Friday, September 24, 2010


The [Bitter] Sweet Life Abroad
By Earvin Charles B. Cabalquinto

The Factory of Sentiments

When I was young, I thought that foreign countries are made of big chocolate factories wherein everyone can just grab a piece of their choice and enjoy eating. And with my wild imagination tied with my curiosity, I even drew a place in my mind topped with pathways made of M&Ms, a river flowing in thick chocolate, houses designed with Hershey’s kisses, and roads packed with Toblerone. Such robust perception of foreign countries was a result of how my Uncle, a former seafarer, pampered us with a wide array of chocolates whenever he will be back in the Philippines for a short vacation. All I knew then, working overseas is about bringing home chocolates to your loved ones. But I was wrong.

Truth is, despite seeing how everyone was delighted as my Uncle handed over his pasalubong, I never dreamed or planned to work overseas. Perhaps, as a child, I was contented and happy upon receiving that chocolate bar especially wrapped in a sparkling and colorful packaging with my name on it. Moreover, the moment was a fulfillment of a spontaneous craving more than knowing the stories behind my Uncle’s travails and triumphs abroad.

And as I grew up, at age 26, with the twist and turn of events in my life, I found myself bound for Brunei in 2008. I was hired to work as a writer in an advertising agency. And from that moment on, I slowly unveiled the truth behind how chocolates are constructed to appeal among its receivers and givers – the overseas workers. More than being a simple sugary product that one can purchase from a candy shop, chocolates speak how a person misses his her loved ones or represent how enjoying a bar can sometimes put a temporary end on the overseas pains and homesickness especially on being separated with one's loved ones.

Furthermore, my understanding of foreign countries has changed when I became an overseas worker. I come to realize that chocolate factories in vast lands are mere childish fantasies. I learn that overseas life doesn’t always assure you sweet experiences. I encounter how living alone in the unknown can put you in a love and hate relationship with the eye-candy country you are in. And on top of that, living overseas could sometimes be sugar coated; some may hide the real situation to their families so the worrying or anxiety has to be trashed. More than the glitz of earning big or the offers of a comfortable life, there is a bittersweet after taste that leaves an overseas worker’s quest in uncertainty.

The Sweet Hunt

Believe it or not, chocolates have their own family too and that is their type or classification; some are the white ones; some are the dark and thick made; some are simply milky; some are filled with caramel; and some are mixed with nuts and other fruits. Whichever you like among the stretch of these appetizing pieces, most of these chocolates are grouped and displayed to sell in a shop. Truth be told, the real essence of a chocolate is by the time a person savors the sweetness to bits.

Just like a piece of chocolate, I am part of my family; a family that is the smallest unit of the society. As a single guy, my family has been my constant source of inspiration. They are always there through thick and thin. Cliché if you must consider, they are the wrapper that protects me in rough times. However, in 2008, just like how an excited customer grabbed a chocolate from a rack, a foreign employer pulled me out  from my family, my roots. In reality, I was tracked to work in the oil-rich and gold-packed world of Brunei Darussalam.
Kuya, Papa, me and Jeron
There was one reason why I left the Philippines; I hungrily needed change. My mom passed away in 2006 and I got depressed. My family was coping with the pain in different ways. And there I was starting to lose track in my career. But at least our relatives and friends were there t to reach out and cheers us up. But then again, to cut my life drama short, in a nutshell, I was dragging my life to a bitter direction that I never thought existed. And so, with courage even heavier than my excessive 42 Kilos baggage, I shed my fears and hoped be concocted with the best experiences overseas. I was lucky that God heard my prayers. He blessed with a lot of things that I never thought will come.

A Mix of Flavors

The moment I stepped in Brunei, experiences filled my baggage. I felt like I was a plain chocolate dipped in bowl of syrup, topped with peanuts and even peppered with candies. I was trained and transformed to be a delectable piece in the company. My life has been changed, forever.

Me wearing a Baju Melayu
Working overseas has taught me a lot of things. More than being independent in facing my responsibilities, conquering my apprehensions and further developing my skills, I became closer with my family and God. Seriously, I never miss a day of chatting with my family. Thanks to the glorious wonders of the Internet, I was connected with them for 24/7. While my nights are entirely dedicated to my family, my Sundays are solely devoted for church service through singing in the choir. Apart from the friends I gain and people I meet, my family and devotion to God have kept me inspired over the last 2 years and a half of my sojourn in Brunei.

On the side, my exposure to the array of races has paved way for me to be proud of my identity as a Filipino; that’s because I came to fully understand the different religious practices, learn new languages, celebrate with cultural gatherings, and even admire the well-built leadership and economic system that fuels Brunei’s progress. Through an awakening, I see my identity beyond the color of my skin, the language I speak and the values I keep.

But of course, I didn’t escape the invincible hands of homesickness. Despite the constant communication with my family and the acquaintances I make, sleepless nights of unexplainable roots are part of my journey. Positively, with trust in God, the sun always greets me with so much hope and sweetness. More than depending on hope, it is about taking all questions and worries into productive actions. Let be faith and strength be the guiding torch toward achieving one's goals.

Living overseas has pushed me to be responsible and frugal. There were times that I had to cook a dish that will last for a week just to save money. In fact, despite the routinary dish that I can prepare such as adobo, fried fish and ginisang gulay that I bring for lunch, I never get tired of savoring my simply culinary experimentation especially knowing that my savings will go to a good investment. Bottom line, I have learned to budget my money, prioritize my needs and invest on my future while I am young. 
The Recipe for Sweet Success

There is no definite or instant formula to survive overseas life. There is no perfect ingredient to easily make homesickness away. There is no time machine to bend space and bring back or always repeat the good times and throw the bad times. In working overseas, it is a must that you stand by your decision and you know the consequences; to work overseas and leave your family behind as to provide each member a better future may be more than what you bargain for.

Boracay Adventure in 2009
It is given that most of the people who leave the country are driven by financial reasons. There is nothing wrong about that. However, one must also consider the impacts of one’s actions. One should also assess oneself on the readiness for physical, emotional and even social conditions of being separated or away. Bottom line, going overseas is not as simple as unwrapping a chocolate candy and eating it. There are more challenges that should not be taken for granted and be sorted out such as fostering family relationships as protecting life goals.

Now that we have come to an era of the great Filipino Diaspora, keeping and strengthening the Filipino family is at stake. In my opinion, constant communication is the key to foster family values and relationships. By having an open line of communication among family members, whether face-to-face or through online, relationships are bonded. Plus, problems or issues could be settled with proper conversations.

I also want to call the attention of the Philippine government on the issue of migration. With the new administration, I am hopeful that competitive local jobs could be provided among the Filipinos. And if this shall happen even in small steps, no tears shall mark in the airport as families send off their loved ones in full confidence of bringing home the promise of a sustainable and comfortable future that is earned overseas.

On the side, in times of homesickness, you can always find joy in the relationships you build from your friends or acquaintances. In my case, apart from joining different organizations, I enroll myself to a postgraduate degree at the University of the Philippines Open University to keep my time moving and fruitful every minute. Through God’s guidance, I will be graduating in 2012. And to me, this is one of the sweetest successes that I can share with my family, my friends and to my country, that despite the struggles, I find light at the end of the long tunnel.

History repeats itself with a sweet sensation

Last April, I went back to the Philippines for a one-month vacation. It’s funny to know that I find myself in the same situation of my balikbayang Uncle when we were kids. Not that I was opening a big box of chocolates but I was giving away chocolates as my pasalubong. Frankly speaking, seeing the big smiles surface among the faces of my family, relatives and friends was just unforgettable. As the chocolates were passed around, no one had to speak to say how we all miss each other. It was all about gestures. It was genuine happiness. And with the warm welcome from everyone, I finally felt I was home, a place where my heart sweetly belongs. 

My family and our relatives!
Thank you very much for PEBA for this years blog entry theme  "Strengthening the OFW Families: Stronger Homes for a Stronger Nation." Such theme is timely to best articulate the experiences of the Overseas Filipino Workers of being away from their loved ones. Mabuhay tayong lahat!


My Entry is nominated for the 2010 Expat Blog Awards. To Vote, simply click the image below and vote. Vote for #22! Maraming maraming salamat!

To all my readers, feel free to comment. Thank you very much. =)


  1. Bravo! I can so relate to this. I miss and love more my home/family! I became closer to them and ESP to God as I was alone overseas. Oh, I also love chocolates! :-) my former colleague, she bought $100 worth for herself on her first salary as an OFW bec last time she said they couldn't afford hahaha. - Faith

  2. Faith! Salamat sa comments! Nako, love na love ko rin ang chocolates noh! Miss you! =)

  3. Hi Earvs,

    Nice post! n-homesick tuloy ako...hehehe kc pag k-chat ko anak ko alam lng nya sabihin "papa totolet ko"...


  4. Ramir! Hala, na-homesick ka tuloy! Di bale, unting tiyaga lang. Pasasaan pa't magsasama sama din ang pamilya with a bright future siempre! Go go go lang! Salamat sa pagbasa! =)

  5. Hi Earvs,
    Nice post. You did great comparing yourself (and the life of an OFW) to chocolates.

    Just doing rounds among the PEBA entries. By the way, please check the link you gave sa isang post mo dito sa blog mo. I noticed nagsobra ang characters na nailagay mo kaya kapag iki-click po ay NOT FOUND daw itong post mo.

  6. Hi Nortehanon! Thanks for reading my entry!

    Not found? Oh I better check it! Thank you very much. =)

  7. Hi Earv's, I found your site through your Dad Felix who happen to be my Facebook chat mate :-) for months now. He found my name from our Feati Annual book back in 1977 when we graduated from college. Although, we never known each other back on the school days, he found my name into the Facebook and sent me a friend invite in which I'm gald he did. And since then, we have talk a lot every time we see each other on line.
    I love your article here; there's a lot truth to it. I know exactly the feeling being far from your love ones as it happen to me. I was away from my family for 7 years before even had chance to go home and see them for the first time in seven years.I would say that now an days through the power of new technology, families are more closer even they are in different part of the world compare then that phones seems doesn't exist in remote town or provinces.
    Now a days, all of my family now are united again and has been living here in US for the last 23 years and I know exactly what you mean to live far from your family and relatives.
    Earv' I'm sure, your Dad is a very proud father having a son like you.... God bless you and more power to you and other OFW living abroad.
    Cesar Madlangbaya.

  8. Tito Cesar! Salamat po sa pagbasa ng entry ko! Totoo po na technology has made the families closer pero siempre iba pa rin pag sama sama. Then again, kailangan magtiyaga para sa pagabot ng mga pangarap.

    Naku, si Papa, campaign manager ko! hahahaha!

    Salamat po ulit. =)

  9. hi, am a friend of your papa felix, gsis heydays is our connection. i am proud to know that a son like you is so talented and its my passion too to write. i envy people like you and take care of GODs gift to you. i will vote for you a thousand times a thousand if it will do.

  10. Tita, salamat po sa pagbasa. Basta pag blessings kay Lord, dapat I-share lalo na ang talent. Keep safe po. =)

  11. Fler Baladjay-BaelOctober 6, 2010 at 3:32 AM

    Hello Earvin:
    Hi Earvin!

    Your article truly touched my heart. I am not and never had been an OFW but I have an only child (my daughter, Rein) who opted to study in London and eventually work there though she has no plans of staying there for a lifetime. In the meantime that she is there, I can see the same feelings you are describing in your article and it was really no joke to be away from your loved ones. I was also surprised to know that your Mom, Agnes who happened to be one of my officemates, too, like your Dad, passed away already. I could still vividly recall her sweet face and it simply saddens me to know that she is no longer around to see you succeed. Congratulations, Earvin. I'll campaign for your article. The big world needs people like you! -

  12. Mam Fler! Salamat po sa pagbasa. Nako, challenging po talaga ang magtrabaho sa abroad and malayo sa family. Pero kailangan talagang magtiyaga.

    Nako, malamang nakita niyo kami nung bata pa. Madalas kaming dalhin nina Mama dyan sa opisina. hehehe.

    Salamat po sa suporta. =)

  13. Hi Sir,
    Ur article is very touching.. I'm also a daughter & a wife of an OFW's... My Dad was a seaman but he past away last 2007 or 2008 he was suffered sa cancer.. & my husband is also a seaman thanks to my Dad bcoz he's the one who help us for this opportunity.. Mahirap talaga pag wala kang sakay wala ka ding income & then pag naka sakay ka naman wala kang kakapitan don kasi puro tubig ang nasa paligid mo lalo na pag shark manifested ang lugar na yon (ngiii)... Alam mo hindi ako nagsasawang manood ng Titanic pero pag ang scene ay lulubog na ang ship hindi ko na tinatapos, pag may mga news naman na regarding sa mga seaman or barkong lumubog hindi ko din pinapanood kasi naiimagine ko yung asawa ko e... Kung may maganda nga lang opportunity dito sa bansa natin hindi ko paaalisin pa ang hubby ko 3 kasi ang anak namin at all girls mas maganda kung kumpleto kaming mag-aalaga or mag susubaybay sa kanila dba? Kaso opportunity knocks once so we have no choice just to grab it. Naku hindi nman ako nominee muka atang nag ku-kwento na ako sau... Well, goodluck nlang po & GOD Bless..
    Jocel Santos

  14. Hi Jocel! Maraming salamat sa pagbasa at pagkumento.

    Natuwa naman ako at talagang supportive ka sa naging desisyon ng asawa mo. Basta ang importante, maintain an open line of communication. At saka, more patience.

    Salamat ulit ha! Mabuhay ang mga OFWs. =)

  15. "Positively, with trust in God, the sun always greets me with so much hope and sweetness. More than depending on hope, it is about taking all questions and worries into productive actions. Let be faith and strength be the guiding torch toward achieving one's goals."

    I love those lines, so inspiring that it reading your post is like a chocolate that slowly melts as it's sweetness touches the heart and souls of every OFWs and their families.

    I thank you for joining PEBA 2010 and I am wishing you good luck for this great event.

  16. Hi Pope! Thank you very much for taking time to read my entry! Mabuhay ang mga OFWs!

    It's my honor to inspire people. Thank you again. =)

  17. Ang galing,sayang isang boto lang kaya kong ibigay,keep up the good work,I will pray for more success.God bless .....

  18. Hi, maraming maraming salamat sa pagbasa at pagboto. God bless po. =)

  19. nakakasawa na rin ang chocolates pag ang dami2 pero enjoy mamili to bring home...very inspirational ang isinulat mo. all d best!

  20. Hi Carnation! Salamat sa pagbasa! =)

    Mejo nakakataba rin ang chocolates kaya dapat in moderation lang. hehehe! =)

  21. Hi Earvs, I voted you:-)Arlyn Pagunsan (UPOU)

  22. Arlyn!!!!!!! Maraming salamat sa pagbasa at pagboto! See yah this sem! Go go go! =)

  23. Hi sir earvin! Very nice blog! Your dad just came here at SSA info office to campaign for your blog. We will definitely spread the word to your fellow anthonians. God bless and keep the faith!
    - Gabbz Alcantara

  24. hi sir earvin! Very nice blog! Your dad just came here at SSA info office to campaign for your blog. We will definitely spread the word to your fellow anthonians! God bless and keep the faith!
    -Gabbz Alcantara (SSA)

  25. Hi Gabbz! Salamat sa pagbasa at pagboto! Oo nga eh talagang nag-ca-campaign si Papa. Super supportive kaya super thankful talaga ako! =)

  26. i was here, ^^ thanks for sharing your story!


  27. Hi Bonistation! Salamat sa pagdaan! =)