My Current One and Only White Hair

Closeup of a black-haird woman's face and her hand holding a strand of grey hair.

By: Giselle General

It was February 2020 and I was excited to do my bi-annual ritual with my hair. I let it grow for close to 24 months and I cut a large chunk of it to donate for charitable causes that make free wigs for kids with cancer. Usually I alternate between Hair Massacure or Angel Hair Foundation. It’s something I have been doing since March 2009.

This time around, I got assistance in cutting my hair and shaving my head so I have a smooth and even buzz cut. My brother who was living with me at the time agreed to help, maybe reluctantly because little brothers can’t refuse their Ate (big sister) when they ask for sometime, haha! It was pretty messy, and pretty fun. He was so scared at first to use the scissors to cut the little pony tails of hair I tied, but I told him to just hold his hand steady and it will be fine. Then, it was time to bring out the clippers! It was a the lowest setting, number 1, so what was left in my head is likely the same length of hair that most men have when they don’t shave for a day. He told me a few times to tilt my head this way and that way, and hold me earlobes flat, so that the clippers cover every part of my scalp. He did an amazing job.

A week later, I was in the office washroom when I notice something unusual on the top of my head. My hair is going through its “chipmunk phase” so it was sticking up and ready to poke you! But I saw that there was one particular spot where the little half-centimeter of hair didn’t look the same as all my other hair. It was lighter colored! I thought it was a piece of dirt, or somehow soap or shampoo got stuck – although I thought that didn’t much sense.

Then March 2020 rolls around and by then I had at least half an inch of hair. And it’s confirmed, it is a single strand of white hair, growing from the root! I posted about it on Facebook my feelings a mixture of amazement and disbelief, since at this time I was 29 years old. My great aunt living in Australia said some nice words about the white hair being a symbol of age and wisdom. I really appreciated it.

I’m not exactly outraged of panicked about it. I’m more amused really. And I challenged myself to try to keep that single strand for as long as possible, so not pulling it out either manually or when I comb or brush my hair.

And then the pandemic hit. As I mostly worked from home for months on end, I’d see this single strand of silver whenever I comb my hair and part it a little to the left. Inch by inch, my buzz turned into a pixie, then a bob, then shoulder length and now it is past my shoulders again.

Now it is January 2022. I’m preparing to shave my head and donate my hair to any of these organizations if they are still around and accepting natural hair donations. I wonder what surprises my scalp will bring up. Will I have a few more grey hairs that will pop up from the root? Will that be the physical manifestation of the stress from the past year, not just from COVID and the state of the world, but from the election I ran for recently?

It’s been remarkable to finally see changes that are related to aging. With a bit of dread and also curiosity, I acknowledge that menopause will be here before realizing what hit me!

Book Review and Thank You Letter: Motherless Daughters, The Legacy Of Loss: by Hope Edelman

By: Giselle General

In an attempt to fill the gaps in support and knowledge from my ongoing therapy, I was seeking out additional resources to help with dealing with the pain and loss of being an orphan. While my therapist wasn’t able to point me to an local support group, I found an adequate starting point.

I just finished reading the book Motherless Daughters, The Legacy Of Loss: by Hope Edelman. This is a Thank You Letter and a book review for the person who recommended this book, a remarkable woman in Edmonton named Mimi.


November 29 2021,

Dear Mimi,

Thank you for your lovely invitation to go out for lunch a few weeks after the outcome of the Edmonton Municipal Election last October 18. It was wonderful to chat with someone who experienced many of the things I have as a first-time elections candidate, as someone who is a person of color, and a woman. You shared many stories and insights that will help me as I go through my emotional recovery after not winning this election.

On top of the political commentary and stories, you kindly asked important questions about one challenging reality I have, as someone who doesn’t have a mother figure in my current life, and as someone who hasn’t had such a person for a very long time.

If my memory served me right, you actually haven’t read the book yourself, but you shared to me that Motherless Daughters was a book recommended to you a while back. I believe you said that you’re not the self-help-book-type. I was overjoyed though, since self-help is a book category I read on regular basis. Thank goodness an E-book version was available through the Edmonton Public Library, and I started reading in on nights and weekends when I have spare time.

The book was written and researched by a woman whose mother died when she was young, a teenager, and it involved numerous interviews and questionnaires from other “motherless daughters“. I liked how the book chapters outlined concepts bases on topic, such as navigating womanhood, romance, family, motivation and self-worth as a motherless daughter.

My favourite was how the book outlined key differences in terms of impact, depending on the child’s age when the mother passed away. I was eight when my mother died, together with my father and sister. Old enough to remember who they are and to know that life will never be the same after the deaths. Too young to do basic household management functions on my own. Too ill-equipped to grieve but not immune to the need of it.

It was a tough read, where every paragraph hitting me hard, shedding a light in very dark corners of my scarred soul, revealing wounds that never really completely healed. Especially in the first five chapters, it felt like every third paragraph made me cry, the vision of a child in her brokenness that was never acknowledged, and was just hidden away for so long. The stories of the other women and the commentary from doctors and the referenced resources, are both haunting and illuminating.

While distressing and unfortunate, I learned that it is actually normal for people to freak out when they reach the age of death of their same-gender parent. I thought that being fatalistic, catastrophising is a unique issue I am having due to election stress. Seriously, for the last six months before the election day my mind was telling me relentlessly “If I lose in this election, I have three years left to prove my worth. If I am not able to accomplish something profound and remarkable, my mother’s sacrifice was worthless. I don’t deserve to outlive her, and ending my life then is the right course of action.” I cannot rationalize it then, but yes, I was measuring my life and worth based on a very specific number, 33 years of age.

Now, there is huge comfort from realizing that this is a common occurrence. That subconsciously, people can be neglectful about their lives, or in the case of those whose mothers died of suicide or addictions, the adult “motherless daughter” ends up replicating those behaviours. It comes from wanting to grasp any way to find a connection with the mother that died too soon. So this is something I have to seriously watch for between now and 2024, that I don’t harm or kill myself, either by suicide or self-sabotaging my wellbeing.

Chapters of the book outlined how motherless daughters like me are stunted in our development, pushed to maturity and independence too early in some ways. But we are also stuck in childlike tendencies and yearnings in other ways. Instead of feeling inferior, I felt liberated by this. This paved another path of acceptance, and also pride, that my childlike mindset has not affected my adult life in debilitating ways.

For me, knowledge is power. I imagine it comes from my need for control from needing to look after myself (and my brother) at such a young age. I cannot describe how relived I am in realizing a few things:

  • That I will likely grieve again, in cycles and waves, for the rest of my life. When I reach womanly milestones, I would then yearn for a mother’s presence and guidance. Like during my first period, potential pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, even being a widow, financial and career changes, and many more.
  • A few time and age-related stages will be particularly difficult, such as reaching the age my mother died (which for me is in three years), giving birth, and when my child/ren reaches my age when my mother died, which is eight years old.

This is a huge blessing that came at a perfect time. Did you know that just a few weeks ago, during my therapy session right after the election, that I told the doctor that I need a very specific support group for people like me? He was sympathetic and understanding but the referrals provided were too broad for what I am seeking. This is the next closest thing to a support group and it worked really well as a starting point. I’m super grateful for the recommendation, as this has officially marked another journey of my healing from trauma, unpacking the fallout of being an orphan.

End of the Journey of a First-Time Councillor Candidate: Repost from the Alberta Filipino Journal

Giselle outdoors in a neighbourhood holding her election flyer

By: Giselle General

Introduction: This is a re-posting of the articles I have written about my journey as an candidate for the 2021 Edmonton Municipal Elections. Politics and political participation in Edmonton will be a topic I would like to discuss on an ongoing basis, now that I had this experience. But since at this point, it has only been a month Election Day where I only got second place, I am still processing my emotions, compiling documents, and reflecting on everything I have observed and learned.

This was the third article, submitted on November 2021, but was written just two weeks after the election day. You can get a free copy of the paper, published monthly, from many Filipino-owned businesses in Edmonton. You can also everything digitally at: https://www.albertafilipinojournal.com/


The election is over for the municipal elections and I wasn’t successful in my campaign to be city councillor for the city. I came second place. Here is my preliminary reflection of the end of this journey.

Relief in safety and campaign principles

I was determined to run the campaign by following very important principles. These are: positivity, transparency, inclusiveness, collaboration, and care for community. As a result, some of the tasks in the campaign took extra time, such as properly preparing maps for volunteers, calculating fundraising numbers for the weekly social media posts, or adding subtitles to all videos for the benefit of people who are deaf. With that said, both during and after the elections, people have messaged me expressing their appreciation for my thoughtfulness. My actions made the election informative for the average person, and people from the disabled community appreciated that I went above and beyond to ensure they can access the digital content that I published.

Another key component in my campaign is safety, given the reality of COVID19 and additional risk due to Anti-Asian Racism. Many times, I played it safe by avoiding entering  homes with tall gates, not door-knocking alone, and being careful when walking through uneven landscaping and front steps. While other campaigns were door-knocking as early as March, but I waited and observed closely the COVID numbers and the impact of changes in the rules. Sure, it meant I didn’t go to as many homes, but I’m glad that throughout the campaign, I didn’t get seriously ill or injured.

Anguish at missing the goal and systemic hurdles

Just like most people in the world who are ambitious and competitive, not winning definitely hurts for me. On top of that, I felt the weight and pressure of my endeavour, as the only Filipino candidate in the entire city for any municipal seat, after the other candidate withdrew. I definitely would have been great if I achieved this important milestone for the community. My heartbreak at not winning is not just for me, it’s for the entire community.

The optimistic side of me dismissed the idea that money plays a huge role in campaigns, but seeing it firsthand gave me a wake-up call. While I’m confident that I did everything I could to have a well-run campaign, it came to a point where certain gaps can only be filled by additional funds or additional people helping. With this realization in mind, I know what I will advocate for moving forward to help those like me with passion and drive to make positive changes in government, and need just a bit more resources to be successful.

Marvel at the support, outcome, and generosity

Since I don’t have in-depth experience that seasoned politically-engaged people have, I don’t have context of the election outcome. All I know is I didn’t get enough votes and I lost. The cool thing is that many days after the election I received messages of kind words and

As it turns out, getting 5000+ votes is a remarkable accomplishment for a first time candidate, and for a budget that I have it is impressive. I am very grateful to those who have supported the campaign, from the donations, those who made time to volunteer consistently, those who gave advice.

Drive moving forward

One thing I want to make clear is that this is the end of the journey of being a first-time candidate, and not the end of the community involvement journey, and likely not the end of the political journey. If you think about it, if I run for public office, I will be a second-time candidate, with a better understanding of processes, and the unspoken rules of the political world. In the meantime, my focus is to resume all my community service activities that I am already doing to make our city better for everyone.

Update on the Journey of a First-Time Councillor Candidate – Repost from the Alberta Filipino Journal

Giselle wearing a blue top and white blazer outside in a park in Edmonton

By: Giselle General

Introduction: This is a re-posting of the articles I have written about my journey as an candidate for the 2021 Edmonton Municipal Elections. Politics and political participation in Edmonton will be a topic I would like to discuss on an ongoing basis, now that I had this experience. But since at this point, it has only been a month Election Day where I only got second place, I am still processing my emotions, compiling documents, and reflecting on everything I have observed and learned.

This was the second article, submitted on September 2021. You can get a free copy of the paper, published monthly, from many Filipino-owned businesses in Edmonton. You can also everything digitally at: https://www.albertafilipinojournal.com/


My journey of being a first-time candidate for Edmonton City Council is coming to an end on October 18, Election Day! Here my reflection of the journey of being right in the front lines of a campaign.

It is much harder than anticipated. When I first told my brother that I am running, he was scared for my safety! It made sense, given how dangerous it is to run for public office in the Philippines. I reassured him that I likely won’t get murdered here, win or lose. But that doesn’t mean that there are no dangers. As a visibly Asian woman, the risk of racists attacking me is a possibility, given the rise of Anti-Asian Hate due to COVID. There are even practical dangers, as well; many people’s stairs, entryways and landscaping are not always stable, so a slip and fall is a risk when going to thousands of homes.

The harsh reality that it takes money and connections to run for public office became evident. Expenses line up really quickly. I am running against the current councillor, who spent $84,000 in her campaign in 2017. I wondered, how can I even match that? Advertising in bus shelters are at least $1,000, billboards start at $1,500. I spent $2,500 earlier this year for flyers and $3,500 on lawn signs, as name recognition is paramount to being successful.

I see many candidates who get a lot of help, in terms of time, money, and connections, from their parents, and my heart breaks into a thousand pieces every time. It’s a painful reminder of losing my parents too soon. I tearfully wondered every time, in what way would they have helped if they are still alive? Would my parents be proud? Think their daughter is crazy for being this ambitious?

COVID is a mixed blessing when it comes to attending events and activities. Typically, in an election campaign, there is a lot of traveling involved for meetings and gatherings, and it would have taken so much time while taking public transit, or I would need to spend a lot of money taking taxis, or a lot of stress arranging rides from other people. The switch to digital for many meetings and tasks proved to be helpful.

This campaign journey is also quite incredible in many ways that continue to uplift me. As of writing this, I got $17,000 worth of donations, money sent through e-transfers and online payments as well as in-kind donations, it’s just remarkable. For many weekends in the spring and summer, people joined me in delivering flyers to neighbourhoods so I don’t have to spend money on postage. Professionals shared their skills voluntarily, from websites design, graphic design, translating my flyers, mapping routes, strategy, and more!

Another remarkable thing is connecting with people who are not within my immediate network, those who, after researching all the candidates, discovered that I have what it takes to be their next Edmonton City Councillor.

This experience opened my eyes to the simple and complex reasons why our political system is the way it is right now. I really wish that for immigrants, women, and working-class people, that running for politics is not this cumbersome. After the election this is something that I want to address, by finding a way to share all the lessons learned from this campaign journey.

This election candidacy is a journey five years in the making. I hope that by October 18, that history can be made for the sake of the Filipino community in Edmonton and in Alberta, that I can be the first Filipina-Canadian councillor that Edmonton would have.

The Journey of a First-Time Elections Candidate – Repost from Alberta Filipino Journal

Woman in business suit standing in front of the entrance of Edmonton City Hall Council Chambers.

By: Giselle General

Introduction: This is a re-posting of the articles I have written about my journey as an candidate for the 2021 Edmonton Municipal Elections. Politics and political participation in Edmonton will be a topic I would like to discuss on an ongoing basis, now that I had this experience. But since at this point, it has only been a month Election Day where I only got second place, I am still processing my emotions, compiling documents, and reflecting on everything I have observed and learned.

This is the first article, submitted on April 2021. You can get a free copy of the paper, published monthly, from many Filipino-owned businesses in Edmonton. You can also everything digitally at: https://www.albertafilipinojournal.com/


This election candidacy is a journey five years in the making.  Here is a reflection on my experiences as of this date as someone running for the first time.

A main challenge is informing people on different topics. There are many issues that affect our daily lives, and it can be difficult to remember which level of government is responsible. On top of that, there are issues that are a shared responsibility between the municipal, provincial and federal government. So it is important for me, my campaign team, and other candidates to be informed and patient when discussing with others/   

The electoral district boundaries not only changed in composition, but also the names have changed. They are changed from numbers to Indigenous names. I think the names are beautiful and meaningful, but many are frustrated and unwilling to learn. I can personally attest that all it takes is practice, just like learning Asian geography back in high school. After a few rounds of practice, I can confidently say without missing a beat that “I am running for city councillor for West Edmonton, the ward of sipiwiyiniwak!” Those in ward Dene and O-day’min will have an easier time, while those in ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi would need to practice a few more times.  

I found out that apartments and condo buildings are usually ignored by campaign teams. I found this shocking and unacceptable! Because most apartment buildings are rentals, this means that many people who are not homeowners and from lower economic background are not given the same opportunity by election candidates to share their thoughts about political matters. No wonder the voter turnout in municipal elections is only 30%. Like a spark that ignited in me, I felt a fierce sense of determination to go against the tide and find ways to connect with people living in higher-density places. I hope that landlords and building managers would cooperate with my campaign team so we can engage with residents effectively and safely.  

A harsh and true advice I received was “you need a lot of money”. And I don’t have a lot. I feel motivated to find creative ways to compensate for the shortage of money, and fun ways to raise money and support. From virtual dance-a-thons as a fundraiser, using social media for marketing instead of spending money on billboards, and asking volunteers to drop off brochures instead of paying Canada post thousands of dollars, the ideas seem to be endless. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say, and I’m excited to find innovative ways to connect with potential voters and supporters. I hope that I get hundreds of volunteers from all walks of life, and that even those who cannot vote yet, the newcomers and under 18 years old, feel inclined to join the campaign team as well.  

The election day is in October, and given how time feels like it’s slipping through our fingers, it will be here before we even realize it. All the spare time I have, between breakfast and starting work, between dinner and bedtime, between laundry and cooking on the weekends, are occupied by the seemingly endless tasks to gain more resources, to recruiting volunteers, to ensuring we consult with people with different perspective. Door-knocking officially starts in May and I’m eagerly looking at the calendar counting down the time.  

I am excited to be transformed by this experience. I suppose, turning 30 years old this year also highlights the significance of this adventure. I’d love to win of course, but it’s more that that. My hope is that I am just one of the many people from under-represented backgrounds, of the women, the young adults, the migrants and the Filipinos who would take the leap and throw their name in an election race. I hope that my experience can serve as inspiration and a resource guide in navigating an election candidacy that appropriately considers the complications that arise from our lived experiences. If I don’t end up being that trailblazer, I hope that someone else does not too long after I run.  

Storytelling time: My First and Scariest Winter Slip-And-Fall Incident


By: Giselle General

So this happened during my first winter here in Edmonton, back in 2008. There’s a lot of things to learn and navigate and get used to. I learned that winter looks and feels different in different provinces. Things are starting to settle after moving here in July. I have a stable retail job, and I’m earning enough money at the time, I started dating someone who I fondly called my first Canadian boyfriend. And I am navigating all the different schedules and routines I need to do so I can go to the two schools I’m attending which is the University of Alberta and also McEwan University which was called at the time Grant McEwan College.

I worked the closing shift in the retail store where I was working, which is Future Shop at the Terra Losa business centre. It is located on 95th Ave and 172nd St and commuting in the evening was tricky at the time. You have two choices: be lucky and take the bus that is coming along less frequently from the area to the mall and then catch the bus from the mall to our house on the West End. Or if there are no longer buses that are passing through the business centre , take a 25 to 30 minute walk from the store to West Edmonton Mall, through the mall, to the transit station along 87th Ave. This walk is actually nice and refreshing most of the time, especially in the fall or spring or summer months. But winter is a whole different ball game.

Concrete parking lot covered in ice.
This is how the parking lot was like in terms of icyness, but at night!

You see, at the back of this giant mall, West Edmonton Mall, there’s an overflow parking lot along 90th Ave where people can park their cars if the multi level parking areas all around the mall are too full. Essentially I’d walk through a residential neighborhood , walk through that parking lot, cross to into the mall, walk through the mall, and then get out on the side of the mall where the transit station is.

The thing is in the winter, this parking lot is like a giant, giant ice rink. The reality is, if lots of snow falls into the ground and if left untouched by snowplows, trucks or snowblowers, that pile of snow – however many inches it is – it gets packed down. Then, if in a couple of occasions the weather gets warmer the surface layer of the snow melts a little bit and it becomes ice and that can happen over and over. Cars would not have a difficult time navigating the parking lot because they have tires. It might be a bit slippery driving around but that’s pretty much it. However for people on their feet it gets a bit more tricky.

That night, I decided to walk from my workplace to the mall because it was a night that is not too cold so I thought I can handle it. I’m still dressed for the weather though, I have my nice long winter coat that we bought not too long ago from Winners , and I have this really nice and warm knitted hat that I got from my cousin’s and aunt’s place in Ontario. It’s really thick, thicker than most hats. And it is really cozy with a nice little flower knitted on the brim.

Woman wearing a black winter jacket, multi color scarf and white knitted hat with a yellow knitted flower.

As I left the residential area of Summerlea, passing through the playground and entered the parking lot I realize I’m in big trouble. There are hardly any cars around, there’s the very faint light from the street light switch was not helpful in helping me identify where is a section of the parking lot that is the least icy. You know, how you can usually differentiate between the really really slick shininess of an icy sidewalk and the pathway where it’s just snow that is a little bit bunched up but you might have more traction. That night was not my lucky night.

So I did the only thing I can do . I started walking baby steps, little tiny steps to get as close and to get across as quickly as possible. Here’s the tricky thing. I am very aware what time the bus I’m taking will be departing, 9:58 PM. If I do not catch the bus, since it’s already almost 10:00 PM, I need to wait one full hour for the other bus before I can get home. So I’m conflicted! I need to walk slowly because it’s so icy and scary but at the same time I have this bus I need to catch . I’m so happy that there’s no one else in that parking lot because every three steps I would slip a little bit and scream!

I was about halfway through when, I suppose, my balance was a little bit off, because I slipped and fell forwards. I was really afraid I’m gonna slam my face onto the icy pavement. However because my hat was a lot thicker than most hats I actually had a cushion. I did fall face first, but it was my forehead that hit on the ground. I was lying there in shock for a second or two . And I realized I was not bleeding, I wasn’t hurt, no scratches or bumps on my face and I was so shocked and relieved. Then slowly but surely I rolled over on to my back, tried to sit up and struggled because even my hands cannot grip anything because everything is so slippery. And I slowly stood up and continued walking . By the time I crossed the parking lot and reached the sidewalk along 90th Ave I was overjoyed. I moved on to enter the mall through Bourbon Street the restaurant area tried to run and walk and shuffle through the mall to catch my bus.

The next day I woke up in pain and was very scared. My neck hurts! I could not even pinpoint where that came from. Because I arrived home late in the evening I didn’t get a chance to tell anybody what happened the night before. Over breakfast I went into the main floor of our house and talk to my aunt and I told her what’s happening with my neck. She was very worried and for good reason. During the vehicle accident in my childhood where my parents and sister were killed, my brother and I were not left unscathed. My major injuries consisted of a lot of wounds causing a lot of blood loss, and a fractured skull. So my aunt was really worried that it might have something to do with my head again, even if it’s been a couple decades since my injury . Then, I told her about the slip and fall I had the night before. Now she was even more worried! She told me to go to a doctor ASAP, because my slip and fall might have affected my head and she said that it actually might be a concussion. Now here’s the thing, I haven’t heard of the word concussion before so I was even more scared and it sounded really serious.

While enduing my neck that was hurting, I took some painkillers and went to school. For this day my classes were at the University of Alberta. I discovered that there is a medical clinic there that students can go to, which is such a relief. So in between my classes, I went to the Student Union Building on the 2nd floor, and try to see a doctor. I’ve never been to this building before, I’ve never been to this clinic before, so I quite don’t know what to expect.

I didn’t have to wait very long and when I told the doctor what is happening how I’m feeling and what happened that might be related. He asked a few questions, touched my head a couple times, and said he doesn’t seem to see get it was anything really serious. And he introduced a brand new word to me. Whiplash! As it turns out, a whiplash can happen when you experience a strong incident like slipping and falling that can cause muscles or joints in other parts of your body to feel tension and be hurt. I was told to take painkillers, take it easy on myself, and wait it out. If I’m still feeling dizzy (if ever), if my neck or my head or other parts of my body are hurting, then I could go back for further help.

A couple days after, I was chatting with my boyfriend at the time. We’re hanging out in his apartment. He is born and raised in Canada so he has experience with a lot of winters both in Alberta and BC where he was from. I told him what happened, I told him what the doctor said , and he said that makes a lot of sense.

Outdoor sidewalk shovelled clearly of snow during winter.

It wasn’t only until a few years after when I learned about the “Penguin walking technique”. I think I saw something about it on social media. I mentioned it to the new boyfriend I was dating then, the guy who ended up being my husband. He said that makes a lot of sense. I told him about the slip and fall incident and how that’s very scary for me. So now, every time we walk around and there is a potentially slippery and icy area he would remind me of the Penguin walking technique, hold my hand and we’ll walk through together.

I think this is the reason why icy sidewalks and roads caused me a lot of stress and anxiety when walking around in the winter. This is particularly important for me as well, as a person who cannot drive. A couple of years ago, there is now an app launched by the City of Edmonton, where you can report icy sidewalks and piles of snow and windrows. Which in many ways is nice. But I really hope that everybody, from policy makers, to building owners, to parking lot owners, to home owners, to ensure that there is at least one straight path that is wide enough, safe enough, accessible enough for everybody to pass through all seasons long.

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.

When I was too Shy To get Involved

closeup of a female student carrying books while standing on a sidewalk with parked cars

by: Giselle General

When a child is labelled as an ‘honour student’, that comes with significant implications. There is a barrage of positive traits that are associated with it: intelligent, well-disciplined, capable, confident, admired, role model. The positive associations can also be a heavy-handed set of expectations.

In the Philippines, the English word “transferee” is used to describe students who were new to the school and didn’t start first grade or freshmen year in the school. Growing up in a small mining village with a single school where everyone knows everybody, being a transferee is a rarely-used label.

And then, I became one of those students. Halfway through high school, I moved from the small village to the nearby city.

silhouette of a person walking alone

The move was unnerving for many reasons, and one of them for me is navigating academic achievement and extracurricular involvement. My younger self knew that schools are the same everywhere, that well-performing students get awards and recognition and benefits such as scholarships. The schoolyear stared in June and it wasn’t until November (so about 5 months in and more than halfway through the school year) when I started getting involved again in school clubs.

There were so many things to get used to in this routine. I never had to travel through public transportation every single day, two trips, to go to school and back. It was three years since I lived with my younger brother, and I was living alone in my house-and-business-building dwelling, my sari-sari store, for about a year. It sounds strange to say but I had to get used to living with people again. My brother and I are back to having the mother/father/sister dynamic that we had, only he’s 10 years old and I’m in the midst of puberty.

During the first few months, my priority was knowing names in the school, and within a few weeks, I was successful in knowing the names of my classmates, both first names and last names. The school was previously an all-boys school, and part of the culture was for students to call each other by their last names, since there’s too many students with the names John, Alexander, Anthony, Mark, James, Carlo, etc. The tradition carried on with the female students. So yes, I had to get used to be called General by students during casual conversation. In the early morning before class starts, I hear often “hey yo, General! can I copy your homework?

Two clusters of board game pegs, one cluster with 6 light organge pegs and one brown peg by itself.

But I didn’t join any school clubs right away, because I was still afraid of going home late. I was fearful or unsure on whether the elders, the legal guardian, is aware of the challenges and realities of high school students living in the city. We don’t have a computer at home, so even something as simple as submitting a printed report requires going to an internet cafe in downtown Baguio and it requires a lot of organizing. These city kids seem fancy and wealthy and carefree, and I don’t know how to fit in.

Eventually I was able to articulate, although awkwardly, why I didn’t join clubs. “I feel too shy to go”. My uncle, Tito Roy, who was a teacher in the school, snapped me out of it in his own way. He said how ridiculous that is and told me to “just go and give it a try’.

That really paid off because it opened multiple opportunities for me to feel the same way as in my former school, get involved, achieve things, and have a mental escape from the horrors at home that were about to happen the following year. Managed to be the valedictorian for my graduating class even if I was there for just two of the four years of high school.

As an adult, I think there are times I still feel like this. I found a fancier, but perhaps more appropriate term of it. ‘Imposter Syndrome’. There is a daunting feeling of feeling like an outsider for a multitude of reasons: because of being new and in an unfamiliar space, and being uncertain of one’s ability to be a positive impact in that space. I think the last thing that people want is to be perceived as dead weight or an inconvenience.

Has this feeling gone away? Not completely. I’m participating in the community in ways that I haven’t heard my elders or friends do: help at an election campaign, offer to be a columnist for an ethnic newspawper, submit a writing proposal for a heritage-focused digital writing project, registering to join a board of directors of an organization. So many times I feel a bit lost and unsure navigating these situations. One advice I heard that helped is this: everyone is just trying to wing it. Another one I’m trying is to approach things with curiosity. Instead of thinking “oh man I don’t think I really get what is going on here”, to think “hmmm, what is going on here and what new things I can learn?”

The shy side of my is likely still there, and it’s not the worst thing. A key lesson I remembered from therapy is that “feelings are information”. The feeling of shyness and uncertainty is simply a sign of being new in a situation, experience, or dynamic. And it can be handy in embracing, learning and growing.

“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.

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.