Carey Kho-Arroyo always had a passion for selling.
At the age of 6, she sold candies to classmates. At 11, she sold them crocheted headbands.
In high school, her wares varied from hair clips and stickers to yema, polvoron and longganisa. “I had to help my mom because I have four little brothers and money was always tight,” she told Lifestyle. “What’s funny is that I studied mostly in private schools, and my rich classmates would be so amused that they had a classmate who was always selling something.”
But her peers were supportive. They bought her wares. In college, she did direct selling of lingerie.
Kho-Arroyo graduated with a degree in civil engineering—something she did to make her parents happy. But her love for selling never waned.
After college, she and her best friend manufactured native accessories. She also baked and sold muffins and puto cheese.
Even while working at a call center in Cebu, Kho-Arroyo continued to sell. “I noticed that my officemates would always walk very far to buy cigarettes so I decided to sell cigarettes. My managers and the higher-ups would come to my station to buy cigarettes.”
Moving to Japan
The selling ceased momentarily when Kho-Arroyo moved to Japan 15 years ago. “I found a job teaching English and I fell in love with the country so I decided to stay.”
Kho-Arroyo, who has lived in Yokohama City, Ebina, Yamato and now Yokosuka, recalled, “My salary at the call center was P10,000. My salary as a teacher in Japan with the rate back then was P150,000. I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. When I withdrew my first salary, I was shaking. I’d never seen so much money in my life!”
The language barrier was a challenge, of course. “When I moved, I could only say five Japanese phrases. I was assigned to schools where I was the only foreigner and my coworkers didn’t speak a lot of English. I had to build rapport with hand gestures and broken Japanese.”
Still, she persevered. And she quickly made friends.
Kho-Arroyo, who also has a passion for fashion, started blogging, attending fashion shows and events, and shooting her outfits with a fellow fashion-loving friend.
But it seemed as if Kho-Arroyo was destined to go back to selling. In 2015, a high school friend asked her to buy stationery that the friend intended to sell in the Philippines. “As I was waiting for her next order, I started posting photos on Instagram,” said Kho-Arroyo.
Orders started coming and BAE (@ballpensandetc) was born. “BAE is my baby. We help bring Japanese goods to the world.” Seven years later, stationery continues to be popular with their clients, along with many other Japanese finds including plushies, apparel, kawaii and anime items.
Growing the business took a lot of work, she said. Eventually, Kho-Arroyo was able to quit her job. “I took a leap of faith and went full-time with my business.”
She calls this one of the two highlights of her life in Japan. The other? Meeting the man who would become her husband, known to her followers as HubBAE-san.
Today, BAE has over 34,000 followers on Instagram and has built a community of clients from different parts of the world, thanks in part to Kho-Arroyo’s warmth and bubbly personality.
Kho-Arroyo and her all-Filipino team are great at taking care of their customers—from the highly interactive live shopping sessions that take their viewers to different stores to making sure their precious purchases reach them swiftly and in perfect condition. It’s obvious that they find joy in what they do and this keeps clients, who they call BAEsties, coming back for more.
Helping the economy
Even throughout the pandemic, Kho-Arroyo was taking her clients with her on shopping trips via Instagram. “The pandemic changed my life 10 times because my business grew 10 times. When everyone was scared to go out, I was out there shopping for people. And my clients are so appreciative of what I share with them on Instagram. They always say that they live vicariously through me.”
For her, it’s more than just selling. “I love that through this business I have changed people’s lives for the better, especially my team’s. Shopping helps the economy so I’m helping both Japan and the Philippines through my remittances.”
BAE’s clients have formed friendships, too, and many of them tune in to the live sessions even when they’re on shopping pause.
Kho-Arroyo said, “I have a client who said that when she has cancer treatment, watching my lives makes her happy and she forgets about her sadness at that moment. I never knew that my shopping adventures could make someone’s day.”
She even travels abroad for meet-and-greets with clients. “It’s like meeting old friends even if we just met for the first time. Such a wonderful feeling.”
In this edition of Filipino Abroad, Kho-Arroyo tells Lifestyle about her life in Japan.
My neighborhood: The city where I live is called Yokosuka. I live right next to a mall. I live five minutes away from the train station and two minutes away from the Honch, which is like a party district. Because we live so close to the US base, it feels like we don’t live in Japan. So many foreigners like us. And almost everybody can speak English.
What I love about my neighborhood: I like that we have a park that has an amazing view of the ocean. It reminds me of Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete, which is my hometown. It’s not every day you get to see a submarine in real life and I think it’s so cool!
A day in my life: I’m happy to say that I hired the best people in my business. I trained them so well that I don’t need to work 24/7, unlike before. But a day in my life is centered on my cellphone. My world is social media—I go to different stores and give my clients an interactive shopping experience. I am also venturing into a new business in the Philippines so I’m mostly on my phone mentoring my little brother in making sure the business is thriving.
How I relax: I like hosting get-togethers at our house. I think having people over is good for my mental health. Some weekends, I have brunch with my girlfriends and we would always end up shopping. Some weekends I go on a Pokemon date with my husband where we have long walks and hunt Pokemons. Some weekends we stay at home and just Netflix and chill. Oh and I Tiktok! Watching Tiktok relaxes me but it’s too addicting that the time flies so fast.
How living abroad has changed me: It has changed me a lot but all in a good way. I have adapted to the culture of my second home and I abide by their rules and apply to my way of living wherever I go. For instance, in Japan we clean as we go at fast-food and coffee shops; I do that when I’m in the Philippines.
What I like about living abroad: The food, the people, the lifestyle and the feeling of safety.
What I don’t like about living abroad: To be honest, I cannot think of anything other than not being able to see my parents on a daily basis.
Do you ever get homesick? I honestly don’t anymore because my life now is in Japan. I have adapted to the culture, the lifestyle and I have built a family here.
What I miss about the Philippines: My family and friends mostly. The beautiful beaches because the Philippines for me still has the best beaches.
The last time I was in the Philippines was . . . In October. I hosted a client of mine from Los Angeles and some of my teammates. I rolled out the red carpet for them as I gave them a tour of my island in Negros Oriental. I try to visit twice a year. My parents are old so I want to make time and visit them.
The Filipino community here: My team is all-Filipino so we have a little community going on. I love that whenever we have gatherings, the food we prepare is mostly Filipino food. We are supporters of each other in victories and are there for each other in defeats and sadness. I’m truly blessed to be working with a group that is my family here in Japan.
My favorite way to stay in touch with my loved ones in the Philippines: FB Messenger. I couldn’t count how many group chats I belong to but I always try to reach out to the people I care for the most despite my busy schedule. It doesn’t have to be a full on conversation every time but reacting to their stories or leaving comments on their posts is my way of saying: “Hey, I’m here! You matter to me and thank you for updating me about your life.”
What I’d like to tell other Filipinos living abroad: To enjoy the life that you have. Yes, we have obligations to help our family back home, but life is so short. Don’t forget that you work hard for everything that you have right now so be kind to yourself. INQKnow a Filipino abroad we should feature? Nominate them at email@example.com.