PYONGYANG – Filipinos can be found in almost every corner of the world, but it’s quite a stretch to think that there’s even one in North Korea, which has been notorious for fending off outsiders.
But apparently, this secretive state didn’t escape the Filipino diaspora, as seven Overseas Filipino Workers have called this unlikely place their home. Five work for international organizations based here, while two are employees of a tobacco company.
Five of them will be supporting the Philippine national men’s football team in its match against North Korea on Thursday.
“May dala na nga kaming small flag e. Kapag yung malaki, baka mahuli,” said Willy Quinto, a technical specialist for SUTL Corporation, a Singapore-based cigarette dealer that has an office in Pyongyang.
Quinto has been in the Hermit Kingdom for almost 17 years, starting from 1993 to 1996 before coming back in 2001 up to now.
A native of Binan, Laguna, Quinto is living at the Koryo Hotel together with another fellow Pinoy co-worker, Carlos Miranda from Nueva Ecija who himself has been a migrant here for 12 years and counting. Although they are billeted in separate rooms at the company’s expense.
A private shuttle is provided to bring them to work scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
They have their own interpreter who also stays in the same hotel. They can’t go outside without their guide. Foreigners, be it a worker or a tourist, rarely have the freedom to roam around on their own.
With their daily routine limited, Quinto admitted that life gets boring sometimes. TVs in the hotel only air North Korean shows, mostly propaganda praising the country’s leaders. But they are lucky to have international news channels such as Al Jazeera and BBC, among others, which the locals usually don’t have access to.
Their main pastime is surfing the internet, although, curiously, they have been unable to connect to Facebook from the hotel’s DSL connection (there’s no WiFi in North Korea) for over a month now.
To entertain themselves, the two often share a drink up at the 44th floor of their hotel, aptly called The Revolving Restaurant as the whole place rotates slowly that not everyone can notice.
“Nakakasawa na nga e. Sila-sila lang nakakausap mo,” said Quinto, referring to the restaurant’s pretty North Korean waitresses whose faces lit up when the Azkals arrived, perhaps excited to see that many guests in this luxury hotel that caters to the few tourists the country attracts.
But the trade-off is alright, Quinto said. Apart from their salary, they also get allowances as well. Their company provides all their basic needs – their stay in the hotel, their chauffeur, their internet connection worth a whopping $800 month.
They also get 35 leaves a year, and they manage it to make sure that they can return to the Philippines once every three months. It is far better than working in, say Saudi Arabia, as OFWs there are only allowed to go home once a year, according to Quinto.
“Kaya kapag andito, trabaho lang talaga at makakaipon ka. Wala ka namang paggagastusan dito,” he said.
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