Monday, July 04, 2005

Thinking Aloud: A Gripe Observed, part I

Parking lot at 0300HI am very perturbed. And, supposedly, I have no reason to be. . .

. . . Or rather, it's all in the way one looks at it, to see whether I have any real reason to be perturbed.

I almost wrote down "I married the most wonderful lady I've ever met, but I can't be with her" but I know just how sappy, clichéd, and generally annoying such statements are to those who have never been in the sort of situation I am in. I have married a wonderful lady. I have only spent a maximum of three weeks together with her. I had expected to be with her by next month. But, thanks to the cruel twists that can come, our reunion is going to be delayed, at best, and denied, at worst. Of course, "denied" is such a strong word. More properly, I would probably follow her much, much later than I thought; more like the two years apart that a friend of ours had to go through, when she was waiting to get her husband to the States.

All this "misery" is due to some misplaced good fortune.

You see, I have for some reason finally acquired a job that pays well. Good fortune indeed, except that it has come more than two years too late. Those who are truly familiar with the Job Market in the Philippines—and I'm not talking about those ten or twenty percent that get jobs on the get go and keep them for around 5 years; no, I'm talking about the majority of us out there—know that getting a job is like playing a game. So often, I have walked up to a snazzy building, freshly bathed, freshly shaved, with a fresh haircut and a fresh layer of dust that the metropolitan pollution has dumped on me, trying to feel confident. More often than I want to remember, I would ace their applications tests and exams, up until the final interview. How many times have I shaken a vigorous and eager hand just as the interview starts, then they take one good look at my resumé, see where I got my degree, see how many "jobs" I've been in, and see how short my durations were, and I get to shake that same hand that is now placid and uneager? I hate it when people try to broadcast the lie that companies here in the Philipppines do not discriminate against the "lesser" universities. They have accused me, and others, of just not trying hard enough. But they all want graduates from UP, DLSU, Ateneo, probably UST. . . they do!

Of course graduates from the "other" universities get jobs. Just not the jobs that one wants or was trained for. I have often found myself glossed over by these companies, even when I had the skills, and they choose someone who would later purchase those "Learn in 24 hours..." kind of books because they had to cram up on the skills. Our difference? He graduated from the Philippine version of an ivy-league university. So much so that most of my former classmates, even those that finished cum laude, can only find jobs as clerks, while less skilled and less smart rich kids get to ride around in business suits.

As a result, my resumé has become a joke. Only those small, no-name companies ever hired me, making my work experience even more pathetic.

Yet, I now find myself with a good paying job with a good multi-national company. I should be overjoyed. I am not. I definitely need the money. But I should have had this job two years ago, not now when I am about to leave. I credit the fact that Canadians were the ones who interviewed and hired me as the reason why I was able to get in, when so many times in the past I was turned away. To a Canadian PCU is the same as UP, and I got my chance.

I don't care about demographics, you know, that "fact" that they are parading around in the Philippines that usually, UP/DLSU/Ateneo/etc. graduates are the better and smarter workers. That only became so because these universities take all the best high school graduates, not because on any inherent superiority in their systems. And even so, if you treat a potential student as, well, the lower rungs, they will behave so. I have met a lot of really smart and industrious individuals in my college that have since turned to mediocrity, merely because that was what was expected of them.

Still, I have this job. A "call centre" job. A job which, years ago, I would not have touched with a ten-foot pole. It wasn't what I was trained for. It isn't what I want. I will receive calls and try to solve technical problems. We aren't allowed a lot of freedoms. The work is hectic and demanding, with long hours during the oddest hours of the day. The job, itself, is not very fulfilling. But it pays well, and over the course of a few years the need for money has stifled my idealism. Like in the Thomas Hardy novel of "Jude the Obscure" where Jude with aspirations to become a scholar and skills in Latin and Hebrew still cannot rise above the station in life that society drops on his shoulders, I have come to accept that maybe I will never be a writer. There will never be any time. I need money. This is it. This is all I will ever be accepted for. To hope for more is to always despair. To start accepting my station is, hopefully, the start of happiness for me. A mere customer service agent, probably someday a trainer. But that is it.

Oh, there are benefits upon benefits. The starting pay is good. There is insurance. And quiet rooms, showers, game rooms, free coffee. . . why did I ever aspire to anything more than this? I had always hated the corporate atmosphere. . . I should have accepted that it will be what feeds me. Yet, this lesson comes too late. If I had learned this two years ago and had, back then, sold myself to wage-slavery, my wife wouldn't have needed to leave. I should still have her here, and we could have been married earlier, have had kids earlier. . . a man's lot. I had been too proud, and loneliness has been my punishment.

I want to be with my wife now in Australia. But I cannot leave, now that I have a good company that accepted me. I need to stay at least until October, probably November. . . but I want to be with my wife. But I can only allow her to really live and pursue her dreams if I can provide. This job will help me. I need it.

But I am not happy.

I am perturbed. My team-mates are very much like the high school students I used to teach: loud, arrogant, self-absorbed and self-interested. Yet, this is the world that I must belong in, this world full of the loud and arrogant. Should I also be loud and arrogant to succeed? I hope not. But, now, I must prepare for work: do my job to sell myself and make myself as interesting a human product as I can, so I can ascend the ladder and make more money. What is more important than money? I cannot see beyond the flimsy walls of my workstation to know for sure, but this I know now: with money comes happiness.

And only fools and poets think otherwise and die hungry and lonely.