On Middlemen: Somewhere in the Middle

>> Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vince and Stuart were dancing to "Spanish Eyes" when Stuart said, "Fancy staying the night?". Vince thought it was expensive knowing that they were in a posh hotel but he decided that they might as well try 'threes' again. Stuart smiled and whispered "cut out the middleman." They then made their way out the crowded ballroom, past the hotel lobby until they reached the grand staircase. Then, they both went up to the hotel room.

The UK version of QaF (special thanks to my mom who sent me the complete 10-episode series) made up for what it lacked in length with heartfelt performance and touching moments. If the scene above seems vague, let's just say that two's a company and three's a crowd, thus, "cutting out the middleman". I've given enough spoilers so that's the farthest I can go. (UK:US, Vince:Michael, Stuart:Brian)

I went through all that trouble to arrive to this point: I'm currently a middleman, the straight kind anyway.

I've officially gotten involved into trading various products and commodities like Liquified Natural Gas, Crude Oil, LPG, MAzut100, Cement, what-have-yous. When my mom first introduced me to this world I was as confused as Ashley Simpson doing the hoedown.

Then we started communicating with my aunt from the US and it turns out that she is also into trading. I couldn't help it, obviously. I know that my boss is always looking for products and I have an aunt who's always looking for buyers. Like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, really.

Eventually, well, more like a day later, I found myself e-mailing people from all parts of the earth and sending information that I only have a vague understanding of. I never knew, for example, that ASWP meant "any safe world port" or that LOI stood for "letter of intent". I'm learning at least two new acronyms a day and so far, most of the alphabet is now covered. My illusion of trading, that it's as simple as buying chocnut from a
sari-sari store, started to fade into a more serious reality--the right information in the wrong hands could be very dangerous.

Before all these though, I was already aware that some people think that middlemen are not necessary in any kind of business. Back in college, I had this classmate who felt strongly against job placement agencies that he decided to put up his own Security Guard Agency to help protect the common gardo versoza. He said, that unlike other 'parasite' middlemen, he'll make sure that his agency will not take advantage of the job-seekers. I wonder if he stuck to his strictly 5% cut up to this day.

I sympathize with him in that view, but I also understand that a lot of people won't trust a service worker, especially a security guard, unless he's from a certified agent.

I don't know. As a middleman, I can't say that I am a parasite. Okay, in trading, a middleman gets paid in ridiculously high amounts of moolah but my aunt's contacts wouldn't have known about my boss if I didn't give the extra effort to mention to her that "hey, my boss does oil too". I see it as being the right person at the right time with the right amount of conscience--said amount leaning towards negligible. And don't tell me you would naively say you'll settle for a hundred dollars when they're waving a six-figure commission in front of you.

It's an easy job, this trading thing. You sit in front of a computer, send and receive emails, act as a channel of communication. My aunt says that I can retire early if any one of these deals gets closed. But my boss was quick to say that there will be a lot of inquiries and only one out of a hundred will get signed. I'm 'channeling' three products as of the moment. So far so good, and if not, then there are still 97 chances to go.

Oh, and if you still can't take Vince and Stuart out of your mind and wondered all this time what they did after they went up to the hotel room, highlight for spoilers: they only slept. If you know QaF and want to watch the scene, follow this link, otherwise, don't bother.OUT


Emerging Bloggers Emerge on Ten Emerging Blogs Post

>> Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The day I posted my candidates for the Ten Emerging Influential Blogs of 2007 was the day my blog had the most clicks ever. From a sad average of 20 clicks a day, it rose to 67. A couple days later, it was back to reality.

I can't wait to post 2008's list. LoL.


Edmar Is Here

>> Sunday, June 24, 2007

I was trying to be comfortable on my bunk bed while listening to Kat's usual complaints and Van and Derf were exchanging jokes about Sulpicio lines, entertaining Louella and Arnold who resigned to the fact that we picked the wrong ship and decided to be typical Filipinos and laughed at the situation we're all in. After bitching about how awful Sulpicio Lines' ship was and agreeing that we have boarded a ghost ship for there were no passengers except us, we directed our attention to the PA system which, playing in mono, gave life-saving instructions that could be useful in case the rusty ship turned into a submarine; that's if the instructions were clear. Then, the last two Spanish words that survived the history of the shipping industry, "puera visita" blasted three times through the PA system, except that it came out as "pwira bisita, pwira bisita, pwira bisita" (you can tell that at this point, the announcer was proud of himself for speaking in Spanish, if Spanish had a Bisaya influence). We echoed the phrase until we got tired of it. Finally, as we settled in our bunk beds, we took turns reading vandalism from the walls of the cabin. One particular vandal became special to us and will always be remembered. You would, too if you've read it yourself. Written in bold letters, patiently scribbled using a blue point pen up to 72 pt size in what appeared to be Arial with Grunge Scratches, was this confusing declaration: "Edmar Is Here!".

What made it more funny was the fact that earlier on that trip we were convinced that we have boarded a ghost ship. There were only two things possible with "Edmar is Here": one, that Edmar skipped English class quite often, and two, Edmar's ghost was there (or is here, according to Edmar).

Dateline: Doha, Qatar. Edmar is here. Really here. He's the boss' maid's husband. He arrived three months ago and the boss transfered him here in the office for two weeks now, thereby stripping me off of my title as the only Filipino working in the office.

Edmar is the kind of Pinoy you don't want the other races to base their Flip stereotype on. It's not good to judge the book by its cover, but a couple of amateur tattoos can tell you a lot about the person. He hails from the northern part of Luzon. He's the kind of Filipino that Rex Navarette makes fun of in his routine--wer for where, soaf for soap, etc. Although Edmar is a blast to talk to in kanto-level conversations (ie "nakakain na ako ng tao" or "I have eaten a man" -- a statement that can only come from a post-fried brain), I'd avoid speaking to him when other officemates are within earshot for fear of being accused of racism. While it's casual in the Philippines to refer to blacks as negros, Edmar doesn't realize that the term became a #1 hate slur the moment he boarded the plane in NAIA, thus, I panicked when he talked to me in Tagalog but uttered the word "negro" in front of our Sudanese officemates! He doesn't hate the Sudanese, it's just that he doesn't have a filtering system installed.

On his second month, Edmar converted to Islam and has since introduced himself as Rashid to Muslims here in the office. Abandoning Christianity, however, doesn't mean turning your back on infidelity, smoking or thoughts of violence. Being the officeboy prone to abuse involving tea and coffee, Edmar gets to meet everyone working here and has already formed his own (so far accurate) generalizations about our officemates. Not a week goes by that I won't hear him announcing to me that he will punch this guy or bludgeon that guy.

"Jef, sarap sana tumira, ano?" ("Jap, delicious if hit, what?" would be an Edmar translation; formula derived from "Pareho ang numero = The same the number") Edmar said to me the other day, reminiscing his junkie days while he was preparing tea for some guests. Edmar is probably on withdrawal as I write this.

At one point, I actually asked Edmar if he ever boarded a Sulpicio Lines ship. He said no. I was disappointed. But that means the search is still on for the real Edmar. For now, Jap is here.


Office Policy or Death of Freedom?

>> Monday, June 18, 2007

Two nights ago, I watched The Devil Wears Prada again and I thanked my angels that I am better off than Emily err Andy (Anne Hathaway). After watching it, I was inspired to write about "Jobs that pay the rent" but it all changed last night when Mustafa, the new recruit a.k.a. manager wannabe approached me and asked the thing that I dreaded most in a 9-5 job (8am-12midnight if you're me): "Jafer, how do you feel about wearing a suit and a tie to work everyday?"

My friends, put your seats back in the upright position and make sure you have your tray tables stowed (Tyler Durden's words out of my mouth), we're in for a bumpy ride.

But first, a little introduction to our new recruit, Mustafa.

Mustafa is from Egypt. He's around 25 years old, tall, good-looking, fit, smart. He calls himself engineer although I doubt if he passed a BAR BOARD (thanks to Yeric for the correction) of some sort. But there is no denying that he is good in his field which is computer (and IT) and he is aggressive, determined, albeit over the top. He dresses like a stockbroker and acts like one too. Cocky, demanding and manipulative (if any of these statements can be grounds for libel, I'm telling you now, my blog is often exaggerated that it borders on fiction).

However, last night wasn't fictitious at all. In all fairness to Mustafa, in the two months that he has been in the office, there were a lot of changes. For one, the clients (i.e. lazy Qatari college students who let other people do their book reports which poor Pinoys like me are more than willing to accommodate) doubled. The IT classes tripled (but then maybe because it's summer), and we got more printers working at the same time.

We should all be happy that he's around. As I've observed though, most of the staff were not happy. I have listened to everyone's qualms about Mustafa. Before the incident last night, I was quite neutral with the Mustafa issue because I was mostly unaffected by his actions. In fact, I admired him for bringing forth change in the office and I figured that my officemates are unhappy because they are simply afraid of change.

"Jafer, how would you feel about wearing a suit and tie to work everyday?" Mustafa said. My smile turned into an expression that said "are you kidding?" and I said, "are you kidding? No!"

Before you slap me with my own words and accuse me that I am afraid of change, let me point out a few reasons why I refuse to wear the Wall Street prescribed outfit to work.

1. I believe in freedom. The littlest policies can spell oppression and the moment somebody imposes their fashion on you then it's a revolution, baby. I am not a glam guy and my taste in clothes may not be runway material but my clothes speak of who I am, it's my personal expression.

2. I don't believe that a suit and a tie will dramatically improve my work. Brains don't come in polyester and cotton.

3. There are proper places where one can wear suits and ties. Were our office involved in trading stocks at the 48th floor of Mustafa Towers, by all means. But if your office address is at Suoq Al Kowari (Al Kowari Market) where your next door neighbors are photocopy centers and a bookshop, you ought to play it smart and get real.

4. Here's a management tip,
happy employees mean happy clients (read the bit "On Hiring Experts"). I've already talked to the rest of the guys in the office. They too don't like the idea, they feel that wearing such heavy clothing will not be comfortable and will surely affect their performance.

5. We're in Qatar. It's bad enough that it's a desert here and Mustafa had to rub the heat in by suggesting we all wear winter clothes...in the summer!

6. If he's too concerned about how the employees look, then we should hire fashion models. To hell with talent and degree.

Agree? Suddenly I'm reminded of a scene from The Devil Wears Prada where Andy ranted about her work to Nigel (Stanley Tucci) to which he replied "you're just whining".

To Mustafa's "defense", a snippet of our conversation:

Jap: No, Mustafa, not a chance. You won't make me wear a suit and a tie. (To
those who know me, as early as this line, my lips were already trembling and my
eyes wide opened...it's the coffee).

Mustafa: Yani, (an Arabic
interjection, not the musician) it's a nice thing to wear to the office, yani,
one way we can look presentable.

Jap: Are you saying that I'm not

Mustafa: La, la, la, la, (he's not singing, he's actually
saying "no, no, no, no") yani, you see, we can get big companies to partner with
us if we wear suits and ties, it's one of their requirements.

Jap: Which
company? Fashion TV? I don't see how one can assume that good clothes equal good
service. I don't have to prove my worth by wearing your kind of clothes. I have
been working here for six months now and I have proven that I can do my job
effectively without a tie.

Mustafa: I've been working as a manager
alhamdulilah for ten years (is he kidding me? he must've been 15 then) and yani,
all people look up to somebody with a good appearance.

Jap: (I don't
even know why I continued with this conversation) I am sure they will prefer a
hard-working man over a good-looking one (unless it's Brad Pitt of course).

Mustafa: Yes, but we are professionals and we should dress accordingly,
and we can get more clients this way. Is it too much to ask if getting clients
would mean that you will be getting QR10k later on?

Jap: Ten thousand
riyals? Well, I'll wear a skirt if you want if I'm assured of that salary! But
I'm not getting even half of that amount. Are you saying that you're wearing a
suit because you're getting that much?

Mustafa: La, la, la, la (to the
tune of 10k?) I'm not getting that salary, but we can if we wear a suit and tie.

Jap: (Imagining how ridiculous the conversation was becoming, I decided
to end it) Look, I will not wear it. If for some reason I am not fit for the job
because I don't wear a tie, send me back home.

Mustafa: La, la, la we're
not sending you home, we'll talk about this with the boss. Yani, you can tell
him how you feel about this and we'll ask him his decision.

Jap: Ok.
(Walk out).

Right, bring up the boss card. I am not afraid. I have a speech prepared for the boss, it goes like this:

"A man's wisdom is not measured by the length of his tie. Respect doesn't come
with shoulder pads. Your good actions, values and principles--these are the
things that will earn respect. If you have these, you can walk naked and still
have dignity. But if you've done something bad, you can cover yourself up with
the most expensive clothes but people will still see your shame." Cue background
music. Fade to black.

That is why I am a self-proclaimed scriptwriter. It sounds cheesy but it's true.

I stayed up all night thinking about this damn suit and tie proposition. I am not immersed in my wonderful world of Jap. I know that some of you are thinking that I'm a big baby and I am not fit in the professional world, that I'm not thinking "professionally".

Alright, fair enough. The thing is, it is not even a rule...yet. It was just a suggestion, and that is why I'm airing my sentiments while I still can.

In the end, when the boss decides that I should wear the suit and tie anyway, I will, with a heavy heart, I suppose but I will.

I will wear the suit and tie, but I will choose which color. They will be sorry that they even suggested the attire in the first place. I will contact Kuya Germs and borrow from his wardrobe, I will also wear it all black to signify the death of freedom in the office. Watch out, Mustafa, the bitch is back.OUT


ONETOTEN: The Top 10 Emerging Influential Blogs in 2007

>> Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I've started serious and steady ( it's like a relationship, I know) blogging six months ago and I didn't care much about the "blogosphere" until now. I don't know if I'm a fair judge for this list since I can still count the blogs that I have read but I suppose it won't hurt to pay the good deed forward (Ms Jojie aka Dabawenya Jud! included me in her list. Thank you, Jojie. It's a one in a million chance but one vote is better than no votes hehe).

My apologies, Ms. Janette Toral, for adding yet another ten to the dozens of lists you get everyday. Tallying the Top 10 Emerging Influential Blogs in 2007 ain't easy so I'll try my best to make sure that all my nominees are blogs that have only started anytime from August 1, 2006 to the present

They say "you are what you eat," but in the blogosphere, you are what you read.

10. Is that noise coming from my head? - I like to believe that I am dark and mysterious but after reading Adobobo's blog I suddenly feel I'm sunshine. What I like most (aside from the thought-provoking posts) is the unique template. It's simple, nothing too fancy nor annoying, but it drives home the message that one should beware because parts of your body can bleed anytime once you click on her blog. On her last post, my heart almost bled.

09. Mindanaobloggers - fresh. Although it was made for the Mindanao Bloggers Summit, I'm pretty sure that this blog will run for a long time or until all bloggers from Mindanao get abducted by aliens. Not too many posts in here yet (it's only a few weeks old) but that's beside the point.

08. Continuum - I'm glad Joey started to blog again, and in a new environment too! I was torn between his Letters and another favorite but ultimately his honest and daring posts won this spot. Since I came to Qatar I censored myself-- avoiding certain issues and topics that might be damaging. That's why it's fun (and empowering) to read Continuum. Oh, did I mention that he's my high school batchmate?

07. Himantayon - A recent discovery this one. This blog pokes fun at our mistakes. We're all guilty, we're not perfect after all. So be a good sport and laugh with us. This is my official blogosphere "de-stresser". The guys who thought about this are genuises.

06. Manokan Express - Jinoe, another high school batchmate of mine, takes his 'cue' from the famous Bacolod chicken BBQ. His posts are always positive. The topics he discusses are helpful too. I always make it a habit to check his blog to get my dose of optimism.

05. Bakla Ako, May Reklamo? - No apologies. Take it or leave it. It's a blog with an attitude and a lot of pink-useful information. The more I say something about this blog, the more I'm taking away from the slap-on-your-face title, so I'll just leave it at that. BaklangAJ, you rock!

04. Gibbs Cadiz - another recent discovery. I told Gibbs that even if it was my first time on his blog, I can already say that it's one of my favorites. Gibbs' passion for the performing arts and film is undeniable. I delight in reading his posts because you can rarely find play reviews or insider report from the Philippine stage scene.

03. Dabawenya Jud! - i'm not just returning the favor here =) I like this blog because of its original content. While most of us grab pictures from the internet, Jojie displays her own shots (she's a pro after all). The photos are superb and the posts are refreshing to read (must be because of Jojie's fun adventures).

02. Ang Dabawenyo - Probably the most "influential" on this list. Blogie has about five hundred blogs running at the same time and still he gets to write in his personal blog (Blogie Blog) =) He earned this spot the day he invited me to join the Davao Blogs listing. Thanks to him, my blog got more clicks and I also got connected to other Davaoeño bloggers.
01. Pinoyfilm.com - I'm Pinoy and I love films. This blog lacks the personal touch but it's loaded with information.
Now, the question is, why didn't I nominate myself? Hmmm, tempting. Nah


Raise the Alarm

>> Thursday, June 7, 2007

It's 5AM, in the Middle East, a foreign land for you and you're awakened by extremely loud noises, what goes into your head? Still half asleep, I thought of the very images from war-torn countries I frequently see on CNN. Could it be that a tank has just blown up the restaurant outside? The defeaning blare went on. Perhaps it's a large machine gun with bullets the size of Coke cans tearing away rooftops. But there are no people screaming so maybe it's an out-of-control dump truck that keeps on slamming the gigantic steel bins by the sidewalk. At 5:10 AM, it dawned on me, the racket came from a bulldozer/driller digging on hard ground.

Five minutes later, I was already up. I couldn't stand the noise.

The funny thing was I just bought a digital radio alarm clock--the ones that you can program to wake you up with your favorite radio station (QBS 97.5 FM cause it's the only English FM station in Doha--it sucks, but what can you do?) blasting instead of the usual irritating, throw-in-the-bin-if-you-must battery-operated alarm.

That night, I set the alarm for 6:00 AM. The next morning, I realized I didn't need the damned thing that cost me 100QR. Why? Because the owner of the vacant lot right beside our building decided that it's time to start construction...on the day I bought the alarm clock, and an hour before it even did its job.

Six consecutive days now I've been an early bird. I have planned to do so anyway hence the alarm clock. But I also planned to wake up in a nice way with a smile on my face.

The boss is pleased with my early-bird status. Unless I get used to the banging and clanging, I'll be up and about at 5AM, whether I like it or not.


Mobile in a Coma

>> Sunday, June 3, 2007

I woke up early yesterday to take a shower before the sun boils Doha's water system. When I entered the bathroom I was tempted to finish all my laundry including the ones I wore to bed. The washing machine was just there anyway, and by the time I finished my morning rituals my clothes would have spun dry. I took off my shirt and shorts and dropped it into the washing machine. I observed as the hypnotic drip of the water filled it up. Then, I took a shower, not minding the unusually loud bump-bump of the machine.

The wash was a bit slow. I have already dressed up, packed my overnight stuff and prepared to leave but the washing machine hasn't sung its "I'm done" ring tone yet. So I figured, I should text my mom while waiting. My cellphone wasn't on my bedside table. I panicked.

I ran to the bathroom. I opened the lid of the washing machine. My clothes were already spinning dry. I grabbed my shorts, reached for its pocket and tugged my phone out. It was amazingly dry! It should be cause the machine spun it 50revs a second.

Then I looked at my mobile closely. The LCD screen is full of water! Imagine my anguish. My companion, OW, lifeless. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to cry. There goes the music. There goes the RSS feeds. There goes the cool factor.

Until now, my mobile is still in a coma. I hope it's not terminal.


Preparing for Hell

>> Friday, June 1, 2007

I used to enjoy the best weather back in Davao--no typhoon, no drought. In the summer, the hottest temperature would be at 36°C but it could drop to 20 or 18 on some nights. But last week, I had a preview of the Middle East summer. Standing on a treeless sidewalk with the noon sun beating down on me through a cloudless sky, I only had two thoughts going through my head--one, God bless me with a taxi soon, and two, I'm never marching out in 45°C again without sunscreen. Doha's temperature isn't the only thing heating up though; with changes in the office taking place, it looks like it's going to be one sizzling summer.

The thing about Doha is that, public transportation sucks (this city could use a few jeepneys, if you ask me). And anything connected to public transportation (ie waiting shed etc.) is close to nil. It took me 20 minutes to get a taxi and 2 hours for my baking skin to go back to its un-red and un-sore state.

My mom's boss arrived last week to discuss business with my boss who conveniently went AWOL the day my mom's boss came to Qatar. I was left to attend to them. And with no transportation availble for our use, I found myself volutarily reheating my already lechon-crispy skin.

My boss only resurfaced a day before my mom's boss decided to leave. By then I was already well-done and ready for the Ati-atihan festival.

I've been spending a lot of time out of the office because of our guests, which is a good thing cause the boss wasn't around anyway and there's no use moping around the office and listening to the pissing contest of my officemates.

When my boss finally arrived from wherever he went, he dove straight to business and fixed a lot of things that have been left hanging.

First, he settled some things with my mom's boss. Now, they have a sound agreement and it looks like their rocky relationship is back on solid ground.

Then he reaffirmed his promises to me and which he also put into motion. He started to get rid of my roommates. To do this, he asked that the double-deck beds be removed from my room (tonight is the first night that I have the room for myself).

He also gave me an increase as promised. I don't know if he's still going to hand me the salary he "saved" for me in the last six months cause he said I've been getting my requested salary all along but he kept half of it each month so I'll have spending money in case I want to go home.

It seems that everything is pointing up but it also looks like there's hell to pay.

He booted off my roommates but now, they're questioning why I get to have my own room while they sleep on the sofa. Perhaps I can tell them that they can write their own resignation letter and hope that the boss will give in to their demands as well. Or if they weren't such shitty roommates then I wouldn't have minded them being around.

I got my new "high" salary and the boss was right. He told me that I would spend everything once he gave it to me in full. And I did. I shopped a lot. I'm down to my last five hundred QRs and I still have a full month to go!

The boss also confirmed my new role as the office's banker. I'll be leaving my post at the reception counter and move to a real office, the one with a door and a nice mahogany table with a leather chair. With great power comes great responsibility. The task at hand is daunting. I'm not good in Maths or Accounting and my Arabic is limited to six letters. How then can I balance sheets, keep books or write receipts?

It's all happening quickly but my mind is frozen (or baked). I haven't written the minutes of the meeting that my boss has requested since a week ago. I haven't even blogged for a long while. And with all these is the rising temperature (a radio jock announced that it hit 50°C today). If I'm going to hell I might as well get used to the heat, I suppose, but for now, there's hell to go through this month, I'm quite sure of that.

After this adjustment period, I might need a good break. To where, I don't know. I need to reboot, restart, refresh and keep it cool for the summer.OUT




Abre Los Ojos

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Thirtysomething educator who holds the secret to the meaning of life. =P

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