Life is an 8/10

By: Giselle General

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Honestly, the current circumstance that we as a society are facing right now hasn’t changed it by much.

Two years ago I started adapting a concept called Bullet Journalling, a DIY hybrid of a personal planner, calendar, journal, scrapbook and habit tracker. I’d like to give credit to the first Youtube Video where I discovered the idea.

My personal version is a system I made and modified over the past months and years. There are daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists, a 2-page overview of how the upcoming six months looks like, something called ‘collections’ where you write your ideas/ reflections/ notes on certain topics in a single place, and a mechanism to track habits you want to incorporate in your life. Here are some examples for me:

  • With my habit-tracker, I managed to integrate the daily habit of flossing my teeth, and I don’t need to track it anymore. Now, it’s replaced by a new habit I’m incorporating which is ‘not snooze the alarm clock.’
  • I have space in my weekly two-page layout for the week, to write something I’m grateful for
  • I have a ‘collection’ page for a few topics, such as my charitable contributions to the community. This gives me a page to look at when I’m feeling unproductive and that I’m not making a difference in the world
  • I also have a ‘collection’ page for women leaders I admire. It’s meant to inspire me for when I run for public office, a big dream I want to pursue in the future

For this post, the topic I’d like to discuss is mental health. A lot of other people who use the Bullet Journal system do different things about this. Some people make their journals creative like a scrapbook, and the artistic expression is helpful for their mental health. Some, like me, integrate a place to write what they are grateful about, for the day or the week. And some have ‘mood trackers’ where they use a coding system to indicate how they are feeling for the day. Many use colors of symbols. I heard that for those with ongoing medical conditions, either chronic illness or psychological illness, this is a useful record.

My version of this, is that on my weekly/daily to-do list, I rank what I feel about the day on a 10-point scale. So, a not-so-great day might be a 5/ 10 or something. I ranked my wedding day as a 9.5/ 10. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and realized that most days are a 7/10 or an 8/ 10. When I get grumpy or really sick then it might fall into a 6/10.

8/10 is a decent number! Thinking about the challenges I had in my earlier life, it feels uplifting to be honest. I can’t help but critically think of it though, and then, doubt creeps in at times. Is it a sign of resilience and healing? Or comfort and luxurious privilege? Or optimism or a healthier outlook in life? I hope that it’s a combination of all three. One thing I’m trying to remind myself, is that it is completely okay to feel my feelings. While this was meant to face head-on certain difficult emotions such as shame, discomfort, anger, or passion, I think it is just as useful to face head-on positive feelings such as relief, warmth, belonging, comfort, and sense of accomplishment.

Telling myself “I got this” or “this is not so bad, because I survived worse” had, in part, helped my put a higher rating even on days that may be challenging. There are some days where it was exhausting, draining, or uncertain, but the possibility that the next day would be better encourages me to think of the current day not as a waste, not a disaster, but just a natural low part of life.

It’s okay to feel good. It’s okay to be comfortable. It’s okay to not worry sometimes. This is likely something I’ll have to remind myself over and over for a very long time. Perhaps it’s a good thing, so as not to take the good fortune for granted, and in order to be proactive to prepare for difficult times.

My Financial Costs to Volunteering

The time and energy that it takes to volunteer in a meaningful way is something I anticipated and embraced. I mean, that’s the whole point. To receive little or no financial compensation for doing something that is interesting and helpful to the community at large. It gives opportunities to meet different types of people, learn information and perspectives that are not always available within one’s home or work environment, and have a fun time making a project or goal a reality.

However, there are two items that I didn’t quite expect, which turned into actual additional expenses. These are travel and food costs.

Overall, I’d say I have a decent grasp of my finances, where the dollars go, how much, and under which category. As I grow older and have reached a level of stability in my life, I’ve managed to aim a certain quality of life that I’m satisfied with, hit savings targets and enjoyed the process, and find ways to be savvy with expenses. That being said, as my list of volunteer activities grew, there are times that spending a bit more to travel around places or to have a quick bite is inevitable.

As a non-driver, public transit user, who attends meetings and activities outside of “regular” transit hours, the cost of ride hailing services do add up. I’d say 90% of my taxi, Tappcar and Uber trips are related to a volunteer or community service activity. Whenever possible, when heading to the location I try to take transit, and then only take a cab going back. However, traveling from downtown Edmonton where I work, to the very far edge of Edmonton farther west from Anthony Henday, it’s just not feasible. It’s a hefty car ride as well. Such trips would likely be $40 one way. I’ve done this a few times, and given my duties in this particular volunteer board, it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

For another board I volunteer for, the main office is on the south side across the river, around the Scona area. When the weather is good and I can leave the office from downtown 45 minutes ahead of time, taking a bus and walking for 20 minutes (if the weather is good and the sidewalks are not slippery) is feasible. Otherwise, it’s a $20 cab ride to get to the meeting. And then, since the meeting ends pretty late, no way can I take transit going home. Fellow board members had kindly offered a ride sometimes, for which I’m grateful for. However, when that is not an option, that’s another $20 minimum for another trip. One volunteer meeting, $40 expense, but I get a nice dinner, so there’s upsides and downsides for sure.

For one board I am a member of, our sub-committee meetings usually take place in restaurants. Typically it would be a bar in downtown Edmonton. Sometimes there would be two of these meetings in a month, and that’s where the expense can add up.

I was worried about this when my husband helped me put things in perspective by asking a simple question. “Is it within the budget?” Regardless of what prompted the expense, there is comfort in knowing that the expense is anticipated and that I do have the resources to allocate money for it. Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

I’ve managed to find a workaround to make sure this doesn’t break the bank too much. As far as eating out is concerned, I have given up on my “solo restaurant dates” that I’d have once a month. So, that’s one less restaurant meal I spend on. Whenever there is a meeting in a bar, depending on how hungry I am, I started ordering appetizers half of the time, instead of choosing an entree right away. A board member started teasing me and say “looks like you have a thing for poutine!” when he noticed that for several meetings in a row, I’d get the same thing: iced tea and a poutine.

Regarding travel costs, it looks like I spent $1,500 on cab rides last year and $1,100 in 2018. That jump is definitely directly correlated to the additional activities I’ve been attending. But I have zero car expenses because I don’t drive. This expense is the additional one I have on top of my bus pass. Thinking about how much people spend on their cars, helped me put this in perspective.

I realize that having to spend a few dollars in addition to sharing one’s time and energy while unpaid is too much for some. But I hope that for some who have a bit of financial flexibility, that it would manageable to give just a little bit more. And seriously, the conversations I have outside the actual meetings, when at the restaurant chatting while waiting for everyone else, or during the carpools after a long board meeting, they are just as meaningful as the actual volunteer activity we just had.

If Money is not an Issue

Many years ago, while searching for jobs not too long after finishing university, I stumbled upon a few articles online that encouraged the reader to ask this question:

“If money is not an issue, what job would you like to have?”

At that time, I answered “volunteer”. And it seems like that indeed had led me to a role that suited my skills and interests, and is quite rewarding. As a Volunteer Coordinator of a nonprofit, I have learned to appreciate the value of having the structure that enables the volunteers to focus on what they do best at their designated role, and not to worry about small details that can delay or distract them.

Lately, I have been thinking of what the future holds given that I am still considered a young professional. After all, I’m a few years away before turning 30. Retirement feels like a long time away, despite the fact that my husband diligently prepares for it through our regular savings and keeping our accounts organized.

We have a lottery pool at work, where each staff member who wants to participate can pitch in $2, a staff person goes to buy a ticket, and hope that we are the next group of employees who win a few million dollars, like the ones we hear about in the news.

I remember a comment from a former colleague Sofia about lottery winnings that stuck with me. She said “imagine how much affordable housing you can build out of all that money.” I appreciate her viewpoint since it was the first time I hear from anybody about a way to spread the winnings to those in need. Another colleague had said, with a hint of worry “I wouldn’t know what to do with all the much money.” This is also a fair point, as I heard numerous stories of people’s lives turning for the worst after winning the lottery. The troubles that the winners have come in two ways, from being reckless about spending, and from being bombarded with inappropriate request for money from distant relatives to random strangers. I guess, with great wealth comes a great burden.

Right now, if money is not an issue because somehow I have large sums of it or an unlimited supply, I imagine that I will split the money into a few different categories:

  • Personal financial stability
  • Assisting relatives in need, both in this country and overseas
  • Local charitable donations
  • Large-scale impact on certain social causes

For example, I’ll pay off our home’s mortgage and set aside enough money for an investment fund where the interest is enough to cover current expenses and occasional luxuries. And then, I’d like to find a way to provide financial assistance to my relatives in need in a way that is sustainable and has a long-term benefit: whether it is funds to start a business, house and lot, or covering tuition payment for younger kids.

Outside of the family unit, here’s how I envision huge sums of money can make an impact. There are many charitable organizations that struggle to stay afloat, and as a result, searching for funding eats up precious time that could have been spent making a difference through their programs and services. Providing stability such as through an endowment fund or a financial boost for a few years would be a good thing, I think. And then, similar to those lottery winners who would donate millions of dollars towards a cause, I’d like to do the same thing as well. Instead of just dropping a cheque though, I’d like to help build something from the ground up. Maybe a new building to expand an organization’s service and operations, or even a brand new facility to fill an unmet need.

One can dream, right? But, since the chances of winning the lottery or having a massive multi-million dollar business empire is pretty small, the realistic, real-time version of myself had scaled back these lofty dreams into manageable, small things that can be done in present time. With the income from my paycheque, helping charities and relatives and building a sense of personal financial stability is achievable in small chunks. As far as making a large-scale impact, I’m hoping that running for public office one day can fulfill that.

Either on my own, or through in-person and online workshops, I have participated in exercises to help envision the future. It’s a good opportunity to evaluate one’s preferences and aspirations, and indulge in thinking about how outlandish scenarios might just come true. The plan is to ask again this question when I officially turn 30 and periodically in the future.

There was a catchy Filipino pop song that I remember in my teens, titled “Ambisyoso” which is the translation for ‘ambitious’. Some of the writer’s outlandish dreams are pretty funny, like a kissing scene with his favourite actress, but I really like the line that talked about “a wallet that never runs out of money”. That’s what prompted this thought exercise, and I’ll likely revisit it again.

A Decade in Review: 35% of My Life

For anyone under the age of 30, particularly adults, 10 years is a sizable amount of time. For me, it’s 35% of my life! The other interesting part is, as opposed to our childhood and teenage years, young adults are likely to remember most, it not all of events that would be considered as pretty major.

This is a short summary of how the age 19-28 has been for me, as in the year 2010-2019.

Dating: I took a chance to date my ex-boyfriend’s friend, with two important premises: that us dating will not jeopardize his friendship with said ex-boyfriend, and that we’ll take it slow in our early years. That seems to have paid off! We are got married in the fall of 2019, after I took the courage (as the woman) to propose, and pulled off a lovely intimate wedding with only two months of planning. This relationship has been the most transformative in my life, where I learned how to be happy and healthy, to love and be loved, and how finding your partner is an experience that pushes you to grow and keeps you stable and safe.

The two most important men in my life being goofballs while playing a game: my brother (left) and my husband (right). I tell you, raising a teenager is no easy feat, but I think we did OK overall.

Brother: The past decade started with making arrangements for my brother’s sponsorship and immigrating to Canada. He successfully arrived and I did my best (I hope) to support and guide him in adjusting and living a good life here. He just completed his diploma program at NAIT, while being relatively healthy, in a loving relationship, having a decent work ethic and also debt-free. It brings me the greatest joy that he and my husband get along really well. Being a mother/father/sister to him since we were orphans was no easy feat, but I’m satisfied with how he is doing and how my contributions played a role in its own way.

Home: Home is where the heart is, a place of rest, self-expression, recreation, stability, peace and vulnerability. It has not been straightforward, but the past decade has enabled me to have an active role in defining and shaping what this means for me and my love ones. It involved a few move-outs and move-ins, budgeting, repairing and organizing, getting comfortable making sure that the home fits my sense of self and my current needs. That is actually the toughest part, to give myself permission to tell myself “yes, this is MY home now, this is my home TOO.” Thankfully, I think I finally reached that stage.

Health: Physical activity and diet is something I haven’t paid any attention to until about 2012. It’s been a roller coaster on this one. I went through phases of having an extreme and unhealthy attitude towards tracking calories and physical activity that swung like a pendulum over several years. It is a relief to eventually reaching a more balanced approach.Slow and steady wins the race” is the most important lesson on this journey and the fact that it is a lifelong one. Some physical ailments and a few medical procedures also took place, and as someone who felt ‘undeserving’ to get checked over by medical professionals, both due to cost and lack of attention by my legal guardians, obtaining the procedures is another significantly positive milestone.

Overcoming Trauma: I learned how to say the word ‘emotional baggage‘ without sarcasm or shame, as well as the word ‘triggered‘ in an honest and kind way. Thanks to the #MeToo movement and the other goals I was working on, I realize that I cannot move forward without addressing these. I sought out therapy for sexual assault around 2017 and I feel that I learned and transformed internally so much. I’m working on being more aware of the concept of Survivor’s Guilt, and how that can push people like me to overwork, overcompensate and be a perfectionist. I experienced burnout at work at least once and felt victorious after feeling vulnerable and courageous enough to seek therapy and actually use my work benefits. Mental and emotional health, as it turns out, is really important, in order to live an enriching life and be a positive impact to the world.

My office participating in a city parade to promote the programs we do to serve those people in need of help.

Career: In the beginning of the past decade, I was midway through my university degree, and after just a few years, I completed my degree, gained skills and discovered the current career sector that fits well at the moment. The biggest lesson for me is that in this day and age, there is no need to pick a career that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life, and this fluidity was both comforting and empowering. Also, I had a few young professional milestones such as quitting a toxic work environment, job promotions, raises, plus typical office changes like moving locations and growth in staff.

Creativity: Because of never receiving recognition in school about my artwork, as a child I though I was not artistic at all. My handwriting is nowhere as pretty as my parents, particularly my mother, who was the creative one in the family. But in the past decade, I eventually discovered the enjoyment of artistic expression in my own way, from words such as blogs and articles, upcycling, mending or re-making clothing and abstract art. Now, the decorations in my home and my personal office is 90% artwork I made. Many of our practical items are also DIY, from blankets, quits, pillows and some clothing as well. I appreciate how my husband describes them, as items “made with love”. I plan to continue to integrate this in my life for as long as I can.

This activity hit three birds in one stone: it was a neightbourhood-wide volunteer activity and at least 30 wall panels were painted, it was a celebration of Canada 150, and it was an artistic expression that was also kinda romantic.

Re-Connecting to my Cultural Heritage After Immigrating: Having the chance to visit the Philippines twice after immigrating was wonderful, both instances with my spouse who is not Filipino. Those were useful opportunities to sort important legal and financial matters, and retrieve a few things I didn’t get a chance to bring when I moved the first time. It also prompted within me an ongoing thought exercise on how I ought to fit or maintain, the Filipino side of my identity as I continue my life in Canada. I think that’s part of what prompted this blog in the first place. Discovering local Philippine-focused nonprofit organizations here in Edmonton is a huge help as well and I’m positive that my involvement will only grow in the future. Sharing my ‘coming to Canada’ story to the broader community was a great experience as well.

Self Love and Acceptance: Self-compassion is something I fortunately gained from a healthy workplace and a healthy romantic relationship, and with the explosion of educational tools and advocacy I discovered on social media. While the real change has to be internal and IRL (in real life), as a millenial, social media plays a huge role in making awkward conversations more comfortable. When used positively, the anonymity or the distance created from social media accounts can help people explore painful topics and also offer help. I’d say the past five years was when this exponentially increased in my life, and I was able to curate online communities to help me with this challenging and important journey. Now, I hope to maintain what I have achieved and pay it forward to others who are still starting their journey.

Loved being the ‘mayor of the hour’ during this educational workshop that teaches local residents how land planning and development works. Maybe I’ll have the actual job title one day!

Contributing to the Community At Large: Volunteering in many capacities just enriched my like in a multitude of ways. My goal is to have an optimal combination of activities where my role ranges from being a leader, an equal member, a contributor, or a participant. I think, that is what I have right now. The increase in stability in my home, work and paycheque was also empowering, as I was able to share not only my time, but also my money to those who are in need. The new decade will start with getting more politically active, and diving in deep by possibly running for public office and making an impact. Even as a child, being a trailblazer held a particularly strong appeal. I hope that the past decade helped me gain the skills and gumption to pursue these ambitious goals, and that this decade will be game time, to make attempts at these goals. One thing I’m very sure of, is the comforting truth in the saying ‘when one door closes, another one opens’.

Language Barriers I had Before Even Immigrating

A common experience expressed by migrants to another country is the struggle with communication, both verbal and nonverbal, both in the professional and informal settings. Nuances of a language, intonation and context can take a lifetime to learn, so having to deal with a brand new vocabulary in a new environment is a huge undertaking.

It’s like riding a car on a slightly foggy and rainy day. Being in the car you get a sense of location and movement which feels reassuring, but it is a bit challenging to look too far ahead because what you see from all directions is just slightly obscured. And then, there needs to be the ongoing constant effort to at least maintain the limited sense of clarity by turning on the windshield wipers constantly and de-fogging the windows of the car. All, this, but mentally, and with words and interpretation of these words.

And then, there’s the disconnection, of acknowledging extra voices and interactions around as background noise. Sure, there is meaning that would have been interesting, but just really inaccessible. So you try to just let it flow around you.

The interesting this is, I’ve had these feeling even before migrating to the other side of the world. And it all began in the village where I grew up in the Philippines.

The only languages I know are Tagalog/Filipino, and English from school. Here’s the rub, the common language used in day-to-day life in the village is Ilocano, and the native language of the indigenous peoples in the area is Ibaloi. So, I would know some key vocabulary in these languages, such as the name of the indigenous special ritual is “canao”, and I know the swear words and expressions in Ilocano such as “anya met tennen”. But I was never proficient enough to hold a conversation in either language. I’m not sure whether my parents and the nannies we had made an attempt in the first place, I would have been too young to remember.

And then, I ended up living with my grandmother for a significant portion of my childhood years. Tagalog would have been her third language, so she is good but not a complete natural. When she gets upset and starts to scold me, she would speak in Pangasinense, which is not great, because it means I actually don’t know what she is upset about. Nagging in itself is not a horrible thing that parents or elders do, but understanding why would have been helpful. Whenever she has important conversations with my aunts and uncles, or gossiping with the neighbours, I am able to pick important words here and there to know what the topic is, but not what the details are. It feels like being a wallpaper but just a bit more aware than one.

I attended a pipe ceremony a few months ago here in Edmonton. After the formal ceremony was over and all the guests were gathered around having food, I ended up sitting beside the Indigenous elder who facilitated the ceremony earlier. We chatted about where we came from, and he shared really fascinating stories about Filipinos coming to North America even before the Europeans came. We ended up talking about languages, where I sheepishly admitted that I only know the national language in my country of origin. He said he can relate to the feeling of embarrassment, as it is similar to an Indigenous person in Canada knowing only English and none of the other native languages.

So, here in Canada, when I am in a court room of a lawyer’s Bar Admission ceremony and everyone is happily speaking in Nigerian dialect, that disconnect is nothing new. When I was in a Indian wedding and the entire ceremony was in Hindu, I relied on reading the body language and location of everyone else around me. When I’m in a group of people who are born-and-raised in this city, speaking in English, but making references to events that happened before I immigrated here, I know the limitations of what I can grasp and comprehend.

And that is because of the early, unexpected training. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. You look forward to the moment when they finally remember that you can’t understand, and then they engage you in the conversation. Also, it helps me empathize with my spouse when he is around my own relatives during gatherings with most, if not, all Filipinos. Maybe this does make me dream of having that universal translator gadget that they have in Star Treck. Google Translate has a long way to go.

Pecha Kucha Night Speech Transcript: Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format where the presenter has 20 slides, 20 seconds, and it is strictly timed. This is the transcript of the presentation I made on October 30, 2019 entitled “Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor”

  1. This is us, Corey and Giselle. He’s a white guy, born and raised in Edmonton with a complete family, and middle-class upbringing. I’m an orphan girl from a mining village in the Philippines, immigrated as a teenager, and bounced around different homes.
  2. The sexual assault incidents happened during my final year of high school in the Philippines. That same year, I moved to Canada in Aug 2007. It’s a tough year. Let’s say that there wasn’t enough support for me during this difficult time.  
  3. When you date a sexual assault survivor, disclosure will not come immediately. It took me two years since we started dating to feel safe enough to share as much detail as I can. It was a risk. I even told him he can break up with me afterwards.
  4. If you are the lucky one who actually had sex education in school, you may have to be the one to introduce terminology and concepts to your love one who experienced sexual assault. If you do this, be informative and non-judgemental in your approach.
  5.  In his case, he quoted to me the specific Criminal Code of Canada section that outlined the definition of sexual assault. He made it clear that he knows  what happened to me IS indeed, sexual assault – full stop.
  6. It is so important to make your partner feel that you believe them. If the culture, the environment they lived in doesn’t believe in sexual assault, if the people surrounding them didn’t believe either, your reaction and support will make a BIG impact.
  7. If there are other causes of trauma, things can get complicated. I’m also an orphan, and that influences my viewpoint in life in good and bad ways. But with time and support, these can be worked through simultaneously.
  8. In my case, I have a very difficult time asking for help about anything, big and small. It comes both from having to be independent because I’m an orphan, and from not getting the help I needed after I revealed I was being molested.
  9. If the perpetrator will be around, you need to have a plan. There was this trip to the Philippines, where the perpetrator and I will be in the same space during this family gathering. My partner made sure the perpetrator would stay FAR away from me.
  10. Doing your own research about the other challenges your love one experienced is really helpful. In this case, he did a lot of research to help him understand the different types of problematic family dynamics that I experienced but he didn’t to through.
  11. If they finally go to therapy, just be there for them. I went to therapy two years ago for about 8 months.  After every appointment, he’s ready at home with some cuddles and  conversation. We call it “follow-up therapy” – in bed.
  12. And, speaking of bed. When you get intimate, if they say no. LISTEN! If they want to change something, understand them and do it. This takes a lot of courage to say. It usually means that something is REALLY scary or REALLY painful.
  13. Your relationship CAN be the opportunity to realize that vulnerability is worth it, that you CAN be accepted as who you are. A chance to see that sex, intimacy and pleasure can go hand in hand. That saying no is not a deal-breaker.
  14. In many ways, they are experimenting with the idea of consent, which wasn’t there when they were assaulted. The question in their mind is “this time, do I have a say?” “Will I get heard if I actually say something?”
  15. In the summer of 2010 had our first kiss in his car, he actually asked “can I get a kiss goodnight?”. I actually liked it! I like being asked, being consulted, my input being valued. Turns out, consent is sexy.
  16. Reproductive health tasks from pap smears, STD testing, seeing a doctor, ultrasounds is a big deal. Being comfortable to do all these things is a victory. Encourage and celebrate it. And proactive with your own reproductive health as well.
  17. The survivor is primarily responsible for their healing and their journey. As the significant other, you will be there for support, patience and a little bit of push when needed. But this needs to be at their own pace and time. 
  18. It’s also worth nothing that trauma is not a complete excuse for awful behaviour. I’m relieved that I was confronted for my immature reactions and poor decisions, and we managed to talk it out and solve it as a couple.
  19. After 9 years of dating, I proposed to him in July and he said yes! And we just had our wedding last month in Edmonton! I’m grateful for him being in my life and supporting me in my healing process.
  20. This is my journey, other survivors and their loves ones may have a different process, and that’s completely okay. We want the same things for our selves and our love ones, acceptance, being cared for, being cherished for who we are.

This post will be updated once the video of the presentation is available. Thank you to Edmonton’s Next Gen, the organizers of Pecha Kucha Night that takes place three times a year, for the opportunity to present. For more information such as previous presentations how to support or participate, visit https://edmontonnextgen.ca/pkn.

“Do You Want a Ride?” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 1

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

I try my best to take transit to where I go. Just like most adults, the most frequent type of commute I have is to go to work, and I take transit almost every day to do that. However, my extracurricular activities throw a wrench in this routine. Edmonton is indeed a big, wide city, and depending on how you contribute to the community, that can involve some additional travel.

When my activity’s location goes beyond downtown, or further south of Whyte Ave, I get into a bit of trouble. And frankly, I see the immense value in helping out at organizations and activities beyond the region of the city I am a part of. If the activity or meeting is planned ahead of time, it might be okay. If there is time between when I leave for work and when the event starts, I take the bus and/or the train. It’s usually for the going-home part that I get into a pickle. When it is 9:45 PM or later after a board meeting, or it is almost 4 AM after a casino volunteer shift, taking a bus is not an option.

After I got my newest volunteer position I was a teeny bit worried because this means I am likely to take a taxi three more times in a month. It is not cheap, but still much cheaper than driving. I feel lucky that as a couple, we communicate about money very openly. As I shared my concern, my husband asked “well, love, is it within the budget?“. He is referring to the budgeting system we both use, which allows both of us to plan targets on an annual basis. I said “yah, so far, yes.” Then he said, ‘well, then it’s all good!”

Now, I’m attending more board meetings at different places, evening workshops and town halls. The more I attend these events, I see familiar faces more repeatedly. There are more of them who know how I get around and it is not by driving my own car.

I realized that there is usually at least one person who offers a ride, which I find both awkward but also really nice. Whether it is a ride right to my home, or at the very least, the closest LRT station that would help me take the rest of my trip home. I’m starting to learn how to be gracious and NOT ashamed when someone offers a ride. A technique I have learned is to ensure that the request is not very cumbersome. So if I know it’s someone from my neighbourhood, then asking for a ride home from our casino volunteer shift at 4 AM is not demanding or imposing. If someone who, like me, came from a different part of the city, and I know they would have to drive through a major road with a transit centre, I would ask it I can tag along at least to the transit centre, and not beyond that.

An unexpected silver lining to this, is the one-on-one opportunity to speak to the person who participated in the same event as I do, and has kindly offered me a ride. It is quite known to many people that I don’t drive, and I comment (diplomatically most of the time) about the gaps in our transit system. I also realized that commenting about how we got to the venue prior to an event is a neutral topic for small talk. So while people are complaining about the traffic, bad drivers and potholes, I’d comment about the poor transit service and how costly it is to get there.

I can say that I learn a bit more about the event or activity on the ride home, than during the event itself. Perhaps because my introverted nature shines more during these conversations in the car.

During the one-on-one chat in the car, the driver and I would comment about the event, and any other related topics that come from the activity or organization we are a part of. I spoke to a fellow board member who drove me home one day about our involvement with the said board. With the fellow columnist for a local Filipino community newspaper, we exchanged stories about coming to Canada and our respective families in the Philippines. The one time an elected representative offered me a ride home after a town hall, we talked about political campaigns, the differences between the neighbourhoods in the constituency, and hostility on social media towards politicians.

What’s the back-up plan when it seems like there isn’t someone whom I feel comfortable asking for a ride? It’s not really a back-up plan, it’s more like “Plan A”! Calling for a taxi and apps like TappCar had made calling for a ride pretty convenient. Thanks to the budgeting skills I learned from my spouse, I am able to keep an eye out on my spending and make sure it doesn’t go out of control.

So, it is unlikely that I will get a car anytime soon, but there are certainly lots of improvements that can be done from a policy and infrastructure side to make sure that other modes of transportation are feasible and desirable for many people.

How Romance and Community Service Intertwine

By: Giselle General

My significant other is born-and-raised in this city we call home. He hasn’t experienced living anywhere else, not counting the times he had to go out of town for work, his travels, or when he came with me to visit and tour the Philippines. Staying in those places are temporary and that was very clear, and at the end of that short timeframe, it will lead to going home again to Edmonton.

While in my case, I grew up in a small mining village in the Philippines, and even continued to live there after my parents and sister passed away. It was unexpected circumstances that prompted me to move to the nearby city to finish high school, and then I was told I’m moving to another part of the world. When I came to Canada, I thought that I will be able to build relationships and set roots in St. Catharines, Ontario, when an abrupt move to Edmonton changed things again.

We had conversations about our future. and it is established that we will be in Edmonton for the rest of our lives. This is not something I wasn’t “over the moon” about exactly, but I’m not actively opposed to it either. It is a good city to live in, with decent opportunities and ways to have an enjoyable life, and I get the benefit of being with people who have lived here for much longer than me. I know that for some couples, location and mobility are key factors in their relationship, and I’m more than happy to be swayed by his desire to build roots here, or in his case, keep and grow the ones he already had.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well.

I told him, if we are going to live here forever, might as well do something to make improvements or keep the good things as they are. In my younger years, getting involved in clubs is something I always enjoy. It is pretty rewarding to be part of a group, with a positive and productive goal, even if it sucks up part of one’s spare time. Turns out, finding ways to do community service here is very easy, given that there are lots of choices. In fact, it can be too easy to get overwhelmed!

That is what inspired me to volunteer for the community league. It is pretty neat that there is a formal organization, that has a structure, funding mechanisms and established processes, for people whose affiliation is just one thing: that they live near each other and want to do good things for their neighbours. It has been three years since I started volunteering, and my spouse and I have a specific tasks that we diligently fulfill.

That is what motivated me to find my happy medium of getting involved in my cultural community, and with the city at large. He knew that writing and journalism is an interest of mine, and he cheered me on when I started writing columns for a provincial cultural newspaper for the Filipino community. He has even helped me with topics or phrasing, when the annoying ‘Writer’s Block’ hits me at unexpected times.

Being conscious of how your significant other navigates your city can encourage you to speak out in ways you haven’t anticipated before. For example, my spouse was very concerned about the changes in the transit system because of how it will affect me, as someone who does not drive. While a typical person who drives might not care as much, he was inspired to answer the online surveys, come with me to the in-person engagement sessions, and half-jokingly asks me whether we should sell the house so I get the same frequent bus access that I currently have.

The River Valley System of Edmonton is a huge part of our relationship. A few of our first dates consisted of walking through these beautiful natural trails. A longer hike is an annual tradition for us. Naturally, when we discovered that there is a formal organization that focuses on preservation of the River Valley, I considered participating. Oh, if only I have more hours in the day! Or maybe, there will be an opportunity or schedule when this will work better in the future. For now, when we are wanting a more casual date, we’ll continue to use this network of trails and doing our best to be responsible users of this incredible natural resource. We are subscribed to the newsletter of this conservation society, and we try to keep up to date on relevant news and research.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well. I hope that more people feel the same way about where they are living right now.

Community Resource Article: Resources on Family Violence

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in March 2018

Family violence is defined as the abuse of power within relationships of family, trust or dependency that endangers the survival, security or well-being of another person. It takes many forms including intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, child sexual abuse, parent abuse, elder abuse and neglect, and witnessing the abuse of others in the family. Family violence may include some or all of the following behaviours: physical abuse; psychological abuse; criminal harassment/stalking; verbal and emotional abuse; sexual violence and abuse; financial abuse; and spiritual abuse. 

The definition above is taken from the report called Family Violence Hurts Everyone, a Framework to End Family Violence in Alberta

This is a range of resources that can serve as a starting point when faced with this situation.

  1. Online Resources to Educate: It can be confusing sometimes to understand what is happening or how to describe it. These are online resources to browse and learn more about the situation that you may be facing before taking steps.
    1. The Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta has a series of videos, infographics and brochures that cover things such as the role of the police, protection orders, financial support, leaving an abusive relationship if you are not a Canadian Citizen, and more:  https://www.cplea.ca/publications/abuse-and-family-violence/#domesticviolenceseries
  2. Domestic Violence Shelters: These can be a starting point in searching for a shelter to go to. Different shelters have different levels of service. While some cater exclusively to women, some can help men or cater to specific demographics.   
    1. The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters has an interactive map that lists all shelters in Alberta at https://acws.ca/shelters
    1. You can call at 1-866-331-3933
    1. Sage Seniors Association is an organization in Edmonton that helps men and women aged 60 and older. You can contact them at 780-702-1520 or http://www.mysage.ca
  3. Financial Abuse/ Dealing with Financial Aftermath of Fleeing from Family Violence: Leaving an abusive relationship can mean your source of money for daily living will not longer be available.  Some programs and resources to help with the financial hardship after fleeing abuse are:
    1. Alberta Works: Supports for Albertans Fleeing Abuse is a program that can provide a wide variety of supports such as funds to relocate, basic needs, and more. Call 1-866-644-9992 on weekdays, 1-866-644-5135 on weekends or get information online at http://www.albertasupports.ca
    1. You can apply for Child Support and Spousal Support through the courts. Contact the Government of Alberta’s Resolution and Court Administration Services at 1-855-738-4747 or visit www.rcas.alberta.ca for help, especially if you cannot afford a lawyer.
  4. Therapy/ Counseling for Healing Psychologically: Healing from the pain of family violence can be difficult and can take a while. These are some resources, both in person and over the phone.  
    1. Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton is an organization that helps people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual assault, which is a typical component of family violence. They serve children and adults. The services are free, and they can be contacted https://www.sace.ab.ca/ or at 780-423-4102
    1. The Canadian Mental Heath Association has a list of resources as well for counselling, therapy and support groups. The main website is https://alberta.cmha.ca/ where you can find the webpage for your city or town. You can also access their service by dialling 311 or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642
  5. Child-Specific: There are specialized programs and services to help children as well. This can be valuable since children can process trauma differently, given that they are still growing.  
    1. Zebra Child Protection Centre https://www.zebracentre.ca/
    1. Kids Help Phone Line is an available resource for kids and teens to speak to a counsellor. An online chat option is available at https://kidshelpphone.ca/, through the phone by calling 1-800-668-6868, or by downloading their app called ‘Always There’, available for Apple and Android phones.

While this list is specific to Edmonton or Alberta, an online search that includes your location – if it is a more remote one – can help identify what is available nearby. It is often the case that getting in touch with social agencies for any purpose, if you mention what else you need help with, they can direct you to other resources as well. Websites of specific municipalities also can have a directory of where to get help. Alberta.ca is also a good resource.




Volunteering and Community Involvement Review: Philippine Heritage Month

June has been officially declared as Philippine Heritage Month, for Edmonton, the city I live in, the whole province of Alberta, and the country! Events have sprung up that celebrate Philippine culture, providing means to get people to gather together and have fun. Edmonton is known to be a festival city, so it is not surprising that there are different festivities and activities to choose from. Here’s a quick overview of the events I knew about.

Last June 1, there is an indoor parade at Kingsway Mall. The format of the event is very much like the “Flores de Mayo” celebrations in rural towns and villages in the Philippines. “Flores de Mayo” is festival held in the Philippines in the month of May. It is one of the May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary and lasts for the entire month, and such celebrations are not complete without a parade. For the one that took place here in Edmonton, everyone was invited to attend, wearing their most glamorous attire. After the parade, there was a program with various types of entertainment. According to the Facebook posts, it went well! I was so sad to miss it, and I hope to attend next year

And then, on June 8, there was Philippine Independence Day Celebration gala at River Cree Casino. It was another excuse to look fancy in my traditional Filipiniana attire I purchased a few years ago. I went on behalf of the Alberta Filipino Journal as I am a regular writer for them, and managed to get to know people and mingle. All of these are complemented with a great dinner, amazing performances, and a dance floor where almost everyone participated afterwards.

I literally danced like no one’s watching, in my Filipinana attire and with no dancing partner, it was no big deal. It’s nice to meet more people involved in the community here in Edmonton, especially those who have been here for many years more than me. Stories from the past of previous events and how they have bloomed to what they are today, is incredible to listen to. One thing I realized is that there are many organizations and it’s valuable to keep track of who is a part of which, since there is overlap.

On June 19, at the University of Alberta Myer Horowitz theater, was the film screening of a Filipino American documentary called Ulam:Main Dish. On that day, I had to run back to the house when I realized my tickets were on my desk at home, instead of my bag! The Myer Horowitz Theater is a great venue. It was such a coincidence when I was in New York City a few weeks ago, the restaurant owner of Kabisera said she knows some of the other New York Filipino restaurant owners being featured in the documentary. I really appreciate the panel afterwards, hearing from different Filipino folks in the food industry.

And then on June 22 and 23, there was the weekend long Filipino Fiesta (festival). I’m only able to attend the first day, and made my day more productive by volunteering to make sure that the parade around the park goes smoothly. It was a good decision and I’m so glad I did it.

The performances ranges from different traditional dances, pop and rock bands, a full-hour Zumba session, and some storytelling from long-time organizations in Edmonton and Alberta. It’s incredible to learn about Filipinos who have been here for forty years or more. A well-known musician Yeng Constantino came from the Philippines and performed during the “TFC Hour”. Her songs were an iconic part of my teenage years just slightly more than ten years ago, and my voice was hoarse after fangirling the entire time.

One thing to remember moving forward, is that these gatherings and opportunities are not limited to the month of June. There are numerous groups in Edmonton, some have existed for decades, that serve as great opportunities to meet with like-minded people or maintain one’s interest in an aspect of the Filipino culture. There are arts oriented ones like the Saranay Association of Edmonton, ones based on alma mater affiliation like the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, activity based like the Martial Arts Society and the Pinoy Zumba group or even regional ones like the Batanguenos Association. I hope that all newcomers to the country, or whichever country they end up immigrating to, manage to find the means to stay connected and engaged to their heritage while making a home in this new place.