doubt I grew up walking past her. Had cousins 4 - 5 km away, and only ran into cousin Kerrie on Facebook recently!

Yet my generation became even less forgiving. Lost contact with father since I was a teenager. Organised his funeral for him a few years ago because no one else would. Spent more years avoiding my brother than not avoiding him. Grandparents, lost touch. Uncle, cousins, etc lost touch decades ago and am still not in touch.

Filipinos? Very unusual to have estranged family members. Family is the one constant, and the most stable aspect of Filipino society. Can't rely on the Government, but can always rely on each other.

We all have an historically-based sense of superiority in us, regardless of how much we try to deny it. I'm talking about descendants of the British Empire, and no doubt other former colonisers. We have this Great White Father syndrome that thinks we are the civilisers from the advanced societies, and the lesser-nations need to learn from us. I'd like to think this has lessened in myself over the years. And I suppose the proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say. All theories aside, look at the end results.

Families: Wise westerners are estranged from half their family members. Filipinos love and support and are supported by most of their own.

Marriages: Wise westerners with groovy stuff like no-fault divorce have a 40%+ divorce rate. Filipinos stick together and forgive each other their imperfections.

So who are the wise ones??

Middle Ground?

Yes, Filipinos can fight and squabble, and there are plenty of hurt feelings. There are also the bullies and the bullied. Confrontation is rare, and I DO believe that there are times when someone should be given a few home-truths. The tambay is a prime example. So is the womaniser. I've always been a person who clears the air, who says what needs to be said. And usually the kindest thing you can do for someone troubled is to confront them and say the harsh words that need to be said.

The issue though is forgiveness! A wonderful quality, and one that doesn't come naturally from earthly sources. Yet once it becomes part of your nature, it becomes fairly permanent. This is my personal BLOG and not a business thing, so hope anyone reading will allow me to speak my mind. You can believe as you wish, but then so can I. When you see yourself as an imperfect person....a sinner, as it were....it's much easier to forgive others. And unless you're a total narcissist, you KNOW you're far from perfect! I have an imperfect wife, and I remain endlessly grateful that I do! She has a highly imperfect husband, so why would someone like me deserve a perfect wife? I consider myself very lucky for all that I have! If she gets something wrong, then forgiveness comes quite naturally.

And my kids? Can be selfish monsters. Could cheerfully throttle them at times. I have one particular daughter who went right off the rails at age 15, and it took several years for her to sort herself out. Never lost hope, and she's now the kindest and most forgiving person you could ever meet and I'm very proud of her. Could have given up, and glad I never did. And I'm lucky to have a family who doesn't give up on me either.

So yes, my own middle-ground is to face things and fix things, but to ask for my trespasses to be forgiven as I forgive those who trespass against me! Pretty good deal that one! I deserve as much forgiveness as I'm prepared to give to others. No more, no less.

21 July 2019

Tambay - The not-so-productive Filipino male

The Philippines Tambay - The Less-Desirable Male

The Philippines Tambay. Every family has a few of them. These are the non-productive family members who have no jobs and no ambition, usually young Filipino males 18-35. The only time they show enthusiasm is when there's food, beer/gin/brandy and some company to "celebrate" with. Everybody's friend when there's free food and grog, and the very last person you want your daughter to get involved with. Oh, and usually quite skilled at bringing babies into the world that they will never support.

Again, every family has a few of them. And it really is something unimpressive to me.

Lazy People - Always a Cost

Living costs money! We consume! We eat food. We drink. We need clothes. We need medical care.
It all costs. And if you produce nothing yourself, other than defecation and carbon dioxide, then someone else's labours are going to go toward your support. I don't know.....something in the way I was brought up. I can't feel for a second that this is OK.

I have enough trouble with royalty and heirs to parents wealth in the west. Always have. Yet at least in those cases you know there is plenty to go around. If some prince or princess on the UK public purse had to get a job and pay their own way, it wouldn't made a dent in the vast wealth that exists. However we're generally talking about people who live off poor people! For someone to keep the family tambay fed and clothed, it means they work harder. Or if they can't work harder, it means they may do without something. Maybe that's food or education for their kids or medicine for themselves. I can't feel that this is OK!

We "cured" one once. Has a job now (working for us), and has some purpose. Years ago when I first met him? Spent a lot of time sleeping, and a lot of time with his silly mates (barkada, ie similarly lazy friends). Lived off elderly parents and an older sister who spent her entire adult life working overseas to send money back to pay for the likes of him. This paid for him to sleep and to be the life-of-the-party wherever he went. A 30 year old man shouldn't live like this!

What surprises me is no one says anything about it all! The tambay isn't embarrassed. They will even be quite proud of the fact they're living off a hard-working OFW sibling and contributing nothing. Their elderly parents can work right in front of them, and you will be lucky if they manage to wash a few dishes on occasions. But family always come first, and it takes more than laziness to see someone kicked out. And the tambay knows this too.

Philippines - A land of contrasts

I've always said that everything here is black or white. Not much in between. I'm talking about the nature of people you meet. Someone is either a candidate for sainthood or one of the devil's barkadas. Honest and kind, or a lying user-and-abuser. Faithful and moral, or a complete [I'll leave the word out!]. Ambitious, or can't see past the next five minutes. Working like a slave for the betterment of their families, or a lazy tambay.

Yeah, I definitely don't like it. I'm not known for keeping my mouth shut when something seems terribly wrong. My thinking is that evil pervades when good men do nothing, and someone doing nothing whilst someone else sacrifices for them? This may not fit a definition of "evil", but it's in the same camp. But I know nothing will change. All I'm certain of is that these people will not get my support. My adult kids work for a living, just as I do. And I married a worker! To each their own, I suppose. All I can say is that there are no welcome stumps nor is their any endless food and Red Horse supply at my door for any tambay and never will be!

14 July 2019

Filipina Girls - Romantics Always

Filipina Girls

I often make posts on Quora. Usually about visas, but also about things that capture my interest. Sometimes a post really annoys me, and one the other day did just that.

It's a modern-day cute lovers-thing to celebrate a "monthsary" when a couple have been together for a month. Someone had asked the question about whether the popularity of the monthsary was because of the short-lived nature of Filipino relationships.

I disagreed with this, and explained myself I thought fairly well.

OK, I can't especially speak for the motivation of young Filipino men. I would say driven by the desire for sex and being cool, like most young men are and were. Surprise surprise! But the driving force behind relationships here is usually the woman....the Filipina. And they are made of sterner stuff than the implication that relationships in the Philippines are short-lived.

The girls? They are ROMANTIC! Most girls give their hearts truly only once in their lives. Their first love is usually their first AND last love. First boyfriend in highschool usually becomes husband and the two grow old together. I look around most couples I know here, and I see ladies who are loyal and committed.

Does that mean they take crap? Does that match the awful cliche of the subservient "Asian woman" who believes herself inferior to men and was "trained from birth that her purpose in life is to serve men"? If these ladies exist, I've never met one here! The ladies I meet here are tough! Highly capable and courageous. They do whatever it takes to protect and advance their families. They work like Trojans, and truly are the Proverbs 31:10-31 woman you read about. Works hard for her family, and is honoured and respected by those around her.

This is a country where a 50 year wedding anniversary doesn't make the newspapers. It just means they're both in their 70's. They married. They stuck together through thick and thin, for better for worse, and doing that for 50 years is not an achievement of a weak woman who gives up easily on a relationship. Not at all.

I married a good woman. A virtuous woman who's price is far above rubies. She never stops moving, always making things happen. And fiercely loyal to me! Watch out for anyone who would hurt me, con me or disrespect me while I have my Filipina terrier on guard! Couldn't wish for a better wife, nor a better friend. How many of you can truly say you married your best friend? I know I did. And she comes from a long line of strong and capable women with busy hands and minds always thinking of the future and how to make it better for those that they love. And no doubt our daughters will go on to be the same, with such a great role model.

01 July 2019

If I were a rich man...

White man in Philippines....MUST be rich

rich man in the philippines perception that all foreigners are rich

Regardless of how "rich" you are or not, you will always be seen as rich in Philippines. You're Australian, ie a "foreigner"? That makes you rich. And compared to the locals you are, and no one seems to be able to get past that. People see you, and they see dollars.

And yes, some wish to part you and your hard-earned money. Scammers are everywhere, even within families. But it's not always like that, nor is it necessarily meant offensively. Although I have to say I really don't like any reference to being "rich" and I'll explain why.

"Rich" - Philippines versus Australia

Different attitudes toward being "rich" between Philippines and Australia, you find. Philippines? I think the "rich" like being known as rich, and are happy that people treat them differently. Australians? Not so much.

Australians are egalitarian by nature. We believe in a level playing field, where everyone gets their equal share of rights and their equal share of respect. We have a natural disdain for "classes", and don't like it when we see anybody treated as lower than others or even as higher than others.

Philippines? Most of the time the rich are very showy about it all. They wear branded clothes....showy rings and necklaces etc. You will see them in S&R (imported groceries store in Philippines) with household helpers wearing uniforms pushing their shopping trollies for them. For many there is no "I'm just like everyone else" attitude.

Australia? Australians understand this, but Filipinos would not know unless they'd been to Australia and seen how things work for us.

We Aussies like to see everyone at the same level. We don't believe that wealth and human-worth have any correlation at all. If someone is less-affluent (we would NEVER use the word "poor"), we will lift them up. If someone is "rich" and acts in a proud (mayabang, for the Filipinos) manner, we will humble them. And we can be quite blunt about it and will refuse to bow down to anybody just because they have a bigger house or a better job than us. We have respect for humble people and contempt for arrogant people.

I think a lot of this comes from Australia being a former colony of England. England has long been a class-riddled society, with the "common" people expected to "know their place" and not to "get ideas above their station", ie the station in life. If you were born the son of a tradesman then you became a tradesman too and you humbled yourself before the rich-and-privileged. Australians reacted to this, and thus you have a society which appreciates the man who has money and power yet acts just like everyone else. Our politicians ensure that they attend football games and are seen drinking beer in the pub with ordinary people.

A humble rich white man in the Philippines

I'm an Australian in the Philippines. I've had to adjust to staff calling me "sir". I don't like it, but it's the way things work here. If you are TOO humble, staff can get the wrong idea and assume you have romantic ideas about them if they are female or think that you are a bit stupid if they are male. So you accept this, and you make yourself a bit aloof. It prevents future problems in most cases, although we still get it wrong regularly. Too soft, and people take advantage. They are used to rich people being hard and strict, so you need to at least hold back a bit.

I’ll explain what I find hard to take. I don’t like being identified as “rich”. I don’t like being seen first and foremost as being “rich”, and when people can’t look past that aspect of you. I wish more people could just see me as Jeff the person! Jeff the husband of Mila. Jeff the dad. Jeff the kind person. Jeff the soft-hearted. 

I had someone say hello to me the other week. They told me they wish they were like me, ie “rich”. She made it clear she wanted donations for the school where she worked, too. She will never know me....who I am....whether I’m even nice. Yeah, I’m sick of it. Love the Philippines, but miss the anonymity I had in Australia which allowed me to be seen as me.

24 June 2019

Accepting Charity - Australia versus Philippines

Accepting Money (Charity) - My experiences in Australia

One of the big differences between Australia and Philippines, and one that's not easy for Australians to adjust to. I understand real need, and we're kind to those who are truly in need. I know what it feels like to do-without, because I didn't come from the wealthy part of town. Fibro.....not brick!

Still, I never heard my parents ever discussing money. No crying about how we don't have money. Never saw them beg or take handouts. As a family, we lived within our means. Furniture and appliances weren't replaced often. Cars were updated (with a new second-hand car) every five years. Took holidays by train and stayed in rented "weekender" cottages by the beach somewhere a few hundred km away.

And I grew up with the same live-within-your-means mentality. Learned to save my $5.00 a week (which I earned sweeping the floor in the barbershop) and that was how I bought things I wanted. Bought what you could afford, then took good care of those things.

Accepting charity and handouts in the Philippines versus Australia
"Ako mahirap"

Mum left the ol' man when I was 13. Relatives helped out, because she had nothing. Only took things from my room, because Mum didn't want to be seen as a gold-digger. It was a different age! Decent friends and relatives would protect her dignity by saying "Oh, we just bought a new lounge. If you could take this one off our hands, we would be grateful." etc. It saved her from being embarrassed, which she appreciated. She's gone now, but I can remember well how independent she remained all her life and would not allow Mila to "accidentally" leave groceries behind at her place. Didn't like it one little bit!

Asking others for handouts? Favours? Accepting charity? Never! Nothing was worth the cost of lost dignity!

One of the problems in accepting charity is that it invariably comes "loaded". In the Philippines, they call it utang or utang na loob. An internalised feeling of debt, one which decent people feel compelled to repay. Decent people with some respect, they give unconditionally. Others, they will remind you of what they've done for you. The coarse way of describing this is that you become "their bitch"!

I don't know about you, but Jeff Harvie is nobody's bitch! When I had nothing.....early stages of marriage.....would go-without rather than accepting handouts for that reason. I could only remain fiercely independent if I was my own man. And I still function that way to this day. I'm proud to say that everything I have came from my own initiatives and hard work.

Filipinos and Charity

A bit different!

I can remember a relative telling me proudly how his son worked on a ship...."a LUXURY ship".... and supported them via his earnings. Whereas I could never imagine living off my kids. Couldn't live with the shame!

And had two of our kids visiting the provinces years ago. A 9 year old and an 12 year old. They both emptied their pockets and handed money to their parents. One had P33.00 and gave it to her papa. "Did he accept it??" I asked. "Yes". I was shocked!

I know that not everyone is like that. My wife says she was never sent off to "suck up" to the rich relative or neighbour in order to get handouts. And as she grew up she never asked for charity, because she didn't want to have utang to anybody. And most of her relatives are basically OK. They don't ask for anything, yet most won't say no if it's offered.

And some are really terrible! I had to deal with three of them recently who were pressuring my daughter into giving them handouts. Too scared to try it on with Mila or myself, yet would happily try it with a 22 year old that they saw as a soft touch. I won't expand too much, but I can't get my head around this sort of thing. Oh, OK. I can expand a little bit.....

  • Asking for cash
  • Asking "Can you buy this for me?"
  • Asking "Can I have this?" when they see something they want, eg clothing item, phone, etc
  • Inviting themselves to go shopping, on an outing etc, and naturally expecting that the "rich" relative will pick up the tab and pay for everything
  • Sending their kids to visit with hardly any clothes, expecting us to take them shopping to make up for what they left out
  • And sometimes just openly stealing!

I'm OK with being kind. Someone gets very ill, or someone dies? Never slow to come forward with help. And with kids, always happy to help especially if they need a better place to live. It's those who have the audacity to ask. It's those who assume they have a right to share simply because they're relatives, and it's especially those who are sweet and charming purely to keep in your good-books, or worse when they push their kids to be close to us so they can get advantage later.

And I get a bit cheeky sometimes. Saw a message on my wife's phone from a relative. No idea if it was meant as a request for a handout, but was something about "God bless those who give to others...". I responded with "God blesses those who work hard and support themselves, and don't take charity." And I believe that absolutely!

17 June 2019

Fathers Day in Philippines

Fathers Day

Just celebrated Fathers Day here in Philippines, as I have for the 10th time in a row.

I believe in Australia this year it will be celebrated in September, yet 16 June here. No idea how it works. It took me a few years to get used to this. Now? I have no kids in Australia, so seems little point in insisting on an Aussie date. The difference makes more sense that the Queen's Birthday though. I believe Prince Chuckles during his youthful sabbatical in Australia asked what the holiday was, and was amused to hear that it was what Australians called "the Queen's Birthday". I think it may even differ between states!

Off thing in the Philippines is that you get "Happy Fathers Day" greetings from everyone! Yet in Australia it's only your kids who will greet you, and I don't know how to respond when elderly aunties say that to me. It's the same as when someone says "Let's eat!"

But back to more important things......fathers, and why we matter.

Fathers Day in Philippines, and what it means to be a father

Being a father - What does it mean?

I first became a father in 1988. Yes, I'm old. But I also became a father at 22 years old, which makes me probably a little younger than the mental equation you made.

I had two sons biologically via first marriage. My eldest son Greg (RIP) was tragically taken from us in 2011. Car crash. I already hated Holden Commodores and Australian car-culture before then, and this tragedy only cemented that feeling more. But youngest son Jeremy (c.1992) is alive and well, and has a fine beard like his dad and also impeccable taste in women just like me, ie he also married a Filipina lady.
  • So, two biological sons;
  • One buy-one-take-one daughter (wife Mila was a single mum);
  • Seven nieces who live here fulltime and call me Daddy;
  • One granddaughter who lives here;
  • Four more who call me Dad who are harder to categorise;

So what does being a father mean to Jeff Harvie?  To me....coupled with being a husband....I would say the most fulfilling thing a man can do and can aspire to be. And it's a sacrificial, unconditional love that makes the father in you. You love those who love you in return and you love those who do NOT necessarily love you in return. You love them regardless, and you do so because you believe that they are deserving of love as every human being is deserving of love.

And as a father, your role is to give support, protection, guidance and correction to those who need this from you. Biological kids? Of course! Those whom you did not physically/biological father? Do they NEED you? Do they NEED fathering, because of absent biological fathers (physical distance or emotional distance)? Do you have the skills and willingness to be a dad to them? If so, then yes you should do it.

How to be a dad?

For myself? It just happened all of a sudden 31 years ago! I would like to think that instincts just took over, so hard to think of. Let's see.....

1. Want them to love you? Love them first! That's something I frequently tell clients. Mostly they will love you in return. But it should always start from you, and should start from a deeply-held belief that you MUST love them. Anything less should be totally unacceptable to you.

2. Be a dad to them! They have plenty of school mates. They have siblings. This is a different relationship. Don't let them call you by your first name. Don't be "Steve" to them, or even "Uncle Steve". And if in the Philippines, don't let anyone try to get the kids to call you "Daddy Steve", as it downgrades your role. I get "Daddy Jeff" from some of the relatives who don't get it, and I really dislike it because it's a bit like "Uncle".

3. Be strong and consistent and decisive. Being a wuss who wants to have conferences and democratic voting with small children? They will gain nothing at all. They need guidance and they need boundaries.

4. Make sure that you and your wife/fiancee/partner work as a team. If you undermine each other, kids will soon work out how to play the two of you off against each other. Support each other and back each other up. If you meet a lady who wants you to not get involved in the upbringing of "her kids"? I think I would go so far as to say you should move on! It will be a bad relationship.

5. And never have favourites! This is a common scenario here in Philippines, even in 100% biological families. Awful! No child should be more important or more loved than any other, and that includes your own biological kids. Kids KNOW when they are the less-important child, and it can scar them for life! ALL are deserving of love simply because they are human and they breathe the same air as you. You deserved it as a child, and hopefully you received it. Whether you did or not? It's time to give it back.

6. Remember that the love is for YOU to give, and that love should be unconditional. Agape in Ancient Greek. Given with no expectation of anything in return. And that includes (see #5 above) where you feel you should love the smart kid, the pretty kid or the kid who is very sweet to you somehow more than the less-appealing child who argues with you all day. All the same!

A bit of wisdom from Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet) below:

On Children

 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.