Many have asked me why I have decided to relocate to Manila post my MBA degree. “What a waste!” a classmate said. “Why not stay in Hong Kong where it’s so easy for you to find a job?”
Most of my classmates were surprised.
I was one of the top students in my class, if not for my grades then for my extra-curricular activities where I headed up my class’ largest and most active organizations. I also worked in the financial industry for four years prior to getting my MBA. I had contacts within the industry, and interned in one of the growing and most aggressive banking franchises.
So why the hell am I going back to the third-world Philippines?!
A lot of my non-MBA friends thought it was because of the financial crisis. That I couldn’t find a job, and hence, have moved to the Philippines as I enjoy my in-between-job status. “It happens to the best of us,” they said consolingly. “We know that the job market in Hong Kong isn’t that great.”
Others thought it was because I was trying to get my ex, Trader, back.
Actually, the reasons are farther from the truth than many think.
My return to my homeland after being away for the last decade had absolutely NOTHING to do with my ex and it wasn’t because I couldn’t find a job in Hong Kong.
In fact, prior to my coming back, I had a waiting offer for a job in Singapore working in a regional banking role and I was in final interview status to work for a top three IPO Chinese underwriter in Hong Kong. My friend who is founder of a private equity firm in Hong Kong was inquiring about my employment status, and if I really wanted it, I had friends at my previous employer and three other banks, and would not have a difficult time gaining good employment.
No, jobs can be found IF I wanted to. The option was open for me IF I wanted it.
But though I was torn, it was a conscious decision to come back.
“Maybe it’s because of the family then?” a friend asks. “Maybe they want you to take over the family business?”
Yes, the answer had something to do with family, but my family didn’t force me to go back.
In fact, my mom expressed some hesitancy on my going back. She didn’t think I could take my selfish man of a father.
My dad on the other hand loved it that I was earning big bucks in Hong Kong. They were great bragging rights to many of his friends. “My daughter works for so-and-so bank and earns more than x amount of money. Of course I don’t want her to go back.”
As female, I was in no pressure whatsoever to come back and take over. My little brother is already taking care of our business, and help is appreciated but unnecessary.
I was also in under no pressure to go back home and settle down. My dad would rather I remain single than be married to the wrong man. “You need to find your match, Bonita,” my mom said. “It doesn’t matter if your match is in Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila or elsewhere.”
Yes, it was MY choice to go back.
Put it this way, if you asked me a year ago if I would go back home to Manila, I would throw my head back and laugh loudly at the ridiculousness of the thought. “No way Jose!” I’d exclaim.
I was lucky enough to get out of that strict and emotionally draining hell-hole that I was in no rush to get back. With money in the bank, I was already financially independent and totally free. I could dress whatever I want, eat whatever I want, go wherever I want, and did whatever I wanted to do.
And did I do — I bought whatever I felt like buying and did actually travel to two new countries per year. Every half a year, I’d take around 9 days off just to travel. And travel I did — Turkey, Germany, Czech Republic, India, Myanmar, Hungary, Austria, Australia, Thailand, Taiwan, the list just went on and on.
Then I woke up.
I woke up and decided it was time. After almost a decade away, it was time to go back to Manila.
It wasn’t because there was an opportunity open for me back home. There was none, and for someone post an expensive MBA, it was financial suicide. My current financial status for example provides me with a salary that is a significant 95% cut from my previous.
It wasn’t because my dad’s health was failing. There were a few close calls but he didn’t NEED me to be back home now. He was still healthy albeit a bit frail.
It wasn’t as if there was a guy waiting for me back home. Ironically, after 2.5 years of long-distance love, Trader and I are already living in the same city, a mere 20 minutes away by car, and yet we are apart.
No, the decision was similar to practically taking a knife and slicing all my connections abroad, packing and moving everything back home.
Six big boxes were all it took, and I was surprised by the lack of sentimentality that came with my momentous decision to go back home.
So why the big rush to come back home?
Three reasons, as follows:
1) It was a logistical decision. The Philippines had the most financial upside.
People thought that my decision to go back was an emotional decision.
Rather, it’s really a question on where I wanted to settle down over the next 10 to 20 years.
If I wanted to live and die abroad, there is no point going back to Manila and start over.
However, if I wanted to actually make the name for myself in Manila, if I stayed longer abroad, the opportunity costs for me would be too high to go back later on. Financially speaking, it wouldn’t just be a 95% salary discount I’d be taking.
In addition, even if I went back at the age of 40+, all my history back in the Philippines would be wiped out. My network in Manila which had already grown weak would be almost negligible. My contacts would have no sentimental connection with me. My life is overseas and everyone back home would treat me as a foreigner.
Post my MBA, I can still afford to make that radical decision to come back. I haven’t yet started another phase of my career and there was a nice story to tell for me to come back home. However, if I’ve worked in Hong Kong for far too long, there would no foundation back in the Philippines for me to stand on.
And come back I did — for the promise of unlimited upside.
People always see Manila as a land of filth and corruption.
This is partly true.
80% of my countrymen are still dirt poor and corruption permeates all levels of government. The streets are dirty and the news bombards us with stories of rape, murder and pregnant stars and scandals.
Whereas other people see the downside, I actually see opportunity. Two ways:
One, with inefficiencies lie opportunities for the efficient.
Filipinos are not stupid. They are some of the kindest, most talented people you’d ever meet. We speak fluent English, and are open-minded to work with a wide range of nationalities. This is their upside. They are smart and competent.
The downside is, they can just be, at times, lazy, and are not used to hard, fast work. They love to dilly-dally and chat around the water cooler over the latest political and entertainment gossip. There are a lot of under-the-table dealings enough to make people with high morals uncomfortable.
My thought is, given this environment, don’t you think there are opportunities for those who work harder, smarter and are more organized especially if you can mobilize your countrymen in a pursuit of a goal?
My people are not incompetent.
Far from it.
They have a lot of potential, and it’s really about trying to squeeze as much potential out from them as possible.
Imagine the possibilities…
Two, the Philippines still have a healthy business environment for small to medium sized enterprises.
Let’s not even talk about the tax exemptions, but the Philippines thrive on the concept of pakikisama or relationship.
Everyone knows everyone who also knows someone.
Maybe it’s because the business community is so small but unlike Taiwan and Hong Kong where you can still operate with the guise of anonymity, the Philippines thrive by doing business with people you already know.
Everyone is an “auntie” or “uncle” or a “compare.”
And if given the choice of doing business with a stranger or a friend?
Most people would rather do business with someone they know.
Fortunately, my parents are active enough in the business community that they can pass on that goodwill to us children. Now who has that priceless leverage?
As my mom said, “In Hong Kong, you sure couldn’t get an appointment with Mr. So-and-So, a person of that stature. Here, it’s just one phone call.”
And it’s not just my family. So don’t think I am bragging because I get no pleasure from doing so.
It’s just how the business community operates.
Admittedly, this rationale had something to do with my breakup.
“Think of it as a call,” I explained to a friend. A call is a financial derivative product where your downside is capped by way of the fee you pay for the right to buy a product at a stated price. In return, you get the upside when the stock price is higher than the strike price.
Take for example you buy a call for USD1. Your bet is: if the price of a stock, say Amazon, is higher than the strike price of USD 10, you get all the profit above USD 10, minus the USD 1 fee you paid for this right. Hence, it the stock goes up USD 20, you get USD9 of profit (Calculation: USD20 – USD10 – USD 1 fee). This is because you only have to pay USD 10 to buy the stock regardless on how high the stock price goes.
If the price is below USD 10, then you only paid USD1 for the right. You will not pay USD10 for Amazon if the price is USD5. You’d rather buy Amazon via the open market at USD 5. So your biggest loss is USD 1 no matter how much the stock price dropped.
A call can be synthetically created by combining a bond and a stock. You get all the upside of a stock and even if the stock went bankrupt, you still had the steady cash flow of a bond to fall back on.
Previously, Trader and I operated in lieu of a call.
I was more than happy to be the bond and work for a high steady salary, while he was the stock, free to make whatever bets he wanted to do.
This way, if we did ever get married, our family gets all the upside. Trader can be riskier and try to see if he can gain more money in his business, while if all hell breaks lose, we still have my salary to fall back on.
But after we broke up, I realized that my upside was now capped. No longer did I have that adventurous man who can bring our family to greater heights. There was just me, myself and I.
And if I wanted to make the most of life, I needed to be that stock. That upside.
What was my downside anyway? Nothing really. All I had was the capability and hopefully the luck to make good.
So off to Manila I go.
2) It had to do with family.
When Trader and I broke up, I had an epiphany: when all things fail, you still have your family to back you up.
Despite what anyone thought, the truth is, I really cared for the man. Despite our arguments, I would have done everything if he asked, be it for him and his family.
And there I was in London, all alone and completely devastated. I’ve always laughed at people who commit suicide during heartbreaks, not really understanding why the hell would they do something that drastic. But during my breakup, I understood.
It wasn’t easy at all. People who thought of me as unemotional would’ve been surprised at my state. I tried to laugh and cried hard. I slept over friends’ places because I was afraid of what I would do if I was alone. I couldn’t study, couldn’t eat and found myself puking.
My family was there to help me pick up the pieces.
They were back in Manila and were almost 12 hours away by plane. But through constant reassuring emails and expensive long-distance phone calls, I have made it through.
And for that, I am grateful. I realized that family truly never really leaves you. They will always be there for you even when others had abandoned you.
Blood is indeed thicker than water.
So yes, I came back for them.
Because after ten years of holding birthday parties and having a different group of guests attend, I was tired of the change. I was tired of never really seeing my family grow old, my friends married and with babies. Every year, my life changed and I was quite tired of the instability of it all.
Just imagine, over the last 1.5 years, I moved all my things six (6) times.
Enough is enough.
I wanted the stability that my family, and my extended family of friends.
It was time for me to actually be in one place where I belong — in the midst of my family. And actually be there for them as they have been for me.
Even if it meant parent-sitting my ailing dad and makulit na mom. Going with them to the mall and having dinner with them even if I have better things to do. Because this is what it means to be a good daughter.
Even if it meant having a pay cut and working WITH (and not FOR) my brother. At least, I can be his guiding force to make better personal and professional decision. I also trust him. Because this is what a good sister does.
And in return, as you take care of your family, they also take care of you.
If I stayed in Hong Kong for another phase of my life, I doubt it I would enjoy the time with my parents as much as I do now. People always say they regret not spending more time with their parents. I don’t know if it’s true but if too many people say that, then it must be.
I don’t think I would be as close with my brother as I am today.
These are things I can be thankful to God for.
3) And lastly, I do want to be a better person.
To be honest, Hong Kong made me a worst person.
Because it was a dog-eat-dog society in an era of recession and job uncertainty, Hong Kong made me impatient, direct and stressed. It’s a play of survival and I was able to adapt and be good at it.
Because I was good at what I did, my confidence increased. My career was my own doing and though it took a lot from me, I embraced the rewards. The money, the recognition.
Consequently, my stubbornness increased. I wanted a career and deserved my career. I deserved a life of my own. It was really about me, me and me. I was like a bull seeing red and charging full speed ahead.
Some people said I was materialistic. I bought whatever I wanted, even if they were termed to be “luxurious.” As if owning three Prada bags, a Miu Miu bag, and a Louie Vuitton is evil.
There has always been two sides of every coin. With every good comes the bad, and as my head was poked out for everyone to criticize on, I was a prime target for ridicule, talk and jealousy. I was the type of person who people loved, disliked, admired and feared.
To be fair, I still I don’t and still don’t think there as anything wrong about buying things you can very well afford. I worked hard for the cash, so why derive myself the pleasure of spending it so long as I am still cash flow positive? I like beautiful things and I earned them. So why not?
People had a love-hate relationship with me.
A lot of people loved me, but a lot also disliked me.
Because of my efficiency, I got a lot of things done. My colleagues well respected me as the results-oriented person whom you can always count on. However, because I was very results-oriented, I didn’t care too much taking care of other people’s feelings. Why waste time bullshiting around if there’s tons of things to be done?
Because of my confidence, people trusted me. Some hated me and thought of me arrogant, close-minded and conceited, but a lot of people also looked at me for guidance. I soon became one of the go-to people for advice and friendship in my class.
Because I was too busy, I became selfish. The world did kinda revolve around me. I had no time for others.
Now for this, I am sorry and ashamed. I was a good person and my intentions were correct, but I dared people to contradict me if they wanted something otherwise.
Though I was open-minded to listen, I wasn’t a good listener, and one needed to prod me first for me to listen. My thought then was, If people find it important, they would tell me. Little did I realize that most people would hold grudges and build up resentment for you.
Anyway, it was not a very healthy way to live.
I was a great person with a good heart, but I had my faults too. And I realized that it’s man’s responsibility to be a better person.
I realize that now after much self-reflection.
Weeks and weeks of it.
That’s why I wanted to change. Become a better person. Being open to other people’s advise and assistance. Stopping and smelling the roses.
I couldn’t really do this in Hong Kong. The environment doesn’t call for it.
But I can do it in the Philippines.
Back home, I can get my groove back.
Be a better person.
Consequently, I want to get my balance back.
Find the man of my dreams, build a family. I think it has to do with family too. I realized I wanted two children. That would be really nice, it’s almost time.
Be surrounded by friends and family. Ahh, that would be really nice.
And finally, get myself back.
The real me.
And I sincerely believe the best place for that is in the Philippines.
Post-script: Now that you know why I came back, I have to admit. I really don’t know what the future holds. Ever since arriving back in Manila last January 16, the changes had been full of ups and downs.
Fortunately, God has been really good and my move has been more up than down.
I think about the time when I spent abroad and miss Hong Kong terribly. I miss my friends and I miss the excitement. I would lie if I said I didn’t miss the salary.
Hopefully it is the right decision. I leave it up to God’s hands now. Please pray for me.
Take care and have a great week ahead!