My Once Upon a Time in Singapore

In the place where I came from, so many of my brilliant and loving countrymen left home to toil on foreign grounds to provide more for the family and save them from poverty.  My countrymen dispersed in different places around the globe not for their own survival but also for their beloved ones as well.  Sadly, there were a few who were victims of exploitations and injustice.   After my father’s death, life was so difficult for us financially and a lot of people looked down at us because we had tons of debts.  Then, my sister was lucky to be the only one accepted by the agency to work in Singapore.  By that time, it was not a good news to me for the agent’s fee was so high. I am also afraid for her safety in a foreign land wherein a Filipina named Flor Contemplacion was sentenced with death penalty.  Before she flew off, I joked at her “don’t be the next Flor Contemplacion”.

In my place I was earning a minimum wage but I was able to aid for the family’s financial needs and paid my father’s debts by juggling several tutorial jobs.  My sister kept on convincing me to work in Singapore and I turned her several times.  Then, I took another degree, passed the national exam for my license and enrolled for post-graduate studies.  I worked harder to pay my educational needs, support my brother’s education and provide some of the family’s financial needs.  It was not easy but I managed joyfully and still had time to serve my community and be there for my friends. I had fun despite of the hectic schedule. I guess, I know how to play my cards very well. I am a patriot, and so I was firmed to stay in my homeland even if my brother found a job in Singapore.

It was the year that I looked forward to write my thesis. My Research professor motivated me that I could do it with no sweat.  However, the reality back home was the culture of crab mentality existed. Hence, I was not an asset but a threat.  There were false allegations but I tried to take it lightly. Nonetheless, ‘the crabs’ showed no mercy and they did everything to ruin my reputation and spirit.  It was heartbreaking because I am loved by many only despised by few.  The situation took away my confidence and the love I had for myself.  At that point, I condemned myself for being me.  So, I decided to go somewhere and chose Singapore as my destination. My sister was amazed when I proclaimed that I made up my mind to follow her and my brother in Singapore.

Before I left I couldn’t forget what a friend told me about how ‘Filipina’ word falsely defined in Singapore while he drove me home.  I was sitting in his car clueless whether he was joking or serious for inserting such topic in our conversation.   According to him ‘Filipina’ word is defined in Singapore as either a  ‘maid’ or ‘prostitute’.  Well, I just giggled and told him that I wouldn’t qualify either as a maid or prostitute for I am not the expert in household chores and I have zero skills in seducing men.  Well, he didn’t know what I have been through, he was born with silver spoon in the mouth anyway….

Half a decade since my sister left, I found myself alone in the plane going to Singapore.  My brother submitted my CV to his company and three days after I was called for a class demo.  Then, the following day I came for the interview and was accepted.  I proved my friend wrong for I am not employed as a maid or prostitute.  Yet, getting a school was not easy because undeniably I had a strong accent.  I felt down and wished not to leave home.  Then, there was a school who took me in because the Singaporean hired for the position was not comfortable with the environment and left for a span of a week.   Thus, thanks to him I had the chance of working in Singapore.

Having the job was one thing but keeping it required loads of guts and fighting spirit.  My English sounded different to people around me.   Did I fail the expectations of my Language and Speech teachers?  I was doing well during my school days.  Likewise, in Singapore I felt my sentence constructions were incorrect most of the time.   Perhaps, it was due to the fact that they used British English whereas ours is American English. The terms and expressions used in communication were different. To make the situation worst, I am not used being distant to the kids in my class.

I was the stranger in the foreign land.  I learned to adapt and I stayed in my job for four years. The kids came and left. During the time when they were with me, they accepted me even I was from different land and they tried their best to respect me  I also had the chance to know a few of them very well and be part of their achievements.   My colleagues and the school leaders considered me as an asset in the school and my contributions were acknowledged. I regained my confidence with my skills and love myself even more. There were a lot of things I learned for professional enhancements. I felt free to dress-up with no neighbors talking about what I am wearing.   Aside from that, the school was not just a working place because being there already felt like home.

In the news, there were so many negative comments by some Singaporeans for strangers like me.  It was alright and I understood how they felt.  Anyway, the most important thing that everyone in school was friendly and kind, and they welcomed me for who I am.

The integral part of being in Singapore was finding my heart in art.  I was the girl whose father discouraged that I would be an artist because the tuition fee plus the materials  were beyond what he could afford.  My papa pointed out that such interest was impractical because no one would buy artworks from a novice and the job opportunity is limited. In such industry, it’s difficult to make a name unless you’re from the well-known clans. Nonetheless, I didn’t give up that dream and in Singapore I found my brushes, canvas and easel.  I was inspired by a friend and I couldn’t find the words to thank him for helping me out in many ways.  I will always owe him so many things.  He helped me find NAFA to get Western Art lessons for a year.  I was hesitant but he motivated me to go for it.  He told me to study hard; thus, I owed him my ‘A’.  I am proud with what I achieved and I hope his happy for me.

Singapore is a beautiful progressive country.  Everything is in place and in order, and the government is really helping its countrymen in terms of education, health and housing.  The unemployment  rate is low and literacy rate is very high.  No heavy jam and it is secure to carry my gadgets around.  The city is so clean and green whereby everyday I walked with the fresh morning breeze.

Four years after, I couldn’t say farewell to my colleagues, students and working place.  Six months ago it was not easy to get through for the employment laws in Singapore changed.  I didn’t complain instead I carried on and kept on trying.  Yet, my fear weakened me and I was the victim of my desperate moves.  A tree does not bear all good fruits, unknowingly I chose the bad one.  Almost fell as the prey but with the aid of people around me, I got away.   My writings and drawings became my refuge to indirectly express what I really felt inside.  I created my diversion to hide from such shameful situation.

God always provide and I was redeemed.  I heartily thank my sister, Gina and my friend, Jonah (and everyone in her family) for being there for me.  Now, I have a new job with a higher position and I volunteered as a Basic Computer teacher for migrant skilled workers.  My kids now are same as before, and I am looking forward that they’ll learn more from me a lot more.  It will take time to adjust but I will work hard for what is expected from me and to fulfill my responsibilities.  Last Sunday, one of my migrant worker student told me that she proudly mentioned to her employer, an ITE instructor that she learned a lot from me during our first lesson two weeks ago.  I am delighted to her compliments and I hope for ten months she’ll learn more in the course.

Hours ago, I cried like a river walking towards my place.  My mind was with someone else and it distracted me from time to time.  I rushed to the toilet to weep, and my kids or the job were not to be blamed.  I sat at the bench while I was alone in the park for an hour and cried while reading my apology letter repeatedly on the I-Pad.  I didn’t eat for dinner despite of my friend’s call.  I didn’t her knockings in between tears.  I tried to understand in between sobs.  It deeply hurt me.  I am in pain and I feel like dying inside.  After I prayed, I counted my blessings and gifts.  I know in my heart, I am not the bad person. I only believe and trust. I am true to myself with no hidden agenda. Not even once that I took others for granted.

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This is my story in the county called Singapore.  Once upon a time in Singapore, I experienced and found so many things to make me braver and stronger.  Singapore gave me hope and my dreams.  I won’t give up!!!

Well, this is no fairy tale and a love story. However, my happy ending is a story in a progress and on the way to find me.

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