Friday, October 16, 2009

Emily, uhm... Emily

Since I've already written about one of my not-so-favorite-questions (see previous post), I shall proceed to explain why another question falls into that category...

"What is your job?"

This question always makes me squirm. It's a very difficult, if not uncomfortable, topic; one which takes a lot of time to explain.

It's not like I could simply say: "I'm a model", or "I'm a moneyboy". Gosh, either of those two answers would make it easier for me coz for sure I would not need to explain further, non?

When asked about my job, the usual answer I give is: "I'm with an NGO that works on Southeast Asian culture". But that clearly describes my office rather than my work.

Most often the follow-up question, which I truly dread, is: What do you exactly do for them? For lack of a clearer and succinct answer, I would automatically whisper: "I write for them."

That should settle the interrogation most of the time but deep inside me I know that I gave a very convenient, if not an inaccurate, answer. Being a "writer" sounds so pompous, and I seriously wish I have an alternative reply.

However, if I need to answer the question with precision, this would mean I have to further explain what I exactly do at the office. Thanks to my official title being the vaguest thing on earth.

When working in an NGO in Davao some years back I also had these strange-sounding titles (I had two posts) called (1) Policy Research and Advocacy Officer and (2) Project Officer. For those not working in a related field (this is mostly NGO-speak), they would often ask if I work for an insurance company because of the "policy" in my title. So out of convenience I just told everyone else that I'm a researcher. Saved me a lot of hassle.

In my current job, I have the misfortune of getting one of these ambiguous job titles again. I'm my office's Documentation Officer, that's my official post. Do many people get what it means? I hardly do, to be honest.

When the job was offered to me, because of excitement I did not really have time to listen what I was exactly in for. They just said, come to Bangkok, bitch. I was not exactly told what I'd do either, they just said, my post is called Documentation Officer. I thought, uhm... keri.

I Googled the job title and found out that it's mostly library work, i.e. filing and classifying information and records. That's how most people understand my work too, or the very few who do at least. (Although someone once asked if I work for an export company wherein I handle export documentation. NOT!)

However, I don't work with our librarians. I don't have a background in library studies whatsoever.

Before this gets way too vague, allow me to explain what I actually do at work, which, as you would realize, is far from what the official job title suggests...

I basically work directly under the office's Director, THE big boss.

On a day to day basis, I handle his emails, i.e. classifying and replying to them. I also order books he wants from the internet. :-) In that sense I'm his Executive Assistant but then I don't handle his schedules and other administrative needs, i.e. arranging meetings and official trips. I just happen to help him in his English emails. (I actually wonder who does his Thai emails.)

On top of that, I also write his speeches and edits his articles. I like doing both coz they involve writing and research, which I am truly, truly passionate about.

Culture and heritage are not my background in university though, so writing stuff for him always challenges me to learn something new. Besides the topics are mostly interesting, such as heritage conservation, cultural policy, and inter-cultural dialogue. And then I get to do his presentations as well (coz I wrote the speech), and God knows how I love lay-outing these powerpoints.

In as much as I like research work, I don't do these speeches very regularly. I often come out with one every two months at best.

Meanwhile, I also work with our Publication Officer in copy-reading articles for our journal and other publications, such as books. I like the job but I hardly do it coz we only come out with like four journals annually and one or two books a year. In terms of editing, the bulk of my work currently is editing a collection of papers due for publication.

Further, I do a bit of "external relations" whenever I get sent to meetings here and there, especially the big meetings of the Southeast Asian network of inter-government NGOs our office belongs to. We have three main meetings a year and a couple of smaller ones.

The meetings are usually soporific. Along with my other colleagues, we dread these talk-fests if not for the fun of meeting people all over the region, mainly from our "sister-NGOs". I particularly always look forward to catching up with my Pinoy counterparts and former colleagues (I used to work in a "sister-NGO" in Manila).

So if I summarize what I do in my position I would say I handle the communication of my Director, write his speeches and presentations, edits for our publications, and represents the organization in meetings.

Besides being a mouthful, does that sound coherent to you? Can anyone give me a job title unifying all these? Not simple, chai mai? Now do you understand why I hate the "what is your job?" question.

If I have to explain that to every person who asks it, it would take more than three minutes to go through everything I do without necessarily ending up with a sensible answer. I'd rather give something more convenient and easy to grasp such as "I write". Seriously, however, I still find "I write" exaggerated, pedantic, and, most importantly, limiting. Which goes the same way if I say I'm a Personal Assistant or Editor or External Relations Officer.

Two years later, I still wonder what the appropriate and accurate answer should be, so for the mean time I just pray to God that nobody asks me what I do for a living.

Otherwise, I'm like really, really tempted to just tell people "I'm a full-time blogger and a part-time model and part-time moneyboy". Much more straightforward, chai mai?

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