JALAN-JALAN SA SOUTHEAST ASIA. Singapore and Malaysia. By Ramon Jorge B. Sarabosing





by Ramon Jorge Sarabosing/MindaNews


Arriving late afternoon in Singapore, I checked in at a small luxurious hotel Chinatown, the same hotel where I met a Pinoy HRM (Hotel and Restaurant Management) student apprentice from Cagayan de Oro City a few months ago, who told me he was applying to be a  regular employee here.


Bobby, that's his name, was still there. Obviously, he got the job. "I didn’t mind working extra hours just to show them I'm worth hiring," he said.

I asked him why he likes Singapore and he said people talk less there and so there are no intrigues there. He meant that since his-co workers are Chinese and Malaysians and hardly speak English, then very little conversations take place between them. "Sa atoa, minos ko sa English pero dinhi, ako ang pinaka-siga,” (In our place, I don’t speak good English but here, I’m the best), he grins.

That night, I went to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant owned by a friendly Burmese lady who pronounced the Philippines, Pilipina. I wondered how she got that. On my way back to the hotel, I passed by a parking lot when out of nowhere I heard a Filipino song.  I looked around and recalled what it was and I realized it was Imelda Papin. Bless her, I thought, she's gone international.

A few more days in the city-state and I got to meet more Pinoys. Two Filipinas I encountered at the Botanical Park were sisters from Cebu who have been there for three years and have not returned home to the Philippines since. "Magtigum sa mi og daghang kuwarta kuya kay daghang ma-maryienti pag-uli" (We’re saving plenty of money because many will present themselves as relatives back home).  

In a high-end department store, a "sosi" Pinay entertained me. I told her, "angayan ka mo trabaho diri kay guwapa ka (you’re fit to work here because you’re beautiful)" She replied, smiling "Naa, maka-discount gyud ka kay nagsulti ka sa tinuod” (Now you can get a discount for telling the truth). She said she is soon getting married to her Chinese boyfriend and will settle in Hong Kong. "Gikapoy na ko og pagka-salesgirl" (I’m tired of being a salesgirl).

A few days after, at the airport while waiting for my flight to Kuala Lumpur, I saw an Indian family walking towards the Cebu Pacific counter bound for Cebu. With them was a Filipina lady in her late 30's. Later, at the departure area, they hugged and cried. They cried like they’d never see each other. The Indian lady and her daughter hugged the pinay so tightly. I thought not all stories one reads of maltreated Pinay maids in the papers must be true.

Later, when I chatted with the Pinay, I learned she worked for them while they (Indian family) had a business in Manila 10 years ago. "I am not sure if I can come back to work for them again as I will be running a small grocery store that I financed for my family in Iloilo."

She had sent her 3 siblings through college and thinks it is time for her to return home.

I spent my first few days in Malaysia comparing it with the Philippines. But I always ended up dismayed and defeated. Oh, it has an advance highway system, less poor and less crowd and the people, I think are more dedicated and disciplined. "Malaysia is regarded as a developed country by Australia,” an Aussie friend told me. There goes the end of my comparison.

But Malaysians I found out reflect the same trait and character we Pinoys have. Three times, they graciously offered help when we got lost. One Chinese gentleman even took us in his car to our hotel in Penang. With little English, he said he is a Rotary Club member and had some Rotary friends from the Philippines. In another instance, an Indian approached us and directed towards the right waiting bus station. He said he has observed us waiting far too long and for nothing.

In Malacca, we had trouble with the bus driver who could not understand English and a Malay lady who looked like a teacher rescued us by guiding us where to drop off. One night, in our hotel room, the airconditioner conked out and we found ourselves – I, a  Malaysian, an Australian, and a Chinese mechanic from mainland China (again, no English) — figuring out how to deal with it. Our convergence extended beyond the airconditioner as our talk branched out to culture, religion and politics. "We are all brothers,” said the young Malaysian who said we may differ in many ways but are alike, generally like love of family and aiming for a better life. Thanks to the broken airconditioner, an alliance was forged between four countries.

Up the mountainside resort town of Tanah Rata, I had a wondrous experience with alternative healing. An Indian lawyer with his Chinese wife in whose hotel I've stayed introduced me to Reiki self-healing and together with a few Caucasian guests, we had sessions every night. Two other highlights stood out here for me: the gallery of live insects and bugs (yes, all alive and kicking) and the visit to the tea plantation that practically covers the whole mountain range.

Our lovely Indian lady driver and guide who looks like Sushmita Sen expertly negotiated the narrow and winding road like she has done it everyday. "Yes, I do indeed,” she said. "I know it like the palm of my hand." I wondered if there is a driver like her back home.

In downtown Kuala Lumpur, I met a Pinay from Surigao del Norte who works as an English teacher in Laos and is on her way home to the Philippines. She said she liked her job there, though she felt she is underpaid compared to the locals. She also liked the people, "they are very warm and polite." Her complaint: "It‘s too hot."

She loves to fantasize her stay there. "When European tourists ask me what's a Filipina doing there, I tell them I am a tourist. I do that to impress to them Filipinos can afford to travel too." She, however, frowns on Filipinas who she met in KL working as bargirls. "They said it’s easy job but I told them its not worth it and it brings embarrassment to the country." She had earlier worked abroad as housemaid and caregiver. "I am proud of being a Filipina but not of the Philippines. Our country is a mess because of the politicians.”

The last day in KL, I climbed Petronas Towers and admired the efficiency and sophistication of how the Malaysians run it. The view from below was magnificent, symbolic of how Malaysia is high above the economic ladder.

Back in the street, on a park fronting the Petronas ground, a young Buddhist monk showed me a picture of an unfinished temple and a donation envelope.

I thought there were no professional beggars there. Maybe, I was wrong. (Ramon Jorge Sarabosing of Butuan City, has been going around Southeast Asia the past few months).