Story Time: When I Chased Around My High School Principal

Four high school students in uniforms, standing in front of the classroom by the blackboard,making silly hand gestures.

Halfway through high school, I had to move to Baguio City, Philippines from the mining village I grew up in that was an hour away. The adjustment was a bit rocky, from having an actual travel commute from my home to the school, being hands-on again with caring for my little brother, and living with my grandmother and my cousin. It was a drastic switch from living alone to living with people.

I was motivated to do well in my new school, the prestigious “Boy’s High” in the city. We were the first batch of co-ed students for the school and it feels like being observed with a microscope all the time. It was an awkward adjustment for everyone, from teachers, the upperclassmen, and students. Seeing students with long blouses, vests and skirts as uniforms was a new sight, as well as female students taking leadership positions in various extracurricular activities.

When I found out that there was a school newspaper, I was thrilled! I joined right away, the new student who is a bit older than some of those who have been part of the club for a few years since their freshman hear. My first task, interview the high school principal for an article. Sounds intimidating, but sure, let’s do it! For context for non-Filipinos, students have a heavy sense of respect and fear of school teachers and administrators.

Our school’s layout was unique, with a road cutting between two areas: the main campus, and the annex campus. When the school switched into a co-ed format, enrollment numbers increased and as a result, a new building was built. The principal’s office is closer to the entrance of the school, on the main floor of the first building of the Main Campus area. My homeroom classroom is also on the main floor but on a separate building, one of the only two classrooms across the open basketball space that housed the chemistry lab, the library, the medical clinic, and the nurse’s office.

I prepared my questions and walked right into the principal’s office, tried to ask politely and in English, on whether I can interview the principal for the school newspaper.

The office secretary told me to come back a few days after during the lunch hour, about 12:30 PM, so that there is some time when I’m not in my class for us to speak. I came to the office and her secretary said that Mrs. Robles is not available, she might have forgotten our meeting, and for me to just try to stop by the same time the next day.

And then, the third time around, I managed to see the principal in her office but she was not available for the interview. She looked at me and said, “you are a determined student, Miss General”. I wondered then if she ever had a student relentlessly ‘chase after her’ before. So we found another mutually agreeable time to have an interview, and I managed to complete my article for the school paper.

This was my primary way to adapting to the new school, immersing myself in academics and extracurricular activities, an attempt to replicate what I used to do. It paid off in many ways, from graduating as valedictorian, getting asked to compete on behalf of the school for competitions which meant a day off from school, free fancy food, and a default 100% score on any quizzes I miss while competing, and a sense of value in myself.


Weathering the Pandemic’s Stormy Atmosphere: A Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on COVID-19

This will be one of the several posts I will likely write about my personal reflections regarding the pandemic. My thoughts are pulled in different directions and I’m hoping to write about different parts of them, one at a time.

At this rate, it would be almost a month since drastic measures have been implemented here in Edmonton to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Given my line of work, my tendency to get involved in the community, and how I stay connected on social media, I get to witness how different people react, respond, and adapt to the current situation.

This is one emerging theme in my mind since the beginning, and as of this time, which is early April. It is my unavoidable tendency to compare this time to the typhoon season in the Philippines.

The Philippines gets at least a dozen typhoons every year. Since I was 16 years old when I moved to Canada, I have lasting memories of the disruption that this season causes every single year. The last few days of warm summer around the end of May, getting ready to go back to school in June, with the anticipation that in about six weeks, at least a few days of school will be cancelled because Mother Nature’s wrath is too much for safely walk or drive to school, work or do a lot of activities.

When school is cancelled, you stay at home and try to stay occupied. When school is cancelled because of a typhoon, it’s also very likely that access to utilities will be interrupted. In my very young memories (and I mean, really young, when my parents and sister were still alive), I recall memories of playing with my sister with a deck of cards, under candlelight on the dining table. Or we can convince our parents or nanny to very briefly knock on the apartment, right across the all, to see if my sister’s best friend, Ailea, wants to play. We’d then invite her to play house in the bedroom that we share.

Even dressing up to stay protected was a norm: from ensuring you have an umbrella that is less likely to flip and break into pieces, to letting it go altogether by making yourself waterproof with a raincoat and boots. Well, at least dressing up for the weather is also something that needs to be done in Canada, particularly during the fall and winter.

My mother, running a convenience store, is an essential business because people do need to buy food, and candles, diapers and medicine. After they passed away, my grandmother and I ended up being the storekeeper that has to keep their doors open, while making sure that the strong winds don’t knock over our display shelves of products, and our roof stays intact.

In short, having life disruptions, being home-bound, and experiencing numerous cancellations of regular activities is something to be expected, like the seasons.

In comparison, there is not a lot of reasons that massive disruptions happen particularly where I live. I’d say in Canada, there can be disruptions (that cause cancellations of events and evacuations) due to wildfires and floods, but most people don’t prepare for that every single year. I imagine that for many, this is part of the reason why the current changes can be quite stressful.

My feelings can be summed up as concern, uncertainty, but not crippling fear. I guess there is something to be said about getting used to something. Being home-bound because of a pandemic might not be 100% the same, but the tangible impact has enough parallels.

The experiences in the Philippines helped build an emotional foundation to help manage this. In fact, by comparison, this is significantly more comfortable! From making sure that one’s home is in order as much as possible, paying attention to the media and any directions from goverment officials, waiting out the worst part of the storm, and eagerly looking foward to when things go ‘back to normal’, being able to do this in a healthy way is key to riding out this particular storm.

Story Time: The Moment My Brother Landed in Canada

A long-awaited event was finally happening. It was September 2011. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) was away in the US for a festival named Burning Man, and it was just after the long weekend so things were busy at work and school.

And, my brother was finally arriving to Canada!

The sponsorship application processing took about two years total. And since his application process was identical to mine (Family Sponsorship for Orphaned Family Members), I knew how to help and the process went smoothly. After all was approved, there was a catch. He had to fly to Canada, his first time in an airplane ever, all by himself.

As much as I’d love to fly over there and pick him up, it just wasn’t feasible for me as a student with a part-time job. I also had to spend money to get items set up for him: the actual plane ticket, a phone, computer, a winter coat, his bed and linens. I gave him as much prep as I could and I told him “if I can do it, you can do it too”. I tried to arrange everything so that he lands in Edmonton in the evening, I get to personally pick him up from the airport, and help him get settled in before I go to work the next day.

However, we had a bit of bad luck the night before. Due to the very long lineup for first-time arrivals him and the very short time between flights, the poor kid was stranded in Vancouver. My cellphone got a call from an unknown number and when I answered, it was the voice of an older Filipino man asking for me. When I confirmed who I was, he said “I’m with your little brother and he would like to speak to you”. I was thrilled that he is already in Canada, but he told me, in a slightly anxious voice, that they have to stay at the airport overnight and have an early flight to Edmonton. He and this gentleman and his wife were on the same flight and are sticking together.

It definitely reminded me of myself during our connecting flight in Japan when I was immigrating to Canada. We didn’t miss our connecting flight thank goodness. However, it took about an hour of walking and taking a mini-train to go from one part of the airport to another. My carry-on luggage was a poorly made bag and was very heavy, and I was heartbroken for having to come to Canada and leave my brother behind. A group of adult women saw me and encouraged me to tag along, after they found out that I’m going to Canada, just like them. Going back to my brother, I was relieved that they were kind enough to look after this anxious young man.

I was grumpy when I came to work the next day at the retail store, as I had an opening shift. My plan was to come home early the night before, meet him at home, go for an early shift the next day so I can go home early as well. I was anxious and disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him right away as soon as he arrived in Edmonton. As we prepared the store for opening, I told everyone who would listen that the flight got messed up and my brother is still on his way.

It sounded like my relatives decided to take him right away to my work right upon arriving. My workstation is visible upon entering the double sliding doors, so the moment he walked in with my relatives, I spotted him.

Puberty is quite unnerving! When I left, I was still a few inches taller than him, as he was 12 years old and I was 16. When he arrived, he was 16 years old, and a few inches taller than me. Not only that, his voice dropped a lot. I heard it a few times over the phone and over Facebook video calls, but it’s still a bit of a shock hearing in person. He was still pretty skinny, just like I remembered when I left. That changed pretty quickly after living in Canada just for a few months.

I squealed in delight and hugged him, a bit of an awkward exchange and most definitely not professional by any means. Our store manager saw the exchange. I’ve talked about this moment for a very long time, so he knows what this means to me. At about 11 AM, just two hours into my work shift, he let me take the rest of the day off.

This was almost 10 years ago, and my goodness has time flown by. There had been challenges along the way, but I hope that I have given him something that eluded both of us for a while. A peaceful, stable home, where he can live in comfort and ease, as he figures out how to be an adult in this day and age. I don’t think I’ll ever shed away the mantel of my role as a mother/father/sister/brother, but he’s in a good state now.

Reasonably Content from being Reasonably Frugal

“You’re a monster! exclaimed a co-worker”, my husband told me, upon revealing to them at the lunch table that he is not buying me any gifts for Christmas. I imagine their jaw would drop even more if we tell them that it has been many years since I received anything from him covered in gift wrap or a card of any kind. Whether it is birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas, we don’t buy items to celebrate that occasion whatsoever.

I had the same chat with a colleague in the kitchen not too long ago, when we were talking about a downtown Christmas Market right in our office building. I told her I haven’t explored the market yet, because the ‘anti-consumerist in me’ has no motivation to browse around different shops while fully aware that there is likely nothing that will catch my fancy and buy. She seemed pleased though, instead of the strong reaction my husband’s co-worker’s have.

My husband and I would share stories like this at night, during our scheduled bedtime that we try to stick to. We go to bed together at the same time, a great opportunity to share to each other how our day went, have some cozy cuddles, and also to have a regular sleep schedule. In addition to random stories of how the day went, we talk a bit about errands we need to do, what volunteer activity will I be working on, and the financial state of our home. He’d tell me which of our roommates had already paid rent, or how far long we are in paying off our mortgage.

Sometimes, he would mention about things that we need such as an apron for when he cooks spaghetti every Sunday, or a couple pairs of jeans or work shirts. He’d tell me about a hole in his shirt or a pair of pants that are too long, and I’d say ‘no problem, I’ll take care of it’. By taking care of it, it would either mean bringing out my sewing kit to repair the clothes or make the clothing item, or going to the thrift store to buy a few items. When a clothing item is too frayed to be worn anymore, they are the first candidates to be turned into a rag, oven mitt, and quilt.

“I broke my budget!” he told me just a few weeks ago, when he decided to buy a VR (Virtual Reality) gaming system, which is fairly expensive. He does have the money for it, but it’s just something he didn’t budget for this year. So according to the budgeting software he uses, for the ‘personal expenses’ category, he is over budget. Over budget from what I would say is a fairly low personal spending allocation. Instead of getting upset, I was quite amused. He now alternates between playing video games with a controller and the VR set, and he is pretty content.

Frugal is defined as economical and not wasteful about money and I think, with great relief, that we are able to incorporate that in our lives. Other positive words that come to mind are “budget-conscious” or “mindful about money”.

I wonder if our drastically different upbringings made it necessary to have upfront discussions about important topics that are taken for granted. There’s no expectations or assumptions that are to be made, the only way to know is discussing it. The fact that he is not Filipino gave me the confidence to frankly talk about women’s health issues and procedures that I experience. I was hopeful, and I was right, that he won’t be too grossed out. In the same token, he we talk about expenses, retirement plans, insurance and inheritances.

It’s fortunate that for many things that are important, we see eye to eye, both in principle and in process. We both like to stick to habits and automating things, which is evident in how we save money, pay bills, and track our spending. We found our happy medium between flexible, easygoing, forgiving and disciplined. This makes us feel okay with eating out with friends, and also meal prepping every week. This makes us consider thrift stores or DIY items as opposed to buying the latest model gadgets and equipment. This resulted to him using a nine-year-old flip phone with a $15 a month with a Pay As You Go set up, while I have a smartphone with 2 GB of data. This helped us feel okay with certain luxuries that were considered deliberately. He bought a TV and the VR gaming system, and the TV is the first one he actually purchased after moving out 9 years ago since his TVs then were both hand-me-downs. I had a professional photoshoot at a studio just for myself which was pretty expensive, but it is something that was carefully considered for a few years. It was both a fancy gift and a therapeutic exercise for myself.

The reasonableness in our approach takes the pressure off, which I think is what makes many people struggle with managing money. In our culture where immediate feedback, gratification, or results are sought after, the subtle peace of mind that comes with a long-term plan is not as appealing. Even the quietness of not having a major current problem can be unsettling for some. Thinking in bigger numbers in terms of dollars and time horizons is a significant thing I learned from my spouse. Now, I look at them with excitement, instead of dread. Given my age, having ‘only about twenty years’ left in our mortgage can be viewed as an optimistic thing.

Realizing that our savings rate does not compromise our way of life is reassuring. His biggest hobby is gaming (both video games and board games). He definitely maximizes the money he does buying these, and through friends and gaming leagues, has access to gaming opportunities where he doesn’t need to buy much. With my hobbies of arts and crafts and volunteering, there were multiple ways I discovered to save money also. Using second-hand and upcycled materials for the items I make, and then as far as volunteering is concerned, I usually get ‘paid’ by having food at the meetings.

This is something I hope that other couples and other households are able to achieve at some point.

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.

Story Time: A Memory of My Father, With Chocolate, Milk, and Basketball

Given the recent victory of the Raptors not too long ago, which is a huge deal for basketball fans, me trying to not eat too many chocolate bars recently, and having trouble sleeping some nights, I thought of something that my father and I used to do when I was a kid. Late night basketball with chocolate bars.

It involves this particular brand of chocolate bar. Do they even sell these in Canada? I actually don’t think so. I can’t seem to remember the last time I saw one in a store. Typically in corner stores, grocery stores, vending machines, and pharmacies, I would see other ones like Resse’s Cups, Coffee Crisp and KitKat, but not this one. The next time I see one I’ll buy it right away.

Crunch chocolate bar. This blog is #notsponsored by the way, haha!

As a child, I’ve always been afraid of breaking the rules. I get really anxious when I am unable to do what I was supposed to do, especially if that rule is supposed to be a good thing. Say, for example, sleeping at night so that I am well-rested and ready for school the next day.

On more than one occasion, I would wake up in the middle of the night, between 11:30 PM and midnight, and I would try to get off the bed I share with my sister, and try to not step over our nanny who is sleeping on a mat at the bottom of our bed. I’d try to get to the living room of our small apartment and would usually see my father, lying on the couch, watching NBA. Based on the few paraphernalia we have a home, I vaguely remember him being a fan of the Chicago Bulls.

Anyways, younger me would anxiously approach him and in a very sad and scared voice, tell him that I couldn’t sleep. That I wanted very badly to fall back to sleep but just couldn’t. To my relief, he would not scold me for getting up. Instead, it became a special opportunity to spend some time together, just him and me, the middle child.

We would even have a snack together. And somehow, almost every time I’d get up this late, there is a Crunch chocolate bar in the fridge. We do sell it in our small sari-sari (convenience) store that is a 15 minute walk away from our house. He would grab it from the fridge, nice and cold and crisp, break it in a few pieces before opening the packaging, and he would hand me a small piece while he eats one until we finish it up. We’d do this in companionable silence, while watching the basketball teams trying to shoot one more time, trying one more dunk.

Sometimes I get another treat. In the Philippines, powdered milk is more common than fresh milk, as it is cheaper and it lasts longer. You can keep a tin or a box on your kitchen counter for weeks or months with no issues. There are brands of milk that is recommended for school children, toddlers, and of course, infant formula. At around this time, my little brother is a toddler, and there is a can of powdered milk my parents bought especially for him. The funny thing is, he hated that milk so much. He pretty much preferred the cup of coffee with powdered creamer that my mother drinks. As soon as he saw our mother with a cup, he’s just go and grab it. My parents freaked out at the sudden motion, since a child getting scalded by hot coffee is not a fun scenario.

Anyways, regarding powered milk, I love it so much! Powered milk of any kind, I’m all for it. Since we both know that the milk will go to waste because my brother doesn’t drink it, my father would make me a glass. The typical formula to make it warm enough for kids and ensuring the powder get dissolved: you pour 1/4 cup of boiling water in a cup, pour the powdered milk, usually two tablespoons, a teaspoon of sugar, stir what’s in the cup so far, add room temperature water until the cup is 3/4 full, and stir again.

Around closer to midnight, my father would encourage me then to try to go back to bed. And it usually works. The next moment, I’d be hearing the voice of either of our parents, waking up both my sister and me at 6 AM to get ready for school. Some of the time, when their calls are not enough, our father would yank the blankets off, resulting to me and my sister whining a little bit before getting up.

I think that many of us have memories of seemingly small interactions with the adults in our lives. It’s interesting to find the more adult language to describe the scenery, dialogue, and the feelings that our childhood selves have. I wonder if because the fact that my mother, father, and sister passed away many years ago, that these memories are still here, perhaps a subconscious way to hold on a part of them in my life. Writing out this story is a really good experience for me, so I might do more of it in the future.

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.

Love Language Reflections: On Food

By: Giselle General

The Generals, my father’s side, in my mind is the side of the family that rules when it comes to food.My father was responsible for that reputation. My limited childhood memories of him consists of him planning our meals and delegating our yaya (nanny) with specific instructions on what cut of meat, what vegetables to buy, as well as step-by-step cooking instructions. He would write them in neat block letters using the scrap paper he brought home from his office and hang it up on the fridge. On weekends whenever he has the time, he would make pancakes using a specific store-bought mix, but my young self watched in wonder as he would make sugar syrup from scratch. He would show me in the little pot the sugar and water combination while cautiously warning me that it is very, very hot. Now thinking about it, that makes sense since he works as the supervisor for the Safety Department in the mining town we lived in. It’s one of the small and loving memories of him that I’ll always cherish.

And then there’s his mother, my grandma, who also serves incredible food when we come to visit. My family lives almost an 8 hour ride from Metro Manila, where my father’s side lives. Whenever we visit for about a week and a half shortly after Christmas up to New Year’s Day, we get treated with grandma’s most popular and incredibly tasty foods. Almondigas (asian noodle soup with pork meatballs), embutido (steamed meatloaf rolled like logs), macaroni pasta, beef mushroom, carbonara and more. I learned that making party trays of these dishes is her main way of making a livelihood. If I remember correctly, for the payment she gets for the party tray, she is able to cook enough to fulfill the order and make extra for at least two meals for a fairly large family.

After my father, mother and sister passed away, my brother and I continued the tradition of this annual visit to Manila, and when we do arrive, we embrace the warm feelings from having these foods again. Grandma would always say whenever she serves a dish, something like “oh this one, your Papa loves it when I make this” or “I remember when you were kids, your Ate (big sister) keeps on saying this is her favourite.”

Now, I have been trying to replicate some of these recipes. Some more easy than others because the products that you buy here are a bit different. Instant Cream of Mushoom Soup is an example. In Canada you buy it in cans, while in the Philippines, it is in powder form. I messaged a cousin on Facebook for the recipe and made it one night when we hosted my partner’s family in our condo.

During our very recent trip to the Philippines in December 2018, as always my partner and I had to be deliberate on which restaurant we go to for meals, given his food allergies and sensitivities. A go-to place for us is this all-day breakfast place called Pancake House which we discovered and really enjoyed during our last visit in 2013 as well. This time around, we had a chance to go there with my uncle, the only living brother of my father. He said more than once that that restaurant is one of the two places grandma really likes to go.

My grandma passed away a few years ago, and I’m pleased to hear that my relatives try to make some of these dishes themselves. It becomes a positive point of conversation among them, and it is starting to be part of my life too despite living literally on the opposite side of the world. I guess it’s just fitting that during the upcoming long weekend I will try to make the Almondigas soup while it’s super cold as heck here in Edmonton. Memories, habits, personalities are transmitted and memorialized in food, a really meaningful and powerful love language.

The Privilege of Hot Water

silver faucet with water flowing

By: Giselle General

Benguet Province, Baguio City, Cordillera Region. These places are associated with cold weather, and that temperature is reflected on the frigid water that comes out of the taps.

During our first planned vacation to the Philippines with my significant other back in 2013, he emphasized that we need to find a place with hot shower. I did tell him stories on how we make warm water for bathing by boiling water using a kettle or a large pot, then mixing that with the bucket in the bathroom that is half-full with cold water. He is not enthused by the idea.

During the second visit to the Philippines just recently, I was able to find more accommodations that boasted the availability of hot water as an amenity. In the bathrooms of these condos, there is an on-demand hot water contraption attached only to the shower plumbing, which means that water everywhere else such as the bathroom and kitchen sinks, still have the default water temperature.

bathroom showerhead with water tank and shampoo bottles

This made me admit that I have gotten too used to the luxury here in Canada, since I found the hot water in some of the accommodations unsatisfactory. It’s honestly very humbling.

Since the first 16 years of my life were spent in the Philippines, I have distinct memories of living without such easy access. And this is not just hot water, but consistently flowing water in general.

When I visited my cousin who is currently living in the home where I used to live in this small mining village, our chitchat was interrupted when she remembered that it is the scheduled hour for water access for all residents. Water is not available all the time, it becomes accessible for an hour at 5 AM, 11 AM and 5 PM. When these times arrive, that would be the main household chore that people have to focus on, simultaneously gathering water in storage containers and doing chores that take up a lot of water such as laundry. Ah, the memories.

kitchen sink and window in poor condition

There are still moments in the past years here in Edmonton, when I would be in the most random of places, like the washroom at the newly renovated third floor of City Centre Mall, of in the washroom of the South Campus LRT station that looks a bit worn down. As soon as I turn the tap or place my hands right where the senor is, water starts streaming down on my hands. At times, surprisingly warm that it can make me a cup of powdered Ovaltine or Milo or tea, if only I had the tools to make one right there.

Access to well-structured plumbing and sewage systems is still incredibly inconsistent in many parts of the world. The quality of plumbing fixtures even varies significantly depending on the location within a small area like a city. From a health standpoint, not just for humans but for the natural environment around where they live, this is really important. As I grow older and have more complicated views about life, I am starting to realize that these realizations will come even more often.

The last accommodations we had during our vacation would arguably be the worst in terms of water access. The water pressure is so weak, that the shower is practically a trickle of lukewarm water, and it took a few minutes to fill a cup of water from the tap on the sink. Maybe it was also the exhaustion from the trip overall, but it made us even more anxious to go home.

We arrived back in Edmonton at almost midnight and collapsed in our beds exhausted, we didn’t even have the energy to shower and clean off the gunk that we got from our long flight. The next morning, we took a shower as early as we could. I cooked breakfast and made coffee, being able to wash the greasy pan in warm water. As I was still adjusting to the fact that we returned to a place where winter is still happening, whenever I washed my hands in the washroom I would turn the hot water tap just a bit more, the flow of warmth providing comfort. I am home, and I know I’m freaking privileged.

Love Language Reflections: My Grandma

By: Giselle General

The first time I read articles about the concept of love language, it was framed in terms of romantic relationships. Giving gifts, quality time, loving words, helping gestures, and affection, are definitely key activities that help and sustain a relationship between lovers. That definitely made sense to me. And the fact that people have different preferences also made sense.

Recently, I have seen some articles that talk about differences in communication, affection and discipline when parenting children. The idea that “people function and react in a variety of ways” is something that I have been hearing about more and more. Perhaps then, for other types of relationships, there may be a variability in love language as well.

Unless someone makes a real effort to, one cannot give what they never received. One cannot give what they didn’t know they can have.

The recent trip to the Philippines to visit family made me think about these a little bit more, specifically my maternal grandma, who predominantly took care of my day-to-day needs after my brother and I lost our parents and sister.

I don’t dispute, nor do I undervalue, the gestures and sacrifices that she and all my relatives have done. Having to take care of two orphaned grandchildren while grieving for the death of your own child, son-in-law, and grandchild takes a lot of work, planning, troubleshooting and sacrifice.

She seemed to think that I didn’t appreciate what she had done, what she has given. Conversations during every visit has a similar pattern. After berating me with these accusations of ungratefulness, she will switch topics and talk about the land we inherited from her, such as how the taxes, land titles, and selling them. My stunted communications skills around her, because of the lack of warmth and trust between the two of us, make it hard for me to persuade her otherwise because I just shut down. As a frustrated teenager, there was a time when I did flip out my elders, calling them out for not being warm, affectionate, cuddly and motivating. I mean, young children do need those in order to grow healthy, strong and secure.

Given Grandma’s poverty-stricken background, survival and stability is most likely a key motivator all throughout her life. This I learned from the stories she would tell me as a kid, a personal and history-based version of bedtime stories that parents read to their kids. I know that as she became older and started her family and her businesses, she gifted all of her eight kids including my mother as well as her siblings, with land, and that is kind of a big deal. My mother and her siblings also received one business such as a store, and had their post-secondary education paid for. I imagine that it took a lot of hard work to earn the funds for and I appreciate that.

Her diatribes include snide remarks about how “hugs and kisses” are not essential, and would proudly claim that she never spanked us for discipline or abuse. From a history-based, trauma-informed approach that I have started to embrace, I realized that her love language is providing tangible items that provide both short-term and long-term benefit. Since her own father passed away when she and her siblings were young, and suffered hardship from bullying and poverty, her standard of treating family members is simply the opposite of what she has experienced and that’s it. Unless someone makes a real effort to, one cannot give what they never received. One cannot give what they didn’t know they can have.

With all of these in mind, I have made peace with the lack of affection that I received, and I feel empowered to seek that out for myself through other means. Perhaps in time, maybe I will learn how to display even some level of affection towards her, if only for a brief moment of time, before she changes the conversation into more business-like topics, like land and legal paperwork. These tangible items, which do cost a fair bit of money, are her love language, and will likely dictate the nature of our relationship for the rest of our lives.