The Evolution of Audio Announcements- The Captive Transit User Series Part 7

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.

“A hundred and eleven street, a hundred and second Avenue…A hundred and twelve street, a hundred and second Avenue… A hundred and thirteen street, a hundred and second Avenue.”

These lady robot announcements weren’t always a part of one’s commute taking the bus here in Edmonton. The first time I started hearing them, I think it’s about 2012 or so, I can’t help but giggle while taking the bus because the voice just sounds monotonous and a bit silly. My brother (who was new to Edmonton at the time) and I would poke fun at the robot voice sometimes. But the more I hear these announcements, the more I appreciate its benefit when taking transit in Edmonton.

When I first came to Edmonton in 2008, I used a print map of ETS to get around. I have both the city-wide map to help me understand the different routes available, and the the route-specific maps as well. I needed to be familiar with the route number 4, 106, 150, 111, 112, 100, 119, 136 and the LRT so I can to go school, work, hang out with friends and do other activities. I still had a flip phone during those early years and Google Maps is not as good as it is now.

A public transit bus rapidly passing through.

I tried very hard to make sure I get off the right bus stop, but in the winter, when it is dark and the windows are frosted it can be tough to look out by the window and keep track. If you end up missing your stop by a few blocks, walking a few extra minutes late at night and in the winter is not something I – or anyone – look forward to.

I also realized that the audio announcements help people with disabilities! I remember reading a quote from a news article from a person who is blind, who said that the automated announcements of the next bus stops are really useful. I bet that for people who are also new to Edmonton, it’s handy as well.

Screenshot of Google Maps showing walking and bus directions in Edmonton.

When I visited New York City last year, a city where sure, there are numbers in the street names, but the system is so different, hearing the audio announcements of the upcoming bus stops, while looking at the app on my phone, helped me navigate around really easily.

But then, we all know that technology is not perfect. When I lived on the further west side of the city, taking the 136 bus, one of the words that is in several street names kept on being mispronounced. For some reason, ‘Potter” became “Potters” and the word next to it loses the letter S at the end. So, Potter Greens Drive sounded like Potters Green Drive. The city’s app for reporting different city issues also wasn’t perfect – there wasn’t an option to report operating issues specific to buses at the time. But I did my best to report it anyways. I really hope it’s been fixed.

At least twice a week, there seems to be technical issues with the LRT announcements when it is supposed to indicate the next station. Either the next station announced is a few stations off, or the announcements were in reverse order. Luckily, now there is an option in the City’s app to report issues about transit vehicle operations.

Selfie of woman outside in winter, wearing a knitted winter hat and most of her face covered in a light blue scarf

LRT stations have additional types of announcements as well which is handy. Particularly right now during the pandemic, there are audio reminders that masks are mandatory. Back in early 2020, both the above-ground and underground LRT stations started to give passengers a heads up that bus transit fares are increasing in the near future.

Overall, audio announcements has been a handy feature for all users of our transit system. I hope that it continues to have the proper resources to maintain and update its functionality so that it works most – if not – all of the time.

Mastering Mask-Making: a Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on Covid-19

A pile of fabric face masks with plastic window that is in the process of being completed

At this point of the pandemic, wearing masks has been a regular part of people’s routines when going out their homes. This is not to debate the merits of wearing one or the politics surrounding mask wearing during this pandemic, but more on my experiences making them and using them.

In the spring, there are so many instructions online on how to make masks, that even as someone who sews on a regular basis, I was a bit overwhelmed. There seemed to be two major pattern types, the folding accordion type, and the front folding two pattern type. Since I have no shortage of fabric I decided to use what we have to make the masks for my husband and myself.

Selfie of woman wearing a fabric face mask, the horizontal accordion style.

It took several attempts. Some are too small, and many were too tight! I don’t have a lot of experience working with elastics, and as a result I end up putting insufficient elastic for the string that is supposed to hold up the masks. I also don’t have a lot of experience with additional components that are not necessarily a fabric such as metal wires for the nose bridge. At first, I don’t even have materials that can function as a nose wire. It wasn’t until after I got some garden wire and also some pipecleaners, that I had the chance to learn how to incorporate a nose wire into making a mask.

A few months into the pandemic, when mask wearing started becoming more commonplace, I heard an article talking about the difficulties that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are facing because of people wearing masks. The challenge that they face is, it is even harder to hear people speak, and for those who rely on lip reading, they are unable to do so. I eventually stumbled upon a mask with a clear plastic transparent window and I thought that was awesome. I made a few attempts making this mask and they are a part of my own inventory of masks that I wear on a regular basis.

Selfie of woman wearing a fabric face mask with a plastic transparent window.

I really like these special masks that I made. When I have gone to retail stores wearing these masks I get a lot of nice compliments! People say that it is actually nice to see a persons smile again which obviously was covered thanks to masks. I remember attending an outdoor community event around early October and I wore one of these masks with a plastic window, and I got a lot of compliments from people who attended. One inevitable challenge is that when you talk, some fogging or moisture buildup occurs. I learned a trick to mitigate this, which is applying a very thin layer of dishwasher soap and letting it dry. Letting it dry is particularly important because it is awkward sniffing and smelling the dishwasher soap scent while wearing the mask with the window. I’m sure you can tell I learned that from experience.

During this time, I was also helping with fellow Albertans making free stuff for those in need specifically, I was helping to make free laundry fabric scrub bags for health care workers. There was another initiative running alongside this one, which is making free fabric masks for people in need. I admit, I felt conflicted for a while. I wasn’t sure which initiative I should keep on helping with. Eventually, I reminded myself that it is OK to help on one initiative only and hope that others, are willing to step up to help with the other one. It seems like that is the case! Many other people who have skills in sewing and quilting, helped to make free masks for those in need. Others turned it into a creative fundraising method. I heard that one lady made masks as a fundraiser and raised $10,000 for the Edmonton food bank and I thought that’s impressive.

Sewing machine on a wood table with sewing supplies around it, and a pile of completed fabric face masks beside the machine.

I made an attempt to make free masks for those who need it, and it was good but it did not last long. I was happy to make roughly 30 masks in total. The challenge I had was, because I am not a car owner, delivering these masks was more difficult than I anticipated. I also got frustrated when people don’t respond to Facebook messages after a couple days.

I decided that chasing people and following up with them on social media after making a request for a free mask is not worth my energy. When I stopped making these masks and getting stressed out with all the logistics of delivering them I decided to focus on the fabric bags that I am making for healthcare workers and I’m able to reach making 300 of them. And that felt pretty awesome!

When my husband had to go back to the office on a more regular basis he asked me to make several more masks for him. He already has a few that he uses whenever we have to go out for things such as going for groceries. But this time he actually wanted something more special and customized for him. We went against my inclination to use fabric I already have, and we went to the fabric store to buy a brand new fabric with a design that he likes for me to make masks. He has about two dozen of these masks. He seems pretty pleased with himself and I’m more than happy to make those for him.

Just in the fall, as I started to go back to work at my office on almost a daily basis, I decided to make additional masks also. At this point, after some trial and error, I found a mask style that I’m happy with overall. So I made five more of these and I learned my lesson from last time, and I put in an additional inch of elastic.

Woman wearing a face mask while donating blood at a blood donation clinic.

Now that it’s getting even colder, I learned another technique that I started to do when taking public transit and having my face covered. In the past, to keep myself warm and comfortable I actually wrap my winter scarf around my face. A few times, I have actually taken public transit and covered my face using only this scarf , not wearing a mask at all. And the way I wrap my face it is pretty comprehensive, practically my entire face is covered except for my eyes. So I’m pretty confident that I have fulfilled the bylaw regulation about face coverings. But now that it’s getting even colder I even doubled up. I would wear my fabric mask 1st and then, wrap my face you seeing that fluffy winter scarf that I use everyday during winter. When I go to our office, I make sure that I have at least one fabric mask which is what I use when community or when I don’t need to talk to people, and I make sure that I have at least one of my special masks with a plastic transparent window if I need to talk to people.

The routines related to masks in my daily living has been more settled now. From handwashing them on the weekends, ensuring the stitches and seams are still intact, and providing solidarity on social media to people who had to deal with people who refuse to wear masks feel second nature now. There is a part of me that wishes that people continue to wear masks to limit the spread of the flu during flu season. But for now, I’ll continue to find small motivations and silver linings to make the pandemic more manageable.

Being a “Backseat Gamer”

Close up view of the original Sony Playstation console and controller.

By: Giselle General

This is something that has been a dynamic in my life all these years. But it wasn’t until I saw my husband watching a YouTube Channel with the terminology uses in the channel, did I realize what I was. I am a backseat gamer!

When I was a kid and my parents and sister were still alive, we do have a video gaming system. It was more like a knockoff version, not the popular ones such as PlayStation or Nintendo. My sister would play it most frequently, though I’d play a game of Bomber Man or Golf every now and then.

In my aunt’s home in Baguio City, is where I first saw a PlayStation gaming system in real life. Whenever I’d come to visit, I see my little brother and my college-aged cousin play video games, lots of them. I hardly touched the controller mainly because I see how much they are really into it. And I preferred books anyways.

When my brother and I lived together in the city, we are forbidden by our grandma to go outside and play, as we have our store to look after. So we have to have our main source of entertainment at home. The Playstation will be on for most of the day, with my brother playing the games we already have, or pirated versions of newer video games. From Digimon, Final Fantasy, Harvest Moon and many others, the ambient music of these games are a regular part of my life.

When I moved to Canada, there were only two main reasons I played video games for a prolonged period of time. When I used to work at an electronics store, I won an Xbox Kinect (so a video game system where you move your whole body while playing) as a prize at an event. There was also a computer game my boyfriend bought for me in 2012 called Terraria.

How does the ‘Backseat Gamer’ set up look like for me? Two people on the couch, one playing (usually my brother or my husband) and then me making little comments or asking questions. I try NOT to judge whatever strategy they are doing. And I definitely do NOT interrupt during a boss fight. Boss fights are easy to tell, usually by ominous music, higher in intensity, with something huge on the screen.

TV screen of video games Subtautica, with the player having submarine controllers navigating open ocean waters.

I will never have the skillset of mashing multiple combinations of the controller buttons and fighting what seems to be an endless stream of monsters. While the goal is universal, which is to overcome the obstacles in order to win, the different processes to do that can vary widely depending on the game. You can be a human in an hostile planet trying to survive, or a jelly bean with legs trying to run through obstacles and beat the clock, or a farmer trying to keep everything organized in the farm and the village.

I guess it’s the modern day equivalent of watching TV with the family even if the show is not your absolute favorite. I think for family members who are NOT video gamers it can be a bonding opportunity with those who are, especially if they play in the living room. Even it it is almost two decades after, whenever reminiscing about our younger years, I tell my brother the limited details I remember about the video games he played such as Harvest Moon, Yu Gi Oh, Pokemon, and Crash Bandicoot, among others. It turned into something fond and positive to reminisce about.

And now with my husband it’s a casual way to hang out as well! He mostly plays in the living room TV since I don’t watch a lot of TV anyways. I’d say a sympathetic word if his character dies during a fight, or cheer him on a level up achievement or a boss fight. Just a few days ago I made a comment when he entered a different level in the game and he was impressed, saying “wow, good for you for observing that game mechanic, not everyone notices it right away!”

Living room with TV screen displaying a game named Hades, image is a castle with monsters the player is trying to defeat.

Video games are not just for children, with many gamers well into their forties, or even older. So I think there is value to non-gamer family members to be aware and and appreciate this hobby and entertainment medium just like movies and board games. I’ve been hanging out in the living room more often this week because the video game has really cool background music, rock and metal which is just my jam. Add interesting stories between the characters and artistically done scenery, it’s like watching a movie or TV show series with a slight level of variety in outcomes thanks to the family member holding the controller.

Bottle Drives as Fundraiser: a Unique Edmonton Experience For Me

Box truck with label on the side that says "Get the Yuck Out, Skip the Depot"

By: Giselle General

When I first arrived in Canada, I had my first experience in having an actual process to sort out garbage. Different types of garbage are sorted according to type such as refundable like bottles and milk cartons and cans, landfill materials, recyclables like plastic sandboxes, and things you can refund for money such as wine bottles, beer containers, and soda containers. So before moving to Edmonton, I have integrated the habit of sorting my garbage. And I also have a vague idea or realization, that returning these refundable drink containers will give you money. Then, I first noticed in grocery receipts, that you get charged money for buying liquids to drink in particular containers. So if you make the effort of returning these bottles, it’s not like you earn extra money, but more like you get your own money back.

Lawn Sign that says "Help us Build a New Rio School Park. Rio Park Bottle Drive, Today 9 AM - 1 PM"

When I moved to Edmonton I have observed a similar process. The way organic material is handled is a little bit different, but the sorting process is still there. Making sure you have the appropriate bags to sort your garbage such as the transparent bags for leaves in the fall, the black garbage bags for landfill stuff, the blue almost transparent plastic bags for recyclables, is integrated in once grocery shopping routine.

However, the actual process of people or organizations collecting refundable drink containers is something I haven’t seen before. As it turns out, this can result to a lot of money! And it looks like it is a relatively popular method of fundraiser.

I personally have seen many bottle drives before, and participated in some of them as a donor of containers. This particular weekend however, I finally helped my neighbourhood community league by supervising the bottle collection drive portion of our September event, for Community League Day. It’s a pretty easygoing task, all I have to do is to physically be on standby beside the truck where people would pull over bring their containers of bottles and place it inside the truck. At the end of the day this truck, this company, will take away these bottles, process them, and give money.

Selfie of Author, wearing a knotted hat and wearing a name tag "Giselle, Board of Directors".

Using bottle drives for fundraisers have been so popular that I received multiple requests as a homeowner different times a year. During spring and fall, like a predictable annual routine, I would get a flyer on my mailbox requesting for bottles to help the neighbourhood local children’s Scouts. A particular nonprofit organization has this as a regular part of their fundraising which is called Empties To Winn. The way this works is, they provide uniquely labelled large plastic bags where people can put in their drink containers for refund, every quarter the organization sends someone to pick up your bag with bottles and cans, and at the end of the year, you get a tax receipt.

There’s so much money to be made from collecting bottles and handing them over for a refund. Folks experiencing homelessness typically use this as a method to earn a little bit of money. I see people in parks and Transit stations looking a little bit worse for wear, reaching into the garbage bins to see if there are drink containers in them. We even have a small incident in our neighbourhood last year, for some residents were a little bit upset because they realized on garbage day their bags of recyclables is ripped into pieces causing guard pieces of garbage to be flowing and flying all throughout the sidewalks and streets. It was discovered that this is a result of a homeless person on garbage day going to each of the piles of garbage bags, ripping open the bags to see if there are any bottles. My neighbours made it clear that it’s not like they don’t want a homeless person going around the neighbourhood. The only problem is the littering it causes. Thankfully one of the residents had the chance to see this gentleman rummaging through the bags and kindly asked him to tie up the bags again after he sifted through them. Problem solved.

Inside of a truck, with a dozen blue garbage bags with refundable bottles and drink containers.

It’s fascinating to observe the people handing over bottles during the bottle drive. There’s the one gentleman in his red pickup truck where the back compartment is full to the brim of bags. He said he was planning to bring them to the Bottle Depot, and then COVID-19 happened, and then this opportunity came about to dump them all here. There’s the lady who had her containers in a water drum, so we had to work together to pour them all onto a plastic bag to put into the truck. There was the father of the kids who’ll be benefiting from the bottle drive. He told me that his son goes to the elementary school of the neighbourhood, and he appreciates that this bottle drive will raise funds toward’s be renovated playground for the elementary school.

For some people, they are diligent enough to collect the bottles bring it to the nearest Bottle Depot and enjoy the earnings of their diligent organizing. But for many, getting a few dollars every few months is not worthwhile, but the feeling of being able to contribute meaningfully for a charitable cause it’s definitely worth a lot more. For as long as there this system that helps collect organized and provide money for these recyclable drink containers, I think we are going to have bottle drives for the next little while and it is awesome.

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.

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 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.

Book Review and Thank You Letter: The Marrow Thieves

My workplace has a book club that continues to be active even while working from home most days. This is a thank you note, and a book review for one of the books we read, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.

Hi Coworkers,

I’m so happy that our book club is still going strong despite the current changes of having to work from home.

Also I’m sorry that I first slacked off with one of the books, this one, we were supposed to read for the book club. I’m super cheap and refused to buy any books, so I was waiting to get the e-book access from our local library and I was on hold. I’m so relieved that the book club meeting was pushed back by a few weeks. As things have aligned in my favor then. I got the book, and managed to read it just in time for the rescheduled book club meeting.

This is great book! I learned from our recent book club selections that I get emotionally intense when reading fiction books, and I have to stop reading them before bedtime. Because this is just as riveting and compelling for me.

My limited exposure to media and fiction work that has a post-apocalyptic setting, made me captivated when reading this book. It feels like the settings can be something that can happen in the foreseeable future. There are no fancy techno gadgets described in an elaborate manner, no comprehensive explanation on how the bone marrow extracted from indigenous people gets transformed into medication that enables the rest of the population to dream again, but as you read the chapters, you can feel deeply how this alleged ‘miracle cure’ has disrupted the lives of a particular group of people, and a fierce fight for survival has emerged.

In this case, one’s heritage and identity is double edged sword of something that one can be proud of, and something that you are hunted for. The precious commodity gave me an impression of analogies that can be associated similarly to elephants killed for their ivory tusks, or rhinoceroses hunted for their horns.

stack of books on a table with a person behind the stack, showing only their arms and shoulders

The hands on, gritty, on the ground, grueling experiences of survival is evident in every character, not just with Frenchie, the protagonist of the story. The reader can witness the elaborate coping mechanisms to keep a sliver of home, hope and sanity, weaving a fragmented sense of family from people you meet out of circumstance. For Frenchie, after shifting his mindset of letting go of his blood family and forming bonds with his ragtag family, it gets shaken up when one of the rarest of miracles happen, which is getting reconnected to a love one from when times were better. Frenchie getting reconnected with his father, caused friction as he felt conflicted about staying while pursuing his relationship with Rose. While Migwaans also was reconnected with his husband, since it was the last scene of the story, there wasn’t any elaboration on how this changed their lives moving forward.

I understand the reluctance of the older members of the group, when the youngest child RiRi insisted to know “Story”, the raw and horrific detail of what led them to the current situation they are in. Part of this narration os the real account of how the lands of North America were occupied by European colonizers, the impacts of the residential school system and its parallels to what is happening to the characters. Part of this narration is the environmental devastation that mankind has inflicted on the earth, a heavy hint of what our future can be in the forseeable future.

The elder Minerva is a key component to the story, a precious link to knowledge about their heritage and language. Frenchie first thought that for the girls in the group having to spend time with her is a drag because of Minerva’s quirkiness. But his opinion changed quickly after he discovered she is teaching the girls some of the words she knew. The symbolism portrayed from when she was captured and how she destroyed the medical apparatuses placed on her and the school that imprisoned her. Her death was devastating to the characters because of many things that she represents.

As someone who is a migrant to this country, my journey of learning about indigenous culture of the past and present, and this country’s history lasting impact on Indigenous peoples, is a work in progress I have to cultivate over the years. It wasn’t too long ago that through mainstream media, I’ve seen a two-spirit gay couple for the first time. So when I realized that Miggwans is in a similar relationship, I admit I was rooting for them more passionately, since there’s so few of them that I am aware of. To say I was jumping in joy at the last few paragraphs of the story, when he found his husband Isaac, is an understatement.

Shadow of two men's faces close to each other, about to kiss.

I’m gonna say it, our book club is really cool. Thanks for enriching my reading list, and I look forward to future books that we enjoy and talk about as a group.

‘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.