Quebec: In Search of Xmas Spirit

My Quebec trip last year was a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was hinged on the heavy snowfall warning with the mercury dropping to -15C. Based in Montreal for a 1-week getaway, Quebec was nearly 3 hours drive on snowy conditions. Being in the frigid-weather Montreal on the 1st week of December left us with little to do and not much to explore, thus the quick sidetrip.

One of the trip’s highlights was a stroll along Petit-Champlain neighbourhood. It’s a quaint village along the icy St Lawerence River. Along its narrow streets are local stores, business and shops that cater to both tourists and locals alike. In the photo below, store fronts are uniformly lined with lighted little evergreen trees; while rows of big snowflake ornaments hanging above the street.

The street definitely looks festive when I was there, but was it “Christmas-y”? After looking closely at Vancouver’s Christmas version, Christmas in these cities tastes like macchiato, which is like a cross between an espresso (to please the morning drinkers) and cappuccino (for late afternoon drinkers). It is a kaleidoscope of colours, an eye-candy for non-believers and a pious reminder for the devout of saviour’s birth.

That day, the air was exceptionally chilly for me, but no whisper of Christmas carols. It would have been delight, personally.

Maybe I’m looking for the Spirit of Christmas at the wrong place.

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It’s not the well-decorated streets or the “Secret Santa” exchange gifting. These–to me–are expressions of that particular time of the  year when we want to be near our loved ones, when we remember those who we should be thankful for, and also a time to share what others cannot have.

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Celebrates Christmas

I volunteered to snap photos of Vancouver City donned in Christmas decors and ornaments for our company’s social media feeds on how Christmas is celebrated in our various office cities.

PHOTO below: Since I pass by this intersection everyday, it was easily the apple of my eye, considering it had the tallest Christmas tree in and around the block (at 76 feet tall).

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The tree was gated–just to protect it from being run into–but with some nicely added trimmings at the top. PHOTO below:

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Moments later, a bunch of young girls gathered around the tree as instructed by their teacher.

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And soon, the tree was alone again, standing in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery.Vancouver_XmasTree_ArtGallery

With everyone striving to be politically correct, it appears that our city has achieved this virtue. If I look at the photo above, it really is just a lighted tree, with some red ribbon trimmings. Note: No baubles, no angels, not even a Santa Claus. How strange!

Weeks later, a menorah candelabrum was installed next to the Christmas tree–and equally as large, that one would think you are standing on the table a giant and everyone standing the size of salt and pepper shakers.

Quite noticeably, the ornaments are not that many no more, including street performances to celebrate Christmas–a stark difference against religiously neutral Quebec city! Having been there in December last year, it was at least visually pleasing and was far from drab.

Will post my photos and what I think of Montreal and Quebec when it’s -15C and snowing on a Christmas season.

Until then.

Airplane Thoughts: Family Reunion

Prologue

Planned a few months before. Bags filled with well-wishes and the souvenirs of all the things that are needed for the big reunion of the siblings. It hasn’t been years since our last reunion. The latest was during my brothers wedding, some 7 years ago. My peeps have really, definitely changed, hairs gone a lighter shade and faces grown weary, but the spirit remains. It was totally a perfect reason to come to Australia and see everyone. There has been truly a remarkable gathering. Different stories, different angles. A lot of stories untold. A lot of experiences to be shared.

Airport Arrival Scene

Arriving at the airport a couple of hours later than expected. Eager to see everyone, wondering if they have already landed, gone through the immigration, collected the bags. The only line of communication was through the Internet, no one using SMSs or doing any voice call.

When I finally saw my brother coming to my direction, it was momentous. His face was familiar, but his stature not much. It must have been from being used to seeing taller and bigger people in Canada, or just remembering him as heavier. My nephew stood towering behind him, a grown young man.

Hugged and looked at each other. It has been years since I’ve seen them. Familiar smiles, familiar gaits, but not their stories, not their terms–they used so many Filipino slangs I barely understood. Nothing seemed fluid. It was discordant, with me haplessly searching for clues on what they just said.

The Reveal

We stood there for some good minutes before figuring out where we were and who we’re waiting for. Soon enough, we found ourselves being reunited again with our sisters who came out of the van hire. Everyone talked at the same time, too excited to even ask if we already had our “bio-break”, which we fondly call “Kali Moments”. Everyone eager and keen to share how its been and how’s life for them. It hasn’t been until we were all settled in the van (Aussies call it a bus) when I finally realized that we are together; and the conversation flowed easily and smoother. Panic-chat has gone and everyone is allowed to breathe a little slower again.

Excitement vs Jet Lag

The high energy in the van made me less drowsy than I expected. It was very unlikely, after literally skipping sleep on the plane. This was the breakdown:

  • 7:30-8:15 prep for work
  • 8:30-5:30pm work
  • 6pm-8pm final prep for the trip
  • 8pm-1:30am at the airport because trip was delayed
  • 15 hours airborne (16 hours gate-to-gate)

I’ve been up for at least 30 hours!

Flying Woes

The in-flight movie selections on Air Canada wasn’t too great this time. None were currently on the theatres–a stark difference from 2 or 3 years ago when the playlists were really good. Ah! Gone are the times. They have rather kept the ticket prices almost unchanged for at least 5 years, sans “luxury” and services dwindling away.

For one, long-haul flights cannot be on the cheap. After being on the plane for at the first two hours, you’d certainly feel the smaller seats; the tight squeeze when you enter your seat. Or the awkward “excuse me, coming through” requests through the aisle. I used to like window seats, but frequent bio-break and required leg movement from my arthritis ailment made me want to sit on the aisle on plane rides. And so I got it for this leg of the flight. However, in recent years, I noticed being shrugged off from aisle passers. I don’t think my shoulders grew a few inches broader, or that people have grown wider. I checked the aisle again: barely 3 hand spans.

“Ouchy Gouty”

I quietly curled in my seat with my hamstring pressing down on the tiny pillows–in an attempt to distribute my weight and off my bum. It aches–I must admit–even to a well-seasoned traveler like me, or I have just gone skinny on the rump. Long flights can be scary for gout sufferers like me.

Limited leg movement, dehydration and poor food choices could easily send me to a very painful arthritis ordeal. The last time I had a major attack was my Amsterdam-Vancouver trip 3 years ago, where I sipped on two or three cups of OJ’s to appease my grumbling sitting situation. Being tucked in the window seat didn’t help me get the much-needed leg movement. In no time, the attack was there as soon as we landed in Vancouver.

There will be no crazy meals and no food experimentation this year. It was all simple, my typical diet which is a mix of meat and more veggies to fill me up. It’s not easy to eat with meat lovers. The temptation is just way too strong. For me, I’d rather join them and be merry. No point reminding them how “sick” i am. I’m there to enjoy it too!

Perhaps, I should cook my own meals and bring my own casserole. Pretty much a single-serving cooking style. All veggies go in and all meat stay away and put to one side. There will be a range of recipes that I can prepare. Surely, I’d last a week easily without consuming too much purine or flush my system with water and dairy products.

There had been more than 3 mild attacks, which I tempered down by my medicine. After a long walk, my right foot just aches. A dull numbing pain that I can’t quickly shake off even when I had a good diet before hand. This could purely be to old age, after all, I turned 39 last week. But still not acceding to the fact that I’m getting weaker and less excited about things. Sometimes, I would settle with just a warm cup of hot chocolate on my hand while i watch the events go by in front of me. Not the type where I’d simply run off to the nearest festival and just snap photos of strangers. Nothing in mind, but just an exercise of my photography skills. It may take a while before i can truly practice and master the instinct for composing a good photo. Sometimes it is always about how i feel of the photo before i can say this is a good composition. Sometimes, it’s the attraction to the light or sometimes just the fleeting moment in front of me. There could be more to what I’m doing but I just have the urge to just snap certain photos sometimes. What I have in mind might not be captured by te photo, so that’s where I would write about it instead.

Eyeing for Beauty

If all goes well, and photos turn out at least 10% of good material, then I feel fulfilled. But having a digital format camera spoils me limitless. I’m still struggling to get it right the first time, but with practice, I shall face Ansel Adams and with pride I’ll tell him “I did it!”

(Photo Journals coming soon)

Guilty pleasures about sirens

It’s Tuesday night and the body has fully adjusted again to sitting in front of 3 monitors all day, unlike yesterday.  Lunch was at 11:30, before the foodcourt start teeming with hungry office workers. First breakfast was oat porridge with dried dates and the second breakfast was 1 cup of cherries in the office. Back to the daily grind. A typical work day. But wait! I hear no firetruck sirens? Now that is highly irregular.

Making a beeline from the office to Old Navy, I walked past a group of young ESL (English as Secondary Language) students “lazily” crossing the busy West Georgia and Granville intersection–slowing me down. Then I suddenly wished the big firetrucks would alert and startle them to quicken the pace.

Since Saturday, downtown Vancouver has been less noisy. Almost no firetruck siren on the streets. Firefighters are busy fighting the wild forest fires in the interior regions of our province, British Columbia.

It felt conveniently easy to be thankful it’s quiet. But shame on me for having the guilty pleasure. Firetrucks and volunteer firefighters are risking their lives while I wickedly wish they would stay away from the city…until I’ve watched the first episode of Game of Thrones season 7 on July 16th.

Need to catch some sleep.

 

 

 

 

Canada 150th Day Celebration

An immigrant reflects on what it means to celebrate Canada Day.

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Canada 150th Birthday Celebration – Is it just another day?

Since moving downtown, city events are hard not to notice. Sidewalks are congested; motorists impatient with turtle-speed along major thoroughfares; traffic police and ambulance sirens wail every half an hour or so. Several road closures and crowd-control fences are installed in an instant and traffic flow is redirected, just like when a major movie production is granted the use an entire city block.

July 1st marked Canada’s 150th birthday and the highlight of year-long celebration of what I’ve learned to be a $500M budget. In my work-building downtown, there are Canada 150th decals and some other stickers, which appeared a week prior. There’s a huge Canada 150 logo at Canada Place, attracting several tourists aboard cruise ships, contributing to the estimated 1.5M visitors that day.

Did it feel like the 2010 Winter Olympics? Certainly not, but seeing several Canadian flags and red shirts brings life and promoted “togetherness” amongst everyone. Although, it was difficult to distinguish the celebrators from the spectators. The former being tourists and international students.

Was it like just any other summer event? For me, it wasn’t.

I live in Canada, but do I think like a Canadian?

A decade of Vancouver city life may not speak of a truly Canadian experience, much more that I’ve found my vacation/escape outside of the country. But neither does a bottle of Molson beer and a bowl of poutine or the hockey tournament creates it. Paying taxes and regular contribution to the provincial healthcare levy gets me closer to truly “feel” I am in Canada. No, it is not the bickering that comes with it, but perhaps it’s about being part of the labour force that fuels this economy. It’s the unseen binding element amongst naturalized Canadians–like me–who share a somewhat similar life story (i.e. moving to Canada largely for economic reasons): a fellow boat-rower in sometimes-rough seas.

But how does a natural-born Canadian think? How is it different from mine? Emigrating from your motherland, one has to keep an open mind and broad understanding of your new “home” country. Awareness of one’s differences in lifestyle, political views, economic policy opinions and life in general puts every immigrant in equal footing with “everyone-who-has-been-in-Canada-ahead-of-us”. It is a two-way process for the new settler and the established resident of Canada. Here, there is a derision between what’s considered an “orginal” Canadian and those who just landed. Would immigrating to Canada earlier than most make me more Canadian–and perhaps a few decades more will make me the new “original” Canadian?

So, I witnessed a Canadian oath taking a few days ago and the overwhelming nostalgia gripped me. Their gleaming faces clearly show that they just accomplished something big, a badge of acceptance from Canada. I look at them with pride and warmth. Welcoming them as fellow boat-rowers. Did I just do a Canadian thing?

Soon, when these new Canadians become my healthcare benefit competitors, would I regret having welcomed them? I must confess: did I just do a Canadian thing?

In Canada, living affordability is every government era’s thrust and I believe that several programs have been in place to make it so. Notwithstanding several organizations volunteering their time for just and humane cause. If I were to volunteer mine, I would pick those that provides tax-credit certifications. Did I just do a Canadian thing?

Yes. If I do what they do, then I must think like them too–regardless of intentions.

Canada is not what you make of it, but what it makes of you.

Moving to Canada, I didn’t suddenly feel being Christopher Columbus. At least, it wasn’t like I had intentions to monumentally change or influence it. But as someone who had a good career back home, I had the unbridled confidence that I’d conquer Canada too. There were quite a few that I had to get used to: smaller city blocks, follow-your-lane driving, cleaning up after use of a fastfood table, to name a few. But it was the humbling experience of starting at a less-than-desired position when I first joined the workforce.

Years go by and reality has finally sunk in. It was finally clear what lies ahead of me and I can only choose to accept or reject (and go home). I decided to stay and not an ounce of regret.

Canada is a beautiful country and with people who continually support each other while also pushing their family or personal well-being and welfare. It is only fair to strive for his/her own, but recognizing that it is a multi-cultural country is one of its greatest appeal to me. It has made me more accepting of cultural differences and has me put on a new sense of pride to put a maple leaf flag in my backpack when I travel abroad. Did I just do a Canadian thing?

a grip on fleeting moments

Often, I wonder, how much we remember and what makes it stick. Life may unfold in a barrage of events, only to leave us dumbfounded until we make sense of it.

As an avid traveller and storyteller, sharing my recent trip or gig offers a chance to influence people’s views. Here I am, a person who has fingers on the slow-motion button–a grip on fleeting moments.

Vancouver has lent its diverse and unique cultural experience to bolster my inspiration to get behind the camera and snap photos. But the cities and cultures around the world has lit an inexhaustible desire to experience a “borrowed reality”.

This website is put together to share my interaction with family, friends, colleagues, clients, acquaintances as well as my travelogues in the hopes of providing you with a vicarious experience.

As this is my maiden post, I wish to welcome you to have a peek of my thoughts and views–and the stories behind a digital life.