Transit Access Influence House Shopping: The Captive Transit User Series Part 6

single family house with a pure white cube style architecture

By: Giselle General

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

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.

My husband and I live in a nice neighbourhood here in Edmonton, with neighborhoods right beside ours with super fancy, multi-million-dollar houses. Whenever we walk through these sidewalks and streets and see these houses, he would ask me, “Do you want me to buy that house? It looks so pretty!” It’s just a fun conversation topic, more like a little game, we do when we walk around the neighborhoods.

Almost every single time, I would say, “No! Because, where’s the bus stop? There’s none!” The proximity of a reliable bus stop was a very important factor when we were house shopping back in 2015. So during these walks I would wield this response in a swift and sassy manner. For many of fancy houses that is definitely the case. Because people are likely to be driving a car or even multiple cars to get to these homes, there is no expectation of accessible public transit.

In 2015 when we impulsively decided to start shopping for a house, we talked about our most important priorities. Price is a factor of course, and having a space or structure of a home that is easy to convert a portion of into an income property. For my husband, the neighbourhood is also important, so he wanted a house that is on the slightly mature west side of the city close to where he grew up. For me, as I have struggled and learned the hard way that going home from downtown Edmonton in the evening is really difficult, I told him it is very important to have good public transit access to downtown all day and all night.

We were so particular about our requirement for good bus access. When we were talking to our real estate agent, I grabbed a printed city-wide transit map, analyzed the different public transit routes that showed up in the map, grab the highlighter and marked the different areas that we would consider for our new house, and gave it to our real estate agent as a reference.

Paper map with a person's hand pointing on a part of the map

And we managed to find it! We found a house that is along a major road but not as loud and busy as the Whitemud or 87th Avenue, with a reliable and frequent bus route, pretty close to the in-laws’ house, and is easy or possible to construct an income property in the basement. And for a good price!

So for the past almost five years traveling around the city has been a lot easier for me. Going to work, going to the mall, going to downtown or Whyte Ave, and just traveling around the city. It is only what it’s super late at night that I would take a cab to go home and go to my destination.

I know very well, that this is the reason why, my husband has been very angry on my behalf when he saw he proposed new bus routes by the City of Edmonton’s Bus Network Redesign. We are not losing the bus stop that is 20 steps in front of my house, but it drastically will change from a frequent 15-minute bus route into a 30-minute community bus route. The frequent bus routes are either a 7 minute walk, or a 15-minute walk. A major selling feature of the home was ripped out from us, at least that is his impression.

My husband was also worried for other people who might be more entrapped and limited with their housing options. How will the Bus Network Redesign affect them?

Think of someone who is low income, who chose a specific apartment in a busy intersection because of the bus route that is nearby, and they realize that their bus route will be gone after the redesign is implemented. And they are just in the middle of their one-year lease. How is this going to impact their ability to get around? What if, they have an employer, a boss at work, who is not very understanding that this worker might be running late or not be able to fulfill certain work shifts that are given to them because of the changes in the bus route?

I wonder how much collaboration did Edmonton Transit Service have with agencies such as the planning department of the city, or even external ones like End Poverty Edmonton or United Way to determine whether these bus routes are the best way to go moving forward. I remember a few city councilors saying that it is true, the new bus network will not be perfect for the first little bit, and this will provide real-time tangible information and feedback on how the bus routes are working and make changes accordingly. It sounds fancy from a political big picture perspective. How can you explain that to someone who is here in Edmonton as a minimum wage worker still navigating our city in our transportation system, and where external circumstances are a bit more unkind? How about the people whose housing options are limited and employment options are limited; can they put up with a year-and-a-half of waiting for feedback before bus routes can be tweaked and improved in a specific area?

In my volunteering for the transit advisory board, we worked on a report recommending marketing strategies to inform as many people as possible, as early as possible, about the changes in the bus routes. It’s an interesting and neat experience to do research, think of my personal experiences, work with staff of the city, and present right in front of the actual politicians during a city committee meeting. It’s a bit surreal. I really hope that our suggestions are well taken, and that the city staff can identify other ways of notifying Edmontonians from all walks of life. Because for some, they might actually have to move from their home if their transportation options no longer work for them.

This is something my husband offered, to sell our house if being within a 2-minute walk from a frequent bus stop is important to me. I told him that moving is not necessary, at least not for now. I reassured him that a 13 minute walk or a seven minute walk is very manageable and I can handle doing that on a daily basis. These conversations took place before the pandemic, and now, the tediousness of a daily commute is hardly a concern, as I am fortunate enough to have an office job that I can do from home. But not for the “essential workers”.

Two 2-storey homes beside each other with the  grassy lawns frosted with snow

The timeline of the implementation of the new bus routes has been delayed due to the pandemic, and I personally don’t know whether I should be relieved or worried. Is it a pain point that is just getting delayed? Or is the right thing to do because there is enough uncertainty in people’s lives? Once the next opportunity becomes available, it will never be perfect but I hope that it will be manageable to those who are most impacted, the captive transit users.

Relationship “Green Flags”

Woman leaning her chin over a book on the table, smiling and giving a thumbs up.

By: Giselle General

During one of the rare days that I was working in the office this past summer, I dropped by the office of one of my coworkers. He’s a few years younger than me, just finished university a year ago, and is about to pursue another important life milestone: moving out of his parents’ home and moving in with his girlfriend. He started as a volunteer five years ago so we have known each other for a few years and has heard of the relationship milestones that I had myself, particularly reaching legal common-law status with my partner, and afterwards, getting married.

I was teasing him a little bit, and giving some friendly warnings about how moving in together with your significant other is both exciting and unnerving. I told him that getting annoyed with little things such as how toothpaste tubes are placed in the bathroom sink or how a toilet seat or lid is set up will be inevitable. During the chat, I used a phrase I saw somewhere over the internet in the context of a romantic relationship which is “green flags”. When he told me that they assembled a piece of furniture and it went smoothly, I enthusiastically told him that is a relationship “green flag”. He said, he will use that term also moving forward.

In conversations about romantic relationships, “red flag” is a common and appropriate term. It is indeed important to be attentive to subtle and obvious cues, both verbal and nonverbal that can indicate something that is potentially problematic. But spotting positive signs is not encouraged as much. So I was thrilled when I saw the term “green flag”, I think on an internet meme somewhere. Oh, the power of internet, this time for good!

So here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a romantic relationship.

  • Both parties are able to be patient and collaborative at the same time. Building furniture, especially from IKEA, is the ultimate test for this. Another way to test this is when cooking a dish together that takes several steps, like cooking on a stove, baking, assembling.
  • Understanding and respect of differences and limitations such as allergies, food preferences, physic endurance doing an activity, clothing colors or textures of objects they like or don’t like, and more.
  • Ability to communicate well, outside of romantic expression and having sex
  • Feeling confident and secure in one’s appearance when around them, there’s no need to fake it to impress
  • Experiencing a messy bodily illness or function in front of them, and they didn’t freak out too much and judged you harshly. This includes skin irritation, digestive issues, the flu, blood, etc.
Mother and a young son and daughter, sitting on a bad teasing and laughing together.

And here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a family relationship.

  • Feeling at ease in their presence, whether it is an older or younger family member
  • Comfortable with making small requests, from unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the hair off the shower drain, or a car ride
  • Positive gestures done in the past is never used as blackmail material or as a guilt-tripping tactic
  • Able to share casual stories about daily life even if it may sounds like shallow venting

And another short list of “green flags” at one’s place of employment.

  • On weeks or days that are difficult, there is a feeling that the next day can be a bit better, and it does
  • Feeling productive most of the time
  • Having one’s direct supervisor and a few colleagues (not necessarily all of them) be understanding and sympathetic towards the ups and downs of your duties
  • Not worrying one time about salary and payday
  • Having functional equipment and honest efforts to fix something when something is broken
  • Being comfortable with whatever arrangements you make during lunch break

I have two sets of relatives here in Edmonton, two happily married couples whom I observed one action they both do, they address their respective spouses as “mahal”, as in the word for love (and also for expensive, haha!) in Tagalog. I really liked it. So with my partner and now my husband, we address each other as ‘love’. And it’s awesome!

My husband and I chat about our respective workplaces and I share little stories of work activities for staff, social gatherings, and upcoming changes. My husband says with an amused look “wow, your managers actually know how to manage.” Based on stories from so many people we know, we both realized that managing employees is not a skill that everyone has.

I think it’s a good idea to proactively spot ‘green flags’ in our experiences and interactions. It provides an opportunity for appreciation and gratitude, as well as motivation to learn, master and emulate those positive things. This is something that I will try to do more moving forward.

“I Think I’ll Walk Instead”: The Captive Transit User Series Part 5

Woman wearing an orange fabric mask with plastic windown showing her smile, and wearing a straw floppy hat.

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

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.

Time is money, and time is finite. At the same time, health is wealth. These are the different ideas I wrestle with whenever I think about how to travel to a location, as someone who cannot drive.

My family doctor’s clinic is located in a place that is accessible by public transit. At the same time, I’m aware of how long it takes to go there by walking. I’m very apprehensive about taking the bus right now because at this point in time, wearing masks is not mandatory, it is simply ‘highly recommended‘. I think, it is part of human nature, that if we can get away with NOT doing something, even if it is a small inconvenience, many of us tend not to do it. So what I did is walk the 45 minutes to get there and back. As the posters say, travel only when it’s essential. Might as well follow the advice.

Edmonton Transit Service Poster: COVID19 Update: Travel only if it's essentaial.

I’ve gotten so far as evaluating whether I’ll be capable or brave enough to consider biking to downtown. As I’m short and have a mediocre health levels, I always add 20% to the travel time that Google Maps recommend. If riding a bike takes 35 minutes, then for me it will be close to an hour, which is not bad. Is it worth the switch? But I think about my coworker who cycled to work who got hit by a car last December and was really badly hurt. That scares the daylights out of me. I don’t think I want another permanent dent on my skull. Falling of a mountain cliff and fracturing my skull once in my life is enough, thank you very much.

I heard perspectives that there will be frequent transit users that the system will lose due to COVID19. Unless the policy changes, I am one of them. Through my volunteering with the citizen-based volunteer government advisory board, the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board, I expressed my thoughts as clearly as I can. The chair of our board sent an official message to the councilors about the matter. While the outcome is not what we hoped for, there is some comfort in knowing that we made deliberate effort working with the government system in place.

White LRT vehicle on an outdoor train station platform.

In addition to the health-related aspect of wearing a mask, there is a safety component that I need to be more conscious about. As a woman, an Asian woman who visibly looks like one, I am aware of the additional hostility that Asian people are subjected to due to the pandemic. Comments such as “you bring coronavirus in Canada!” or “you’re a dumb sheep for wearing that mask”, can be hurtful, and potentially dangerous if the person saying them is being physically aggressive. That is the reality of sexism, racism and just overall xenophobia. One can argue that it is internalized victim-blaming, but there is merit in doing some preventative measures to stay safe. If I get hurt or killed by a racist, sexist person, I won’t get to continue my goals of living a positive life for myself and the people around me.

So this is where I am. Until mask wearing is more normalized, I will likely steer away from taking transit as much as I can. I might even take an Uber more frequently, given their firm policy of ‘No Mask. No Ride’. It will be interesting to see how transit policy changes in preparation for the upcoming school year.

The Process of Checking my Privilege: A Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective On COVID-19

At this rate, it would be just over three months 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.

Checking My Privilege

The first time I heard this phrase thrown around, it gave me mixed feelings. Since, in many ways, I am not part of privileged groups. I constantly heard about the many ways that women are mistreated (which is true), how migrants are disadvantaged (which is also true), and how my plight as an orphan is tragic and pitiful (which, let’s face it, is also true in many ways).

But after participating in a few activities that encouraged people to check their privileges in all aspects, I had a more complex perspective and better appreciation of the idea, including things that are most certainly beneficial and not everyone has access to for no other reason that location and circumstance. Here’s a short list:

Public Transit: The fact that there is still transit service in Edmonton is a huge deal, since in places like the Philippines, many people are unable to go around since all public transportation is banned due to the lockdown. On top of that, public transit vehicles here are buses, which a nice and large vehicles and there is ample space to spread out and stagger seats for passengers. The LRT is also still operational which is wonderful! And, the icing on the cake, is that for some time paying public transit fare is suspended during this time. That’s quite incredible!

Person wearing white shirt soaping hands with white bar of soap

Access to Information: The ability to read, write and hear, particularly information written in the English language, ought to not be taken for granted during this time. Most of the government announcements and health information is in English. This came to light after a fellow Edmontonian who is involved in the community, was asking for donations of printing paper so she can print information about COVID-19 in languages like Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Another spotlight came from advocates for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, pushing anyone who product digital media these days to ensure that accessibility tools are the default. A volunteer in my office posted on Twitter, saying that being blind, info-graphics are useless, and photos don’t work well if there are no alt-text descriptions.

Uninterrupted Access to Utilities: I’m talking about water, internet, electricity and heat. I’ll say this over and over because it cannot be underestimated. It’s definitely more comfortable to stay in one’s home if these critical elements are in place constantly. From someone who grew up in an environment where electricity interruptions are normal, and when water is scheduled only to be available certain times a day, living in Canada where these are hardly interrupted still blows my mind. Think about this simple question: how can you wash your hands regularly when you don’t have constant access to clean water? I reflected on this on an earlier post, after visiting the Philippines and the homes I used to live in.

Government Benefits: Another term I learned a while back, that is highlighted during this time is the Social Safety Net. Applications for programs like CERB and loans for businesses, legislation to delay evictions for tenants are being passed on a faster pace than before. This is something to not take for granted and it’s always valuable to think critically on who benefits and who gets left behind. It’s incredible to witness both the praise and the criticisms of these programs. I think it’s a sign that people are being both proactive and vocal about how policies and programs affect them and those around them.

Back view woman looking at a laptop on a dining table

Having a Job, and the Ability to Work or Study from Home

Many office jobs can be done from home, and there are so many occupations that need to be done in person. The ability to smoothly switch over to working from home also depends on one’s current circumstances. There are many articles talking about inequalities based on region, internet speed available, having computers and laptop, and a privacy to join online meetings or classes with limited interruptions.

Our basement roommate just spoke to us as she was recently laid off, and given that she won’t be able to have enough money to pay rent, she is moving out by the end of the month (which is technically less than one month, as stated in our agreement). My husband and I stated that it’s not a problem at all, and we are sorry to hear about the job loss. She is moving back to her parents’ home when she won’t have to pay rent, and it is a stressful time for her. Stability through employment is something not to be taken for granted.

This is just a short list. I can go on and on. I think I’m writing this as an opportunity to express gratitude, count my blessings, and remind myself that as an individual, when these programs have gaps, there are many ways to fill them temporarily to help those facing a current crisis.

‘You Don’t Want Me To Be Driving” The Captive Transit User Series Part 4

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

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.

My in-laws love watching reality TV shows that have a bit of a competitive element to it. Survivor, The Amazing Race and Canada’s Worst Driver are just a few. The one that I’ll focus on in this post is Canada’s Worst Driver.

There are so many complaints I hear all the time about people driving aggressively. Those who are disregarding the rules of the road, or even those who apparently don’t “go with the norm” such as going over 10 km on a highway. Makes we wonder what speed limits are for, if the ‘norm’ is going just a little over it to not make other drivers upset.

What caught my attention closely when watching the show is not the drivers who over-speed or multitask such as putting makeup on while driving on 100k/ hr highways. It’s the nervous, anxious ones. The ones who were clearly shaking as they grip the steering wheel, knuckles turning white as they exit a ramp onto the highway. The ones with tears streaming down their face, as a child on the car seat at the back tries to give comfort by saying ‘mummy please don’t cry’. The ones who need to speak to a family member over speakerphone for comfort during the entire drive, but be really stressed and rude, screaming and snapping at whoever is on the other end.

I feel more convinced that I am likely to become one of those people. I think it was one of the reasons that despite the nagging I got when I was living with my relatives, that I didn’t do anything beyond passing the learner’s test and then having the ID.

I was pretty young, but unfortunately, old enough to understand that driver error might have played the biggest factor in the accident that killed my family members and a bunch of other people. There is a heavy weight of responsibility and implications, that comes from holding the steering wheel of this fast-moving hunk of metal. And most likely, for me personally, a deep sense of fear.

Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why I feel more comfortable utilizing all the other options to be a passenger of a vehicle, and not be the driver of one.

With our city’s growing population, there are a few major demographics to consider when it comes to transportation and driving. Seniors, people with permanent disabilities who at some point, won’t be able to drive, and newcomers to Canada who would experience being a ‘captive user’ like me for a while. Those who cannot afford a car, who need to work low-paying survival jobs and won’t yet have the time and money to learn how to drive.

From my colleagues at the lunch table, friends who come to visit my home, and from observing my husband as a passenger, there are so many stressful stories about the issues whey encountered while on the road, either in their own cars, another car causing issues, or even as a pedestrian or cyclist that had to deal with cars. I have genuine fear of making these driving mistakes, even unintentionally, and causing great harm.

I heard that an anxious driver can be much more dangerous than an aggressive one. I believe it. And I’m positive I’m not the only one who would rather not drive, but might feel compelled to grudgingly do so if our transit system is too cumbersome. I’d really rather not do this, and I hope that those involved in providing transit services take this into consideration.

The city has an initiative called Vision Zero (https://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/traffic-safety.aspx) which talks about traffic safety. This is part of the reason why I’m not too objectionable to the idea of having bike lanes, and not just the painted ones on the road, the ones with actual cement island barrier things that separate the lane from the road. This is part of the reason I prefer traffic lights than crosswalks. This is part of the reason I think that the city is doing people a disservice when major roads are shoveled first but not the intersections where a neighbourhood road connects to a major road, resulting to pedestrians crossing the street on an ice rink.

I appreciate the big-picture perspective, and it’s important to not get discouraged on the details. It’s not just an issue with roads, or bike lanes, or trails, it is an issue on transportation.

“I’ll Make it on Time, I Think?” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 3

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

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.

Volunteering and attending events take me to many parts of the city. Whenever people I chat with ask how I got there, and I say “public transit”, there’s a short flash of sympathy on their faces, followed by a slight grimace. One of the reasons is because they know and I know, how much time it takes to get around.

Taking transit, or at least using this method to get around, should never replace a car in terms of speed. I think that’s mindset flaw that many people have, particularly those who drive.

But I am not going to deny the fact that it does take a lot of time to get around places, while being optimistic that the connections that a transit user has to take actually work. Given the realities of travel, traffic, construction, and winter conditions cause a lot of delay. Missing connections cause stress and can discourage people from using public transit, or worse, grudgingly use it day in and day out, while making plans to get out of ‘feeling trapped’ as soon as possible, which is in the form of getting a car.

Frequency and convenience are two important factors that influence the appeal of taking transit.

Honestly, this is why I have mixed feelings with the Bus Network Redesign on a personal level.

First, the very micro-thinking, self-focused, part of me laments that I will lose the frequent bus stop that’s just a few steps away from my house. It’s so close, I shovel snow off the bus shelter during the winter, haha! I mean, the bus stop will not be removed altogether, it will be replaced by a less frequent, local bus route. The frequent major route is a 13 minute walk away.

Second, the solution-focused part of me is curious on how I would adjust to a 7 minute walk eastward, or a 13-minute walk northward to one of the several new, frequent bus routes. The 13- minute walk northward is a more familiar setup for me since I have done the same route on the weekends when taking certain buses. The idea of hopping on a bus that comes every 8 minutes is quite appealing. And since I’m an office worker who sits on my bottom most of the day, I suppose that a walk is actually a healthy thing to integrate in my daily routine.

Finally. the big-picture, community-oriented side of me is hopeful that once this new set of routes and schedules are implemented, there will be some hard evidence that will encourage the city to tweak things for the benefit of Edmontonians. Because I volunteer for our citizens -based government advisory board on public transit, I learned that revamping a city’s entire public transit network is something that many North American cities are going through right now.

The busy and fast paced way we are living our lives, pushes people to do things the quickest way. Traveling is one of those tasks that people don’t always have time or patience for. This is an important consideration when planning, changing, and implementing effective transit services.

Metal Music and Reality Check Playlist: A Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on COVID-19

Just like many people, I’m trying to find ways to spend time during the COVID19 lockdown in a way that is productive, or at least caring for my wellbeing. Turns out, that involves listening to some of the bands that I really loved during my late teen and young adult years.

One thing I didn’t quite realize fully is that metal and rock songs are quite insightful, that they can be quite deep in their meanings, after one stops to listen to the lyrics and pay attention to the music videos and the images portrayed.

I’d like to share some of the songs I listened to from some of the bands I love, and how they feel even more relatable during this time. Many of them criticize the social, economic, political, and environmental issues we have been facing for a while, that are highlighted even more during this time. Some of them, either the songs themselves or the music videos, highlight the feelings of despair, hopelessness and suffering, and that there just might be a source of hope, recovery and redemption.

Within Temptation: Mother Earth

Disturbed: Land of Confusion

Seether: Fake It

Within Temptation: (Paradise) What About Us

Disturbed: Another Way To Die

Seether: Rise Above This

For anyone who check these out, I hope that you enjoy it!

“I Don’t Want To Be Raped Again” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 2

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

My frame of mind for the longest time was, the most dangerous place to be is my own bedroom. This however, didn’t prevent me from associating darkness and public places with being at risk.

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.

When it comes to big picture thinking on social and political topics, this is a short list of a trauma-informed approach (the 4 R’s) that I compiled.

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
  4. Resists re-traumatization 

I sincerely hope that government officials and service providers, especially with transit, would integrate this perspective in very clear and tangible ways more often.

The way the human psyche works, all it takes is one horrific and traumatic event to discourage someone from doing something, or to have a very negative association towards something.

That makes a lot of sense. If a person gets attacked in a specific LRT station, that person will likely try to not use it ever again, or if they don’t have a choice, to be more wary, stressed and anxious every time the use it. Certain bus routes apparently have a prominent reputation for having lots of disruption, where the likelihood of being harassed is a lot higher. Imagine being in an ongoing state of high alert and anxiousness on a regular basis?

As a high school student in a city in the Philippines, I always got told to go home way before sunset, because taking public transportation after dark is dangerous. As a relatively new resident of Edmonton back in 2008, I was also told to be careful when commuting in downtown because of the “sketchy people” that are around.

This is tough, because when I was hearing these messages, many of these people don’t know of my history of sexual assault. My frame of mind for the longest time was, the most dangerous place to be is my own bedroom. This however, didn’t prevent me from associating darkness and public places with being at risk.

When I got home from my office in downtown, sometimes I say to myself with a huge sigh of relief “Today is a good day! I didn’t get raped…or stabbed, or groped. Thank goodness!” There are numerous stories of harassment that I hear from fellow residents of Edmonton about unwanted attention while waiting for a transit vehicle, or while onboard one. Many people crafted strategies to minimize the likelihood of this happening, such as wearing headphones and staring blankly when someone is trying to strike up a conversation.

Many share the feeling that they are forced to be nice to not “set him off” and to avoid being an ‘active hostile target’ of harassment. There was that story of a woman speaking out when a man on a bus started making racist remarks to an Asian-Canadian person. There is two types of hostility in this instance, the one inflicted towards the Asian-Canadian person, and then towards the woman who called out the harasser.

Commuting late at night poses a additional set of challenges. There’s that heightened sense of panic when the bus is missed or the last route has passed. There’s a recent announcement that the city’s telephone service line, 311, is unavailable in the evenings after 7PM, which is a disservice to those who are more vulnerable in the evenings.

One time, I was stuck at the U of A South Campus because when I got off the LRT, the connecting bus I was planning to take just departed, and it is another half hour for the next bus since it is after 10 PM. I realized that instead of waiting completely alone, it is better for me to take the train back to the University of Alberta station and take a taxi there to get home. This is a good back-up plan assuming there is indeed a taxi waiting in the stall by the University Transit Station every time. And based on personal experience, that is not always the case. Spending extra time to re-route one’s travel to get home because of safety reasons is a bit counterintutive since the best scenario would be just getting home quicker, but for a transit user with limited money, this is a reality. A trade off between money and time, with safety being potentially compromised along the way.

Being blamed for an attack while taking transit really riles me up. It reminds me of the blame cast at me and that I internalized, and that many others have experienced as well.

Perhaps it is a very high standard, but this is my take on achieving a safe transit system: When an Edmontonian who previously had a horrific experience taking transit, then decides to take a chance and felt comfortable, safe and satisfied in their journey from point A to point B. I have some level of hope from what seems to be the city’s effort to incorporate GBA+ Analysis framework, and the availability of ways to make an impact such as city committees like the one I volunteer for. This is the threshold that ought to be met, and I do hope we get closer to getting to this, in a way that an average person will instinctively notice it.

A Cog in the Community Service Machine: A Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on COVID-19

It is to be expected, that in a crisis like this, many people will be put in a difficult position (or a more difficult position) and are in need of help. One incredible thing about this pandemic is that there were lots of opportunities to help, and there are different roles to fill.

It’s pretty neat to take a break from being on the organizer role (I’m talking specifically about my job), since all our programs are cancelled. My job is the main way I do something that helps people in need in a direct way. My volunteer work as a member of a board of directors is also important, and I appreciate it, but a bit more removed, a bit more big-picture.

I was not surprised that social media pages and groups were set up to help people in an efficient way. Facebook groups specific to COVID-19 that enabled the average person to have a direct way to help with advice, positive commentary on social media, and buying items online to help those with emergent need. For a Facebook page that is just barely a month old, to have 20,000 members, is pretty darn impressive. I wanna buy a case of wine for each of the founders and moderators of the page. What an incredible labour of love.

Another way I have been helping is by being in “super seamstress mode”. Since last year I’ve been making fabric bags for Boomerang Bags Edmonton, and that has proven useful during this time. Hundreds of people throughout the province started making fabric laundry bags for healthcare workers, so they can separate their dirty (and most likely contaminated) work uniforms and toss them right away into the washing machine.

In my neighbourhood, with relief, I discovered ways to do a little something cheerful right by my front yard. Sidewalk chalk art. Staying connected with community leaders. Volunteering from home.

For my workplace, I realized that disseminating information, especially online, is really important. It’s part of my duties anyways. Handling marketing and communications for work and the clients we serve who need help is a part of my daily duties as I work from home.

These are the “doer” type of roles. The soldiers in the field. The cog in the machine. I know there are hundreds of volunteers doing seamstress work right now. I know (and it’s incredible) that there are thousands of people on the Facebook group, that almost every single time someone make a post asking for help, an offer is made within an hour or less. I am seeing dozens of photos drawing positive messages of pavement or fences, even if there’s a risk of snowfall or watery puddles the next day that would wash it away.

I’d like to take a moment to give a shoutout to all the administrators, organizers, facilitators of these on-the-ground initiatives to help others. Because it’s more stressful to do it at this time, but the relieve that these gestures of support is also of a greater impact.

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.