Counting Potatoes

Quirky Observations, Opinions and Theories on Life

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A lot of talk is being tossed around about teaching the average Juan how to fish. Just now, the government is spending dough to encourage out of work OCWs to go start any small business and the rural poor to raise pigs; local governments are busy teaching the local Juans to become Johns, the friendly customer reps.

Talk about the mythical finger in the dike. Maybe the basic problem with teaching Juans how to fish is that he just doesnt like to wade into the water. There's some really serious crap going inside the average Juan's head that needs to be eradicated before the government can hope to see the Juans earning their keep.

Just recently, I've been involved in some 'teach juan to fish' experiment. Sort of a supposed to be sustainable neo-activist project wherein the capital of the middle class will be combined with the labor surplus of the rural poor to produce what we call a win-win deal. The middle class gets to have a stronger investment vehicle (15% or more per month) rooted in easily scalable and short-term liquid investments like livestock and farm produce, while the rural poor partner gets to have a profit share in a high-potential venture.

The business model works - at least 2 batches of hogs have proven it. What didnt work however was the basic difference in ethical and financial values between the two social classes. As mentioned in my Tatsulok blog, what brought the whole thing down was not the lack of potential, capital or profits, it was the crap the was going on inside the average Juan's head, the most notable of which are listed below:

1. Pera Lang Yan (its only money) Hypocrisy

Juans like to pretend that money isn't as important as its supposed to be. The important thing, they say, is that their family is together - starving and miserable, yes, but together.

Well and good, the Church will say. There's one thing that they don't consider, however; it is the fact that this statement almost always crops up during drinking sessions among out-of-work men who are too lazy to go out there and find some productive employment. In reality, the statement actually means "working hard for the family isn't as important as its supposed to be. "

Parallel corollaries then are:

- When they need money (or rice, beer, or chocnut) you should fall all over yourself to lend them some. After all, money isn't supposed to be important to you, too, and you should be grateful for this golden opportunity to prove that you are not at all materialistic .

- They will not pay their debts - and you should not expect them to, because money is just money and helping others (by others, they mean themselves specifically) is just the right thing to do.

- Since money is not that important (even when their family is subsisting on one meal a day), therefore working hard is likewise unimportant. When they come to you for money, just give them what they want and shut the hell up.

2. Brawns over Brains

Since all the contribution they get to see from you is the start-up capital and your weekly visits, and they feel they are doing all the sweating and hauling, they get this weird notion that they deserve more than the share that they are getting - this after they have already agreed and after you have already poured in your time and effort to get the business off the ground.

This is why you hear laborers complaining about low standard wages and hear wistful thoughts about how the company's profits should be divided among the rank and file.

One thing they don't give enough time to think about, though, is where the capital came from in the first place. Certainly, WE didn't get it from slacking off in school or our jobs; WE did not get it from sitting on our asses under a coconut tree guzzling tuba while watching the carabao munch grass all day long.

Well, the 'capital' they are muttering about is a product of more than 15 years of investment in education and several more years of busting our asses off. Let them try sitting in front of our computer to see if they can earn P20 doing our work in a day. Let them try make our business show a profit and see if its the brain that is exploiting the brawn or if it is the brawn that is being exploited in the business that the brain has germinated. After that, they should choose which among the following they prefer: the brain splitting migraines, the gut-wrenching agony and the perpetual insecurity that come with any start-up business or the body aches that they've grown accustomed to.

3. The Right to Help Mentality

Blame the church and the movies for messing around with the Juans' minds. Now the Juans think that all they need in life is a sob story, a pitiful voice and an empty can for your charity.

No, I'm not talking about the old men and women who are too weak to work or even that crippled guy in the wheelchair. I'm talking about the kids that should be in school but who are too lazy to do so (or whose parents are too lazy to force the school issue), the able-bodied men who have time enough on their hands to play basketball in the afternoon and play hooky with their tropa, and women who look far stronger than us yet expect to be given alms just because they need the money. Go find some freakin' work or sell your organs for crying out loud! That way you'll either be productive or dead!

This is the problem in a nutshell:

WE have to work our asses off to bring home the bread.

However, these Juans only have to work on our psyche, bringing out to the fore our misplaced guilt about the supposedly good life we're leading, in order to bring home the bacon.

I think help should only be for those who not only want it but are doing something to help themselves. It should not be for those who want to spend their entire life making US feel guilty for something we have worked so dang hard to achieve.

4. The Hope in Redistribution of Wealth

This is a recurring lament of most poor people in this country. In fact, this is something I've heard often while drinking with Juans and riding in Taxicabs driven by some more Juans.

The redistribution of wealth - a noble cause especially if the wealth we're talking about is the one gotten through unfair means and the people to whom we are distributing the wealth are willing to take responsibility for that wealth. Unfortunately, while the "unfair means" part was satisfied, the "responsibility" part was mostly left unfulfilled.

Case in point: the agrarian reform program. Tracts of land were given to Juans so that they can finally have their own land to till. Government gave them free fertilizer and free seedlings, to boot. What happened?

I'll tell you what happened. Most of the Juans mismanaged their farm. They preferred drinking to farming or finding alternative ways to earn more money. They were reluctant to learn new economical farming practices (they did not see the sense in attending seminars). Thus, they ended up selling their tracts. What has become of them after that? They're back working for the original landowner, that's what, and they're back to lamenting about how good life would be if only they had their own land to farm. I say, "HUH!"

The following are more instances where the Juans have failed to take advantage of the opportunities given them:

Sow Distribution Program.
Government gave out free female piglets that can be grown and bred - the only condition being that Juan give back one female piglet to sustain the program - i.e. to be given to another poor family. Some Juans collected the maximum number of family members who could qualify for the program. Why? So that they could get more than just one sow, of course. They then promptly sold them all as soon as the government's back was turned. They spent the money on Jollibee and McDonalds, beer and gin, clothes, appliances like a TV and a DVD player, bets in Jueteng and lotto, or home furnishings like Orocan, etc.

When the money ran out, these Juans congregated under the mango tree to guzzle beer or gin, munch on peanuts or chicharon and complain about how the government just can't do anything right. After all, their Sow Distribution Program was an utter failure and the poor folks like them still had no livelihood to speak of. I say, double "HUH!!"

Government Housing Project.
UP bliss is a good example here. Government made housing units (2-3 rooms each ) for the poor people near UP Diliman. Poor people were very happy, but they were apprently happier going back to the slums. Why do I say this? Well, some Juans promptly sold off their new properties to the members of the upper and middle classes for paltry sums (which seemed inordinately large to them) who then proceeded to rent out the bedrooms or the units themselves to UP students and faculty members.

The result? The new owners made a killing: they made around P12,000/month from this arrangement. In other words, the new owners got high, residual income in return for their willingness to suffer a cash shortage now for future gain, while the poor Juans went back to living like they did in the good ole days - grumbling about lack of money and government support and lamenting about the fact that they do not have their own home. I say, triple "HUH!!!"

Need I go on? Ayn Rand knew what she was talking about when she said, "Money will not serve the mind who cannot match it."

The only thing that will result from redistributing your wealth to these kinds of Juans (I'm not complaining about all the Juans, mind you), is the creation of more parasites that will bleed our country dry. Oh and by the way, this is probably not bound to happen anyway.

5. Jackpot / One Time Big Time Mentality

Jueteng, Lotto, Sabong, Pera o Bayong, Deal or no Deal, Wheel of Fortune, and of course Yamashita Treasure…

For most Juans, the one-time, big-time deal is the only deal there is in getting out of the hellhole of life. Everything for nothing.

This is the reason why you see Juans furiously betting on lotto or Jueteng while their families go hungry and their children stop schooling.

This is the reason why you see Juans on TV trying to stretch the rules of probability just because there is still a million pesos somewhere in those cases; as expected, these Juans end up going home with less than the cost of their fare in their pockets.

This is the reason why you see Juans digging their hearts out (and incidentally a grave for their hopes), hoping for that stack of gold bars the Japanese have supposedly hidden in our country more than half a century ago.

And this is the reason why you can still see a lot of poor Juans in our country today. We spend so much time, money and effort in low-probability bets that, before we know it, we have squandered away our means of getting out of the slums.

Imagine Juans spending their extra money on raising a piglet instead of buying a Jueteng or lotto ticket. A piglet will yield a mediocre return for their money (definitely not the rate of return on 10 pesos becoming millions of pesos in a lotto jackpot) and it will require 5 months of investment, too - but the fact remains that winning the jackpot in lotto is improbable while 9 out of 10 Juans who try hog raising are going to get a definite (and definite is the key) profit out of it. In jueteng, if one wants definite winnings, he will have to spend P1,170 to bet on 90% of the combinations (so he can get the same 90% chance) and get a measly return of P900.

Imagine Juans working like crazy, not for gold bars but working on all possible jobs so their children could have a college education. The probability of return on Yamashita Treasure hunts = probably less than 1% of 1%n – is more or less the same as the probability of a gold brick falling out of the sky and landing on your forehead or the probability of your wife suddenly laying golden eggs. On the other hand, what is the probability that a college educated child will be able to help his parents and alleviate their standard of living ? He he he, I don't have the numbers but I bet you it is much, much better than 1% of 1%n.

Two families of our two previous hired helps can attest to this. The members of one family spent most of their lives working on treasure hunts and odd jobs. The children stopped schooling mid-high school so they could be hired out for income, and the starting income for the children of this family is P1,500 monthly.

The members of the other family spent all of their time and resources on the children's education. The mother of the family approached the management of a private, Catholic school and volunteered to be the school's CR cleaner. All day, she is on her hands and knees scrubbing the many toilets in the campus. She does not get paid for this work, however. Oh, the sisters give her a hundred pesos now and then when they realize she no longer has money to buy rice. However, that money is incidental. What she's after is a future, not temporrary relief from hunger pangs. In return for her labor, all of her children can be enrolled in that school (elementary to high school) free of tuition. Right now, three of her children are enjoying free, private schooling and the rest of her brood will follow when they become old enough to go to school.

Of course, she and her husband will have to work all their life until all their children finish college. Their children are not earning money while in school. However, they know they are on the right path and are determined to stay on it. After all, her firstborn - a lovely daughter - went to college on a scholarship. She has recently graduated as an educ major. She now has a job offer. Her starting income? At least P10,000. It will be much more if she makes it to US as she plans. Right, it has taken this family more than 18 years to achieve this feat, but is it worth it? Oh yeah, and let's not forget that the laws of probability are on their side.

6. The End Justifies the Means

In line with the misguided notion that those better off have a responsibility to help them, some Juans feel that cheating their employers is just fine. After all, he’s already got loads of money hidden somewhere so he’ll probably not notice the difference.

There's one thing that they fail to consider, however. They don't realize that compromising the growth of the business will hurt him a lot more than his employer. Why?

If they were trustworthy:

a. the business could’ve expanded and their relatives could have benefited from the job.
b. they could have been entrusted with more responsibilities and thus given more pay; more cash than the occasional pilfered cash, certainly.

As things stand, if worse comes to worst and the business folds or they are caught, they would be out on the streets again competing with the masses for the same jobs.

The same thing applies to the Juans who get caught snatching cellphones or breaking into homes. Does need justify their action? Poverty does not give them the right to steal from others. After all, the fact that they can run like crazy and climb over walls means that they're strong enough to work. Regardless of their sob story, they just don't want to work, period.

7. The Poor Man's Inverted Law of Supply and Demand

A Juan working for us said that in their place, most people do not have jobs or have enough to eat.

"How do they live?" I asked him.

"Well, they depend on those who work," he said.

"Aren't there available jobs in town?" I asked

"Yeah, more than enough" he said. "There are lots of openings for busboys, waitresses, salesladies, etc." he replied.

"Why don’t they apply then?" I asked.

"They said the pay was too low," he replied.


"Are they waiting for the wages to go up then?" O_o, I asked.

He just shrugged and laughed.

Law of supply and demand: The higher the supply in a constant demand market, the lower the prices will be.

How many Juans out there can manage a bank? Not many, that’s why bank managers are paid a lot of money.

How many Juans out there can hold a conversation in straight English? Hmmm, more than those who can manage a bank but definitely a lot less than those who can man a carenderia. Surveys reveal that only 6% of the applicants get accepted into entry level positions. This is the reason why the pay for call center agents is also nice (but not great).

Last question: How many Juans out there can serve in a carenderia, raise pigs, haul palay, or man a store?

Right! F*cking millions upon millions of them!

Now, how many does the country need? Not much.

Why then do these people act as if they are are soooo indispensable or soooo in demand??!! (manay jing, lala and mae please insert comment on top of KETCHEN WERE, he he he)

Get fired from your job and around 3 other persons will be willing to get hired for less than what you were getting; of course, there would be another 3 that will be content to stay at home and suck their working siblings dry.

That’s why the pay sucks and always will Juan...

That’s why the average Juan will always vote for trapos...

That’s why the average Juan will die chained to the land...

That’s why the average Juan will always be poor...

It is not because of corrupt politicians, not because of lack of national unity or pity, lack of employment and educational opportunities...

It is because of the lack of sound principles and values that have made other countries great.

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Mar 22, 2009

Blue Moon

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I've never seen one but I know it is often used to describe something so rare, something that usually happens only once in our lives that the moment etches itself onto our souls. Now, I may have never seen a blue moon, or have ever found a four-leaf clover for that matter - but thinking bout it, life has instead graced me with some of these kind of moments I'll probably remember for the rest of my life.

Mental snapshots, I call them. For I take the time to remember everything I see and then close my eyes to remember the touch, the smell, the sounds of everything around me whenever my life transcends beyond everyday existence - I suck out the marrow of life so to speak, from the sweetest to the most bitter, from the happiest chapters to the darkest, from the peak of success to the precipice of utter failure.

Life, is never more vivid, than at the edges of its spectrum..

Like the comfort, smell and bumps of my own dorm bunk after 2 nights sleeping out in the field during ROTC training.

The taste of roasted meat after 5 days of canned sardines, instant champorado and pancit canton during a particularly bad college allowance recession.

The first noisy family dinner together after months of eating apart when it seems everything was lost but the family.

The taste of fast food and pizza after months of subsisting on cigarettes and carenderia leftovers as we try to get our house budget back on track.

The first hundred thousand in savings after years of agonizing over the long term viability and trying to push our online experiment onto solid ground.

The second chance that was given for us to say goodbye to our father after months of frustration and anger over his stubbornness.

The development of our first site after years of planning and frustration.

Several months ago, my sister and I were having this weird coffee conversation about humanity and its goal of perfection..

Cyborgs and the eradication of death.,

Time travel and the eradication of pain, regrets and mistakes.,

gene therapy and the eradication of physical discontent..

without the usual bumps, gridlocks, challenges and strife of everyday life, would we still recognize perfection for what it is?

Without tasting really horrible food, how can we say something tastes great?

Without experiencing illness, coughs, sprains, fevers and LBM, how can we say we feel great?

Without death, would life mean more?

Without mistakes, would success still stand for something?

Without pain and regret, would we still recognize happiness and second chances when it comes?

Without imperfections, compromise and forgiveness, would love still be love?

A blue moon..,

without one extreme of life giving meaning to the other,

would anyone even notice?

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