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The Global Pinoy

By Greg B. Macabenta

Learn from the Chinese
Wednesday November 16, 2005

A TSINOY friend of mine, who owns the largest Filipino-owned retail chain in the United States, likes to recall that his late father came to the Philippines from China as a young boy; he was penniless but had hoped to make something out of his life.

He worked as a servant in Chinatown, and then as a helper in a store. When he felt that he had learned enough about the business, he decided to set out on his own. Over the years, he had squirreled away money from his meager wages to the extent of depriving himself. But the young man had a goal in life and he was willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve it. He did.

By the time he had gotten married and had sired sons and daughters, he had become a wealthy man. In spite of their riches, the children, from early childhood, helped in the business. After school, where other kids would play, they would help man their many stores, attend to customers, order merchandise, manage the workers and, most of all, help make their wealth grow.

Some years ago, the US immigration service intercepted a boat that had several dozen young Chinese in the hold. They were headed for the East Coast. According to them, they had been promised jobs in New York.

Whether in New York or San Francisco, Malaysia or Manila, the story of Chinese migrants appears to follow a pattern. They arrive in a strange country penniless, work for meager wages in restaurants, Laund­romats, factories and retail stores, build a nest egg while depriving themselves, learn a trade or a business, and then set out on their own.

When I was a young boy in Tacloban, I would see people laughing at the Chinese peddlers selling taho or collecting discarded bottles. “Tahoooo!” “Bote, garapa!” People would laugh in derision at the peddlers’ cries. Decades later, the same peddlers owned the biggest businesses in town, employing their hecklers.

The story of my friend’s father has been replicated over the years by thousands of poor Filipinos who have left for foreign lands. The difference is that, most Filipinos set out to find employment. My father’s friend, like many young Chinese migrants, was bent on building a business for himself.

There is no reason why OFWs should not learn a lesson from the Chinese. But it takes the right attitude, a vision of what they want to become and a willingness to make sacrifices.

Some months ago, I wrote about Consuelo Farochelin, the Filipino millionaires in London who began as a domestic. She obviously did not think that her family’s earnings in her native Pampanga were enough to keep body and soul together, so she took a job abroad. But she did what many Chinese migrants did. She made a business out of the most ordinary activity: packing boxes of canned goods and gifts to send to her family. Filipino friends, at first, asked to hitchhike on her boxes. But she soon decided to make a business out of the activity. And, in no time, she became the “Balikbayan Queen” of London.

Today, Farochelin owns prime property in Central London, including a commercial building, and operates a cargo forwarding, a money remittance and a travel business, as well as a grocery store and a newspaper.

On a recent tour of Europe, my children came upon a Filipino in Florence who owned a leather-goods store. Also in Florence was another Pinoy who owned a karaoke bar.

In Bonn, I met a Filipina who owned and operated a hotel with her German husband. Some 25 years ago, she had walked out on a job as a domestic helper in a Middle Eastern consulate, after being treated harshly. Desperate, she agreed to a partnership of convenience with a German who had a small bed and breakfast. Together, they grew the enterprise. In the process, they decided to wed.

Perhaps it is desperation that brings out the entrepreneurial instincts of a person. But that’s saying that the instinct is inherent. If there is ever any doubt that Filipinos have that entrepreneurial quality in them, just look at all the sidewalk vendors and street peddlers that populate Metro Manila. When you come right down to it, they are no different from the Chinese mag-bobote or mag-tataho of my childhood.

The difference is that the Chinese peddlers, like Consuelo Farochelin, decided that what they were was only temporary; that they were meant for greater things.

Indeed, it takes strength of character, dissatisfaction with one’s miserable status in life and willingness to sweat and strive to pull oneself out of the mire. The tale of the global Filipino would be so much more inspiring if they were to learn from the Chinese.