Sunday, March 14, 2010

Aah, Canadaaah, part 3

If the YMCA hostel had no vacancy when we arrived, we had no definite Plan B. Find a motel perhaps? Then work our way up the room rate ladder?

Traveling to a foreign country with 4 small children without a sure place to stay was not what we wanted. If time permitted, hubby might have flown ahead to scout the area for accommodation, which other immigrants were and are doing. Or we could at least have made a hostel reservation if we only knew how. We didn't know its contact information and we had closed our credit card.

The best option might have been to have a local contact who could arrange for our temporary accommodation or even find us a rental place. Unfortunately, as much as we tried our best to find a contact through connections or the Internet, we didn't find anyone.

So we just went ahead and simply trusted God to provide all the help we needed. At the end of this series, tell me if He did or not.

Going back to my story, hubby came out of the hostel and told us there were available rooms. We had to take two rooms because of our group size. The staff let us store our 8 large boxes in their utility room at the lobby so we did not have to carry them upstairs to the second floor. The hostel had no elevator.

Inside our hostel room. Now we could relax and open
our luggage. My mother was delighted to give me
some welcome presents including a green winter jacket and
a bunch of undergarments, hahaha. The winter jacket
I could understand. The others were things only a
mother would think about.

Relieved, we enjoyed the comfort of our rooms. Gino and Mickey shared a room with their grandparents, hubby and I with the little ones. We finally had a very late lunch at the Y's cafeteria and then went out for a walk around the area. My father kept taking our pictures.

This was in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. There were nice
gardens in the area. That's my father at the right. He loved to
shoot pictures even though he was legally blind. Go figure.

We weren't shy about posing here, there and everywhere. We were so FOB, or FOP. Fresh-off-the-plane! We didn't care.

In front of the former Eaton's

This was our first day, March 12, 1998, Thursday.

The next day, we all decided to go to Surrey to check out the rental places hubby found in the ads that morning. Fortunately, there was a Skytrain station on Burrard St, not very far from the Y. The train went all the way to Surrey.

So why Surrey? According to our prior readings, it was called the City of Parks. More than 60 parks?! We checked the map and it was adjacent to the US border. This was closer to Seattle than Vancouver. That was how we decided to live in a city we didn't even know how to properly pronounce then. SOO-ray instead of Suh-REE. For some reason, I felt I wasn't cut out for the big city. For me, the suburbs were more family-friendly.

We took the train all the way to the last terminal on King George in Surrey and then walked to a nearby mall that we saw from the train. The mall was puny compared to what we were used to in Manila but at least it was a mall. Hubby and Gino left us by Orange Julius and they went on to find the addresses on their list.

Having a snack while waiting at the Surrey Mall

They came back more than an hour later without finding any rental place. It was not as easy as we thought. The streets were very long and it was raining. I don't know how far they walked but they had to turn back. We returned to Vancouver another experience smarter.

This was going to be a challenge. More than anyone, my mother felt the anxiety. In fact, she had been worrying for us even before we arrived, which she said might have triggered or worsened her stomach ailment. My father was very cool, as always. If he worried, it didn't show. He was always optimistic.

Hubby and I didn't focus on the challenge, but on the next option. We would keep looking. He bumped into a Filipino in Vancouver that knew someone who was looking for a tenant. That was worth checking out. The important thing was to find an immediate place to stay. We could always move later.

(to be continued)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ahh, Canadaaah, part 2

Our flight was booked with Philippine Airlines for March 12, only two days before our visas expired. This was practically pushing it to the limit. But it was the best we could do, and just pray and hope that airline personnel wouldn't go on strike, or the military wouldn't stage a coup. March 12 still gave us a little allowance considering the time difference between Vancouver and Manila.

Thank God, our plane departed and arrived in Vancouver the same day after a 16-hour direct flight. "Realistic snow!" my 10-year-old son Mickey exclaimed as the plane descended and the snow-capped North Shore mountains appeared in sight. We were in Canada! We were giddy with realistic excitement.

We took a while at Customs because we were coming in as immigrants. There was paperwork to do, but everything went smoothly. No opening of boxes, or sifting through our luggage, or counting of our funds. We saw others open their luggage, but we had nothing of that sort. We were prepared for that kind of scrutiny, just in case. Instead, the official at the YVR airport who attended to us was very helpful and polite, so unlike any airport official I had seen before. Canadian, eh?

Yippee! We made it! We were now landed immigrants.

My parents bussed all the way from Seattle and met us at the airport. I was never happier to be reunited with my parents after seven years. I had prayed and cried to God so many times for this reunion. God, please, just one more time...

My father took this picture as we came out of the baggage area.
Markus was just two-and-a-half years old. That's Mickey and
Gabriel, only 4, at the foreground.

Aside from my parents, who were also new to Vancouver, there was no one else whom we knew here. All we had were piles of information we got from the Internet on how to get around Vancouver. We took two taxis to Vancouver to look for the YMCA as planned. It was supposedly the cheapest accommodation in the city.

The weather was wet and gray that afternoon, much like it is today, but I could not be more exuberant, wide-eyed with wonder at the new environment. About 20 minutes later, the cab parked on a side street.

"YMCA!" We found it. We stayed in the van while hubby spoke with Reception. He wanted to find out if they had room for 8 people--2 seniors, 2 adults and 4 children--with 8 large boxes and several big and small pieces of luggage.

We had no reservation!

At that time it did not even seem to bother us. Just part of the adventure we were embarking on by faith.

(to be continued, part 3)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ahh, Canadaaah, part 1

My husband and I first thought of moving to Canada after watching the movie Anne of Green Gables shortly after we got married. We fell in love with Prince Edward Island. We knew very little about Canada, but seeing such a lovely place as PEI was enough to make us dream about it. Ahh, Canadaaah...

We made a few job inquiries from government agencies in PEI, but did not pursue it any further. We started raising a family. Hubby found his niche in the graphic design field, and wifey chose to become a stay-at-home mom to our two young boys. And then we had two more. Canada moved to the back burner.

In the mid '90s, we revived our plan of migrating, more seriously this time. Our two sets of parents had moved to the US, and several of our friends and relatives had left or were planning to migrate too. It seemed that the political and socio-economic climate in the country was triggering an exodus not just of overseas workers but of families who were looking to settle permanently elsewhere. We felt some of that too. But I think more than that, we simply wanted a better quality of life. Not necessarily richer, just better. I think we needed an environment that would release our creative juices and zest for life, not drain them.

We began the application process early in 1997. It was pretty straightforward that we could do ourselves. In March that year, our whole family passed the medical exams. The following month, we submitted all our documents and fees to the Canadian Embassy. Following my sister's suggestion, we changed our destination to Vancouver. First, it was closer to my parents in Seattle, and second, we heard it had the mildest winter.

We were interviewed by an immigration official at the Canadian Embassy in October. We brought a neatly organized binder of documents and looked our best. I can still remember the top I wore to the interview. It was a nice maroon velvet top we got from St. Michael's for that occasion. Even though my full-time occupation at that time was cooking, cleaning and caring for the kids, I had to look professional. I still have this maroon top, by the way. It's no longer as sharp as it looked but I still wear it to work, 12 years later. I have an attachment to this blouse because it reminds me of that make-or-break interview. When it is no longer wearable, it will go to my collection of mementos.

The interview went well and our application was approved. "Your visas will be mailed to you," the officer told us.

As 1998 rolled in, waiting for our visas became agonizing. Our medical results were valid only until March 14, 1998. We had to be in Canada by then, or we would have to repeat the medical tests and re-submit our applications without the assurance of obtaining the same result. (I think the procedure has since changed.)

What do we do while waiting? Begin packing? Start selling our stuff? Pull out the kids from school? Close our flourishing graphic design business? Say our goodbyes? We had a hundred things to do and we wanted to move fast, but it was impossible to do so without the visas in our hands. What if they came after March 14? That would put our lives on indefinite hold.

We were almost at the end of our wits when our visas arrived around March 1. We were jubilant! Thank you, Lord!! But as we had expected, they were expiring on March 14. Two weeks! We had two weeks to enter Canada. Although we had made a lot of preparations, the major ones still needed to be done.

Our life spun in dizzying speed in the days following. It was crazy. The time was not enough to leave everything in order. Our house was a mess. Some bills were unpaid. To our big gratitude, our siblings willingly came to our rescue. They took care of things we had no more time to attend to. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Trying to clearly think outside the box
That's me in the midst of the mess.

(To be continued, part 2)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Games over man

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are over. Sighhh... Vancouver is feeling the blues.

It was a spectacular, action-packed 17 days like we never had before in beautiful British Columbia. A big international event like this close to home may never be repeated so I enjoyed it while it lasted. Donned my reds and whites, visited celebration sites, and watched the games daily on at least three TV stations. It didn't matter if I was watching alone. I cheered like a crowd. Go Canadaaaaaa!!!!

Because my younger boys complained I was too loud for the living room and our dog kept barking at me when I screamed, I often watched the games behind closed bedroom doors. Hubby was extra gracious. He brought me dinner, sometimes snacks and breakfast too. Then we watched and ate together.

"Thank you, sweetie. I'll make it up to you--on the next Olympics..." He could only chuckle and shake his head.

I was careful to cheer with my mouth full. I didn't wanna choke while Canada was playing. Go Canadaaaackk!

On the last weekend of the Games, when Canada was vying for gold in different events, I reserved the bigger TV in the living room till closing ceremonies. "No PS3 for now," I told the boys.

It was the Canada vs. Norway curling finals. At last, I saw a whole game of curling. I understood it too after having read up on its history, the mechanics, etc. In fact I was doing my own commentary spicing it up with some bits of curling trivia for my family watching with me.

"Mom, what's for lunch?" my son Mickey asked during one of the breaks. It was past 2 pm.

Lunch? Did we have breakfast?
I hadn't prepared anything. "Hmmm, we have bowl noodle soup," I told Mickey. "There's also pizza pop in the freezer..."

Meanwhile, I was glued to the TV. I never thought I could be this fascinated by curling and the now famous clown pants worn by the Norwegian curlers. I'd like a pair of those.

Even as I watched and cheered, I took lots of pictures of the curling game and other succeeding events and exhibitions on our TV screen.

"Mom, are you pretending you are watching them live?" Markus asked. Well, I can pretend to be figure skating too. I now have an album of TV photos, never mind if the CTV logo appears on most of them. These will go to my Olympic memorabilia. I'm the only one I know who takes snapshots of their TV screen.

The last day was probably the best. Canada vs. USA hockey finals. Again for the first time, I watched a hockey game all the way to the end. I screamed and jumped. Even hubby and Gino, not hockey fans too, couldn't contain their excitement. We were delirious when Canada won gold on overtime.

Now the Games are over. Things have settled down. I'm back to my routine.

Till the next Olympics!