Monday, October 20, 2008

To build, or not to build?

In the midst of a global recession, the current real estate turmoil and wall street breakdown in the US, we recently came face to face with a very, very tough decision.

To build, or not to build - our first home, now, at the time of crisis - that is the question.

Perhaps it will be safer to wait. We have only been here in Australia for 10 months, after all. Perhaps we're rushing things. We could stay renting for 1 or 2 more years, like most migrants who were here before us did, before we even think about buying our first home.


I could end the story right here, and leave you all hanging with the same question that bugged us for days. Do we, or do we not proceed? Those of you who have known me for years probably know the answer already.

Yes we did. And though I have established a reputation among family members and friends as a risk-taker, this, as the way things are currently turning out to be, is a risk I'll probably look back a couple of years from now and say, "Boy, am I glad I took it". I'll tell you why later.

So, on a lovely spring day some 3 weeks ago, I went to see my agent and we pushed pen on paper. It didn't made as much as an effect until 30 minutes after, when he shook my hand and said "Congratulations". That's when it hit me. Damn. I just signed the contract of sale of my very first land.

Creek at Ridgewater Village

The land we bought is 448 square metres (not bad for a first home), and is located in Ridgewater, a new village inside the same suburb we are currently in, at Caroline Springs. It sits on top of a rolling hill overlooking plush greenery and a nearby creek (years of writing ads for real estate companies sure came in handy). It's the most picturesque place in the estate (as the brochure says) and is also walking distance to the town centre, 3 schools, 2 inddor pools, 4 tennis courts, 10 basketball courts, 2 football fields, 5 cafes (including gloria jean's), a skate park, a barbecue park, a huge gym, the medical clinic, the police HQ, a massive lake, and yes, the state-of-the-art library.

The house we've chosen to build is composed of 3 bedrooms,
2 bathrooms and an ensuite,
a study, double garage, and an outdoor living area or alfresco. Again, not bad for a first home. Building won't start until March of next year though, since the land won't be ready until then.

But then again, you might still ask, why? Why would I look back, a couple of years from now,
and say, "Boy, am I glad I took that risk?" Why is it a good time to build now, considering the world's economy is falling apart?

My wife was asking me the same question. And all I can tell her was wait. Now being a banker has some advantages, and one of these is being able to read financial trends way ahead of others. True enough, a couple of weeks after we signed the contract, home loan interest rates in Australia plunged for the first time in 3 years. Economists predict rates will hit an all-time low by the first quarter of next year (same time we're already building). Not only that, the federal government has also increased the First Homeowner's Grant (money given by the government for, well, first-time home buyers) from $14,000 to $26,000! Which is enough to offset the 7% deposit we're paying for the house and land!

Here are some photos I took of the display home. The house we're about to build will look exactly the same, except for the furniture (of course), and the oven since I've upgraded into a larger, freestanding one and a canopy range hood. The facade will also be different since we're putting some bricks on it. Pardon the excitement. But if you're 32 year old and married with kids, and spent the last 31 years of your life living with your parents or by their means, you'll know exactly why I am so thrilled.

Just click on the photos to enlarge

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Right, meet Left

I've traded my right brain for my left. You might think it's preposterous, unthinkable, unforgivable, even, but in an effort to adapt, survive, and settle in quickly, I've decided to utilize logic in lieu of creativity.

To those who have been asking me lately, my answer is simple. Yes and No. Yes, I already have a job. And no, I'm no longer working in advertising. You read it right, this copywriter is now a banker. More specifically, a Financial Advisor. After 7 years of writing taglines, jingles, and TV commercials, I am now calling people up and giving them sound financial advice about their personal loans, credit cards, home loans, bonds, stocks, and other investments. Words such as taglines, jingles, and brainstorms, were replaced by assets, liabilities and equity.

I know. What the f#@*.

I am currently employed at The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the largest financial institution in the land down under. And before you start thinking that I sold my soul to the devil, I just want you to know that it wasn't what I really planned for. You see, finding a job here in Australia is like finding the perfect pair of shoes on Ebay. There's heaps of choices available on the internet but somehow, you can't find the one that you really, really want. Oftentimes, you'll find the style you like, but it doesn't fit. Or it may fit you, but it's not really what you're looking for. In the end, you bite your lips and say, "I'll just have to settle with this." Like I said, there's thousands and thousands of choices. Visit and see for yourself. In fact, Melbourne was voted as the 2nd country with the most online job-hunters in the world (I forgot who's first). You can spend the whole week just sending out resumes to companies and expect at least half of them to reply and set you up for an interview. As long as you're not picky, you'll get a job in no time at all.

But then of course, the first time I logged on, I typed the keywords "advertising", "copywriter", and "creative" on the search button. To my surprise, I found out that there weren't as many available as I thought there would be. To top it all, most advertising jobs are either for Art Directors or Account Executives. And almost 80% of the jobs available are located in Sydney. There were a handful copywriter positions, but most of them are for advertorials, merchandising and events-focused. I sent my resume anyway.

Long story short, my applications came back unsuccessful. At this point, I have already submitted my portfolio along with my letter of endorsement to McCann Melbourne, and, just to make sure, to Clemenger BBDO, Leo Burnett, Grey, and J. Walter Thompson. I was told that none of them have an opening. I had spent time going back and forth to McCann the most (I am a former McCannite anyway), in all fairness, they were also the one who accommodated me the most. The first time I went there they were moving office, so I had to callback a month after. The next time i called, the creative director (they have no ECDs) was on a holiday. The third (and last time), I met his secretary, who told me they just recently hired a copywriter and that the CD would like to keep my folio for future opportunities. I thanked her and left. I was heartbroken. I couldn't believe that all 7 years that I have spent, all the skills I have developed and talent I have unearthed would all go into a shed, thrown away and locked up for future reference. I knew getting into advertising was hard, (it is, even in the Philippines), but I never imagined it would be this hard especially since I already have experience. I was shattered.

Then, a relative told me about a friend who also used to work as a copywriter back in the Philippines. He told me that when he first came here, he did the same things I did, sending resumes to all the top agencies, then to lesser-known offices, until he finally landed a job --- as a graphic artist. He told me that one of the advertising agencies he applied for actually told him, that one reason why newly-arrived migrants like us have a hard time applying for copywriting jobs is because we don't have a clear grasp of Australian culture yet. We don't know what makes them laugh, frightened, sad, in love, and, most important of all, what makes them buy... yet. After hearing that, all I can say is "fair enough."

Long story short, I am now a financial planner. Don't get me wrong, I like what I'm doing. I may not love it the way I adore writing copy and conceptualizing, but I like it for 3 reasons. Security, Time, and Privileges. Security knowing that I'm a permanent, full-time employee of one of the largest and richest corporations in Australia. Time because unlike in advertising,
we don't, no, never, ever, do overtime. In fact, the moment it hits 5:30, people leave the building as if it was burning. Moreover, as soon as I get home, I'm no longer thinking about work. How often can you say that in advertising? Finally, the privileges. I get to enjoy perks and frills such as no fees and discounts on my credit card (I only get charged half the interest), substantial discounts instant approvals on personal loans and home loans, golf club and spa memberships, bonuses, and travel opportunities. And the pay? Let's just say that it's Good on Australian standards, on Philippine standards however, it's f#@*ng Great! All I can say is I now earn 4 times than what I used to earn in Manila. And I have only started.

Do I miss advertising? Of course. Will I still pursue copywriting? Maybe. I don't know. Neil French has been a copywriter, an account executive, a rent collector, a waiter, a singer, a debt collector, and many other things until he finally came back to advertising and became an Ad God, so, who knows? I myself, dreams of one day becoming a chef, a film director or a novelist, so, like I said, who knows? As I told you before, you can get anything you want in Melbourne. As long as you're not picky.

So I'm parking my writer's hat in the closet for now, and putting on my crisp plaid suit. There's a lot of things I can do to keeping my creativity intact anyway. Like writing this blog, for instance. For now, I'm trading creativity for logic.

Right, meet Left.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Citizen Russ

And you thought it'll be super.

Not having to go to work. Waking up every morning (or afternoon) without worrying about running late for today's internals. No deadlines. No overtimes. No taglines to think about nor storylines to write.

At the back of your mind, you begin to chant Elmer Fudd's infamous lines... "no more classes, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks..." you may not be in school anymore but the thought of quitting your job begins to feel like a long, overdue vacation.

You're free at last. You have unchained yourself from the bondage of your cubicle. Or, as they call it in advertising, workstation. For the first time in years, you wander through Ayala Ave. without having to walk like a madman in order to beat the rush hour. You go to malls during office hours and park your car wherever you want.

You are, after all, unemployed. A freewheler. Answerable only to yourself and accountable to noone. You are an official bum.

You are having the grandest time of your life, until one day, you get sick. You succumb to an illness, one that raises your body temperature to 40 degrees celcius, day in and day out. Your fever never ceases. Your body starts to weaken and and you can't eat anything because they all taste like shit.

On the 3rd day, you ask to be rushed to the hospital. Fearing dengue but clueless nonetheless. The doctors run some tests. Then on the 4th day, concluded that you have Typhoid Fever. The nurses, upon admitting you at the hospital, ask you one simple question. One question that made you wish you weren't jobless.

"Do you have a health card?"

You bite your lips. Then you realize. You're unemployed. A freewheler. Answerable only to yourself and accountable to noone. You are, an official bum.

You rush yourself to recovery, knowing that each day you spend in the hospital is another dime taken off from the last of your savings. You have never worried about hospital bills all your life, except now.

You begin to understand that you are no longer privileged. You are no longer enjoying health benefits from your employer. You don't have one, remember?

It sucks. One day you're tip-toeing, enjoying the privileges of being free from the bondage of employment and the next day you're wishing that you don't have to worry about paying your hospital bills.

Finally, you accept the fact. It sucks to live without benefits. It sucks to be plain old, Citizen Russ.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

And so it can be told

I have managed to keep this to myself, my family and some very close friends for a long time and now I can finally let it out. I didn’t want to jinx it by telling everyone about it. Nor do I want to deal with the embarrassment just in case “it” didn’t push thru.

But “it” did.

And so it can be told.

My family (wife and kids) and I are moving to Australia. Finally. After almost 2 years of praying persistently, savings drained, and waiting in agony.

Yes, we waited. Almost impatiently and nearly losing hope. We waited as an acquaintance, who applied for immigration just a few months ahead of us was granted a Visa a full year ago. We waited as requests for documents and other requirements pile up one after the other. We waited for the medical results. We waited as our patience and resources slowly dwindled. We waited and wondered why our application was taking so long to get approved. And yet, when we received our visa grants two weeks ago, all we can say is “this soon?”

And so it can be told.

The Australian Immigration has given us a deadline. We have to be in Australia by end of November. Yes, this November. It took us a while to process the thought: we’re celebrating Christmas and New Year away from our parents, siblings, relatives and friends. We’re celebrating the holidays, for the first time, down under. “Be careful what you wish for”, so they say. “It might just come sooner than expected” must follow next. Now I wish it could've come later.

And so it can be told.

I can still remember when my Aunt (who sponsored us to Australia) went home to Manila for the first time after 12 years of residing in Melbourne. It was 8 years ago. I was already 2 years married then, and a father of a bouncing baby boy. Back then, my Aunt was already trying to convince me to apply for immigration. She said she’ll sponsor us and even though I didn’t graduate from college, we can still make it because of my wife’s professional skills as a banker. I politely declined her offer. My reason was simple. I would only go to foreign countries for vacation. And would only entertain the thought of leaving my family for work in, say, the US, if I can go back home to them every now and then. I heart NY after all and I have always dreamed of making it big in the big apple or to visit other foreign destinations like Rio, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Greece, or the United Kingdom. But to live in a foreign country and raise my children there? Thanks but no thanks. That was always been my position.

So what happened? People change. That’s what happened. We change as our beliefs and motivations change. We change as we grow old and realize that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist. We change as we expand our horizons or gain new experiences. We change for various reasons. For me though, the change wasn’t sudden. In fact it took me years to realize that it’s getting harder and harder to provide a good life for your family (especially for your children) in this country. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Philippines and I will always do but let’s face the facts. We are a third world country (we have always been and if things don’t turn around soon, we will always be). Our population is more than 90 million (it matters when you’re just a tiny speck on the world map). Our government officials are among the most corrupt in the world. We are a country known worldwide for red tape, graft and corruption, mail-order brides, poverty, impeachment trials, political scams, terrible traffic, grave pollution, and electing doofuses into public office. I have lived in this country for 31 years and for 31 years I have endured. But the time has come to think hard, really hard and consider plans for my children’s future. The fact that I live in Malabon, a place below sea level where it floods every time it rains hard (rising up to more than 6 feet! But that’s for another post), the fact that I travel almost 2 hours on the way to work and on the way home every single day due to traffic and pothole-ridden roads, and that poverty increases continually year after year, makes the change of heart even easier. After all, my wife and I are not getting any younger. Our kids are getting bigger and bigger and our place is sinking deeper and deeper.

It’s time. The prospect of migrating to a country offering bigger and better opportunities was more than just promising. The decision was a no-brainer. I’m not doing it for myself anymore. I’m doing it for my kids. We’re moving to Oz.

And so it can be told.

The Philippines. My residence for 31 years. My country. My home. I am still proud to be a Filipino. For despite all the cons I have listed above, there are still many pros. In fact too many to mention. We are still a beautiful country. For despite the massive pollution and maddening traffic in metropolitan areas, we are still home to the world’s most beautiful beaches, the most exotic animals and the most exhilarating tourist attractions. Despite crooked government officials, red tape and graft and corruption, in general, we are still good-natured people, full of good values, honest, and with good moral character. We are, after all, Asia’s bastion of Christianity, housing the most number of Catholics than any other country aside from Rome. Despite the prevalence of poverty and the decline of the quality of education, we are still the most hardworking and talented. We are the most fluent in English (the universal language) in Asia, proven by the current boom of the call center industry. You may not know it but chances are, when you’re calling the toll free number to report a lost credit card or request service for your gadget in the US, you are talking to a Filipino operator. Despite all the negatives, we still have Olympians, legendary athletes, talented artists and other prominent figures making waves around the world.

The Philippines. I may be leaving but my heart stays with you. I may soon be hopping with kangaroos and playing with koalas but I still think the Philippine eagle, our national animal rules. I am still proud to be a Filipino. I was then and I will always be.

And so it can be told.

In a few days from now, I will be landing in the land they call down under. I will be walking with the bushwalkers, bringing out the barbie for a Sunday grill or calling my friends “mates”. I will be migrating to Australia with my family in search for a new and brighter future. I will be starting life all over again. Writing new goals and wiping the slate clean. And with a heavy heart, I will be leaving you all, my friends, my family, my country.

My home.

And so it can be told.

I still have almost 2 months left, I know. But right now, allow me to tell you that I will miss you all.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Blades Of "Gory"

No, this is not a typo of the title of Will Ferrell’s latest movie. Similar setting, but this one’s for real.

This is about a lesson I learned last Sunday. And like any other lessons in life, I learned it the hard and painful way. That is, to never, ever, imitate what you see in the movies.

Ok, I’m exaggerating. I never actually got to perform a half axle while ice skating with my family. But the damn movie’s the reason why I even thought of trying to ice skate in the first place. It was my first, and definitely the last.

To cut the long story short, I took my family to Mall of Asia (the biggest shopping mall in Asia) last Sunday (to my kids’ delight), a day after we saw “Blades of Glory” on DVD and decided to give ice skating a shot. How hard could it be? I have rollerbladed before, so I figured, it’s just a walk in the park.

A park in hell, that is! Darn skates just won’t keep steady! I found myself clinging on the tiny wall protrusion surrounding the rink, hanging on for dear life for the first 30 minutes! And when I finally mustered enough courage to let go and start actually “skating”, it happened. I slipped. On the way down, I heard, and felt my knees snapping like a broken twig. It happened so fast that I couldn’t even remember whether I twisted my leg, or hyper-extended it. All I can remember is that I fell hard on my lower back, my big, fat ass sitting on my right leg. And then, pain. Unimaginable, excruciating, mind-numbing pain. I let out a loud groan. Loud enough to catch everybody’s attention including a grandma wearing a hearing aid shopping for new lingerie on the 2nd floor of the mall. Skaters started to rush toward me. Among them, a pair of the mall's ice skating crew. I swear I could’ve known what the guys were thinking when they saw my condition - lying on ice, my right leg buried under my bum, contorted in a ghastly manner - I swear the words “Oh shit” were written all over their faces. Or maybe, "dude, you’re so screwed.”

To cut the long story shorter, rescue came and helped me get back on my feet, sans the skates of course. I realized that I have managed to get on the farthest corner of the rink by clinging on the wall for 30 minutes, which makes it even more difficult to walk back to dry land walking on ice with only my socks on. I couldn’t stand the cold for 5 minutes. I was afraid that my feet would get frostbite (I remember the butler in “Mr. Deed’s” quite vividly). And so I sat on ice again, murmuring the words “frostbite, frostbite” to the medic who rescued me. Soon they handed me a pair of slippers. On the way out, I felt my knee snap for the 3rd time. So I screamed again. What irked me was that the crew actually told me that I should just try to walk out of the rink because “it won’t look good” if they put me on a stretcher. If not for the unthinkable pain I was dealing with, I swear I could’ve told them, “I don’t care if I look like a fucking moron, or if my accident causes a commotion, just get me out of here fast! It’s fucking freezing cold, you asshole!” (pardon my French) but I didn’t. A few minutes after, I found myself on a wheelchair, sitting (while still grimacing in pain) in front of a guy wearing a white coat. Finally, a doctor! I was taken to Borough Medical Clinic on the 2nd floor, where I had my leg X-rayed. Unfortunately, I was told that the radiologist just went home, so the doctor (who is by the way not an Orthopedist) read my x-ray results. Then he told me that it “seems” I was fortunate enough not to have broken or fractured any bone, and that the swelling “might” be caused by torn ligaments and muscles. He then bandaged my knee and told me to put ice on it, go home and rest.

To cut the long story even shorter, the day after I got the accident, I woke up with excruciating (I’m beginning to lose words describing how painful it was – by the way, it still is) pain and even more swelling on my right leg. Then I remembered the doctor (who is not an Orthopedist) telling me to have it checked by an Ortho. He also said that an MRI would help determine what ligaments were torn and what to do next.

That same day, I called up Medicard (my health card provider) and asked a referral for an Ortho near my place. They then told me that since the injury is still fresh, I can go straight to the ER and have urgent treatment. So I went to St. Luke’s Hospital where 3 certified Orthopedists (finally!) assessed my condition. They took numerous (7) x-rays of my injured leg in various positions. Afterwhich, one of them showed me one of the x-rays and explained what really happened to my knee. Now, I may not be a doctor but it doesn’t take one to conclude that my right knee is a mess based on the x-ray he showed me. He said I have patellar subluxation – a condition where my patella or knee cap is dislocated from its groove and because the ligaments supporting it are torn, hence the painful snapping sensation everytime I try to move. Damn you, Dr. Not An Orthopedist! Just when I thought it’s just a torn ligament, now a busted knee cap playing merry go round on my leg? No fair! To prove his point, he asked me to lie down and straighten my injured leg. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel anything. Then he asked me to bend it slowly. I did. And then it snapped again. At this point, I have learned to control the volume of my groan depending on where I am and who I’m with at the moment. And since I’m in a room full of sick patients, macho doctors and cute nurses, I tried hard to muffle my scream. In my mind though, I was cursing.

“That’s it”, the Ortho said. It’s definitely dislocated. Bloody hell, doc. isn’t it what the x-rays are for?

And so, it happened. My Blades of Glory moment has turned into a “Gory” event. Right now, I’m wearing an immobilizer, a leg splint-type of device made of neoprene, Velcro straps and heavy metal sheets. The purpose of which, is to keep my leg straight at all times, since the Ortho described my dislocated patella as “very unstable”. He also told me that I have to wear it, and rest my leg for at least a month. The moment I got home, however, I took it off because it was very uncomfortable (imagine walking, sitting, lying on bed, riding on the car, and taking a tricycle ride with your right leg fully extended). But I was wrong. The moment I finally unfastened the last Velcro, my knee snapped again. By then I was already in the living room so I turned the groan on full volume. Doc was right. Always on it is.

Beware, the Immobilizer!

Today, six days after my accident happened, my knees are still swollen. It doesn't always hurt anymore, but it does get bitchy every morning. I am scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday and I still can’t make a schedule with my Physical Therapist because of the swelling. My new Ortho said that after the MRI results are revealed, we will then be able to know if my knee needs surgery.

I hope not. But then again, every time I look at the heavy, itchy, uncomfortable immobilizer tightly fastened on my knee, I’m thinking I’d rather go under the knife than spend one month with this monstrous device wrapped around my walker. Not to mention that I have to walk around using a cane. Come to think of it, it’s quite cool playing Dr. House. You can get grumpy and stubborn and people will give way. You are after all, disabled.

Whoever said the famous lines “stick and stones may break my bones” obviously forgot to include the word “ice”. At the end of the day, I can only blame one person for my ordeal.

Damn you, Will Ferrell!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Return

No deed humbles a man better than falling down on his knees.

I recently found wisdom in this. And truth.

I have always blamed work for being too busy to update my blog. I always complained about not having enough time to do the things I want to do, like playing with my kids, taking photography classes, or writing a new post. I have juggled work and personal life and dropped the ball so many times that I thought I should call it quits with Bloggerville.

Until it happened. I fell. Hard. On my knees. Literally.

I had an accident where I dislocated my knee cap (I will write the details on my next post). The doctors said I need at least a month of bed rest. Lying down. Doing nothing but rest my injured leg for it to heal completely.

Now I have all the time in the world to write.

I am humbled.

I hope the blogging community welcomes me back with open arms.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Finally, after almost two weeks of sorting through 700+ digital images, I can now post my Bangkok photos. I really have no time to write a long post though, so I’m going to make this short and sweet.

Been to Bangkok for our 10th year wedding anniversary. Stayed at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, the tallest hotel in Thailand (88 stories). Got upgraded from deluxe room to junior suite = fantastic view. Toured most of Bangkok’s temples. Saw many Buddhas in various shapes and forms. Took a lovely night cruise in the Chao Praya river. Even more fantastic view! Food was unforgettable. Rummaged for cheap bargains at countless day bazaars and night markets. Watched a live “show!” Visited the snake farm where I almost got jumped on by a copperhead. Took a day trip on boat to see more temples. Went to the Grand Palace where our trip was cut short due to the Princess’ arrival. Picture of the King plastered everywhere from huge streamers to coins. Rode a “tuktuk”, Bangkok’s version of a tricycle. Dinner at the Suan Lum night bazaar, got a complete, mouth-watering meal for just 50 baht (About one dollar)! Went barhopping and enjoyed Bangkok’s nightlife. Went to a spa, had a relaxing Thai massage. Did a city tour, saw the big-ass reclining Buddha (about 50 meters long and 15 meters high!) Spent our last night looking at Bangkok’s skyline on the hotel’s revolving 78th floor. Drank cocktails at the bar on the 75th floor. Again, fantastic view! Had our last buffet breakfast. Checked out. Headed to the newly-constructed Suvarnabhumi (pronounced as Sawana-boom) airport. Took the plane ride home.

Here are some of the photos. Click on the images if you want a larger view:

From exotic food, cheap clothes and fake watches, to enormous Buddhas and beautiful temples, Bangkok, the so-called “Land of Smiles”, did not disappoint. In fact, there’s just too many to do, so many sites to visit and so many items to shop for that’s enough to disconnect you from the real world and make you feel like a King for a day. Or, like in our case, for 3 nights and 4 days.

As the song goes, “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster”. Yup, this one-hit wonder of a jet-setter has been, to coin a phrase, Bangkoked. And I won’t mind doing it again.