Wednesday, March 14, 2007

News and perception for expats

The overseas Pinoy can get news from inang bayan (homeland) through various means. When my parents were studying or assigned overseas in the late 50s to the early 60s, news came in through the post, via letters. By then there was a thing called airmail and letters took a week or so to get there. But a mere 30 years back, my grandparents (who were then in a US college) got their mail from steamers. It took more than a month for letters to get there.

Newspapers? Yes one could buy them on street corner news stands or news agents. But to get your news from home my dad once told me, one needed to go to one's country's embassy or consulate, which always had the papers from albeit a week or more late. This was during a time when terrorist threats were far off into the future and information was one of a diplomatic mission's function. These embassy reading rooms served coffee and served an important social function for expats. My dad has a photo of himself reading the Manila Times at the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo. In 1980, I was with my dad in the same embassy and I distinctly remember that the embassy served San Miguel Beer to Pinoy expats in the reading lounge.

When I was in high school and college in the 1980s, these reading rooms and libraries were still in existence in foreign missions in Manila. The American Embassy had the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center (TJCC) that was open to the general public while the Australian and British embassies had information centres too. I think it was after the WTC bombing in 1993 that embassies closed their reading rooms. The information services of these missions still exist but only through the internet. The TJCC library is still there but is no longer open to the public unless one applies for an appointment and presents credentials as a researcher.

In this post-9/11 world, embassies are the new Krak des Chevaliers of the world. They have to be well defended against attack like the castle of old. The staff wouldn't want their expats and other people to linger in the premises to read the papers. Embassy premises are probably the most dangerous to be in. No beer or coffee obviously. Information will be had on-line. And expats like me have to depend on news from three big Pinoy blurbs. My embassy in Washington is just as secure as any other embassy and I don't think they still have a reading room.

At home I would have very little trouble weighing the news since there are a lot of sources of information. But an expat can get his or her news from the homeland through few channels. It is obvious that on line blurbs have different political leanings. But if there are only 3 or 4 blurbs to read, it would be hard to paint a picture of what really is happening.

The solution is to email family and friends about the news and hoping they would give an honest assessment. For most part most are. But family and friends don't want to say the unpleasant things! They believe that to put more anxiety on one who is far from home is really not a good idea.

I think all expats have the same problem. Think of an American who gets his or her news only from CNN or FOX? or a Brit who gets his only from BBC? an Aussie who gets her's from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation?

Perhaps letters through the post are still the best and more personal too!

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