HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 21, 2017 – 12:00am
I am in Sydney as I write this. I have been here two weeks.? Prior to this visit, I was home for close to 10 months with only one foreign trip, to Taiwan. I have been, for the most part, home in the Philippines.?
Australia is where I have two children who have become citizens and who have chosen this country as the place where they will live, work, raise a family, build a home and a future. I have been to Australia many times, especially in the past 10 years. More than at any time, as I live here from day to day, it does not escape me that Australia and the Philippines are like two opposite worlds. I am not talking of these two nations as apples and oranges, although objectively speaking, one can argue that they are. I am talking as a Filipino who has spent most of his life living in my home country and occasionally experiencing life Down Under.?
The weather is a good place to start the comparison. Back home, we have two seasons: the dry and wet seasons, also known as the warm and the cool times of the year. As I write this, it is winter in Sydney, the temperature is nine degrees Celsius, while it is summer in Manila with the temperature hitting the high 30s. While Filipinos are suffering through the sweltering heat, we are enjoying manageable cold weather in Sydney. ??Where we look forward to enjoying a cold weather Christmas in the Philippines, here, it is “tank top” weather during Christmas. It is the height of summer and the temperature often goes past 40 degrees. People wear shorts, T-shirts and slippers. Definitely no sweaters on Simbang Gabi.
?Another striking difference here compared to back home is how Australia values the dignity of manual labor. I am talking about tradesmen such as plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, painters, gardeners, etc. To become a certified tradesman, one must go to school for proper training, then through years of apprenticeship before one can be licensed. A tradesman is expected to do a good job or a customer can take him to court and he could lose his license. ?When you need a tradesman, you have to make an appointment and pay lots of money for the consultation and the actual work done. Years ago, when we had a problem with our toilet here in Sydney, we called a newly arrived immigrant who was an unlicensed plumber to fix it. It was our way of helping him get established in Sydney. A few weeks later, the toilet broke down again and we finally called a licensed plumber. He pointed out that the replaced parts of the toilet (which had been repaired earlier) were of poor quality and were not even installed correctly. ?Before you get your car’s registration renewed, it must be inspected by a licensed mechanic (if it is over four years old) who must certify that it is road-worthy. After registration, if your car gets into an accident due to, say, faulty brakes, the government will go after you and your mechanic who will probably lose his license. ?Back home, we are still far from this level of professionalism where people are held accountable if they do not do their jobs well.?
We also fall very far behind in the delivery of justice. Down Under, politicians have been booted out of office for simple infractions such as not reporting an upgrade they enjoyed during a flight, or not reporting receiving an expensive bottle of liquor as a gift. A judge lost his job, pension and reputation for lying to the police about who was using his car that was caught speeding. He said it was driven by an American friend who had left the country. When the police investigated, they discovered that the judge’s American friend had died two years earlier. I think the judge also served jail time. Many years back, popular Prime Minister Bob Hawke was waving to people on the street from his car when he was called out by TV viewers who said he was not wearing a seatbelt. He ended up paying a fine. ?Big politicians, businessmen, famous people are routinely arrested when they commit crimes. No big deal. Police routinely order drivers to pull over for alcohol and drug tests. Driving violations are fined heavily. You can actually lose your license depending on the violations you commit.?
During the first year we moved to Sydney, I woke up to a knock on the door at 2 a.m. It was the police. Before I opened the door, I asked my wife if our son was home. I thought he might have gotten into some trouble. He was asleep in his room. When I opened the door, the police asked me how many cars I had. I said I had one. He then said that I had left my garage door open, and advised me to close it. I was impressed at how much effort the police took to make our neighborhood safe.?
Traffic is a monumental problem in Metro Manila. People complain of traffic here in Sydney too, but it is nowhere near what we go through back home. If you define heavy traffic as not having moved forward for at least 15 minutes (as often happens in Metro Manila), I don’t think I have experienced “heavy traffic” here at all. By Philippine standards, traffic is non-existent in Sydney. People call it traffic if their car is the fifth or sixth vehicle before the traffic light. ?
Lastly, I must say, it is more fun to spend your money in the Philippines because it is far less expensive there than here. Your usual McDonald’s meal back home of a burger, fries and a soda is four times more expensive in Australia. To get a car registered with insurance will cost close to P50,000. Council fees (the equivalent of barangay fees which we don’t pay back home) cost P60,000 per year. The cost of houses and rent keeps going up to ridiculous heights and there seems to be no end in sight. They say that properties in the Sydney area double in price every 10 years. A real concern is that a great majority of young people are not able to afford owning a home.
I have learned to love living in both Manila and Sydney. Each has its charms and its downsides. While my roots are in the Philippines, I like the different pace and dictates of living in a place where rules are more clearly defined and observed. I also love how much open spaces there are in Sydney compared to the density of Manila. I feel comfortable with and assured by the peace and order, and the predictability of life here. I love the snow-less winter. I also love the new friends I have made here. ?However, I enjoy the freedom of living back home. Sometimes, life in Sydney can feel too regulated. There are so many rules. It is great to have access to both worlds. I am reminded of a Zen saying that goes, “The opposite side also has an opposite side.” That’s fine by me.