All Work Deserves Respect: A Photo Essay

Fair wages. Adequate rest days. Equal labor rights. It all boils down to "respect". Workers clamor tirelessly for these issues, which ring louder this time of the year as many parts of the world celebrate Labor Day. Hay Pinas! Correspondent Joemer Mandigal shares snapshots from the International Migrant Rally that he participated in last December.

Wanted/Unwanted: Profiling and the Migrant Worker


The man in a police car asked me to stop. I was a few feet away from our condominium to catch my husband who's about to hail a taxi to work.

Not only did I stop. My body froze from fear. In my three years here in Taiwan, this was my fifth time I've been asked to stop by the police.

Two of them came out and approached me. My husband, seeing this, went back to ask what's happening. "We want to see your ID," one guy said.

We took out our Alien Resident Certificates (ARC) from our wallets and showed it to both of them. They saw that both of us are legal residents. They just nodded without anything to say. Of course my irritated husband asked why we were questioned. The police man said in a louder voice, "It's the law! You need to bring your ID."

Honestly, I felt we were in grade school. Only we could be sent to jail.

On Racial Profiling

The night before the incident, I happened to read an article for foreigners  to always obey the laws of your host country, "even if these seem harsh or unfair."

I have high respect for the government here and I seldom question their protocols. Racial profiling, however, takes its toll on innocent people who just happen to be different from the citizens, or look like other illegal aliens.

Now, instead of feeling safe when I see roving police cars, my heart seriously beats faster with the thought that I may be one of the people they're out to get (even if I'm not guilty of anything).

Naively, I asked an American co-worker if he also had this problem. Of course, he said no but acknowledged that it was a terrible situation to be in. I just jokingly replied that I'd be willing to wear the I'm-not-illegal placard so that they'd save the time pulling over.

On 'Facial' Profiling

In the taxi cab, my husband tried to make things lighter for us. After all, it was his first time to be profiled. I looked away and diverted my attention to a row of peach blossoms in the street. I would never have this at home, I sadly thought.

It was again naive of me to think that these things just happen here.

The Philippines has its own taste too. Atty. Dodo Dulay, a columnist  for Manila Times,  asked What's wrong with "facial" profiling? With this type of profiling, he iterated that "an unfortunate Filipino tourist can be prevented or barred from traveling abroad at the whim or caprice of single immigration officer who determines that he or she is a “tourist worker” or a “potential” or “suspected” human trafficking victim based on a buffet of factors..."

During my trips from the Philippines, I was often asked by some airport personnel what I'm doing in Taiwan. I'd answer that I'm already a resident there. One officer harshly asked me if I was married to a Taiwanese since I have a Chinese name. If so, I need to get the right papers for it. "No, I'm not and what papers are you looking for," I raised my voice. He stamped my passport and let me go.

Some of my friends advised me to wear nicer clothes and a pair of earrings when passing through our immigration office in Manila airports (to look more like a well-off balikbayan). Because my flights are usually in wee hours, I was never in the mood to dress pretty. So I just keep my fingers crossed that no immigration officer will rudely interrogate me.

Truth be told, there are a lot of illegal aliens living in Taiwan, mostly from Southeast Asia. We also have serious cases of human trafficking in the Philippines. But I can't help to ask: Where does someone like me go when he or she fits the physical profiles of both the Unwanted and the Wanted?

*Postscript: I was given context by our Chinese teacher that migrant workers travel in groups and stay at work or in dormitories usually. Those traveling alone may be illegal or runaway workers. Random police checks are pretty normal too, even for citizens.

Balikbayan on a Budget: Summer Vacation


Itching to feel the summer heat and the Filipino warmth again? Before even booking your flight back home, here are three simple tips on how to enjoy a vacation and still keep your wallet healthy.

Set your budget and priorities

You know how the excitement of coming home makes you want to do a lot of catching up with most of your relatives and friends. Find some time planning and budgeting your trip. Ask yourself: How much should you spend for this vacation? Who do you want to spend it with, and where?

Always keep in mind that your vacation is about reconnecting with the people closest to your heart.  It's a breather from work. So don't blow off your savings and find the need to work doubly hard afterwards.

Trip Tip! Keep your vacation news within your closest kin. Arrange simple meet-ups with your best of friends. 

Know when to split the cost

Somewhere, there's an unwritten rule that balikbayans always foot the bill. That's why most can't say no to requests from their loved ones. From boxes of chocolates, new shoes, to upscale home appliances.

While some protest in silence, most balikbayans feel opening their wallets is the same as opening their hearts. It has been a way to bridge the gap, caused by the time spent apart.  Remember that enjoying the company of your family doesn't have to come at a high price tag.

Trip Tip! Ask for a relative's help to organize potluck for family reunions.

Control your vacation splurges

The local malls seem to have everything you need that you can't find abroad. "Clothes are cheaper here!" "I miss the taste of this de-lata!" "My Filipino friends will love this pasalubong!"

So, you end up having more balikbayan boxes with you than cash. Resist  buying all the souvenirs you can find. Just focus on the things you really need.

Trip Tip! Remember to jot down your expenses. 

Living Out Your Faith in a Foreign Land


One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Daniel. As a little kid, I read his story countless times and was amazed by his courage to worship and pray to his God in a foreign land despite being forbidden to do so. He was thrown into the lions’ den as a result, yet the God he served rescued him from being devoured by the lions.

Unlike in Daniel’s time when it was decreed that praying to God during a 30-day period meant sure death, we are blessed to enjoy religious freedom in Taiwan. We can freely assemble, proselytize, and engage in faith-based activities.

As the Christian world remembers the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this week, let me share with you a few precious faith lessons learned during my 8 years in Taiwan as an overseas Filipino worker and a Pastor’s wife. Everyday, we face our own share of fierce lions, but like Daniel who depended on God to deliver him, we can also take comfort in the fact that God will never leave us nor forsake us.

Find a spiritual family.

Leaving our family behind is not easy. When we come to work in a foreign land, we are suddenly thrust into an environment where we’d have to adjust to the culture, the language, and host of other new things. Building relationships at work will certainly help, but I found that getting plugged into a church family allowed me to develop deeper, more intimate friendships. We grow in our faith with other believers, we carry one another’s burdens, and we receive encouragement. Plus, we get the chance to encourage others, too.

Many of the friendships I’ve built in the church family continue to flourish long after my friends have left Taiwan. They’ve either moved to other countries or have gone back to the Philippines, but we keep in touch. I’m truly thankful for each person that God has brought my way and for making this foreign land my second home.

Accept that adversities are opportunities in disguise.

When people are in debt, homesick, and going through difficulties, they are most likely to seek comfort in their faith. Many of our members in church were nominal Christians in the Philippines. They attended church every Sunday and forgot about God the rest of the week. When they came to Taiwan and experienced being away from their comfort zone, they sought God and became very actively committed in church, eventually becoming leaders and ministers themselves. Indeed, pain is one way for God to get our full, undivided attention.

Getting sick in a foreign land is not easy. My husband had a knee operation and I couldn’t go with him to the hospital because I had to be in the office. I had extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) for a renal stone on a Sunday and had to be back at work the following day. Several friends have had surgery, and could only rely on co-workers to take turns to care for them. In the midst of those difficulties, we’ve all emerged stronger. Those were precious opportunities to develop our character and to experience God’s faithfulness in tough times.

Invest in things with eternal value.

Working in Taiwan is not a walk in the park. The hours are long, the job is difficult, and often, people are tough to work with. When payday comes, many will remit a big part of their income to their families in the Philippines. Some will hit the shopping districts or treat themselves to a big meal. There’s nothing wrong with supporting our families back home or giving ourselves well-deserved treats. But we should not forget that we are mere stewards of God’s blessings. Remember to feed your soul and spirit, invest your time and resources in sharing your faith, and with God’s help, touch and impact a life. Remember, you are blessed to be a blessing.

Thank God in all circumstances.

We can be so forgetful! Before we came to Taiwan, we prayed and prayed for the opportunity to work abroad and earn good money. Now that we’re here, we realize that life’s not a bed of roses, and we often end up complaining. God’s Word tells us to thank God in all things, not for all things. God wants us to maintain an attitude of gratefulness, not for the bad things happening to us, but in all situations because God will help us overcome and turn things around. There’s so much to be thankful for. When we are grateful, we change not only our circumstances, but also ourselves.

We’ve had lots of tough times here. I often feel as if I were a captive trying to break free from chains of slavery. Sometimes, I fear that the lions of depression, loneliness, pressure, financial obligations, sickness, and fatigue would beat me. But when I focus on my blessings and on the size of my God rather than the size of my problems, I experience inner peace.

Hope for the best.

Know that God brought you here for a higher purpose other than to make a living. If you are burdened by the needs of your family, or stressed with the demands of your work, remember God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” After Good Friday and Black Saturday comes Resurrection Sunday! Be comforted in knowing that our God is alive. He didn’t stay in the tomb. He rose from the dead, and you can ask for His help anytime.

Whether we are in the Philippines or toiling in a foreign land, He is the same loving, caring God who wants the best for us.