August 8, 2010

Loves from Afar are Loves of Fools

Amores de Lejos, Amores de Pendejos?

This famous Spanish proverb literally translates as “Loves from Afar are Loves of Fools”- that is basically that long distance relationships do not work. I beg to disagree. Of course, relationships with people near you are far better, but sometimes you can’t help but be separated. You can get drafted into the army, or be sent somewhere by a company, or meet someone online that is in a faraway land. There are millions of reasons for long distance relationships to occur. In the old times, with expensive phone calls and letters that would take weeks, it was no surprise that such relationships would often fail as people would get sick and tired of being drawn so much apart and the uncertainty that it brought with it. Truly, love from afar was fools’ love not so long ago.

Not anymore. We now have instant SMS, chatting in real time and very inexpensive phone providers that allow you to make calls across the world for pennies. We now have web cams and your lover can come online and chat with you. Granted you cannot touch him/her physically, but the technology that we have now sure beats those long waits for letters by the mailbox, and once a month phone calls.

Also with a much better social acceptance of personal ads than before these are no longer just for the most desperate. And with hundreds of thousands of people in poorer countries looking for a mate in richer ones, it is becoming more and more commonplace year after year. Now, many relationships begin as long distance ones and become “short-distance” after some time. Many dates now begin in cyber space and end in real life situations.

The used to tell us that one should not look for love but let it land on his/her shoulders like a white dove because if you look for it, it will allegedly run away from you. Well, a lot of people look for it and yes, it does not come; then they stop looking for it and again, it does not come. So what’s the deal? Then, people stopped taking chances with the white dove theory and they now trust the law of averages/probabilities much more. Many get online, meet lots of people electronically from all over the world and, then, they go ahead and meet them physically thus creating their own destiny and not waiting for things to happen.

Long distance love today is doing quite well and almost as good (if not better) than the short distance love, especially if one plays international and not just domestic markets. And you should see some gorgeous people that one can meet.

Long Distance Loves are not Fools’ Loves anymore. They are, actually, smart people’s loves.


Labor Laws, Dental Self-Treatment, Financial Free Fall

Get Out of My Office! You are Fired!

In some countries labor laws are so strict that firing someone is a difficult, lengthy and expensive proposition. However, many expats, both the managers and employees are not aware of those. Hence, western managers brought into the country fire people for the reasons that they would fire them at home for (many of which are trivial). In the US one can fire people for being late five minutes or for simply not liking them. However, “You are fired! Get out of my office!” will not fly in many societies where you cannot do those things by law, and where unions and labor boards are so strong that their protection for employees seems to be absolute.

So, a British company in Kuwait, for example, is subject to Kuwaiti labor laws, and when in Japan, the Japanese labor code kicks in. Hence, a sadistic foreign henchman who thrives on power can no longer exercise his prerogative for kicking people out at will the way he/she could often do at home.

Even if an employee’s contract is not renewed, some countries will still see it as firing and local laws to protect the worker will apply.

I remember when a British employee did not have his contract renewed in Kuwait for no apparent reason except some complaints by customers. He was let go along with five more members of staff by a British manager who saw that as a sufficient reason to not renew their contracts. Most fired people just left it at that, but one decided to hire an attorney and fight them in court. He was surprised to see that the Kuwaiti laws favored him and he was awarded a fat settlement to compensate him for the trauma. It took him a bit of time, but not only he was awarded a tidy sum for his humiliation but the tyrannical manager was fired instead. Sorry, it is not the UK here. You can’t do those things.

I personally was once told in Japan by a British administrator that my contract for the next year was not to be renewed. The reason? Being late on several occasions. However, I contacted the labor union, and it turned out that in Japan, you cannot fire people for being late. You can dock their pay and reprimand them, but it is not a “fireable” offense. After the union got involved, the company had to either reinstate me or pay me money for the months that I had missed while the case was disputed. “You did not renew a person’s contract for being late? Ridiculous!” I pocketed the money. The company that initially was unwilling to re-hire me also had to pay other costs pertaining to the ‘trial’.

So, expat employees – study the labor law in your host country and know your rights! Don’t just walk away with the “ Oh, well…” if a livid-faced, saliva-spitting Western boss is firing you. Check if your offense is trivial or not by local codes. Contact an attorney, and if you find out your rights have been violated, fight! You can get big money from the company. And you, arrogant Western managers-tyrants! Beware! You are not on your home turf anymore. Wait till you are faced with the devil himself- the labor regulations of your new country. You can and will get burnt big time. Ouch!


Dental Self-Treatment

An unforeseen consequence of cheap dental care overseas can be that when you get home (wherever your home is), the pain can persist or complications develop. I had three dental bridges put in the Philippines, two teeth pulled, several cavities filled and a crown put in all for the paltry sum of USD1000. However, I had no time to wait for the thing to heal and left the country immediately after. When I arrived to my temporary home in the Middle East, I realized that not all was well. The pain from six ‘reduced’ teeth upon which the bridges were resting was unbearable. It was so intense that I was howling during the day and crying all through the nights. Work became impossibility. What could I do? Fly back to the Philippines to have the teeth re-fitted? Miss work and pay huge airline fares? Go to a local hospital and have everything fixed there? Would they know exactly what the Philippine dentist had done? As I was hesitating, the pain would not let up.

So, I decided to cure myself. I went to the local pharmacy and bought antibiotics. Then I bought the most potent pain killers they had. Many things can be purchased over the counter without a prescription where I am at. I put myself on a strict antibiotics/painkiller regime. After 10 days the pain subsided a bit, after another 10 days, it got even better and after about two weeks more, it was completely gone. This is how I dealt with the problem on site while I had to work. I am not recommending this as a solution for all such ills but it has worked for me.


Financial Free Fall

When you go from a rich country like Saudi Arabia to a poorer one like Indonesia with pockets full of hard currency, your financial state can be compared to a weightless free fall. You just keep falling down the money space- the chute of dimensions in which you can now move freely without thinking for a relatively long time about how long it will take for you to land on earth and awaken with a jolt. Just like in a free fall where there is sufficient distance for you to enjoy your complete freedom of movement without any restraints. Oh what a feeling to enjoy for a month or two!


Instead of trying to learn a conventional and well-known language or culture, it will be very rewarding if you learn a more remote language and devote yourself to a more exotic culture. Why not learn Telugu or say, a minority language such as Cebuano. You will be worshipped by the natives if you dedicate yourself to integrating into a society that is not main-stream.


Christian Fundamentalist Propaganda and Public Ignorance

Some two decades ago, I was watching a famous preacher on TV. The topic for that day’s sermon was “India“. According to the preacher, India was poor because it was not Christian, and he was inviting people to go there and teach Christianity. At the end of the speech, he raised his voice and shouted something like: “Jesus will take that country out of poverty!”, “Jesus will make India advance!” The people in the audience were nodding with meaningful expressions on their faces- “That’s right! Amen! Jesus will help India!”

“Wait a minute“, I said to myself- “doesn’t the audience know that there are many countries that are even poorer than India and that are Christian, to boot? Don’t they remember that just some time ago, there was a huge drive on TV to gather food and medical supplies to be sent to starving Ethiopians most of whom were Christians?" Were the people, enthralled by the charisma of the evangelist, so uninformed and with such a short memory as to not have been aware of such important details?

On another occasion, I was reading a publication by a very radical Christian organization in which there was an article that said that the Jews had suffered the Holocaust because they would not accept Jesus. Ha! You mean, if the Jews had converted to Christianity, the Holocaust would not have happened? Dream on! Don’t they know that the Nazis were very busy asking foreign governments to give them the names of converted Jews ( which they duly received) so that they could send them to the gas chambers along with the non-converted ones? Don’t they know of so many devoted Christians who had ended up in Auschwitz along with the Jews? The authors were probably not aware of such niceties of history or thought the readers were not aware of these small details, either. Is ignorance really such bliss when they can mislead you by having you believe such worthless statements?

And if the Holocaust was the punishment for not becoming Christians, what did those who were, in fact, Christians, suffer for when genocides were carried against them? I mean, the Armenians, for one. At the beginning of the 20th century as many as 1.5million very Christian Armenians were annihilated by the Ottoman Turks. What was that for? That shouldn’t have happened- they had accepted Jesus and thus, they should have been protected. Why did they perish? And, one also forgets the massacres of the Huguenots in France when Protestants were being killed in broad daylight by the hundreds of thousands. What was that for? For not accepting Jesus, either? Hmm. Who do these fundamentalists think I am? Some kind of dodo?

Two decades after that speech, India is doing very well. The reason for the economic progress of the country is the move from a very staid socialism to a more dynamic, market -driven economy and the relaxation of restrictions on foreign investment. That, coupled with a strong IT base, has moved the country out of poverty. And the country is still predominantly Hindu with a strong Muslim minority.

And Japan, a Shinto-Buddhist country, may have suffered a setback in the 1990ies, but it was then and still is the world’s second largest economy. How come that preacher did not mention that in his sermon, and why didn’t anyone in the audience question him about that?

Today, many African and Latin American countries who are devoutly Christian- Guatemala, El Salvador, Kenya, etc. are still mired in poverty and corruption. And the long suffering regions of Sudan where so many people have been dying of starvation - did you see the horrid pictures of people eating leaves from the trees?-are mostly Christian. So, what gives, preacher?

I respect, and see good in any religion, and if there is Heaven, I believe that good and upright people will go there regardless of what they believe in. I also believe that people who work hard and are honest in their dealings with others will prosper, no matter what their religion is. And that misfortune can befall any group regardless of their faith. However, those Christian fanatics who claim that the sufferings- political, economic or otherwise, of others are due to the fact that they did not convert to these preachers' particular religion make me mad. Not only they are totally disrespectful of the distress of others, but they display morbid ignorance of world history and politics.

However, the thing that angers me the most is that they take me, or any reader or listener, for a fool because those who can actually fall for their outrageous claims must be, in fact, complete fools.


August 1, 2010

8 reasons why Asian men have a better social life in Russia than America (a letter to Winston Wu)

 A letter to my friend Winston Wu:


If you still have not figured it out, do not rack your brains over it. It is several reasons, not one- so it
is a combination of factors that lead to the different results you are experiencing. Here they are one by one:

1) East Orthodox Slavic culture vs. Anglo-Celto-Germanic. Communal and friendly vs. individualistic-cliqueish one.

Russians are generally friendlier people when it comes to strangers because of their communal past- even long before Communism. They are used to including strange people into their group. Anglos on the other hand like to be alone, do not like people they don't know, and prefer being in cliques. If you want to know why Americans behave a certain way look at their ancestors- go to London and any other English town. See how cliqueish the people are and how difficult it is to make friends. There is no eye contact, the people just seem to be absorbed into their own world and their own clique. But Anglos are very friendly inside of the clique and act as normal humans when they are in it. It is just that getting into the clique is the problem.

2) Your worth on the love market in both countries. Who and what are you as far as the context of the
market you are in.

Take (mentally) all the men in the US, line them up and put yourself amongst them. How would you rate in terms of looks, height, money, etc? Probably not high. Put yourself in a line-up with Russian men and see how and where you would rate. Probably quite high.

Mostly because Russians do not on the average have as much money and/or international lifestyle that you can offer. You are making ten times to twenty times more money than they do. If you look at it within the US context, it is as if you were a man making $20,000-$40,000 a month.

3) America is divided along racial lines and five categories of people- Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Indians.

Each group has its assigned role and image within the US. In that system Asian men and Asian people in general are not seen as something popular or powerful. Within the context of the US culture, an Asian man is seen based on American stereotypes and you are familiar with them.

Russia is not divided so much by racial lines but more along the lines of ethnic Russians vs. non-Russians and foreigners. Kind of like China or Japan where it is not Blacks vs. Whites, etc, but Chu-Guo-Ren (Middle Country Person) vs. Wai-Gwo-Ren (Out of Country Person) or Ni-Hon-Jin (Japan Person)vs. Gai-Jin (Outside Person) . Foreigners in Asia especially richer ones are seen with curiosity, positive or negative. They are unusual and people are curious about them. They want to help them, invite them to their homes, talk to them. There aren't many of them., so people want to meet them and hear what they have to say. On the other hand, Americans being descendants of foreigners who left bad conditions in their homeland have been conditioned not to look back or be interested in bad countries that their ancestors came from. So, a foreigner evokes a yawn in the US and is seen as a dorky and clumsy person. Someone who has not yet learned to behave and act as a normal, American person.

4) The US is a land of plenty. People (think that they) have seen everything, experienced everything,
done everything and that everything is available.

Especially women see it that way. Russia has not been a land of plenty. People there are not cloyed with benefits of life. Things are hard to find. Good people are also hard to find. So, you are appreciated more within that market. People's lives there can be quite drab so you seem to be like a breath of fresh air to them. There are not that many foreigners there, either. So, when they see you, it means a new experience, something better and more exciting.

5) There are too many available handsome men in the US.

There are oodles and oodles of men with money, cars, houses, careers. Women can have the pick of the day every day. So they are stuck up as they can get any man they want. Even ugly and fat women in the US can get the guy. That is why you see horrid-looking women, ill-dressed women, women without make-up everywhere parading around like they are Miss Universes. Not so in Russia. Too many men were decimated by wars and too many drunk and irresponsible men are around. Finding a good guy is hard. Finding a rich foreigner is even harder. Women need to look their best, be nice, and try hard to find a good man.

Women everywhere want to improve their species. That is human instinct. that is what love and dating is all about. In the US the people believe that the species is already highly improved. So improving your species yet means dating Donald Trump or someone like that. In Russia the male species is quite poor and less numerous than in the US and also less well-behaved. So, on that background you stand out quite well. As you can see, context determines everything in society. In a land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

6)  The US TV and culture in general glorifies men that look like Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, etc.

Now, how would you rate compared to those paragons of manhood?  Russia does not have those paragons. If you listen to songs in Russia it is usually a woman singing about how a man abandoned her for another. If you listen to a love song in the US, you will usually hear a sweet voice of a man courting a woman. Or a man whining about a lost love. The markets are different. Male-female ratios are different.

7) Russian people are used to Asians.

They have been seeing them since the 13th century. They have been dealing with them and even marrying them for a long time. It does not mean that as an Asian you are seen as "popular", it is just that you are part of the landscape. You do not evoke much negativism and it is not much of an issue. In the US, Asians are seen as fresh off-the-boat immigrants. poor and dorky, that is. People are still not used to them. There are many stereotypes of Asian men that work against them socially in the US. In Russia, there are stereotypes but not of the same nature.

A local Siberian Asian in Russia is not the most flattering thing to be, either. They will call him –a deer herder, "Churka"- the Russian word for the non-Russian colonial subjects- the equivalent of the British word "Wog", and treat him as a dorky hick.

This would not concern you as it is not so with a Japanese, Taiwanese or a US Asian. But try dressing
like a Russian and acting like those Siberian Asians. You will feel the difference.

8) The word "foreigner" in Russia ("inostranets") is not a negative word.

It immediately evokes mental associations of- "cultured- successful- richer than me-smarter than me- more exciting than me". So, when people in Russia see you as a foreigner, those associations spring to mind. And the people act accordingly.

In the US people see you and say- "Oh, another Asian man"- and the associations while not exactly hostile, are not flattering, either-" poor immigrant making noodles, maybe a martial arts freak-cannot speak English properly-a clutzy and clumsy Japanese student-short-has small dick-computer nerd." Or- "Pearl Harbor- Korean War- or Jackie Chan"- a clown. Hardly positive or respectful associations.

The word "foreigner" in the US is a negative word. It is used to designate a non-American- someone who is either an enemy of the US or someone who is poor and just came and is not assimilated. That is why even the phrase "foreign student" had to be changed to ”international student".

These are the main reasons why you have a better social life in Russia.”