Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alone and Unwanted

When a migrant worker leaves his country to work, he voluntarily inflicts on himself a form of solitary confinement, sucking out all that is familiar to him, all things on which his life, up to that point of departure, has depended on.

Unable to communicate in the local language, he struggles to recapture in the foreign land some sense of the old, the usual. Food is relegated to the simplest (fried everything), to the essentials (boiled everything), that is, until he can read food labels properly, at which time, he can then progress to maybe stewed or sautéed dishes. Family contact is, at best, 1% of the intensity with which Filipino families are famous for. The use of the internet and high-tech communications can never replace human touch, a deep glance at a child's eye, a warm, tight hug.

Life for a migrant worker very quickly degrades into a dry, empty existence. Drag oneself out of bed, coffee for breakfast, off to work, toil for long hours, come home dead tired, drink, sleep. The robotic routine repeats itself day in and day out, and at the end of the first year, the migrant worker's vitality is all but totally jettisoned. Conjugal intimacy becomes a figment of his imagination.

The migrant worker is lonely and alone. Can it get any worse?


The irregular migrant worker suffers all that a regular one does plus three other seemingly insurmountable human conditions.

First, he lives in constant fear that he can be arrested anytime, and, in a blink of an eye, his world will come crashing down on him. Perpetually looking over his shoulder and second-guessing every move he makes, public places are shunned, personal histories never narrated. The lesser the people who know him the better it is. He intentionally makes himself invisible to society. He is essentially, non-existent. He is not there.

Second, he can forget ever seeing his family again, and for any human being, any family man this strikes at the deepest recesses of the heart and soul. His family is essentially dead to him, and he, to them, unless he turns himself in (or gets regularized through some stroke of cosmic luck). Regular migrants can go on vacation when they can't bear the separation any longer . Irregulars are forced to numb out the pain of missing their families through any means they can: drinking, prayer, and for others, extra marital relations.

Alone, in constant fear and cut-off permanently from his significant others, we now come to the third, possibly the heaviest cross of the irregular migrant: he is unwanted. We are social beings, and at the very core of our humanity is an intense need to belong, to be recognized, to be acknowledged.

The great Filipino heart and fighting spirit can conquer the loneliness, bravely face the fear of arrest, and suffer the pain of his self-ostracizing -- all in the name of eking out a living to be able to feed the hungry mouths that depend on him.

Despite the irregular migrant's simple goals the society in which he lives in essentially wants him out. It uses him, and his physical strength as labor inputs, yet, in the same breath, denies him acknowledgement of his existence.

It stamps the term "illegal" on the unwanted migrant yet how is it that smaller national boundaries - on which a country's constitution is narrowly applied - supersedes the bigger boundaries of the earth, where a wider human law prevails? Might the unstoppable forces of globalization force us to view irregulars as simply displaced breadwinners on a mission?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Filipino Irregulars

The last time I saw one of my elder brothers (I am the youngest of 6 brothers) - was in 1987. The summer break was ending and I had decided not to continue on to my junior year in Ateneo. Worried that my future would be going to the dogs, my Mom had called that elder brother of mine to talk to me.

Eight weeks earlier, to pass the idle vacation days, I had gotten a part-time job and, for the first time in my life, I was earning my own money. I was selling toilet bowl cleaners, dish washing liquid, deodorants for men and women and all kinds of personal hygiene products. Never mind that I was carrying a portable toilet bowl and sneaking through security checks to enter buildings, making cold calls in offices during lunch breaks. All that mattered to my young, idealistic mind and heart was that I was wearing a smart coat and tie. I remember, quite vividly, that I felt extremely proud at getting a quick kick start at being a useful member of society.

"Don't make any decisions when you are emotional. Let things settle down and allow the situation to clarify itself. This will give you a better perspective of what you want to do with your life, and where you want to bring it," my elder brother said to me. He was referring to my emotional high at that moment because I had just been declared the company's top salesman, beating all the other full-time salesmen, and I had gotten a hefty lump-sum commission. The Briton company owner was so impressed with my performance that he offered me a full-time job, promising to give me money equivalent to my current college scholarship which I would surely forfeit by not continuing school.

That elder brother of mine guided me through my inexperienced youth. Following his advice, I continued my schooling. As he left that night, he hugged me tight, as if saying goodbye for good, leaving me with parting words that I will never forget: "Aim for your full potential, never stop learning, and always remember to pray."

The next day I learned from my mom that my elder brother had gone TNT in the US. And, just like that, like lightning striking one moment and then gone the next, my brother was ripped away from me, from us - his family, from my mother and father, from his wife and daughter left behind. Twenty-two years of not seeing my elder brother is a very long time. Life has whisked by, and we are both completely different people now compared to the last time we met.

In the Philippines we use the term TNT ("Tago Ng Tago," literally meaning "always hiding") to refer to Filipinos who leave for abroad but remain without full legalized status in their destination country. The term is used with a mixture of both envy and concern, with the former sentiment prevailing with finality. Concern, yes, but not for the TNT's safety but rather for how long he can stay undetected. Envy, most definitely, because at long last the guy was successful in extricating himself from what is, in the view of many TNT hopefuls, a hopeless local job market.

How many are they? Based on the latest available government statistics, as of 2007, roughly 1 of every 10 overseas Filipinos (10.3% or 900,000 of 8.7million) is an irregular migrant, that is, those whose stay is officially unsanctioned by a host country. As finding work is the main reason for becoming an irregular migrant, it may be more accurate to say that, as of 2007, nearly 1 of every 5 (18% or 900,000 of 5million) Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) is undocumented.

While there is a consistent 3% yearly increase in the total stock of overseas Filipinos, the number of Filipino irregulars has been on a steady decline, being more than double the current rate (21.9% or 1.6m irregulars) at the start of this decade.

Why are the numbers of irregular migrants decreasing? Are more getting caught and deported back to the Philippines as a result of tighter immigration controls? Or could it be that the numbers have just shifted to a realm beyond the reach of official government statistics? And, which irregulars are the resilient ones, managing to stay on undetected, and what conditions help them to persevere? Might it be that Philippine jobs have recently become plentiful and salaries more competitive that less migrant hopefuls are compelled to seek work abroad?

Where are they? Next only to the United States of America, in Asia it is Malaysia (128,000 irregular migrants in 2007) which is top destination for Filipino irregulars, beating Singapore (56,000), Japan (30,700) and South Korea (12,000), among others. It may be worthy to note that before its much-publicized crackdown on overstaying workers in 2005, Malaysia had 5 times more Filipino irregular migrants than Singapore, 10 times those in Japan and 20 times those in South Korea.

Interestingly, this trend of declining numbers is not the same in all of the 193 countries (of 195 total countries of the world) where there is a Filipino. Region-wise, dramatic reductions in irregulars are evident only in East and South Asia (49% drop) and the Americas (54% drop) while other regions have in fact seen increases in irregulars (West Asia, 3% increase; Oceania, 12% increase).

What is their economic contribution? At the end of 2008, the Central Bank of the Philippines reported a total of US$16.4billion in remittances from overseas Filipinos. Year 2008 estimates by the World Bank placed this volume of remittances at 11.6%, and this was subsequently confirmed by official Philippine government statistics to be at 11.2% of the total Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Overseas Filipinos, by the size of their remittances sent back home, form a sector that is nearly two-thirds (62%) the size the entire Philippine Agriculture and Fisheries sectors combined, or virtually half (49%) of the whole Philippine Manufacturing sector. Indeed, even if the perennial 20 storms that hit the country every year were to intensify in strength and cause an additional 60% crop damage the Philippine GDP would be unaffected, riding on the yearly buffer of remittances. “Not only does it boost private consumption (from the purchase of basic necessities to big ticket items such as cars and housing – private consumption accounts for over 75 percent of GDP), it also lifts foreign exchange reserves, the current account, and deposits in the banking system,” cites the World Bank in its April 2009 economic updates on the Philippines.

Remittances have propelled the Philippines to the forefront of the migration industry worldwide. Based on the World Bank’s 2008 estimates, in the East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) and South Asia (SAS)– without counting China and India which overwhelm all kinds of comparisons by their sheer size – the Philippines, at US$18.6 billion, is the far leader in absolute dollar remittances, the nearest competitor being Bangladesh at only US$8.8 billion, a mere 48% of the OFW remittance volume. In the world, the Philippines is a ranked a proud 4th behind migration powerhouses such India (rank 1, US$30 billion yearly), China (rank 2, US$27 billion) and India (rank 3, US$24 billion). In terms of Percent-To-GDP, the Philippines’ remittances, at 11.6% of its GDP, tops the whole EAP and SAS regions.

Not all perspectives argue that remittances are always good for an economy. Burgess and Haksar (2005), in an International Monetary Fund working paper entitled “Migration and Foreign Remittances in the Philippines,” argue, among others, that remittances may have a negative impact on the economy if its recipients feel less need to work, thus becoming unproductive labor inputs, or if the country becomes overly dependent on remittances to support the its balance of payments position, thus lessening the pressure to implement needed fiscal policy reform.

The economic contribution thus of the 900,000 irregular OFWs can be argued to be roughly one-fifth of this overall positive impact of remittances on the Philippine economy. This is because it can be said that all migrant workers, whether regular or irregular, suffer the hardships of working abroad primarily to be able to send money back home to their dependents.

Without a doubt, it is in the best interests of the Philippines to address the immediate vulnerabilities of the Filipino irregular migrants – such as work exploitation and access to basic social services – and, at the same time, put into place a strategic and proactive response to the persistent numbers of resilient Filipino irregulars who, despite all odds, persevere and survive unwanted.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Social Beings

Indeed, no man is an island. We are social beings, and at the very core of our humanity is an intense need to belong, to be recognized, to be acknowledged.

Prisoners of war are truly conquered not by decades of incarceration but by just months of solitary confinement. As the ultimate punishment for bad behavior, inmates are dumped into "the hole," a small space not larger than a comfort room, and are kept separated from other prisoners for extended periods of time. Yet even as correctional facilities use isolation supposedly to discipline, and captors use seclusion supposedly for security, in the end, it is ultimately the human spirit that is broken, and with that hopelessness sets in.

Moving alone to another country is like self-imposed solitary confinement. All that is familiar is abruptly taken away like a rug pulled from under you, and whether you land back on your feet or flat on your face will depend on how one is able keep connected to ones social safety net back home or, more importantly, how one is able to establish new social networks.

It was the same for me when I arrived here.

The first week was the hardest. No more eating as a family with my wife and kids. No more delicious home-cooked/wife-cooked meals. Back home, bedtime for me meant first playing robot and karate and transformers with my 3- and 5-year old boys, then having a chit-chat about high school with my 15-year old, who had his own room. Our small ones slept with us, and I miss waking up at the dead of the night to their crying, or to watching my wonderful wife pick them up while asleep, placing them on her shoulders, pulling down their shorts, and making them pee so they wouldn't wet their bed. Here, I have no one to hug at night and no one to wake up with. Back in the Philippines, coming home from work meant that my two small kids would rush out of the front door and run toward my car, and my eldest son would go down from his room, interrupting his studies, to bless my hand, a local Filipino tradition of respect for your parents. Here I come home to an empty room.

In such desolation, one's survival instincts kick in. I searched for the familiar, and reached out to grab it.

First, I joined the church choir and met some wonderful people. Practicing and singing and laughing with them makes me feel like I am with my kids - but 10 or 15 years into the future - as the choir members are mostly in their late teens or early twenties. The Filipino community here is also one dynamic group. Every Friday, those who can hop into one Filipino professor's car as he heads to a local shopping mall for the movies.

Second, I also joined a student writers group, called SPA (Student Press Assistants), which writes articles and stories for the official APU website. Last week, the SPA group had a weekend camp in order to get to know each other better, experience working with each other, and generally to bond better as a team, and, more importantly, as friends. As in any relationship, what one gets will depend on what one puts into it, what one invests in it. If you open up and share a personal side to yourself, you'll find others also willing to do the same. In the process, friends get to trust each other better, as each of you are now bound by an invisible sense of belongingness, of camaraderie.

Indeed, in others, in a community, one finds strength and identity. Not that one, like a Chameleon, blends into the environment perfectly, often replacing its own true colors. Instead in a community red becomes "redder," black becomes "blacker" when amidst whites, when amidst other fellow human beings who, just by being their own respective selves, enhance the best in you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Big Drop in Contract-Based Filipinos in Japan after March 2005

when japan tightened its rules on the issuance of "entertainer" visas, the number of contract-based filipinos in japan plummeted from a high of 238,000 in 2004 to only 38,000 in 2007, a whopping 83.9% drop (see table 1 below). the tough policy had successfully prevented, directly from the source, eight out of every 10 hopefull filipina entertainers from leaving the philippines for japan. a japan times story confirmed this plunge of entertainer-visa holders, citing that the reason for the stricter rules was that the japanese government wanted to prevent further abuse by the entertainer-visa holders who were found to be working as hostesses or waitresses. the new, stricter entertainer-visa rules now required applicants to have a minimum of 2-years experience as an entertainer.

Table 1: Stock Estimates of Overseas Filipinos in Japan,
2004-2007 (figures are in thousands)
Source: Commission on Overseas Filipinos

a closer look at the data, however, reveals that during the same period there was also an abrupt increase of permanent migrants -- from only 83,000 in 2004 to over 133,000 in 2007, or a significant 60.2% increase. the increase is suspicious, to say the least, because in the available data on the years just prior to 2004 (that is, from 2001) the number of permanent residents has averaged only 74,000. so why the increase after 2004?

the category "permanent" overseas filipinos is defined here to mean "immigrants or legal permanent residents abroad whose stay do not depend on work contracts." one known way to quickly acquire legal residence is to get married to a japanese citizen. might the 50,000 new permanent residents between 2004 and 2007 been previously filipinas on entertainer visas who chose to 1) eventually tie the knot with long-time japanese boyfriends, 2) enter into marriages of convenience in order to be able to continue to stay legally and japan and, more importantly, continue to send back remittances to their dependents back home?

to investigate this further, i checked another statistical table from the commission of filipinos overseas entitled "NUMBER OF FILIPINO SPOUSES AND OTHER PARTNERS OF FOREIGN NATIONALS BY MAJOR COUNTRY." from 1989-2007, or nearly two decades, about 100,906 filipino-japanese marriages were registered. looking closely at the data shows that only 21,000 filipino-japanese marriages were registered during the years 2004-2007 (though it must be noted that the data doesn't indicate the gender of the spouses, that is, if it is between a female filipino and a male japanese or vice-versa). the 21,000 filipino-japanese marriages, even assuming the filipino spouse was the female, is still short of the 50,000 increase in permanent resident visas. so i am wondering, what were the 30,000 other new filipino permanent residents in japan?

might the 30,000 be unreported/unregistered filipino-japanese marriages? possible, since the data of the commission on overseas filipinos is dependent on voluntary registration by the marrying couple.

a friend provided me this link yesterday to an official report by the japan ministry of justice showing that it had been successful in weeding out roughly 100,000 overstayers in japan from 2005 to 2009 (january), representing a 48.5% drop. now looking again at table 1 above, the column on irregular filipino migrants in japan shows that from 2005-2007, the number has not decreased. either the filipino irregular migrants are not included in the 100,000 apprehended overstayers, showing resiliency of the filipino irregular migrants here, or the filipino overstayers were apprehended in year 2008.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tres Marias

Worrying that we would go over our agreed one hour limit, I was stealing glances at my companion who was engrossed in animated chatter with his assigned hostess. The sign outside the club said 2,000yen per hour from 7pm-9pm and 2,800yen per hour from 9pm-onwards. that's per person, so for the two of us, our bill would be an easy 5,600yen. my companion didn't seem to be worried, so i turned my attention back to my own assigned hostess, who, like me, also seemed not to be fully in the moment.

This was our first night out on official business, gathering data for our dissertation research. My companion, who is also my flat-mate, is also into migration research but while my focus is on irregular migrants, his is on how regular migrants have been able to adapt and eventually prosper within the legal bounds of Japan's immigration laws.

After spending most of my first two months here at APU scanning the available literature on irregular migration, I've come up with the following preliminary research questions for my research on irregular migrants, my dissertation topic:

1. How do irregular migrants manage to survive amidst adverse conditions namely:
1.1. Lack of access to basic social services (health, education, housing, etc).
1.2. Work discrimination and exploitation

2. How are they able to elude detection and arrest?
2.1. How do the regular migrants view the irregular migrants (same/different nationality)?
2.2. What role do social networks/transnational communities play in the irregular migrants’ survival?

3. How are irregular migrants able to cope with any negative effects on their self esteem and identity resulting from their disadvantaged status in the host country especially considering that, in poorer emigrant countries, a high prestige status is ascribed to migrants in general by their immediate family and relatives?

4. Are there any cases where an irregular migrant may become a regular one?

5. How do employers of illegal migrants source their illegal workers? Through what network of contacts? How do they keep their illegal workers from being caught?

With the help of my faculty supervisor, I worked out a plan to be able to pilot test these initial research questions, validating them further and, ultimately, targeting to pin down the concrete focus of my dissertation research. It was a big plus that a portion of my field expenses would be reimbursed thru my school-budgeted research fund, making it critical that my research activities had the blessing and formal approval of my faculty supervisor.

"Santiiiii!!!!" the first Filipina hostess screamed, her face melting into a warm, wide smile, raising her hand to give a high-five to my companion (name's of persons and places have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals). "Apple!!!!," answered back Santi, after split-second or two of silence, "Dito ka na pala nagtatrabaho [so this is where you are working now]." For a moment, I thought Santi had forgotten her name and it would surely be embarrassing. I learned that a few years back Santi and Apple had been co-workers in another establishment.

Apply quickly cordoned us off into a quiet little corner of the club, and i hadn't even warmed my seat yet when a second, elegently-dressed Filipina hostess approached our table. "O! Pilipino kayo! [Oh, you are Filipinos!]," she exclaimed upon hearing us talking. I awkwardly made space for her to sit, not knowing if she should sit to my left or to my right. You see, Santi was seated to Apple's right side, and I to her left, and with both of them intimately reminiscing about their work days together, and with I looking over Apple's shoulder towards them, i felt like a little boy listening to lovers whispering sweet nothings to each other.

The second Filipina hostess unilaterally resolved my great dilemma by gracefully squirming herself into the small space that opened up between Apple and myself. Santi and I were now at the opposite ends of that short, upholstered yet cozy bench, originally designed, i think, for 3 people only (one guest and two hostesses sandwiching him). We were so closely squeezed to each other that it wasn't just the bottom of my butt that was soft -- the seat -- but my hips weren't complaining either with the equally soft cushion it was enjoying - her hips. Indeed, I had arrived at the Japanese bar scene.

Truly, you can now see, it was no small struggle to remember and stay focused on the fact that were were doing research in that club. :).

Given the sensitivity of my study topic, the single, biggest hurdle would be in identifying, finding, establishing contact and building the trust and confidence of irregular migrants, hopefully to a level enough for them to feel safe and agree to an interview. Sheldon Zhang, in a book entitled "Chinese Human Smuggling Organizations: Families, Social Networks, and Cultural Imperatives(2008)," narrates how they had to spend countless hours drinking and socializing with their network of local contacts in order to gain their trust and confidence, ultimately leading to the 129 smugglers who they were able to interview. Rey Ventura, in his book "Underground in Japan(2006)," explored the world of Kotobuki, a Filipino enclave in Yokohama, Japan, where he himself became an irregular, overstaying migrant, observing, first-hand, the life and struggles of the Filipino illegals.

So, we were in that club, not because we expected to find any illegals there, but because the first step in doing so would be to slowly build my network of contacts among the Filipino regular/legal migrants in Beppu who would, in turn, hopefully point me to any illegals they were in touch with.

My pilot testing protocol listed 7 strategies to be able to build a respectable number of irregular migrant interviewees, who would form the base of my empirical data for my study.

1. Long-time Filipino residents of Beppu/Osaka/Tokyo
A number of Filipinos are settled down and fully integrated into the local Beppu community, and with their help thru referrals, I may be able to get to know other Filipinos who may, in turn, possibly lead me to any irregular migrants. I also have an extensive network of Filipino friends in Osaka and Tokyo who may provide me significant leads.

2. Filipina entertainers/hostesses working in Beppu
Build and cultivate a network among the "economic migrants," Filipino workers in the entertainment industry of Beppu, possibly leading me to irregular migrants who they know are working at odd jobs at the bars or at any other entertainment-related industry.

3. Church Network
Solange Lefebvre and Luiz Carlos Susin edited a book entitled "Migration in a Global World(2008)" citing that, historically, the Catholic Church has been proactively involved in global migration, particularly through their apostolate of support and assistance to migrants. Working through the local Beppu churches, I could also possibly get in contact with and slowly build the trust and confidence of irregular migrants.

4. Non-Government Organizations (NGOs)
A number of NGOs in Japan focus specifically on advocacy of migrant issues, and I have a handful of active contacts that could possibly lead me to irregular migrants. Time to encash some social capital.

5. Subject-Matter Experts
In APU, a core group of faculty members with quite impressive backgrounds have been working on migrant research topics and tapping onto their own networks may eventually point me to a number of irregular migrants. Book authors and other acadamic writers are also another source of subject-matter experts.

6. Direct Participant Observation
Rey Ventura's sequel to his first book "Underground in Japan" entitled "Into the Country of Standing Men" talks about a corner of a street where irregular migrants in Japan gather in and stand around in, very early in the morning, waiting for trucks of employers to come by and pick them up for a day's work. One strategy would be to find such a street in Beppu or Osaka and do direct participant observation, even accompanying the workers on those trucks and working with them for the day, or thru extended periods of time, as needed. By getting into their world, I hope to be able to gain my own insights into their situation and build a pool of reliable empirical data.

7. Families Back Home
In the Philippines a number of provincial towns are known to have a high percentage of the local population with migrant family members abroad. Finding a way to contact knowledgeable local residents who may be able to point me directly to families with family members who are migrants, may be the first step in eventually conctacting irregular migrants.

"Hoy, dito ka nalang! Mga Pilipino 'to. [Hey, join us here! They are Filipinos.]," Apple called out to another Filipina hostess currently unassigned to any table, inviting her to ours. We were creating quite a commotion despite our being in one of the farthest, darkest corners of the bar, since were were the only Filipino guests and our Tagalog conversation seemed to be a much-welcome break for to the Japanese-attuned ears of the Filipina hostesses. Soon there were five or six Filipinas swarming our table, and I couldn't help but thinking "what a successful night of networking!"

As more customers filled into the club, one by one our Filipina fans were re-assigned. One of the remaining Filipinas though seemed to be hiding from a particular guest, whispering to me, "Naku, ayoko sa kalbong yon kasi parating nagpapa-masahe. [Oh, I don't like that bald customer because he always asks to be given a massage.]" She ducked her head and, before I knew it, there were now 5 of us suffering in that 3-seater bench. Santi looked contented with his one-on-one trip down memory lane with Apple. I was now sandwiched between two Filipinas, and finding that it was quickly becoming uncomfortable.

"Estudyante ako dito, at ako si El Joma. [I am a student here in Beppu, and my name is El Joma.]" I said, to start a conversation.

To my right was Melody, and to my left, Kristina. Like Apple, all of them are married to Japanese men and have 1 kid each. Santi explained that that's how they are able to continue to work in Beppu despite the entertainer visa crackdown implemented by the Japan Immigration Ministry in March 2005. Melody's child I learned is 7 years old and so her marriage to a Japanese national wasn't prompted by the 2005 visa crackdown.

Our conversation warmed up further. Kristina shared with us how she would still take a bike home despite her apartment being just 2 minutes away because this was her only effective way of discouraging enamored customers from following her home. "They'd be too drunk to follow me on a bike," Kristina proudly bragged about her strategy. More importantly though, she didn't fail to stress clearly, her Japanese husband would get mad if that happened and she would surely be forced to quit her bar job.

Melody had a 7-year old child, and she was proud to have sent her child to an expensive private school, costing her 25,000yen per month in tuition. Now her kid was in elementary and hard times had forced her to put him in the public elementary school which, she explained, in Japan was at par, if not better compared to private schools in terms of the quality of teaching. What was interesting though was that when I asked her if she talked to her child in Filipino her response was "bakit pa?". I didn't quite sense the undertones of her answer because the loud bar music was deafening, but there was clearly emotion in her answer and facial expression. Maybe she didn't see the need for her child to learn the Philippine dialect since their plan was to permanently reside here. Or, maybe Melody didn't feel that her Filipino heritage was worth passing on to her child.

The chatter among us five in that short bench became one when the topic became Filipino food, especially food that they hadn't eaten in years: Tuyo (dried fish), Tinapa (smoked fish), Daing (another type of dried fish), Itlog na Maalat (salted egg), and Penoy Balut (fertilized duck egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell). And when I shared that I would be going home this August, I was flooded with requests to bring Filipino food back to Japan, not just be 3 lady hostesses but by the other Filipinas hidden in the other cubicles. It was really hilarious because there we were in a Japanese bar but the hostesses were shouting food orders to each other in Filipino and I was carefully listing down each order with the name of the order owner.

Truly these Tres Marias - Apple, Melody and Kristina - reminded me of the special brand of Filipina warmth and friendship.