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.

Love Language Reflections: On Continuing Your Elders’ Hobbies

Both my grandmother and my mother were pretty skilled with sewing. Perhaps part of it is because sewing is taught in schools, during the class called Home Economics and Livelihood Education. I know of countless people who claimed that the lessons from these classes, which are taught from Grade 4 to High School, didn’t quite stick. But then, it is something lola and mama continued on in their adult lives.

Lola (grandma) learned advanced levels of sewing and dressmaking from a vocational school she went to right after high school. It proved really handy as she ended up having eight children, and she spent a lot of time making clothes for them. I guess you can describe these clothing as ‘bespoke’. She was also an entrepreneur, setting up several shops that sold various household items. So, her kids get to pick the fabric they want from the store inventory, and she would make these one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing. I heard she these days, she continues to do this making simple clothes such as shorts and skirts for great-grandkids.

My mother, at least when we were much younger, would also make us clothes. I have a particular memory of her making this beautiful dress for my sister’s dance performance. In our village, schoolchildren perform regularly in school and community events, large group dances that are colorful and festive. After my brother was born, life got a bit more busy, and the sewing machine was stored away and was used more as a decorative coffee table, covered by a nice tablecloth and displayed in the house.

The sewing machine now fulfills many roles in my life. There’s the practical and utilitarian side, since knowing how to sew can help fix clothing and make them last longer. Hand-me-downs and thirfted items, worn by other people who have a different body size become an almost perfect fit for me. There’s the creative side, where a beautiful dress that doesn’t fit my chest anymore can become a beautiful sleeveless blouse, or the collection of old t-shirts can become a quilt for the living room, and the bedroom.

And then, there’s something else that I didn’t quite realize until now. It’s the “positive feeling” of continuing an inter-generational legacy. Perhaps it’s the same feeling that people get when they end up loving the same type of music as their elders, or mastering the same recipe that has been passed down onto the generations.

It’s strange because neither one of them actually taught me how to use the sewing machine. In my mother’s case, I was too young, and then she passed away so soon. During all those years I lived with my grandmother, it was she who was at the sewing machine, not me. And when I would bring home the sewing projects I have made from school, she would even scold me for how I badly did them. But I have been on the receiving end of her sewing handiwork. She would go to the old family home and take several bags of clothes that my aunts use to wear, and then she would tailor them to fit me. I have enough dresses go to to church and to go for Wednesday non-uniform days for an entire year without repeating a single outfit. Grandma would tell me which daughter wore each hand-me-down item that she was tailoring to fit me, and she would also complain about how some of the dresses are just too small for my larger frame.

Now I’m doing similar things. From making rags, to hemming pants, to making a personalized apron for my spouse and lots of quilts and pillow cases. He seems pretty thrilled about the opportunity to have uniquely designed items in the house. These DIY-made linens and clothing, he describes them as “made with love”. He is thrilled that between the two of us, we can prolong the usability of pants and shirts, as it fits right along with his tendency to save money.

This method that provided an intriguing combination of partiality, usefulness, resourcefulness and creativity, these women in my life have passed down to me. I guess that is in my way a way of homage, of acknowledging some kind of legacy.

Story Time: My Mother and the Sharply Folded Paper Airplane

The creative streak in my nuclear family came from my mother. She was a fan of decorating the home, reconfiguring the layout and the furniture to maximize the small two-bedroom apartment that houses a family of six, the parents, the yaya (nanny) and the three kids. It is evident from her elegant handwriting and her signature, and how she is in charge of helping us kids with art related school projects.

She told us the story of how she initially went to university to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree and switched halfway through to take Architecture. She can write and draw with both her left and right hands, which was a blessing since my brother, the youngest child, ended up being left-handed.

My father worked as a supervisor for the Safety Department of the mining company, in the village where we used to live. As a result of his job, and perhaps, his love of recycling, he would bring home stacks of paper from the office that we end up using as scrap paper. Most days, he would use these scrap paper to help us with our 5 o’clock study habit. He would take our notebooks where we had a new lesson for the day, craft a simple one-page “exam” to help us test our knowledge, and hand it over for us to answer after we do our homework and read these notebooks. Every time there is a major exam in school, he would compile all these daily exams and it comes a longer practice exam for us to work on. A pretty smart system if you think about it.

As any parent would attest, kids love to doodle and do other fun artistic activities, just to explore and let their imagination run wild. Thanks to the endless supply of paper from our father, finding materials for this purpose is never an issue.

I have a very specific memory of my attempts to fold paper airplanes and make them fly. With the awkward way I fold them though, they would either unravel or would not even leave the dining table after I try to launch them. My four year old self got discouraged. Then my mother reached out, grabbed a fresh sheet of scrap paper, and showed me step by step how to fold a paper airplane. She mentioned how making the edges of the paper meet but not overlap is important, that pressing firmly from end to end will help the fold stay in place. Her airplane was this thing of beauty, of precision and elegance.

She shared another trick to see whether you made a good airplane. The tip of the plane has to be pointy, and she demonstrated this by poking my nose with her airplane. It was sharp and also ticklish, and made me burst into laughter. She forgot about making it fly, as she proceeded to chase me around our dining area, trying to poke me again with the tip of this precisely assembled paper airplane.

The laughter and the teasing usually came from my father, as all our relatives, neighbours and family friends would attest. He is definitely the comedian in every setting, having a joke ready for everyone he meets. This makes this encounter with my mother something worth cherishing, a break from her “persona” as the stoic, workaholic, dedicated and strict one.