Wena is Hardly the Jane Tamad in Taipei

Eye On Taiwan
Date: June 1, 2016
By: David Wang

Those who surf the Net to find blogs and websites related to the Philippines won’t have to look far to read plenty of politically-incorrect, candid and unfortunately truthful comments, observations and insights about that nation, whose iconic soul may be animated by the Filipino soap opera character Juan Tamad (Lazy John). While one American living in the Philippines with a Filipina wife said seriously on a blog that Filipinos with some money will party first before paying bills.

Can you blame most Filipinos for wanting to chill out rather than dive headlong into earnest work? A 30ish cabbie in Manila said that he sometimes makes nothing in a 12-hour shift and sometimes only US$11 after a long day that starts at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m.; while a 20-something salesperson and an insurance claims clerk in Manila are paid only about US$260 monthly to enable them to live hand-to-mouth after paying rent, food, transportation and parental support, without being able to save a dime even into their 40s.

Such seeming hopelessness could partly explain the epidemic proportion of single motherhood in the Philippines, to which a pretty Filipina in Angeles City once attributed young Filipinos being “assholes,” who could be forced by circumstance beyond their control (read overpopulation due to anachronistic religious doctrine, governmental corruption to sap the nation of promising job opportunities for most residents) to behave irresponsibly, recklessly and wantonly to seek instant gratification by whispering whatever works into ears of young, naïve Filipinas that result in unwanted pregnancy and inevitable abandonment.

But obviously not all Filipinas and Filipinos have thrown in the towel in the face of bleak prospects. For hundreds of thousands of them migrate abroad as overseas Filipino workers to overcome the odds back home, to also show that many Filipinos are not embodiments of Juan Tamad.

Wena Irinco, about to turn 25 in June and as shown, is clearly one Filipina who won’t simply sit to wait for coconuts to fall.

Wena Irinco

Wena Irinco

A child of a Chinese mom and pinoy or Filipino, Wena has Filipino citizenship due to birthright and will be given a Taiwanese ID card after one year of residency in Taipei, where she has been working a few months as a sales clerk in a 3C (computing, communication and consumer) retailer that sells mobile phone cases, smartphones, and prepaid phone cards, in an area in central Taipei that is home to many small businesses catering to mainly overseas Filipino workers.

Many people don’t know that you can hold dual citizenship (Taiwan and the Philippines)…and I don’t want to give up my Filipino citizenship to save money on the visa needed to return to the Philippines, says Wena, who was gracious enough to be interviewed while behind the counter on the job.

While unlike countless children in the Philippines born of parents who are too poor to even care for themselves, Wena has been lucky to have a father, an ex-chef but now retired, and mom, who worked in a shoe business among other jobs in the Philippines, who have provided support and put her through the University of the East in Manila, where she graduated from a 4-year computer science program.

Incidentally Wena’s mom also has a better life in Taipei, besides being paid relatively higher wages, for she at least is treated equally as a card-carrying citizen, but not so in the Philippines where she pays a nominal fee yearly to stay as an alien, despite many years of residency.

But she shares a common thread that knits increasingly more Filipinos together, which is being a child out of wedlock, and calls being an illegitimate child “normal” in her homeland. Is she also implying that all the children born of married parents globally are abnormal?

Being relatively too young and insulated from the many socioeconomic ills beleaguering the Philippines, Wena, besides confessing to having little time to read except occasionally staying up-to-date on viral news via Facebook, is hardly the person to rely on for an insider’s look at what makes her homeland tick.

She likely does not know nor care to analyze the reasons for the indifference many Filipinos, including her parents, show towards marriage, not least of which being the contract only binds two parties, many of whom struggle financially to have little control over their future and location of residency due to necessity to work abroad for many years, that is very costly to dissolve. Some couples end up spending US$7,000 or more on a divorce or easily 19 times a typical monthly salary in the Philippines.

Emphatically expressing her goal in life being to make and save money, which does not set her apart from all the OFWs in Taiwan, Wena is also lucky to have a Chinese mom, who works in a printed circuit board factory in Taipei for the relatively higher wages, whose ancestry not only allows her to migrate to Taiwan to easily acquire local citizenship, but also enable Wena to do the same.

To hold Taiwanese citizenship in Wena’s case has tangible value. She was only paid about US$440 monthly in her job as a QCA clerk in Manila where she had to gaze into a computer monitor to proofread financial statements, but grosses about US$770 monthly at the 3C retailer where she has little to do except wait for walk-in customers, take inventory and reorder stock. OFWs working in factories in Taiwan gross about US$550 monthly.

Working life in Manila for Wena, her first job after university graduation, was less pleasant compared to hers in Taipei, for she had to buy meals in Manila, but not now as mom takes care of such routine.

Her life in Manila has not changed from the one in Taipei in that Wena still pays for parental support, as does most OFWs. I send about half of my salary to dad and share in the expenses to rent our house in Xinzhuang, an area about 30 minutes by MRT from the 3C retailer, says Wena.

Wena, also not too different from OFWs in Taiwan, aims to have her own house one day without knowing in which nation to realize such dream. When told of the home prices in the area where she works, with a new condo twice the size of the modestly-sized retailer going for maybe US$300,000, Wena suddenly woke up to the reality that her future home will likely be in the Philippines, where she says a house and lot in Cavite (an area about an hour from central or downtown Manila) is available for US$22,000. That is perfect for Wena is adamant to have a single-detached home, which is essentially a fantasy for someone like her in Taipei without hitting a jackpot in a major lottery as El Gordo.

Wena also dreams of setting up a business one day, as so many of her compatriots, in case she can’t find work. Maybe I’ll get involved in food and beverage because my father was a chef and can show me the ropes, says Wena.

Besides showing ignorance of property prices in Taipei, Wena also displays a degree of naivete towards life in the city, where she joyfully labels as being safe for a woman to walk alone, a view that could be skewed by her having seen a purse snatching in Manila. But her perspective may be readjusted for reality in Taipei if told that a purse snatching occurred only a couple blocks from her retailer recently, and that a Taiwanese woman in Kaohsiung, the major city in southern Taiwan, said that all her friends have had theirs grabbed by snatchers.

Wena’s sanguine view of security in Taipei is understandable as she can’t read Chinese nor comprehend spoken Mandarin beyond the kindergarten level, so does not watch TV news of Taiwan to live in a cocoon of sorts. Ignorance is bliss indeed.

My mom tells me to upgrade my Chinese reading, listening and writing skills that would help my employability in Taipei, says Wena, whose current job certainly does not motivate her to beef up her Chinese literacy, especially considering that her boss hired her as-is to obviously work in a location serving mostly OFWs.

Unbeknownst to Wena, who admits to having studied basic Chinese in Manila as a child and says her mom speaks Mandarin with undetermined fluency, achieving adult-level Chinese speaking, listening and writing skills at her age, given the financial resources and quality time available to her, would be as realistic a feat as trying to upstage by imitation Andy William’s rendition of The Impossible Dream.

Despite being an hour and half by plane from the land of her birth and physically in Taipei due to mainly a better paying job, Wena has heart strings tied to the Philippines, where her boyfriend awaits. He wishes to marry me but I have different goals in life, says Wena.

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