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alpside downed mindaviews column brady eviota

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 24 May) – I was struck by the recent remark of a friend, who had managed to contact me online, that OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) are luckier than those living in the Philippines.  “Kahayahay ninyo diha bay,” he said, “kay Swiss francs man ang inyong ginakaon.”

I’m sure he meant the second part figuratively, but I would contest his claim that life abroad is “hayahay” or easy or worry-free. 

There are many reasons that Filipinos leave for abroad, although most reasons are economic.  Many of those overseas Filipinos are able to adjust to the new life, and a few strike it lucky and become successful and even prosperous, but the rest I guess simply get by as ordinary citizens who are able to pay for their daily food, monthly house rent, and the inevitable taxes and insurances.  The good work climate and the stable economic conditions certainly favor the hardworking, even if the living standards are achingly expensive. 

How high are the prices? A train trip from Bern to Zurich, for example, will take an hour and cost the passenger 53 Francs (P3,366 at current rates). Forgot to buy a ticket? That will cost you an additional 90 Francs (P5,717) in fine for riding black (Schwarzfahrer is the term for the offender) without a legit ticket.  

Fancy a Big Mac? Switzerland leads the list in 2024 in what is called the “Big Mac Index,” which measures the cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac cheeseburger in different countries and indicates the difference in purchasing power parity between them. In any Swiss city, a Big Mac costs $8.17, more than in the neighboring France or Germany. In Manila, a Big Mac will only cost around $2.75. The big difference in price is attributed to factors like higher labor costs, lower purchasing power, and taxes. 

A major hurdle for a Filipino used to our tropical climate is the biting cold of alpine Switzerland. It is simply a different world outside the door. I remember going out in one of my first jobs here. It was December and high winter, when those newly arrived could find a transient job in any of the cheese factories that were churning out everything cheese- fondue, raclette, Gruyere, Emmentaler, you name it, they made it- for the high season.

It was six in the morning, the temperature was near zero and there was a wind whipping up and when I came out of the train, I could barely see ten meters in front of me, much less the factory building that was still some 300 meters away. There were only a few ghostly figures around (co-workers I surmised) and I remember feeling a despair that I had never felt before, and at that moment I remember thinking, how could I have left my warm country for this dark and cold wilderness?

But to this story, I’m sure the Filipinos sweltering in the summer heat would have a quick retort, maybe pointing out that the present heat index (which combines the relative humidity with the air temperature) is already in the 40s centigrade in the Philippines. Which would you rather have- the cold or the heat? For every man freezing is a suffering sweltering man. But me? I would tell you right away that I will prefer sleeping in a hot and muggy room than in a room cold in winter, because even a hand or a foot exposed to the cold would make me sleepless.

Then, consider the silence of the neighborhood.  Switzerland is a quiet and ordered place. A Swiss would call it order, privacy, optimal peaceful living. During my first weeks here, I would wake up from a nap and not have an idea what time of the day it was, my cultural clues of the hum of traffic, the cockcrows and the dog barks, and the children playing or their mothers yelling at the children were absent.

It is not an easy life for someone who is used to the cacophony of daily life, and many would even call living in this capital city dull and monotonous. Allow me to share you a story. The first time I read this headline in early winter in one of the city’s free (distributed in public at no cost) newspapers, I was shocked. “Hurra, der Schnee ist Da” or roughly, “Hurray, the snow is here.” Contrast that with the headlines in the Philippines: “3 patay, nanlaban sa drug war” or “Solons linked to P2.9-B pork barrel scam” or “166 illegal Chinese workers from Tarlac POGO hub deported” and you get the picture. It’s a different country altogether.  

But granting all the things that are in contrast between our two countries, would I wager that Filipinos would prefer not to come here? No. I think that the image of a cold and white winterland would simply be too alluring for any Filipino now suffering in summer heat. The enchanting photographs of any of the locations in Switzerland of the Korean TV series “Crash Landing On You” (ironically shortened to “Cloy”) still top the Filipino tourist’s favorite destinations. And the Swiss franc’s present rate of sixty Philippine pesos still validates my friend’s quip at the start of this column.

So why question my friends’ incredulous stares when I mention in passing in small talk with them that I am planning to retire in the Philippines? 

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.)

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