Philippines to Portland: 15 Hours

My last year in college, my research professor made us write and revise and revise and revise. So now I write, throw out, revise. I started college with a high school gpa of 4.0 and a four year scholarship. My first semester at the University of Arkansas I came out with a 1.9 and landed on academic probation. I came from a small town where there was nothing to do, I was sheltered, and I was attending a college once deemed by Playboy as a #1 party school. I had to leave, and I ended up at another college in Little Rock , finishing with a 3.6 gpa. 

Yesterday my husband called to tell me he was leaving the Philippines, where he’s been overseeing an oil and energy project. He’s been there a month, and I’m used to his travels. He has spent years in the North Slope of Alaska on various oil, coal, and zinc enterprises.

But the Philippines has been different. Communication has been sketchy, there’s abject poverty in the village near his work area, and the standard of living has had my husband constantly complaining. I’m so glad he’s coming back, because it’s been a crazy whirlwind of a month just like the rest of my life with this man that I love.

He sends me texts that it’s all f’d up, and I worry. Typical travel texts from him, usually from Alaska, though. What happened this time, is he gonna make it home? Is he gonna get thrown into a prison like Joaquin Phoenix in that movie with Vince Vaughn? Alaska I can handle. No more of this third world stuff, though, with armed guards on the work site. I said no to Nigeria, where I read that Shell workers were constantly kidnapped and killed. I have worried about the worst possible scenarios, thinking all I want is my husband next to me under our comfy white Macy’s Hotel Collection bedspread. So now I’m up, worrying, doing this to get things off my mind and to pass the time.

I think this international work fever is out of his system. He’s talked about it since he was an electrical apprentice, when we were living paycheck to paycheck. The money overseas is good, but there is definitely sacrifice. I made my sacrifice when our kids were younger, paying nannies to keep the kids so I could traipse around the country to build up my resume and accomplish my dreams. I set three goals when I was a pharmaceutical sales representative (drug rep). I wanted to make six figures, get promoted to specialty rep, and win Presidents Club (achieve top 5% ranking in the company). I gave myself 5 years, and did it in 3.

When I quit my job in Portland, I was glad to get away from the corporate world. I was glad I would no longer have to leave the apartment at 7:10 am to get to downtown by 8 to sit in meetings with boring PowerPoint presentations where I would nod and smile and act impressed. I was also eating at Hot Pot City across the street too often, and my suits were feeling tighter on me.

It was a difficult transition at home, though. I’m fiercely independent, and I never wanted to be that stereotypical submissive Asian woman there to serve the man. And boy, did I give him hell. I’m pretty lucky he has put up with me. I’ve just always had a job where I’ve been rewarded, acknowledged, and ranked. That’s what outside sales is all about. How much you have contributed to the company determined how much you got paid. And I was always on the upper end. My husband gives me as much recognition, but I was used to the payouts that afforded the kids new furniture from Pottery Barn and myself an extra Kate Spade handbag. There was that time I had a brand new handbag in a box in the garage, and he thought it was trash, never had a look inside, and he tossed it. That’s us.. It was worth $600, but I hadn’t paid for it. I had won contest points,and that’s what I chose.

During the last month, while he’s talked about the workers in the Philippines, living in small shacks, with their 6 family members living on $18 a month, I’ve been super thankful that I ever made it out of Vietnam. I think about it so often, how lucky I am to have been born where I was, barely making it into the United States. I’m a Chanel lipstick loving, tree hugging, give back to the community type of girl. If King Pharmaceuticals had let me give to the poor instead of owning another All Clad pan, I would have probably made some families in Vietnam pretty happy.

I grew up poor, qualifying for reduced lunch money in public school. I earned Pell Grant money for college because my parents’ combined income was low enough and my grades were high enough. I wore hand me downs from my older sister. We lived in a small house where the 5 of us kids shared one bathroom, and we ate a lot of fish that my dad caught because he went fishing a lot. We went to church a lot because my parents are very religious. We prayed in English, in Vietnamese, we thanked the church because we came from Vietnam with nothing and the church helped us get on our feet. We were lucky just to have made it out alive. My parents didn’t talk much about it, and we barely asked because they’d had to flee their war-torn country and they seemed scarred. Life had been good for them before. Back in Vietnam, we had nannies that took care of us, we lived well, and mom travelled to Paris often. That was before the war of course.

I dreamed of becoming a famous news anchor. I would be on TV, and money wasn’t really a factor because I didn’t know what what anybody made, except my parents who worked in factories. Later I learned that it was typical for field reporters to start at $19,000 a year, but after 5 years could potentially get up to $80,000 once you become an anchor. Then the higher your ratings, the more negotiation power you have. The market size also determines money, too. Portland is a #24 market versus Little Rock #57.

I interned for one day and decided I couldn’t do it. The sales people came through the news room and told me I should do sales instead. So I went into media sales. Then one day a colleague gave me a book. How to Get into Pharmaceutical Sales. Five of us left the same TV station and went into the most highly sought after industry. One job post yielded 500 applicants.

The recruiter told me “Don’t be desperate, but be desperate.” I had waited tables, and my art was molding myself to people to get good tips. Why don’t people do that anymore? I love restaurants, and I go to them and the servers ruin it for me sometimes. Later I told my manager that waiting tables made me a successful drug rep. I could prioritize, I multi-tasked, I mirrored my tables’ moods, I never judged, and I treated everyone as if they would tip me well or write my product. I didn’t know if I liked the pharma world at first. I was driving around trying to find doctors’ offices before Google Maps was a thing, I had emotions about our main hospital, and I wasn’t sure where to stand in the offices while nurses scowled at me. Then I was announced number one in the district after four months. And number one in the country the following year.

But I found that making six figures, you can still live paycheck to paycheck. I had no discipline, and I always remembered my friend Frankie telling me that “the more money you make, the more you spend.” She runs a restaurant in Little Rock called The Pizza Cafe. It is really good pizza.


Remember the housing crisis? I got laid off the same year, and we had to sell our 2700 square foot house that we built. Jereme let me pick out every detail of the house, saying that if he could just have a recliner front and center, he would not say a word. The living room was so big, I had to buy him two to make it work. The bonus checks were really good, so I could afford it. Until King Pharmaceuticals dissolved the cardiovascular metabolic specialty division (90 of us) to move towards more of a pain specialty so that they could package themselves more attractively to sell themselves to Pfizer. I thought I was the queen of King one day, then the next found myself standing in the shower crying to the sound of Michelle Branch’s Goodbye to You on repeat on my ipod that I won in a contest.

One of the other specialty reps said they must have been preparing our severance packages while we were in that meeting where they gave us the book 212 The Extra Degree, telling us we were their Blue Angels.

Pascal’s Manale, New Orleans

It was a good run, though. I ate at Pascal’s Manale, home of the famous Barbecue Shrimp. My friend Kay made it through Hurricane Katrina and became one of my best friends on the specialty team.


I made many good friends all around the country and stayed at some nice resorts, including Fairmont properties, The Ritz, hung out at Times Square. You wonder why prescription drugs are expensive?

So this is what I’m up to, looking back at life while I wait to hear from my husband. My last text from him said he got on a plane in Manila at 5 am, so I guess it’s 8 pm there? It’s possible he will arrive to PDX tonight at 8 pm, and hopefully he’ll have a layover and have cell service to communicate that to me.


That’s us. Poor guy, the food has been horrible where he’s been staying. I can’t wait to take him out to eat at some good places!


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