Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No baby by choice


“EU states are trying to understand why the birth rate is falling - and if anything can be done to stem the decline.”

“No-one is yet berating bachelors or mooting medallions for multiple births. But Europe's many governments are scrambling to find a solution.”

“Europe is still feeling its way in this area, and may, some say, have to come to terms with the fact that there are women remaining childless or having small families by choice.”

For the full story read the BBC: EU’s baby blues

A Dutch mother towing her daughter in a cart in the streets of Haarlem.

The Netherlands is of course not exempt to this European-wide baby blues crisis.

Just the other week, there was a news flash on TV that the Dutch population has stagnated in the last few decades at a 16 Million figure. There is no growth despite the massive influx of immigrants to the country in the last years.

Why? Well a great example is us, Dutchman and I. We are one of those couples who do not want to have kids and in the recent years, our likes have multiplied, unprecedented.

In less than 3 months I will turn 36. Many people I know and met, especially Filipinos [the Dutch will not bugger you with this] always reminds me that my body clock is ticking away, very fast. Essentially the message is: You must decide to have a baby within 3 years time.

Peer pressure. *sweats forehead* I don’t like it. Isn’t it quite ironic? My direct families [Filipino and Dutch side] are not even demanding such?

My sister in law, the wife of my 33 year old brother gave birth to her first and last baby, a healthy boy, last January of this year at the very ripe age of 39 [yes she is older than my brother, he-he]. The birth went fine, that is --- caesarean. She was also put on the high risk state by her obstetrician gynecologist during the whole pregnancy. She had blood spotting and because of this, she had to stop working.

One thing I know, this baby boy will be the first and last grandchild of my parents. My other sister, she’s 25 years old, also confessed to me discreetly that she doesn’t have any plans nor will she be compelled to have kids. Oh dear, what has become of our lineage?

Anyway, in the last few years, I tried pumping some maternal instincts into my awfully autonomous system but helaas it doesn’t seem to work. Like what we say here in Holland, “Het komt vanzelf.” [It will come naturally.] – But this isn’t happening.

Two years ago, I visited my old high school friend in Sheffield, U.K. She gave birth to a big healthy baby boy. During my visit, she was tied up busy preparing for the christening and organizing the party, so I of course helped out by babysitting her newborn son. The experience was a revelation. It was THAT time I realized that being a mother is not the most noblest vocation in my book.

The adorable baby boy of our friend from the north.

This might come across quite mean, but I never enjoyed the babysitting encounter. I can’t seem to smile when the poor little thing starts crying. And because of carrying the weighty baby for days, my left arm was throbbing in pain. Ugh and argh... It also started to irritate the hell out of me, when my friend, all of a sudden, is incapable of holding a decent conversation as her attention is only focused on her little baby angel.

Everyone in the christening and party too [yes most were parents anyway] were literally baby-awed and baby-whipped. They kept acting like characterless clowns and mimicking amorous sounds in front of the baby. The baby was like a star, a celebrity and all of them were like paparazzi eager to devour a part of him.

After 3 days, I really have had enough. I felt so suffocated. I must leave!!!

DISCLAIMER: There is nothing wrong with babies and children or the parents. IT IS JUST ME.

And here in the Netherlands too, when I see mothers with their adorable little trophies smiling and cooing, propped up neatly in their prams, the first few things that come to my mind, somewhat like my reflexes, are (mothers I plead, please do not rebuke my blunt sincerity, LOL):

(1) Uh, such a hassle. I can’t even clean the flat, how much more taking care of a baby?
(2) Sleepless and stressful nights. Ah, there goes my night owl lifestyle. Huh, huh, huh.
(3) Loss of freedom. Yes I am selfish. I want to travel, earn money and do whatever I want without any baggage.
(4) Pressure to [insert a thousand important items here]. I want to keep my life simple, very simple.
(5) Responsibility in all kinds. For the next 20 years? Oh, no!

Children are cute little angels and I like their company too... but as long as I can return them to their parents at the end of the day. Is -rent a baby- a good idea for a business? Een gat in de markt misschien? ;-)

I guess, if I find out that tomorrow I am pregnant, this stubborn free spirited independent girl will have a major heart attack. Although I am a flexible person and do not see change as a threat, I can honestly say that right now I am somewhat quite set in my ways and rearranging my current lifestyle by inserting a kid into the domestic familial bliss state, will require a phenomenal paradigm shift in my system.

The friends who really know me in real life just shrug off their shoulders and say, “This is very you.”

Oh well, I am doomed to be a childless woman, by choice. If only I can donate my ovum [egg cells] + ovary, cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes to those women who are dying to have kids but just can’t. Life isn’t fair eh?

Or who knows, a miracle will come crashing down like lighting on earth and I change my mind? Then ah, NL and the EU will surely benefit from it!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Some strange interviews I have had


An excerpt from the e-mail of the HR Manager: “Please bring your diploma and your last salary specification.”

I thought the -bring your diploma- was odd enough when I am not a starter. I am old [will be 36 soon] and my years of work experience mattered most. But the –bring your last salary specification- ? Huh, what gives?

So I recollected myself and thought that perhaps they reacted like this, quite defensive, because I was not upfront with them on the salary that I wanted. Well honey, I am a sales person, I don’t sell myself short. I negotiate my worth. ---But, they want to see my last salary slip? Uh-huh... this is a huge red flag on diplomacy relations [aren’t salary slips supposed to be confidential?] and a possibility that this company is a major cheapo.

After inspecting my salary slip, the Managing Director quipped, “I’m sorry but we can’t give the same salary. You have 10 years ICT experience but not in our branch. For that amount we would prefer someone who has at least 5 years experience in our specific product. We will think it over and will inform you in a week’s time.”

I don’t have to wait a week for their response. The message is clear as the noonday sun.

***

HR Manager asking, “How would you react if one of your colleagues speaks ill of another colleague in front of you?”

Now, now, that makes me wonder if the company is occupied and haunted with gossipmongers? In fact it tells me that there is something fishy going on.

The question anyway, in my opinion, is not professional enough as it shrouds a cloud of negativity on the company. It’s probably fine to ask these questions on a Personality-Company Culture Fit Test but hellooo this is an interview! And considering that I am an applicant, and a discriminating observant one to add, came the message across to me as something rather too people centric, too suspicious, too personal and thus too petty.

There are in fact creative and tactful ways of presenting the same moral of a question such as rephrasing it to, “How do you handle office politics?” That would have been more apt.

But to answer her question, I said, “I work independently and I do not join clique 'n clan communes and gossip exploits in the office. I have no time for this.”


And additionally, I furthered with something like this, “However, to me, the mere fact [or act] that this colleague is talking ill of another colleague in front of me will automatically send red flags towards my direction. What makes me think I am immune to this person’s fangs? Who knows, next month, I will be this person’s new topic of interest. I would rather keep out.”

***

An interesting lifestyle question was thrown at me, “Do you smoke?”

Wha... WTF? Is this lifestyle discrimination? It’s not like the company is selling oil or any flammable delicate chemical substances that smoking is an issue?

So I replied, “I smoke but I am more like a social smoker. The last time I smoked was 2 months ago.”

The response though was, “Wow 2 months ago, that’s long!”

The bitch in me was itching to slap her with, “Happy now, eh?”

***

Introductions have been exchanged in Dutch followed by the usual trivial discussion of the weather, the traffic and so forth.

Headhunter: “Zullen we het interview in het Nederlands doen?” [Shall we do the interview in Dutch?]

Me: “Nou... ik liever in het Engels alsjeblieft. Mijn Nederlands is wel goed maar ik vind het best om dit interview in het Engels te voeren. Soms kan ik niet goed uitleggen wat ik precies in het Nederlands wil zeggen. In het Engels gaat allemaal vlot, makkelijk en automatisch.” [Well... I prefer in English please. My Dutch is good but I think its best that we conduct this interview in English. Sometimes I cannot express myself fully what I want to say in Dutch. With English, everything goes smooth, easy and automatic.]

Headhunter: “Maar het is goed voor jou om in het Nederlands te praten, toch? Jij woont hier in Nederland.” [But its good for you to speak Dutch right? You live here in the Netherlands.]

Me: “Natuurlijk, maar voor interviews vind ik het best om in het Engels te doen. De baan die jullie voor mij in het oog hebben is toch een internationale baan?” [Of course, but for interviews I think its best that we do this in English. The job that you have in mind for me is an international job right?] Which means the job is not dependent on Dutch.

By this time, my insides are boiling at 90C and my veins are almost about to erupt into a deluge of blood lava. Thing is, this is the first time ever that I encountered a professional and executive search caliber headhunter who is so adamant in speaking pure Dutch in the interview… when quite strange, during our email exchanges he wrote everything in English. I mean, WTF? Is he just pushing my buttons? I don’t cry and wave the discrimination flag easily. I have a thick hide and I do not resort to some insecurity complex defense. I think I am far above that so I kept my composure and remained professional throughout our conversation.

Headhunter: “Okee, ik stel je de vragen aan in het Nederlands. Je kunt in het Nederlands of in het Engels reageren... maar ik vind het nog best als je in het Nederlands spreekt maar doe maar wat je wilt.” [Okay, I will ask you the questions in Dutch. You can respond in Dutch or English. I still think its best that you speak Dutch but do whatever you want.] Uh, right… the prick, zeg.

Me: “Goed.” I kept my word so I then switched to English but like the erudite woman that I am, ha-ha *smirk*, I met him halfway and compromised with some sporadic Dutch.

I believe that I can now fluently speak Dutch but surely not on the ABN level yet [Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands], which is something like Business Dutch.


One of my golden rules during interviews is to veer away from doing the activity in Dutch. Heaven forbid, I don’t want to sound like this -little nice foreign girl- and her terrible yet funny foreign accent, worse, speckled with wrong grammar and wrong usage of words. This happens! The downside consequence in this scenario is the loss of my persuasive image and my credibility which gives a great impact on the interviewer’s impression.

Words of wisdom: It is always best to use the language that we are articulate with because interviews mean selling ourselves. Image and impression are crucial factors and we should never ever play or sell them too short! No way.

Well, guess what? The arrogant bastard was not even doing his homework well as the job he had in mind for me was quite different from my qualifications. He not only wasted my time but his time as well!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A proposal without a ring


I think I have become somewhat dutchified now because I have learned to appreciate Dutch songs. Ah, I have gone a loooong way in my Dutch integration, ha-ha!

The Dutch band Blof, they come from Zeeland [in the south of the Netherlands].


Nevertheless, I have a favorite single at this moment, from the band Blof, one of the really good local bands in the country. The title of the song: “Aanzoek zonder ringen” which means in English, “A proposal without a ring”.

Even though I can a little bit relate to the song [I am not married but in a partnership ergo without the ring -lol], what I love most with it is its tune and the fusion of the drums into the melody. It has so much character.

To listen to the song and see the video, click here: AANZOEK ZONDER RINGEN [aahn-zook zon-der ring-ngen], performed together with 6 Kodo Japanese drummers.


Side bar photos are also updated:

Travel Flashback: Mayrhofen Village in Tirol, Austria
Dutch Sneak Preview: Terminal in Utrecht
What’s in my Kitchen? Tomato Mozzarella and Moussaka

Sunday, March 12, 2006

FOUR


I never participate in memes and tags mainly because I prefer to write my own stuff in this blog than answering a poll. But life is not always fair, my brains are half dead lazy tonight. Ever had those mental or writer’s block moments? You want to write but you do not know what.

So there, I guess I finally have the excuse to respond to a tag. Yeah, I was tagged. The questions though are quite interesting especially the last one as it woke my slumber.

The tag too ends right here, so I won’t be passing this to anyone.

Four jobs you have had in your life:

1) Sales Manager
2) Senior Account Manager
3) Product Specialist
4) Account Manager
[All jobs in ICT - hardware, business software applications and consulting]

Four movies you could watch over and over:
1) None
[As you can see, I am not a movie person! I am also not sentimental]

Four places you have lived:
1) Utrecht, Netherlands

2) Nieuwegein, Netherlands
3) Wack Wack Greenhills, Mandaluyong, Philippines
4) Near Boni Avenue, Mandaluyong, Philippines
[Only in the last 10 years… I have lived in many other cities before this!]


Four TV Shows you love to watch:
1) Local and International News

2) CSI
[Ah, I’m not a TV person either!]

Four places you have been on vacation:
1) Tirol [the Alps], AUSTRIA

2) Bremen and Cologne, GERMANY
3) Brussels, BELGIUM
4) Lisbon & Algarve, PORTUGAL
[For year 2005 and 2006 only]


Four websites you visit regularly:
1) Dutched Pinay on Expatriation

2) Nu News or BBC World News

3) Asawa, A Fil-West Relationship Forum
4) Lonelyplanet Thorntree Travel Forum
[Except Google, its my automatic internet page launch]

Four of your favorite foods:
1) Stir-fry vegetables
2) Any seafood, especially grilled
3) Dried sausages, especially the Italian and Spanish ones
4) Fruits

Four places you would rather be right now:
1) Sitting in the airplane
2) Lounging in a sun bed by the Brazilian beach coast
3) Driving along Ayala Avenue in Makati or Mango Avenue in Cebu, Philippines
4) Skiing in the European Alps

Friday, March 10, 2006

The difference between an Expatriate and an Immigrant


An immigrant is someone who intends to reside permanently, and not a casual visitor or traveler. Immigration means “in-migration” into a country, and is the reverse of emigration “out-migration.”

An expatriate (in abbreviated form expat) is someone temporarily or permanently in a country and culture other than that of their upbringing and/or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin ex (out of) and patria (country), and is sometimes misspelled as ex-patriot, due to its pronunciation.

The difference between an expatriate and an immigrant is that immigrants commit themselves to becoming a part of their country of residence, whereas expatriates see themselves, and are perceived, as living in a foreign land.


Question: So what am I then?


Am I an immigrant who has triumphed over xenophobia, learned to camouflage with the locals and embraced willingly the idiosyncrasies of the Dutch? Or am I an expatriate who always sees that tiny bridge between me and the Netherlands?

Flags of the Philippines and the Netherlands.


At this point in my life, I can honestly say --- BOTH. I am an immigrant and I am an expatriate. Thus, I am an expatmigrant.

In looking back, I think I have marshaled my best behavior in discovering, observing, understanding, learning and integrating, and still continuing though, into my new country. And being an extremely open minded person, I also made sure to present a complementary tolerant attitude. At some point, I felt that I have become a real erudite of the Dutch culture.


Many people have also told me that I am so un-Filipino in my philosophy of life, [yeah even way back then when I was still living in Manila]. I usually just shrug these comments off, nonchalantly. The point is I never felt un-Filipino anyway.

Notwithstanding all the above, I still can’t help but feel and think foreign in this country. I know, 3.5 years isn’t enough but I honestly do not see myself in the next 10, 20 or 30 years identified as a Dutch vrouw [woman], even if I will have a Dutch passport. Technically I will be, but in the matters regarding to my state of mind, I think I will never be.


Hmm... wait.... perhaps in the long run, I will become a baffling mix breed of Ms. bulad [dried fish] and Ms. kaas [cheese]. Ah, such lovely combination for breakfast!

ANYWHO...


One night, at home after dinner, I was browsing online at several real estate portals in the Philippines. New development projects seem to be sprouting like beans all over Manila. Dutchman on the other hand was sitting across me in the living room, his laptop, like mine, buttressed on the armrest of our black leather sofa.

Without thinking properly and just going through the motion of my adopted spontaneous mood, I blurted out, “I can make a lot of money buying, developing and selling small houses and condominiums in the Philippines.”

Dutchman paused, looked at me and frowned. “But you are here in Holland, how can you do such business?” He asked, somewhat defiantly.

“Oh yeah, you’re right…” I said, staring blankly at him.

“Holland is now your home baby.” He said firmly but in a very reassuring tone while beckoning me with his arm to come and sit beside him.

Moving towards the Dutchman and still lost at the thought of where is home, I muttered, “It is… but it is not.” ---I felt a sudden wave of confusion engulfing me.

Quite complicated isn’t it?


Since we are conditioned to have 1 home, it seems paradoxical to feel, think and belong to 2 homes. Your mind struggles to choose a single home, but you know you just can’t.

I guess this is the pragmatic reality when juggling identity between 2 countries and 2 cultures. It becomes a crisis, an identity crisis. It’s like that tug of war game, sometimes you are thrown to the left, sometimes pulled to the right, and other times, you just want to let go.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tall men and pretty women


Earlier of today while waiting in the conference room for my meeting, I browsed through a stack of Dutch management and economy magazines. I chose the newest date available. An article caught my eye...

It says: TALLER MEN HAVE HIGHER INCOMES

The latest study was conducted in the USA and it showed that 30% of the CEO’s in America’s Fortune 500 companies were gifted in the height department, standing tall at 1.83 cm. and over [6 feet]. Surprisingly, this height statistics accounts only to about 5% of the total American male population. The average American male height still remains at a steady 175 cm. [5 feet 9 inches].

The article further articulated the importance of height in leadership and income.

It also enumerated the tallest men per country basis and as expected the tallest award on the world male category goes to the Dutch men averaging at 1.83 cm. and followed closely by the Swedish men. The Dutch women were also found to be the tallest, followed by the Swedish women too.


Catch22: This doesn’t mean though that the average Dutch man, as compared to other nationalities, has a much higher income!

Many local and international studies in the past have speculated that the increase in height of the Dutch has something to do with the combination of rich diet and excellent healthcare in the Netherlands. Some people though would argue saying it’s just the cheese.


Anyway, I tried my Dutch Google and typed this phrase into the search window, gemiddeld lengte of hoogte van nederlanders [average height of the Dutch]. I was expecting to find many related information sites of Dutch people’s height in the local language but quite strange, I couldn’t find much! It seems that the favorite height discussions went to the weather and how tall the dikes are and how high the waters can rise up in this country, ha-ha.

Moving further...

I also read an old article with a similar topic in determining a woman’s income and success. The factor though was not about height but the physical looks of the woman.

It says: ATTRACTIVE WOMEN HAVE HIGHER INCOMES than the average looking ones.

While the Dutchman agrees to this theory, I, on the other hand is not that convinced. It’s just not fair. Whatever happened to brains + street smart confidence? Or does this mean brains + street smart confidence + attractiveness combined?

Alright, now I know what to do… and hey to the women out there, listen up too!

I’m going to do the following:


- Be really serious with my diet now
- Start my dancercise
- Review my beauty supplements
- Intensify my make up and fashion skills

I hope this isn’t much for a to-do beauty list though. So, anyone wants to join me in this program?

Friday, March 03, 2006

The poignant truth about weather


Weather, weather on my call, will it be sunny, rainy, snowy, foggy… or is it them all?

When I say to people that I live in the Netherlands, many would think it’s synonymous to Poland, New Zealand or Norway. Quite funny, but after a constant slip-up, it starts to exacerbate and magnify, not my irritation but how dense some people are [insert sarcasm here]. I didn’t know many individuals have actually flunked their geography subject in high school, huh? Ah, don’t humor me anymore please.


Anyway, many also think that it’s very cold up here. People have this whimsical vision of immaculate imagery, a country dyed in white, in with none other than - snow.


I thought so too… but not until I came to live here.

Instead of looking forward to the spring season, March 2006 greeted us with more wintry days. It has been snowing since the eve of 28 February, which was the last night of Carnaval. Yes, it’s white outside, but in this foto it seems that my surroundings have turned into a 1960 black and white TV!


The Netherlands lies on the north western sphere of mainland Europe, bordered by Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea facing the UK over the west and Norway to the north.

What most people do not realize are these interesting topographic and climate facts:

1. The country is situated along the coastline, thus the maritime temperate climate effect.
2. Majority of the land sits below sea level with many reclaimed polders, protected by dikes.
3. It is the receiver of strong winds coming from the North Sea.
4. It is a flat land all throughout and there are no mountains to isolate temperatures and winds.
5. It is positioned under the area of heavy precipitation pressure and due to its maritime climate, water usually come down in the form of rain, and not always snow. In fact it seldom snows here.

All of the above plays a significant role why the weather in this country behaves like a mad scorned woman, fraught under a notorious midlife crisis of spasmodic unpredictable personality disorder and bouts of PMS syndrome. They happen every now and then, if unlucky, every day and sometimes, every minute.

There was a time when I witnessed a series of dramatic and instant weather changes. They all happened in just a span of seconds from each other. I would have wished to capture the amazing display of nature on video but I only have pictures to show.

This is a sneak preview of how obscure and erratic the weather is in the Netherlands, yeah, in a span of seconds. Thus is the reason why I have become obsessed on checking the weather man every single day.

Without the weather man, we wouldn’t know what tomorrow is like. Mind you, it affects greatly what our outfit is going to be like plus the added survival paraphernalia kit to arm ourselves, i.e. umbrella, raincoat, how many layers of clothing inside, type of gloves, must you wear something on your head and so forth.

For the scrupulous types, think of these possible scenarios:


The heavens might decide to send a package of snow or hail. Perhaps it will just rain and be damp all day, just like how it is all year round anyway. There is also a large chance that the skies would elect to yield the tampo [sulking phenomenon] resulting into a grey and gloomy day. Maybe some thick fog will accompany it too, well you never know. How about some strong winds occurring on the next hour? Besides, how low shall the temperatures go down today? Or, are there intermittent rays of hope during the day, such as a glimpse of the elusive sunshine? Ah, anything can happen in the Netherlands…

Last year, the largest bank in the Netherlands conducted a first-ever study quantifying the extent of adverse weather conditions affecting industry production in Western Europe, Scandinavia and North America.

The Netherlands was placed on the highest extreme risk of losing close to 30% of its industry to adverse weather conditions, followed closely by Denmark. The article can be checked here: Weather Risk Study Compares Vulnerability of Industry in Western Europe, Scandinavia and North America for First Time

What is interesting and seemingly familiar between the two countries is its topography and climate. Denmark has high amount of precipitation, is flat and is also situated along the coastline right above the Netherlands towards the east facing the North Sea.

The climate and topography hazards the four season countries experience are nothing different with tropical countries too, although variations on the source of causes and effects will show, still, ultimately the quantified risks are the same. The difference however, as compared to how western nations proactively act [exemption: Hurricane Katrina] is how countries in Asia turn a deaf ear on predicted warnings of catastrophic events such as the case in the Philippines several weeks ago in the province of Leyte. Due to heavy rainshowers, a mudslide killed close to 2,000 people [and so did the Asian Tsunami and the yearly flooding in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka].

This is the mountain that collapsed a few weeks ago in Leyte [Visayas, central region] with rescue choppers flying towards it and flash floods in Nueva Ecija [Luzon, northern region] way back in 2004.

Such a distressing tragedy, the country could have done something to help prevent the perils of adverse weather conditions that now has, and will continue, to unnecessarily affect and kill the lives of many... And puh-lease okay, don’t ever give me the crap that this is all about god’s punishment!

I believe the Philippine government is not that obtuse as we may think it is. To simply not be explicitly aware of the nation’s unique location in the Pacific tropical belt enclave, visited by storms, cyclones and monsoon rain, year after year, is bollocks. Additionally, the Philippine government is very much aware that the country is rich in natural resources and because of this, greedy businessmen have risen up to the occasion [they are lining up], many of them purportedly are cleverly supported and concealed by local or regional high-ranking government service men.

What is the crime? --Deliberately and unashamedly raping the Philippines rainforest through illegal logging and deforestation = costs the lives of many


Some people are lethally avaricious, they are evil incarnates serving only their insatiable appetites. To add insult to this already full blown tumor of an injury, the side of the law does almost nothing. Sad fact it is but many of the Philippine politicians are just too shady to be trusted. Internal investigations on graft and corruption are last sighted lost in the weaves of red tape, later exterminated and dumped into the Smokey Mountain reservoir of waste [squat village of the destitute that sits on a mountain made of garbage].

Uh, I blabber away and digress again.

What can I do? Weather... such a poignant subject it seems...

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