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From the Philippines to China to Saudi Arabia: Ten Thousand Strangers

27 August, 2018 08:41  Erin Erin

Ten Thousand StrangersI am Noel Cabacungan from the Philippines but I'm currently an expat here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I've been here since 2011 but my expat career began in China in 2006. I go by many other nicknames in several internet forums but you can easily recognize me as the stormtrooper running the blog Ten Thousand Strangers.

1.    Why did you move abroad?
Moving to Saudi Arabia has never been a part of any of my plans. How I ended up working in this country remains a mystery to me. I can still remember myself saying I won’t lay a foot in this country even if it’s the last country I can go to for employment. Which is why when I was looking for overseas jobs I can apply to several years ago, I would always skip applying for jobs based in this country.

However, by some stroke of luck (or misfortune, I have yet to decide), I received a call offering me a job in this country. I don’t remember applying for any job based in Saudi Arabia, I am very sure I skipped every one of them. However, due to personal reasons, I was in a deep desire to leave the country. And when the recruitment officer became very persistent, I bit the bait without even managing to properly negotiate for the salary.

Seven years and counting, I’m still here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

2.    How do you make a living?
I am a Quality Assurance Engineering at a manufacturing company producing air-conditioners all over the Gulf Region. I have been in the industry for almost a decade and a half.

3.    How often do you communicate with home and how?
Thanks to the plethora of messaging, voip, and video chatting mobile applications, I can easily communicate with my loved ones back home. However, because of the five-hour time difference, I can only communicate with them for longer hours during weekends.

4.    What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is not a country you could just go to whenever you want to. Obtaining a visa here is extremely rare, unless you’re coming here for business or pilgrimage.

As a travel blogger, I find it an advantage in a sense that there is not a lot of competition here and if someone would march about flaunting their country count, I’d just stand silently in one corner smirking – you can only go as far as X minus one country. You can’t come here for the sole purpose of having to visit every country in the world.

5.    What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Saudi Arabia?
As a street photographer, you can’t just go out and about taking photos in public. There are certain buildings you are not allowed to take photos of unless you obtain a written permission.

6.    What do you miss most?
I believe just like most expats, I miss the local cuisines and fresh produce I grew up eating back home. Even if most of the spices, various cooking ingredients, and even alternatives can already be bought in my adoptive country, nothing beats the joy of enjoying the freshest tropical harvests, especially the seasonal ones.

7.    What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I don’t usually go out to meet new people; I have developed a certain extroversion growing up. However, I do enjoy being around with strangers as long as I do not need to engage in prolonged conversations.
On the other hand, my workplace is mostly composed of expats from the Philippines and other South Asian countries, such as India and Pakistan.

8.    What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Engaging in direct conversations with the opposite sex in Saudi Arabia can cause you jail time or something worse; it is extremely prohibited. Strange but understandable; Saudi Arabia is a strict Muslim region.

Also, considering the temperature can go extremely high, strolling around in public places in shorts and tank tops is highly discouraged even among men.

9.    What is a myth about your adopted country?
Saudi Arabia is often perceived as a country of terrorists. It is NOT

10.    Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is a mix of highs and lows. Electricity, gasoline, electronic goods, and the cost of high-speed internet are relatively cheaper, food and other grocery items are just a bit more expensive, but commuting and the cost of eating out is way higher.

Having that in mind, I am always on the lookout for sales promotions and when there are, I tend to shop a lot.

11.    What advice would you give other expats?
The most importing thing when to consider when living in another country is to understand the laws and how it would affect your daily living. If you can’t compromise, do not go. Otherwise, you obey the laws completely.

Ten Thousand Strangers12.    When and why did you start your blog?
Even before we started using the word, I have been writing online wherever I can – Friendster, Multiply, My Space. I even manually coded and uploaded html files on free web hosting sites, such as Tripod and Brinkster, back in the days. I just wanted a piece of the internet to share whatever I had to share.

When I moved to work in China in 2006, I started a blog to connect with other Filipino expats everywhere in the world. The blog continue to evolve and at the moment, I use it as a vehicle to promote my writing skills and to acquire writing engagements from different online platforms.

Blog LinkTen Thousand Strangers

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