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The Awakening — June 26, 2010

The Awakening

It was one chilly winter morning in 2009. It was also the fourth year that I would experience winter in a country that I have come to love. I was standing at the front gate of my posh apartment complex here in China, where I study and work as a freelance researcher. I came down from my pad, in full winter attire and stood there waiting for a taxi on my way to the first appointment of the day.

Coming my way from across the security guard’s office at the gate where I was standing, was a ‘jaywalker,’ someone who crosses the street not using a pedestrian lane. My first impression tells that she’s what the society would consider a ‘bum’ – being the operative word for a citizen who does not earn a living and who does not pay tax.

From the looks of her, she had no car, no decent home, no fancy clothes, and no money. There are times when I feel generous but there are times that I just don’t want to be disturbed, if you know what I mean.

And this was one those “keep-this-space-mine times.” “I hope she doesn’t ask me for any money,” I thought. And, true, she didn’t. She came and sat on the elevated walkway of the bus stop while keeping a distance 3 meters from where I stand. She didn’t look like she could have enough money to even ride a bus.

After a few minutes, she spoke in Chinese. “That’s a very nice pair of shoes,” she said referring to my red Adidas sneakers, which I was bought in Hong Kong at 30% off the price. Yes, she was ragged but she had an air of dignity around her. She was wearing a very old and stinky sweater. I said, “Thanks,” and continued waiting for a taxi, shaking my knees. She sat there quietly while I anxiously check my watch.

The expected plea for money never came… there were a number of buses that has passed by and yet, she did not ride. I was worried but hesitant to talk to her.

As the silence between us widened something inside me said, “Ask her if she needs any help.” I was sure that she would say “yes” but I held true my inner voice. “Auntie (the Mandarin term of endearment for an elderly woman), do you need any help?” I asked.

She answered in five profound words that I shall never forget.

We often look for wisdom and ask expert counsel from great people. We expect it from those of higher learning and accomplishments. I expected nothing but an outstretched grimy hand. She spoke the five words that shook me. “Who does not need help?”

I was feeling high and mighty, successful and important, above a bum or thief in the street, until those five words hit me like a .45 revolver — right on my forehead.

Who does not need help?

I needed help. Maybe not for bus fare or a place to stay, but I do need help. I reached in my wallet and gave her not only enough for bus fare, but enough for a week’s meal, shelter, and if she made great bargain, she would have had enough to buy herself a second-hand sweater in the flea market.

Those five words are still very true. No matter how financially stable I am, no matter how much I had accomplished in life and in education, I do need help too. And so I say: No matter how little you have, no matter how loaded you are with problems, even without money or a place to sleep, you too, can give help.

Even if it’s just a compliment, you can give that.

You never know when we may see someone that appears to have it all. The truth, I have come to believe is: nobody has it all! They, being the operative for ‘us’, are waiting on you, which is also ‘us’, to give them what they don’t have. A different perspective on life, a glimpse at something beautiful, a solace from daily conflict, that only ‘us’ through a torn and yet still magnificent world can see.

Maybe the woman was just a homeless stranger wandering the streets. Maybe she was more than that. Maybe she was sent by a supernatural power far beyond my comprehension, that is great and wise, to minister to a soul too comfortable of themselves, like I was.

Or maybe God, in His rightful place in the heavens, looked down, called an Angel, dressed him like a bum, like the final scene from Bruce Almighty movie, then said, “go, minister to that man waiting for a taxi, he needs help.”

Who does not need help, anyway?

— The author is freelance writer and physics lecturer from the Philippines. He lives in Shanghai, China.

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Celebrating Humanity in the Internet Age — June 16, 2010

Celebrating Humanity in the Internet Age

The “Internet Day” is an annual celebration of the internet on the 13th of March. The date was selected as a tribute to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who on that day submitted the document “Information Management: A Proposal,” which would later go on to become the World Wide Web we now know and love.  The first Internet Day was officially celebrated on March 13, 2010.

Few weeks ago humanity celebrated the 15th anniversary of the world’s first “dot.com” known as symbolics.com. The symbolics.com domain was originally registered on March 15, 1985, making it the first “.com” domain in the world. However, on August 27, 2009, it was sold to XF.com Investments.

Today familiar names have conquered cyberspace in all ways possible. Amazon, Baidu, Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Youtube are among the most popular websites in the world. Indeed, online communication has become an ever-growing component in modern life.

Internet protocols, almost by definition, tend to go in all direction. Events may be merely busy, of course – a sort of itch of the unusual, or an irritation perhaps? It would have been entirely difficult to deal the Asian Tsunami (2004), Sichuan quake (2008), Haiti and Chile quakes (2010) without modern communications technology, and of course the internet. Remember the Haiti Quake Telethon online?

The web can disseminate news but when the news is momentous, it may run toward darker, murkier spectrum, towards war and catastrophe. The Iraq War, the downfall and hanging of Saddam Hussein became online sensation as well as Michael Jackson’s untimely demise in 2009 that caused tremendous internet traffic jam worldwide (CNN, June 26, 2009).

U.S. President Barack Obama was a Youtube hit in 2008. His “Yes We Can” speech and political slogan (music video performed by will.i.am) were as magnificent as his unexpected victory in the Iowa Caucus which later on propelled him to the White House. His online campaign and fund raising drive were among the first breakthroughs in modern politics. Today movie stars and other political leaders have their own Facebook or Twitter accounts with thousands of online followers.

Yet sometimes the internet does rise toward the shores of wisdom. Sometimes history responds not merely to the prompting of mere coincidences or blind accidents or the practical laws of physics or the difficult economic tides but to the pressure of ideas or to a kind of coalescence of yearnings. “I have a dream,” cried Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial (August 28, 1963) and is now widely available online. Luther King’s dream and others made the news and history, as completely as any bomb or earthquake did today.

There are individual dreams and collective dreams. Charles Lindbergh’s trajectory across the Atlantic (May 1927) was a vivid feat of individualism. He became one of the last romantic heroes of his time. He brilliantly employed the technology of flight in its primitive stage, before technology seemed to overwhelm the individual. If the American space program produced a triumph of teamwork (Apollo 11 Mission, 1969) in an age when hundreds of human brains collaborate, like microchips, in the mastery of so much detail, Lindbergh’s flight represented a peculiar momentum of human spirit. It was a lonely achievement of the rational being, self-contained, self-confident, in motion across great distances. Lindbergh perfectly embodies a mystic mechanic. He arched up into another element. He took human possibility into another atmosphere.

Martin Luther King’s dream was also a collective dream. It was an ingathering of rational souls. It was a moral encampment, the first mass demonstration of an age in which politics streamed into streets. The internet does the reverse. What was commonly known as mass outpourings, racial uprisings, people power demonstrations, and the antiwar marches on the streets have now shifted to the “blogosphere.” Whether the sense imitations of the March on Washington can still be matched in modern society, the efforts to recapture the essential sweetness and energy and its unassailable moral force is still there.

With few exceptions such as the Philippine’s People Power (Edsa, 1986), the subsequent demonstrations, riots, moratoriums, – had a fallen, mitigated and sometimes violent character. They never regained that quality of urgent dignity and imposing rhetoric that Luther King Jr., Cory Aquino, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi showed to the world through nonviolent mass action.

These events of the spirit always seemed to involve motion. Economic powerhouse is slowly moving eastward after long period of western domination. ASEAN, Brazil, India and Russia are on the rise. Mexico now has the world’s richest person (Forbes, 2010) for the first time in almost 2 decades and Japan’s imperial symbol Toyota Motors is on the brink collapse amidst vehicle defect scandal.

Of course China survived the tainted milk scandal and successfully batted swine flu virus. It had staged a highly successful Olympic Games, opened to traffic the longest bridge and inaugurated the fastest commercial train service in the world. Aside from the fact China is now the United State’s largest creditor (CNN, Nov. 16, 2009), it also showcased its military prowess in a highly successful 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic and emerged from the financial crisis with about 8% economic growth in 2009 (ADB, 2009).

The information superhighway has become a responsive and indispensable tool for humanity. Irrespective of the laboratory setup of science and the arena of education, economics and politics, the world is becoming an international community skillfully governed by the laws of the dot.com.

— The author is freelance writer and physics lecturer from the Philippines. He lives in China. 

True profile of Filipinos — April 2, 2010

True profile of Filipinos

The Philippine flag

THE Shenzhen Daily reports (March 9, 18, 23) about the proliferation of illegal Chinese housekeeping agencies in the city aroused concern from the expatriate community. Han Ximin’s feature story titled “Filipino women, victims of illegal recruitment,” published on March 9, told of the lives of two Filipino victims of illegal recruitment in China, how they escaped the abusive employers and the struggle to recover their passports. The article also discussed the obvious arrogance of the recruiter Tracy Lu, who acknowledged the fact she is “doing illegal business” and its “foolish to say legal or illegal” to her. I believe China is governed by laws. But if not for mere braggadocio, she wouldn’t have smeared the respectable immigration and police officers, who she claims never warned her about her involvement in illegal business. Additionally, Lu, who claims she wants to be a “rich person,” slandered the president of the Philippines, for what she alleged as the latter’s inability to provide adequate jobs for Filipinos. The jobless rate in the Philippines does not justify or give Tracy Lu or any other housekeeping agency the right to abuse and exploit people for personal gain. Indeed, Lu is the epitome of the worst type of person in modern Chinese society. A further report penned by Li Jing, titled “15 illegal Filipino domestic helpers questioned” (March 18), detailed the cases of 15 women caught in another Chinese agent’s office in Futian, who the police believed to be working illegally in Shenzhen because they could not present valid work permits. However, the reporter failed to mention that, aside from the employer’s 10,000 yuan agency recruitment fee, the Chinese agent also charged the Filipino worker between 9,000 – 14,000 yuan — a whopping 20,000 yuan, tax free! This saga illustrates the vulnerability of the expatriate community in China. First, it exposes the weakness of Chinese law in curbing the influx of foreign household workers, undermining their safety. Second, it shows how Chinese illegal recruiters have taken advantage of the rapid economic growth of China. Finally, it shows the weakness of Filipinas in safeguarding their rights in China, given the fact they are illegally working here. These stories highlight the abuses committed against nationals of neighboring Asian countries. The alleged physical abuse experienced by Rona Mayuga, a Filipino, at the hands of her Chinese employer (March 9), is just one such case. The Filipino community could either languish in the mindset that the Philippines is a nation of servants, “experienced housekeepers and fluent in English,” to quote Li Jing, or live a fuller life of honest labor. Filipinos approach their craft with dignity and pride. China is home to top notch Filipino architects, interior designers, leading hoteliers, restaurateurs, designers, engineers, lawyers, teachers, researchers and writers. The Filipinos in this country are a fun-loving, respectful, witty and peaceful people. They can smile even in the midst of misery. Widely talented in music, Filipino bands are often considered the life of the party. Coming from a country with a GDP per capita of about 3,300 USD (1999 estimate), the Filipinos strive to be self-sustaining, never too willing to be beholden to mercy for survival. Since the 1980s Hong Kong has been a top destination for Filipino professional workers in the fields of business, accounting, banking, engineering and legal profession. Hong Kong is also home to more than 200,000 Filipino domestic workers. But as China’s economic miracle quickly catches up, Shenzhen is steadily attracting foreigners, including numerous Filipino professionals. But due to Chinese mainland’s “closed-door policy” on foreign domestic help, many Filipinos, Indonesians, Thai and Malaysians are currently barred by Chinese law from taking advantage of the domestic helper job market which holds so much promise.