Joanna of Vienna

We Filipinos are very good in recognizing other Filipinos wherever we are in the world. We know it immediately even without saying or hearing a word. We can tell by the way we smile, or the way we make eye contact.

We just know.

And once we make a positive identification, a simple “kumusta po?” (“How are you?” in Tagalog) is all we need to start the connection.

While having breakfast at our hotel in Vienna, my wife and I instantly recognized one of the employees preparing the buffet, and we knew immediately she was Filipino. Joanna (not her real name) had been working at this hotel/restaurant for four years now, though she had already lived in Vienna for 25 years, and had even acquired Austrian citizenship.

She used to work at a technology company, but as her previous company moved most of its operations to Hungary and/or Slovakia, she had to look for another job, and ended up at this hotel/restaurant.

She’ll be retiring in a couple of years (60 is the retirement age for women in Austria. 65 for men) though she plans to retire not in Austria, but in her Philippine hometown of Nueva Ecija. This is where she and her husband already invested in a house, where they can spend their retirement years.

She quickly noted though that their kids, having been born and raised in Vienna, prefer staying in Vienna, and might stay there after they retire.

I couldn’t help but think her story is the classic story of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) – find work abroad, and save just enough money to retire back home. For many Filipinos, even if we spend most of our adult lives working abroad, the yearning to eventually return to where we spent our childhood is forever strong.

The same is true with Japan. I don’t remember any Filipino, who would choose to retire in Japan. Either Japan is not really an enticing place for retirees, or the warm weather and the low-cost of living in the Philippines is just something retirees, Filipino or otherwise, would find hard to resist.

After we checked out on our last day, we made it a point to drop by her kitchen to give her a warm hug. The previous day, we also gave her dried mangoes from the Philippines, in case she missed home.

It’s amazing how much conversation we can get from a simple “kumusta po?“, enough to turn a stranger into a friend.

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