Saturday, September 15, 2007

first stop: call center

"What?!? You’re working in a call center?!?" (Translation: Are you out of your mind?) "Well, it’s your choice…" (Translation: You are indeed out of your mind and you’re making a wrong decision.)

When I verbally announced my plans of working in a call center, I was swarmed with a lot of people – not to wish me luck or pat my back for a wise decision made, but to object and hopefully dissuade me from doing such. Truth of the matter is, it was an expected reaction from people. I mean, I too, was one of those people who’d rank a call center as the last in my list of prospective workplaces. Before, I could have almost sworn that I won’t ever work in a call center. Good thing I didn’t because, well, here I am. In the flesh. Working as a call center agent.

No, I’m not out of my mind (yet). The first few days of training were so fun that I actually looked forward to go to work everyday. Aside from it being a totally new experience for me, I met other people and learned a couple of other stuff. It was like going back to school but this time, it was all about our client and their products. It was all about the right things to say and being able to say it in a matter of seconds. Sounds pretty easy, right? But lately, we’ve been thrown to the dungeon of lions that it got me asking, "What have I gotten into?"

In layman’s terms, we’ve been taking in calls and that means being the target of upset and irate customers who’d do anything and everything to get on your nerves if you can’t give them what they want. Just like everyone else, I thought working in a call center meant an easy job – just taking in calls and answering people’s questions. I wish it was as simple as that. But customer service is not. On top of hitting specific metrics like how good the call was or how we treated the customer (even if the customer is yelling like hell) or if we ever attempted to sell products of the client, we are primarily the middle ground between our client and our customers. To the client, we are the voice of the customers. To the customers, we are the voice of the client. And sometimes, it’s hard to hold both of them on the same ground.

It’s been two months going on three and I’d be a real hypocrite if I say, without batting an eyelash, that I like what I do. That I never attempted to walk away from this job. That I never whined about the high stress levels I had to put up with. Charge me, I’m guilty. To make things worse, people kept on telling me I won’t get anything out of this job but stress and additional pounds and I actually started to believe it. I started to complain. And complained some more when I realized I can’t just walk away from my job because of the contract I signed. Damn contract. I could actually just walk away, you know, but I felt somehow liable for it. Even in my disappointed state, it felt so wrong to do that. So you see, I wedged myself in a very tight situation where the only reasonable option is to stay. I sulked, nagged, and screamed. I cursed my job and I abhorred my callers. Everyday was an agony to the point that I’d lose my appetite just thinking that I have to go back to work again.

I couldn’t remember how or when but it must have been the point where I was just too tired to complain when it dawned on me that I may not have full control of all the circumstances but I do have a choice – no, not a choice between staying and leaving, but a choice on how I’m going to live my life despite the fact that it didn’t take me to where I really wanted to be. A thought occurred to me that perhaps what I needed at this point in my life is a change in perspective. What if I just stop complaining? It’s doing me no good anyway. Besides, I presume it won’t be the first and the last time I’ll get myself into this sticky situation. What if I just look at all these in a different, positive light? Would my life now be any better? That thought lingered on my mind for days for the first time in four years, the saying I’ve long adored, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul," gave me a new meaning. I may never hold the power to calm the maddening waves in the sea but I can change the way I maneuver my ship so I can still reach my destination safely. In this lifetime, circumstances and our own actions may lead us to places where we don’t want to go but let us consider them part of our journey and instead, turn them into opportunities for learning. Lessons. We can never have too much of them. In every situation and in every circumstance, there will always be little truths and little lessons that we can uncover. It’s just a matter of knowing where and how to find them.

So now, it’s been two months going on three. Yes, I’m still stuck in this job. Despite everything, I still consider myself fortunate. Many people would kill just to have a job. In this country where the jobless greatly outnumber the job opportunities, I’m one lucky dudette. Yes, I’m still stuck in this job but the lessons keep coming. And I’m staying – at least for now. Let’s just say that in the course of my career path, I’m taking my first stop. I’ll never know for sure. It might not be what I wanted but it might be the very thing I needed…

Saturday, June 30, 2007

why media is not for me

“…and remember, dress properly, be courteous…” And so goes the litany of last-minute reminders. I was packing my things for my trip back to Cebu after a two-week vacation in my hometown in Leyte. (where all I did was to eat, maximize our cable television, surf the internet at wee hours, and sleep) My mother was going in and out of my bedroom, bringing my ironed clothes and checking if I forgot to pack any of my belongings. We managed to slip in the perfunctory mother-daughter conversation. Had I known better, my mother is as anxious as I am in entering the yet unfamiliar terrains of the real world – the world after university education, where one has to deal with real problems concerning survival, money, and career.

Fresh graduates have an edge over more seasoned workers when it comes to applying for jobs, a colleague of mine once remarked, because their minds are still teeming with much gusto and idealism. College students, when they graduate, set their gears in motion to put into practice all the years of theory that school has taught them. They are eager and excited to take on the new challenges of life.

Imagine them as little kids who have just discovered the power of their arms and hands. To their delight, they start to crawl around and crawl some more until they, too, find out about their legs and the marvels they could do with those two tiny feet. Fresh graduates are like those kids, trying to take a big plunge into that great career pool and testing the current if it is calm enough for one to be allowed to struggle in and across it, and if the circumstances are favorable, he or she may be swimming towards the other side in no time. But while others have gone diving – discovering their strengths and weaknesses in their fields, I have remained at the edges with much conviction, skittering…skittering…and skittering still.

When people leave the halls of the university, they have more or less conceived notions on how they will be spending most of their lives. I had my ideas, too. In fact, way before college, I was determined to pursue a career in journalism. My greatest ambition then was to work as a journalist in one of the nation’s daily broadsheets. The vision was simple: me, sitting on a desk, typing away words that come bumping into my head, and finding that article on print the very next day. I was so enamored by the thought that without hesitations, I told my parents I was going to take up Mass Communication in college. Even if I knew they wanted me to follow their footsteps and take an education course, they gave me their blessing. Back then, people prophesied that I’d be the next Korina Sanchez or Bobby Nalzaro. Though I was quick to dismiss their forecasts as premature, I still dreamed my childhood dream and I thought nothing could ever dissuade me from pursuing such. But then, reality took on an entirely different meaning in college. Reality was…REAL…so real that I could smell it, touch it, and grasp it with my own hands. So real that the little things I used to ignore were now larger than what my eyes could take in. So real that one by one, the pieces started falling into place – but not without first landing smack on my face.

One of the most frustrating moments in your life is when you realize how different and how great the difference is between reality and idealism. In the four walls of the classroom, you are taught clearly what is black and white but outside the confines of that room, you’ll see that the world is marked with a lot of grey areas. I’m one of those ordinary people whose ideas are not lived up to by reality. When one gets to see the starkness of reality, one would feel giddy about it on impulse – having seen something so close which others are not privy to. At first, one would feel an overwhelming sense of power that comes from the mere knowledge of it. But those first moments have long passed and now I am only left with one thing: reality, in its naked form.

In school, we have always been taught that media is the fourth estate of a democracy and an important catalyst of change. Media practitioners should be objective, fair, and at all times, ethical. But in this world where there is no equality, where money is powerful, and where greedy people run the political system, all those high-sounding words, remain to be words…and ideas in our heads. The great burning dream of mine was reduced to ashes that dissipated, piece by piece, to the wind and nevermore. Thus, I stumbled across one of the many roadblocks in life.

I have decided to avoid employment in mainstream media because I do not want to be caught in a situation where I have to compromise my ethical values. The media is one of those places where you can most likely trade your ideals for money. I’d rather be employed in a corporation, whose nature is admittedly profit-oriented than be employed in a media institution, whose nature is also profit-oriented, hiding under the guise of public service. I was once fooled into thinking that if I become a part of mainstream media, I could affect people’s lives and fight for what is true. Well, that is partly correct. But it happens if and only if it will not collide with the personal interests of the media owners. Otherwise, it is best to shut up if you don’t want to be fired. At least in a private company, I know clearly what I am working for. No icing on the cake. No false guises. Just… reality. And just what I want at this point in my life…

Sunday, June 03, 2007

best place next to home

For the past twenty years of my existence, I have spent most of my Holy Weeks in Barili, the hometown of my father located at the southern part of Cebu. Save for that particular week during the year, my grandmother’s house is relatively quiet. But as Holy Tuesday steps in, people start pouring into the house, lugging baggages, appliances, little kids, and beautiful memories behind. My grandmother’s house would seem to glow from all the noise and bustle inside it – the sound of hammers fixing the wooden figures of the family caro, the music and the voices coming from the rented karaoke machine, the crying and screaming of little kids, the laughter of binatas and the dalagas talking about the latest happenings in their lives, the conversations of the mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles on how the kids have grown, and so on and so forth. It is no longer the lonely house it was during most of the days of the year. For the next few days, it becomes our home.

Tradition has it that every Holy Week, all the eleven sons and daughters of my lola Guadalupe Alquizola-Yap gather in her house not only to observe the Holy Week but also to participate in a family-held custom – to decorate, arrange, and parade the family caro every Holy Wednesday. In a way, we are obliged to be there since it’s a family thing. But then, as the saying “the more, the merrier” goes, all the preparations we undertake can hardly be called tasks since we enjoy working together and catching up on each other in between. Amid all the fuss of arranging the flowers and dressing up the life-sized figures of Jesus the Nazarene, Simon, the Centurion, and the rest, we manage to pop in a little chitchat. Our efforts, after all, are not in vain. We are rewarded by delicious meals prepared by the mothers at home. And it’s no ordinary meal. In honor of the occasion, it’s almost like a feast.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to roll by quickly with the busy schedule. But as Thursday morning peeps in, everyone can sit back, relax, and savor the rest of the week. I know Holy Week should be a time for reflection and prayer but it seems to be the only perfect excuse for everyone to leave their jobs and classes behind. We only meet once a year as a big family so we don’t let it pass without having some fun. This is where the karaoke showdown, the movie marathon, and the small trips to scenic spots come in. The week is usually concluded with a day or a day and a night at the beach, complete with the inuman sessions, night swimming, and eating.

On a personal note, here are the things that I really love most about staying in Barili for the Holy Week: (1) I like the feel of being united as a big family, despite the generation differences. Today, there are about three generations of our family gathering in my lola’s house and our family just keeps on growing! (2) I especially like meal times, even if we have to go by batches since the dining table can definitely not accommodate all of us in one sitting. I like meal times because aside from my obvious affection for food, meal times are usually accompanied by small jokes thrown at each other at the dining table. (3) Bedtimes are sometimes a headache. The house has only five rooms. Imagine trying to fit in eleven sons and daughters plus the children and the grandchildren in one house. Some end up sleeping on mats spread out on the floor. Just last Holy Week, the five of the older girl-cousins – that’s me, Japril, Pauline, Ella, and Julie Ann – had to make do with one bed. Three of us had to sleep sideways so we won’t all fall out of the bed. Hahaha! That’s actually a fun part of it. Since we girls are inseparable during those days, we push the limits harder. Even the smallest nook of the house can become a haven as long as we’re together and we can talk about our love lives and sing together. (4) Do you know that since time immemorial, (okay, that was just an overstatement) we girl-cousins take a bath together? I’m not really sure if it saves time and water. But we love it anyway. (5) Lastly, I love being with my cousins. I’m lucky that I have cousins who have (more or less) the same age as mine. I see how we have grown from awkward kids to mature adolescents. I can now recollect fond memories of my childhood in that house and I can see the difference between then and now. For instance, back then we really love riding the trisikad at night to get some fresh air and to tour around the town proper. Now, we do it because we want to be on the lookout for cute guys. Before, we play with our toys and we even cringe at the mere thought of us having boyfriends. But today, guess the main topic of our conversations? Mostly about the things we eewed and ughed before – boys plus relationship and dating. We really have grown up.

As I write this article, a wave of nostalgia hits me as I realize that as we grow up, our priorities change. For those who have finished college like me, our work becomes our priority. Some of my cousins cannot make it to the Holy Week gatherings because they work as seamen abroad. And with the looming crisis facing our country, some members of our family plan to leave the country for good. I hope that one day, I wouldn’t have to miss the gathering for other things in this life. But just in case I do, I still would like to go back to that house once in a while – Holy Week or not. It is, after all, the best place next to home.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thank you

It has been over a week since I graduated. Yes, the ordeal is over. After what seemed like an eternity waiting for the verdict of the University Council, I finally donned my sablay, walked onstage, took the fruit of my four years’ hard work, and shook hands with the university president. Man, that was just overwhelming. I was nearly brought to tears as I was walking up the stage with my parents because it was only until then when the reality that I was actually graduating sank in! The problem with our curriculum threatened our chances for graduation but I was not overly worried about it. Well, my teachers were confident that the council would let us graduate, considering it wasn’t our fault to begin with and considering the consequence that we would probably sue them if they wouldn’t. Still, graduating was like a distant dream for me. All the time, I was hovering in my own little world of dreams that I didn’t notice one of them was coming true – for real. You see, after the final defense of my thesis, I temporarily shut myself out to the world. I was dead tired and drained to the last drop of blood and tears. I took a supposedly short break during the Holy Week and spent it with my musically-inclined family and relatives in my father’s hometown in Barili. But I missed vacation too much that I generously allowed myself to bum the week after that. The thought of graduation was far from my mind since I wasn’t sure I would be graduating anyway. So when the good news broke out that majority of the members of the University Council decided to let us graduate after the deliberations, all I did was to shout, in my half-drunken state, “Makagraduate ko!” I jumped up and down, sang my heart out, drank more than a little, ate a full meal after, and threw up. (I’m actually allergic to beer. My brothers say it’s in the genes.) In other words, it seemed as if I just heard a joke and I laughed it off. Silly me. But well, I did graduate and reality finally snapped me back to the present.

So now I’m standing at the door of a new chapter of my life. I’m about to join the country’s labor and tax-paying force. As of press time, I haven’t sent an application letter or résumé. Er, maybe I’ll bum a little more while planning my next moves in the chessboard of life. In the meantime, my heart is bursting with profuse thanks for the people who helped me course through my college life. For sure, they didn’t make the journey easier but they made the trip worth it. To my parents, for giving me the go signal in the times when I’m about to venture into something new and for knowing when to bring down the red light when my foolishness got the better of me. My brothers and my sister-in-law, for being my professional support system. You guys might suspect that I have more crazy bones in my body but you still backed me up whatever decision I made. To my teachers, whom I have cursed because I sometimes found them unreasonable and unjust, thank you – for all the things I’ve learned in the four years that I stayed in the university. To my block mates, who have seen me grow (and ehem, mature?) and practically grew up with me. You brought the best and the worst in me. I didn’t cry during graduation (it didn’t occur to me yet that from now on, we’d go our own separate ways) but I know that days from now, I’ll be sobbing on my own because I’ll be terribly missing our food trips, night-outs, even the casual conversations in class. To my friends and all the good acquaintances I’ve made, you made my college years rock and roll. You’re the best! Lastly, and definitely not the least, the Lord Almighty, whom I have doubted, trusted, doubted again, and trusted again but who – amidst all those weaknesses, always picked me up when I fell and never failed to teach me the right lessons. For embracing me with loving arms, Father, I thank you. Have Your will in me.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

pre-graduation jitters

After going through several moments of despair over a backlog of thesis work set aside for other demanding short-term requirements, after crying over the spilled milk of an exam not answered well because you hung out at the local videoke stop-over with friends believing it would “energize” your already tired brains and muscles and help you in the next day’s exam, after working straight hours to beat the deadliest deadlines even if it meant missing baths and meals, I now sit here in front of our trusty computer, praying it would not shut itself down after being abused over the past four years of my college existence. I sit here while sipping hot Swiss Miss chocolate and reminiscing the past months of blog silence, wondering where I should start picking the pieces up to fill in what happened to me in those times. But truth to tell, I barely noticed those three months pass me by. Everything now seems like a blur and I am momentarily experiencing a short-term memory loss because I am just too overwhelmed to have been able to comply with my school requirements. I am now looking forward to graduation, which is set on the 26th of April. But oh well, compliance to requirements aside, an unforeseen dilemma caught us all off guard. Our batch was supposedly the first batch to graduate under the new curriculum but along the way of the bureaucratic process, our college was not furnished with the formal notice regarding the implementation of the curriculum. Hence, our division continued using the old curriculum. After we processed our papers for graduation, we found out, to our dismay, that we lacked three units. Uh-oh. So as of the moment, our graduation is still pending. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

In the meantime, while enduring the torturous wait for our fate, I have to do some editing for my thesis. While on the process of editing, I remembered my memorable experiences working on it. Once, I had to visit the Christ for Asia Foundation office for an important interview. There I was, looking dignified and all, waiting for my interviewee who was still on field. Christ for Asia has a shelter for street kids both boys and girls. Because it was break time, they were so busy running around, climbing, shouting, and all the other things a kid would normally do. I just sat there contentedly watching them and reminiscing my own childhood days while the wind was silently blowing in my face. I was ready to drift off to dreamland when a kid took special notice of my hair and remarked that I had a grey hair sticking out of my head. Without any further ado, he gathered all his guts and triumphantly pulled the gray hair out and handed it to me. Chuckling a little, I managed to mumble a word of thanks. But instead of dropping it, he was more motivated to go on. He pulled out another one. And another. And another. In my head, I pictured him as the eager kid scientist and I was the unwilling specimen. But the kid scientist, it seemed, wanted to consult other scientists of his latest discovery. He called on his other colleagues for help! What?!? Before I could protest, the kids who were once rambunctiously playing were swarming around me and started picking out my gray hairs. Some were even boasting that they could pull out three gray hairs in one picking. Oh dear! I wanted to grip the scrunchie that was holding my hair but one mischievous little boy took it off. My hair was all over my head and I could only smile sheepishly at the passersby who were probably wondering what on earth was going on. Despite everything, I initiated a little chitchat with the kids, telling them to remember to leave a little hair on my head. We talked a little more. I tried to make them guess my age. Gray hairs must be kind of deceiving. One kid confidently announced, “Ninety!” I was so amused I couldn’t stop laughing. The naughty kids I saw in them seemed to transform into young adults, even telling me things like, “Te, daghan kaayo kag uban. Ayaw anang daghan kaayo kag uban kay lain man tan-awon. Bata pa ra ba ka.” I could only nod and smile in agreement. It felt weird being told by little kids half my age. But I don’t know. I kind of liked it. Maybe because it made me feel younger than my actual age. Maybe because I felt good hearing the thoughts of those young minds. Or maybe, right then and there – I was simply struck at the care those kids showed. To think, they need it more than I do. Yet they were unselfish about it. An hour later, I left with lesser gray hairs and a bigger realization: Never ever underestimate kids in their innocence. Sometimes, they make more sense than we do. Sometimes, they give more than we do. And sometimes, they enjoy life more than we do because they see its simple joys and little rewards.

And oh, before I left, the little girls combed through my hair with their hands, smoothed my hair, and put back my scrunchie and hairpins on. Although I could have done my hair better, I never touched it until I got home.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

the first stretch of 2007

It’s the first stretch of the year 2007. A literal stretch. A few days after classes resumed, I literally stretched my lazy bones and muscles to keep up with my daily student routine. After weeks of getting used to sleeping late, watching movies on HBO and cartoons on Cartoon Network and Disney nonstop, stuffing my tummy with anything my eyes deliciously feasted on, playing with my dog Captain and cat Mijay who loves to chomp my toes, and surfing the net during the wee hours in the morning, I wasn’t ready to go back to school. Not yet. Really, I think I acted like a bum during the first week of classes. I missed vacation so much that I swore after the last day of this semester, (that would be graduation day, granting of course…) I’m taking a mandatory rest period for me to enjoy myself. I’m thinking beach, food, cool air…

And before I drift off to dreamland, here are random things I’ve taken note of since I got back during the holidays:

a box of old notes and letters
I have a box of old notes and letters stashed in one of the upper cabinets in my bedroom in Leyte. I don’t know what got into me but it never occurred to me to throw them away because even if they are mere pieces of paper, they are precious. During the holidays, I had the luxury of browsing through those notes and letters that already smelled like antique pieces of furniture. I savored each note and letter with nostalgia and bliss. A lot of them revealed what was going on in my growing up years – the little tampuhans of my friends, my infatuation moments, and mostly, just about what went on around the classroom during discussions. I think I missed passing notes around. They rarely happen now in college when cell phones are allowed in the classroom. There’s a big difference between a note and a text message. Notes exude a personal touch; you can either hate or admire the handwriting of the sender, not to mention that the message is written in full text, which makes the message clearer and almost always undisputable. Text messages are impersonal, sent in the same font and color and written in abbreviations that will take more minutes to decipher if you’re not used to it. The message loses its momentum. Notes are passed by human hands. (hopefully, not the teacher’s as the note will surely be confiscated) It adds excitement as each curious hand tries to pry open the note. The sender glares at the intruder of the privacy hopefully to scare his guts off. The intruder, your classmate, winks jokingly in surrender and proceeds with the human networking of the message. Text messages are sent via the communication company’s network, which sometimes goes haywire and the message ends up with the wrong person. You might end up in an altercation who first texted who. Well, I’m a traditionalist so I find notes and letters more appealing. So if you do have time, drop me a note for me to keep in my stash.

Metro Manila Film Festival
Yesterday, I was able to watch a portion of the live telecast of the Golden Globe Awards. Hollywood stars donned their best gowns and tuxedos for that great opportunity to be thrust into the limelight. They looked beautiful, elegant, and dignified. Dignified, not because they are wearing multi-million dollar clothes but dignified, because the event itself exudes an aura of dignity and credibility. I can’t help but compare the Golden Globe to our controversial Metro Manila Film Festival. I haven’t watched any of those films vying for awards at the MMFF so I’m in no position to say which film should have won the Best Picture. But if the rebuttal of our dear MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, who happens to be one of the judges, includes the revelation that forty percent (40%) of the criteria rests on movie earnings, well excuse me, I beg to disagree. Point Sir, earnings are indeed a determining factor of a really good movie but it’s not always the case, especially in the Philippine setting. The problem with our current film industry today is that producers are so contentedly wrapped up in their comfort zones, relying on tried-and-tested formulas for blockbuster hits. As long as they earn, they don’t care at all even if the movie is a copy of some Hollywood movie. I’m talking of quality films here. Films that move people to think. Films that educate. Films that expose social realities. Apparently, what we have right now are more of entertainment. Put in a hunk of an actor, a super hero, or a scantily-clad sexy star and you’re good to go. You’re going to rake in big bucks, baby! But what do the people get? An hour or two’s worth of entertainment? And then what next? Sadly, that’s the politics of it all. Sheesh. Even in movies, politics exists. Well, as political science students always assert, everything is political.