My kind of weather, or is it yours

Browsing Vanity Fair back in my youth, when nary a shadow of living in Canada hovered on my palm during those lunch-break visits to Aling Cely — Lolit’s, Eileen’s and my personal fortune teller —I , too had fantasized sashaying along snow-paved sidewalks the likes of New York, suffused in the glamour of a fur-trimmed coat, shod in knee-high leather boots, and fitted with dark goggles. But I didn’t try to live the fantasy, at least.

I knew of one, who really did though; at the steaming building, on Potenciana and Uy Tit streets in Intramuros, we, employees of the then-National Media Production Center, beheld a so unlikely figure everyday—Dading in ridged turtleneck and leather jacket, short velveteen (sometimes leather) A-line skirt, black tights, and yes, knee-high boots. Seeing her would actually bring on a body flush or profuse sweat. And not only did she don such get-up during the ‘ber-months’, she actually kept it up throughout the year. With the many I’ve seen on TFC, especially in programs packed with celebrities, some even sporting light parka (winter coats insulated with either down feathers or synthetic fibers for heat), when temperatures drop a bit, Dading proved to be a trailblazer.

But I’m simply looking back. Had I not left Manila’s summer heat, maybe I would not even recall Dading, much more write with a palpable sense of irony about the Filipino’s un-tamped down “White Christmas” dream. Oh, I loved that song, and the carols that conjure up everything-winter, about which turned out to be just words then—sleigh bells, Jack Frost, mistletoe, and of course, snow. Blame it on the innate clash of cultural influences with which we’ve been brought up, and how we’ve persisted apparently to weave such temperate images into our consciousness.

While more Filipino versions apparently spangle the just-past Philippines Christmas, and millennials might scoff at nostalgia, I hold up to my remembrances of growing up, when we ourselves, made them. Among the few by now, these recollection, for me, remain classic: wads of cotton to make snow, rolls of red and green crepe paper to create holly berries, and sampalok branches, what to us then would be pretend-evergreen for holiday trees. Add to these, a few exchanged gifts I would receive, like a framed winter idyll of winter cottages up in the Rockies or Mt. Shasta, half buried in snow with their pitched roof, plumed by chimney smoke.

Imagine me, then, on my real everything-winter in North America: stunned on my first snowfall in Manhattan, which happened in March, not Christmas—virgin snow, which woke me up with an eerie but glorious iridescent glow through the blinds, the hush as if rising from depths of seas. What a soft heavenly world, I had thought, wrapped in awe. Eight years ago, on my arrival as immigrant to Vancouver, as if by design a twilight snowfall welcomed me, too. Were that succeeding snowfalls I’ve experienced through the years duplicated both waking dreams. Depending on the barometer’s rise and fall from freezing to sub-freezing, downy flakes could be wet swatches driven by the wind as in a blizzard, or as storm, steady crystals burying the world in a white grave, or by some other fanged combination snow turns to sleet, falling as frozen rain, that on pavements could be black ice. Road accidents, fallen roofs, avalanche, and power outage have cost lives and millions of dollars; surveying the aftermath of an ice storm in Toronto last year, for instance, estimated cost peaked at CAN$106 million for relief funds, as well as to help the city from cleanup to restoration of power and other utilities.

I’ve realized since I lived it that winter being of Nature, affects lives beyond the scintillating beauty and allure it projects. Indeed, if inadequately layered for warmth—whether in the snow or under a sunlit-freeze—we could contract flu with intermittent coughing, or as it happens to the elderly, die of hypothermia. Garbed though, in de rigueur thermal inner wear, woolen sweater, down coat with furred hood, a woolen or fur-lined hat or knitted cap, scarf also, woolen or knitted, to wrap the neck up to the nose, goggles to save the eyes from blindness in the snow and frozen air, gloves and yes, boots, also both heat insulated, all together often makes one feel thick as a bear.

Still, even indoors with heaters set at 30 degrees, and a fireplace throwing off tempered heat, sweaters and sweatpants, as well as fleece or towel socks replace the all-cotton wear and strap slippers of a seemingly long-ago summer; or else, a chill that creeps through your feet would catch you padding around soon, with 10 white freezing crinkly toes. Now, all these make me wonder if Dading ever came to North America and lived her fantasy.

Peregrine Notes/The Market Monitor (Manila)/January 19, 2015

About me:
Alegria Albano-Imperial, now an internationally published and awarded poet of haiku and other Japanese short poetry forms, writes from Vancouver, BC, Canada, where she has immigrated. She left behind an established career in journalism, including public relations and development communications in education, government, and arts and culture, in the Philippines. She was married to the late Felix N Imperial, II, restoration architect.


In search of food paradise 



We haven’t taken the hour-long journey to Hen Long in nearby Surrey for quite a while, hence, missing how with a thick body-rope of Filipinos and other Asians, we would furiously navigate the knotty sprawl of bins and baskets that overflow with what seem like gems to our wistful, nay, greedy eyes, as friends had assured us—they who, we’d bump into, with a ‘high five,’ and a high-pitched, “Nandito ka rin!”

Akin to a pilgrimage, as Rose promised, I think it’s how Hen Long felt like—the oh-so-missed palengke we’ve all grown up with, which drew us paradise-like. Indeed, as home recedes farther, longing for food made from Saturday rituals of trudging say, to Sta Mesa’s wet market sharpens, like my sister, who would go straight to her suki for fresh-caught tilapia from Bulacan and just-that-morning gathered tahong from Cavite. And so, with innate primal sensory senses, she had tracked down not substitutes but the real thing before I got here to Vancouver.


I thought I had the upper hand in sourcing what would bring out something like genuine dishes from home, having visited and stayed those years, when I dared to enroll in writing courses at New York University’s Continuing Education programs and apprenticed with an editorial outfit for children’s supplementary reading workbooks. I discovered then, substitutions for say, tinolang manok with zucchini in place of murang papaya and hardy Italian spinach for dahong sili; in the absence of gabi for thickening, I used tofu for sinigang na ulo ng salmon, again with Italian spinach, finding nowhere in the neighborhood produce stores, talbos or pechay.


During Lent, searching for fish other than cod fillet, I had imagined I would find catfish, served as blackened fillet in restaurants, but like most fish here in North America, by the time it gets to the shelves, it’s unrecognizable filleted sans whiskers and skin. Diligent poking though among frozen bags had rewarded me with catfish nuggets, and of the best part—its belly, out of which I used to cook adobo that would last through the fasting season.


None of that for my sister, who, like most Filipinos, would not compromise the taste she remembers. Hence, we would train up to far north Surrey and walk a half-mile from the station to Hen Long market. What joy, indeed, to find fresh saluyot and malunggay leaves for dinengdeng (Ilocano abraw), thin eggplants and small ampalaya for pakbet, sometimes though limp and already brownish in the tips, sayote tops, as well, Manila clams and even paros or unnok among Ilocanos, and cuts for dinuguan with, of course, the essential dugo, pinapaitan, including the greenish papait juice.


But here’s the rub: Such bliss proves costly and why not, as one store manager in the small produce store a block away from home to whom I had complained about the $4 per pound mango from Cebu blurted out, “It was flown on a Boeing 747!” A thin bunch of malunggay leaves, for another, neatly bagged in transparent plastic, still green to the eye—but which when taken out would fall like confetti—costs almost enough to buy a kilo of rice in Manila. Sayote tops because of their limited shelf life would be as pricey as a kilo of beef from a karnehan in Quiapo.


Was it BC Premiere Christy Clark’s visit to Manila, which brought about an inundation of Philippine food in Vancouver, perhaps? We haven’t gone to Hen Long for a while (now housed in its own spanking grand plaza), it’s at T&T, a giant Asian grocery and produce market irresistibly located at our train stop close to home, where we’ve found the same eden; why wouldn’t we drop by almost daily even just to browse shelves with Saranggani bangus and tilapia cheeks, frozen gabi, saba, patani, kinudkod na kamoteng kahoy, laman ng buko, Pampanga tocino, Ilocano longganisa even Magic Melt ensaymada, Selecta and Magnolia ice cream.


Sure, haven’t we, as Filipinos, long adapted to other cuisines, not to mention what’s Hispanic and Chinese in our food, introduced to Italian and even French dining, as well as not too long ago, Japanese and Middle Eastern? I remember the burgers we loved as university students at the corner of Avenida and Claro M. Recto, but soon came McDonald’s. Long before the pizza chain conquest of Manila, D’Mark’s served what seemed closest to what we now bite into. Still, deep in our nests, the yearning for food with which we were brought up continues to rumble through our dreams.


Three weeks ago on a deep bin at T&T, along with Mexican papayas and Chinese pomelos, there gleamed big guayabano packs, to my slight dismay from Thailand; anyhow, though priced like two sushi dinners, my sister bought one for me, and frozen saba for her. On reaching home, we chewed on our memories, wordless in thought. And then, somehow reality sneaked in unbidden with a string of reklamo: The guayabano tasted too bread-y, and the saba not maligat. We stopped there and fell into what felt obvious—how is it ever possible to implant home in another hemisphere, anyway?


Self-discovery in Cebu

The tanim-bala scare that had magnified into an obsessive search for the most secure luggage and body wallet for my sister and me, chewed up a third of our travel budget to Cebu last January. Add to that, one with extra space for safe-food packages and emergency pills for allergies, especially from anything ingested. 

How comforting to find out that we didn’t have monopoly of such irrationality—at YVR, our fellow pilgrims also streamed in, pushing gigantic versions of our ultra-streamlined unbreakable medium-sized luggage. All nodding acquaintances of each other at Holy Rosary Cathedral or in our parishes, we high-fived that early evening, flushed with anticipation to attend the 51st (and second in the Philippines) International Eucharistic Congress; except for a few who had gone to the spiritual event held every four years, most of us would be first-timers.

Asked by my sister what to expect in a congress, I hesitated to share what I recall of the few I had attended—possibly ho-hum stretches of talks and plenary sessions. But from the hefty kit handed to us on our arrival, the schedule had seemed daunting instead, with chanted prayers, Holy Masses, catechesis, and witnessing. We had taken on the identity of “delegates” by then, with an ID bracelet to be worn even in sleep, also a laminated tag with our name and country in bold font.

None of my imaginings humored me from hereon: Not the danger-laced daily trek through hot and dusty streets to get to the proceedings—a cop-escorted luxury coach fetched us from and took us back to the hotel; or the staid picture I had of the John Paul II Pavilion—the open-walled congress site, with cloth panels for a ceiling turned out cheery, even roaring and jubilant. In it, swarmed 15,000 delegates daily, possibly more, as well as hundreds of religious, mostly Filipinos, including the Papal Legate Charles Cardinal Bo, bishops, archbishops and cardinals from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, singing, praising, and applauding.

And soon we relaxed into just being ourselves, focusing cameras, clicking for selfies, crisscrossing aisles to find washrooms, and at lunch on Styrofoam boxes, picnicking, swapping food and life stories, and, yes, texting—all amid impassioned catechesis and homilies, which always extolled the Filipinos’ unabashed “love for the Eucharist.” We had formed a family by Day Two, with our seatmates on both sides, marking in the vastness our space but lost our fellow Vancouverites since.

From Day One, we whirled non-stop with events like visits to the city’s churches, a barrio fiesta, and on to the last three days, which ended physically grueling. Take these: a five-kilometer sunset-to-evening procession of the Eucharist that ballooned to an estimated million, which though, with fat candles, not a strand of hair got singed. Next, a concelebrated Holy Mass on a seething afternoon that sent us up the topmost bleacher seats of the Cebu City Sports Complex, which former Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal officiated for 5,000 first communicants, himself one such at the 1937 congress in Manila.

The concluding rites at Statio Orbis (Stations of the World) way out next door to the humungous SM Seaside, in five of the 25 hectares, where a template of the San Pedro Calungsod Shrine’s altar served the occasion, again got inundated by another estimated 1 million Cebuanos, among whom my sister and I managed to squeeze in, shaded by tall umbrella-bearing women. On only two occasions, two fainted from the heat; all seemed drunk with an inexplicable sense of simply flocking together in response to Christ’s “convocare” for supper, as Luis Cardinal Tagle described it.

The congress would be, for my sister, a burst of self-discovery: herself moaning in grief with every TFC news of disaster, crime, abuse and neglect, causing endless poverty, she finally realized why we, Filipinos, indeed, survive—we do possess an incredible gift, nay, blessing of incorrigible joy, apparently inimitably ours.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines, April 3, 2016

A caregiver is: Prepared for this?

April drizzle maybe less gray and likened to baby’s hair, deceitful in lightness, but still seeps to the bones. Fewer layers of inner wear maybe warm enough but with thin cotton outerwear, you could get soaked with yet icy water.

That’s why I imagined she must have been shivering, even if hardly obvious, as we came closer to each other by the garden shop on my way home. The zipped-up pram she pushed looked like that of a baby, while walking with her, a woman hooded for the rain, who had seemed, to me like her Canadian employer, gesturing instructions. Up close, she met my eyes in that wordless supplicating look, recognizably Filipino, framed by her hair now drenched in soft rain.

Warm and dry back home, remorse assailed me as to why I didn’t offer my umbrella—I could have covered my head with my coat’s hood. But ignorant of the truth, it would have been simply impolite. Still I kept wondering if she had come to Canada unprepared not only about the weather but much more of the unexpected—though apparently, there’s less of these with recent changes made in the Live-in Caregiver Program.

Could the baby be the only one in her care, hence, merely a childcare provider? Or does her job include housekeeping, laundry and meal preparation? Wouldn’t that sound like a “domestic” then? Indeed, a typical wanted ad for a fulltime caregiver in the dailies reads like this: “For a family of four but job mainly for our four-year old son from feeding, bathing, taking him to prep school, organizing indoor/outdoor educational activities, such as reading kids’ books, doing craft, also bringing him to libraries, parks, a swimming pool, and wherever he can play with other children.” The ad underscores, “flexible time a must,” and inclusive of household work though Live-out “paid CAD11/hrs with medical insurance and monthly bus pass.”

We’ve known this all along, haven’t we? But even with imaginings of flawless blue Canadian skies, I, for one, have dwelt only on snippets of their stories, especially their dramatized sacrifices to make life possible back in the Philippines, which had virtually be-medalled them. Live-out as a choice, however, has lessened rather horrifying stories since, like that of Cita’s first job—her quarters in a basement had no real flooring, hence, winters had been brutal. For Faye, who left a teaching job and a father’s lingering heartache, loss of freedom or the sense of being “owned” proved quite a struggle to rein in. But pining for home, especially during winter’s early darkness, almost drove Rebecca to just break away like many others during those years when Smartphones and iPhones have not yet had the instant connections now possible. Too, a live-out arrangement has opened possibilities of renting a three-bedroom Recent sightings, indeed, paint brighter frames: it’s easy to spot them with their wards, a few carrying the child a la Nanay—in that heartbeat-leap we cradle a baby close to our breast; picture a little boy’s blond head at rest on his nanny’s shoulder, though most just bundle a baby with toys in a stroller.

Sparks of our ka-artehan, also tend to cheer jaded mornings on the bus as in a little girl, sometime ago—dolled up in a frock with matching ribbons, socks, and even a small purse, who, maybe sensing admiration, would smile back at us while her nanny fussed over the tiniest that might fall out of place.

No matter, my sentiments peaked to melodramatic heights by the time my sister came home; having had more interactions with them, she waved off my suppositions, declaring, not to worry about the Filipina in the rain, who like most caregivers without doubt, carries an inner strength of steel. “I knew of one who fed horses and pastured sheep yet laughed about it,” she closed the subject.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines April 17, 2016

When did you last go to the library?


If asked, I would look up but unseeing the sky as I search within me for an answer. Maybe three weeks ago, I did but to browse for new items at the Gift Shop, use the washroom, check for new titles, and then cross the famed lobby of the Vancouver Central Library downtown to one of the cafes for a pizza and decaf tea. Note that my list skips borrowing a book or taking one out of the shelf and sit in a corner, to be lost in a page say, of an Anton Chekov novel or Lorca poem, or copy critiques, furiously handwriting paragraphs for a research paper as in my university years—how strange to realize it’s within my lifetime.

A few months ago, nonetheless, I hurried to a workshop on memoir writing; that week of the annual Bookfair, crowds streamed in and out of exhibits, book sales and workshops on book making in the lobby. Braiding with us, eagle-eyed for rare items, either in trams or on tiny steps, some fretful but mostly wide-eyed, children who had maybe dozed already in the children’s room, where they could have romped, played house and tinkered with books that talk or squawk, with their mothers by then carrying more books she borrowed from children’s collections.

Maybe two years ago before my laptop eased up for the WIFI at home, I would rush to one of the computers on the 2nd floor for a free access to the web. Most seniors make it a daily routine; some stay for a couple of hours, signing in and out every hour when their session expires. I’ve also attended Philippine presentations on human rights violations in one of the conference rooms, watched a Filipino film, listened to readings by local authors, and voted in the last local elections.

Indeed, while libraries still house knowledge as those dated BC, communication breakthroughs in our century have caused such explosion of information in invisible spaces called the web, jarring their role. Now shifted from mere resources to “agents of change”, as the American Library Association reported in the recently held Library Week, libraries today significantly offer space to resolve issues, or even a “safe haven” during chaos like in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; when “…protests divided residents and caused schools and city services to shut down…the Ferguson Municipal Public Library stayed open, and served as an ad hoc school.”  

Ask me then, how do I, like a growing number, get a book these days? On Kindle or from Amazon, such virtual places that lend and sell books on one’s computer without ever passing through the senses—for me, the soft silence, the carved nooks, the baroque high windows, the scent of paper, and one’s own breathing. While Amazon still delivers a book the way we’ve always known it—printed on paper—Kindle, like most have it these days, slips a book onto a screen. One might buy a Kindle book as well, or borrow through a library with which one has a library card; libraries in most North American cities have since digitalized their collections. As for research, who hasn’t Googled wikipedia these days?

Still, because I do miss it, I still want to feel the spine of books on a shelf and also seek out a librarian to talk. In one such session, I learned that poetry hardly ever gets borrowed; hence, noting a couple in my arms, she had cheered me for the book’s sake because apparently, if any book moves at all, it takes on life. “Hundreds of them do not,” she said.

I had to ask, “What then awaits such ‘dead books’? She answered almost inaudibly, “Given away, and most often begged to be taken.”

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, April 20, 2015

Canopies of tender pink


No sighting in my past could have prepared me for cherry blossoms. The closest perhaps would have been the sprigs of kakawati in summer. But they didn’t create canopies of tender pink, recoloring the sky, which cherry blossoms do. Entranced on my first spring in North America, I lost every word that would mean, awe, toddling with eyes up and dropped jaw through rows of them in full bloom at Washington Square in Manhattan, later at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the Jefferson Mall in Washington, DC.

Today, where I live in Vancouver, BC, I simply race the wind two blocks from home to neighboring streets and get suffused in hues of silky pink. I’ve joined revelers with Vancouver Haiku Group, of which I’m a member, on Sakura (cherry blossom) Days, as well, at Van Dusen Gardens. Still, no matter the jamming, shared cheer, especially shrieks of children seeing them for the first time in other gatherings like at the Japanese cenotaph at Stanley Park in honor of Japanese Canadians who fought in WWI, the Burrard St. Skytrain station, and countless streets in the city, always a hush falls on many stunned by the pink glow.

Whispers, in fact, hint at reverence for me, during scheduled viewings, usually three days—like they say of women, at the “peak of their beauty”—because on the fourth day, a pink drizzle might begin. Uncannily, too, the wind as if in haste, might follow with gusts, causing a petal storm that would inundate sidewalks and lawns. Blue skies, then soon reappear within a week through bare-again crowns, while brownish leaf sprouts spike the nodes, as the cherry trees revert to just-trees.

As brief as a held-breath, perhaps explains the urgency behind viewings and festivals as timing must coincide with the trees’ inner clocks. While the flowers as harbinger of spring should bloom at almost the same time as last year, dates had not seemed to be exact and flowering happens in waves; buds burst early in warmer regions, and on to cooler areas, climbing northward to higher places, according to my readings. Like right now here at home, while a ‘daily watch’ website has reported several viewings, including the Accolade cherry blossoms at City Hall, trees in my Marpole neighborhood have yet to bloom.

Picture almost identical scenes of families and friends swarming under the blossoms in Japan, where viewings started during the Edo period, and to this day, picnicking, sipping sake and tea as depicted in kimono embroidery, woodblock prints, canvas and porcelain paintings and other arts. Duplicate this in Europe, South America, Australia, and Canada, crowding under the blossoms, perhaps like the now 50,000 trees in Vancouver, gifts from the Japanese, and you find a world enrapt.

Would some of them, wrapped in beauty, be pondering on ‘the transience of things’? And perhaps, accept with gentle sadness the ‘pathos of our existence’? If so, then viewing cherry blossoms would be for naught; it could even be a source of strength like how Japanese soldiers expecting defeat in Leyte apparently asked that they be “permitted to bloom as flowers of death”, echoing the last known message that invoked, “Sakura, Sakura”, earlier in the Battle of Peliliu (Palau), where like cherry blossoms so soon shed in millions, 10,000 said to be mostly young fell.

While I have ceased to wonder why Sakura festivals begin to swirl as soon as buds sort of break into a smile, first, and then, as if overnight, burst full-faced to cover what had been ghostly gnarled limbs in the winter, and then, in a whiff, as if by a sleight of hand, they’re gone, nothing prepared me for the subtle transformations wrought by cherry blossom storms. Think how evanescent beauty really is, how ephemeral life could be, how close our own existence to the cherry blossoms, indeed.

Published in Peregrine Notes (Alegria Imperial) at The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines, March 16, 2015



It feels like a kind of loving
February 19, 2015, 5:55 pm
Filed under: opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , ,


More as devotion, this kind of love has no bearing on the common notion though it feels like one for me. Or how does one explain the enormity of emotions it draws out—so compelling that we agonize over this beloved’s miseries, want to right the wrongs done to her, and even die for her sake? Yes, apparently it’s mother, this “loved one” for Filipinos.

And to my mind, this kind of love does begin at birth when with twin mothers we’re nourished in parallel yet dissimilar ways, one, with breast milk and the other, with the sun, air, sea, mountains, birds and flowers. Both as life-gifts, hence, taken for granted in our youth, until in a mysterious process, these rise from caverns within: first, as response in song, dance, and poetry, next, as work. While both revert to one’s own need of expression first, and existence, even a future, second, in the end, like atoms these coagulate into a mass wherein without our being conscious of it, we’re fused.

Drawn to symbols of her, like clarion calls or torches that flare in the dark, we’re magnetized when poised on us; either her wins, or defeats or dangers become ours. Yet, that’s not all—especially in exile whether or not of our choosing, longing for its gifts gnaws at us, seeing in alien landscapes her contours, grasping at likenesses in scents and sounds, envying the comforts and choices denied of her.

Or how would I explain the deep helplessness I felt at the Vancouver Public Library one afternoon over a sparse showcase consisting mostly of thin flash fiction volumes, CDs of telenovelas, children’s books not labeled Pilipino but Tagalog, that puts this sub representation at the far end of country collections in a shelf shared with the Vietnamese? Akin to finding out how a mother dressed inappropriately has been pushed aside, I crept home, nursing a hurt.

When I cried over a documentary film on women desaparecidos as one by one their oh-so-engaging-smiles served as ironic bitter punch to their unknown suffering to this day, I couldn’t explain why I did to a handful of Canadian women who had attended the small conference on an increased violation of rights. But they understood with their focus on the poignancy of the message spelled out in the constant juxtaposition of the country’s beauty and the rawness of brutality.

And what about when I grabbed the microphone in another conference on women’s history, and raved about the vastness of the Filipino’s reach versus the European and North American episodes presented. We’ve crossed the same paths, I proclaimed, sensing that no one seemed that much aware.

Books identify ‘love of country’ as patriotism, a concept linked to further abstract terms like “cultural attachment to one’s homeland” in varying contexts such as geography and political ideology. Could this be translated to my spasms of sorrow and pride in exile for what I would otherwise shrugged off had I stayed? Honestly, if I’m enraged over the evils the Philippines faces while its citizens scrape for a living, I wonder how I would respond to an accusation of not having the right, as I had traded my citizenship for another. Guilt does rankle in me at times, but I think this would absolve me: if I didn’t leave, I wouldn’t be as impassioned as I am now. More than it “does make the heart grow fonder” distance condenses the love-gifts of and for a mother.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Market Monitor, February 16, 2015, Manila, Philippines

Noise could cause illness or kill: Who would have thought?

“Ahhh…did you hear the racket in the sky, this morning?” Arlene had nudged me off my noonday stupor at an informal seniors philosopher’s group at Marpole Place. “It felt so close, I was afraid the jet would land straight to my bed, not only shattering my ears but also burning me down,” she had raised her voice. Well, at least you haven’t turned deaf or suffered a heart attack, I could have told her but I sensed it wasn’t the moment to allay her agitation.

Marpole where we live, and where she had grown up, sprawls right under the path of Boeing jets taking off and landing at YVR International Airport, a viewing distance west of us. Increased Air Canada flights and more berths for other international airlines, indeed, have raised noise levels these past few years. While Marpole is within city limits, it lies on the extreme south end where downtown hugs the mountains and the North Shore on the opposite side. Hence, residents of condominium, apartment rental, and free standing houses still hug a veritable peace from raucous movement of vehicles and people, as well as bars and late night pubs, downtown.

I do draw loads of settled wind in its grid streets of manicured front gardens, long lines of aged oaks and chestnut trees, and in the spring canopies of cherry blossoms. Hardly anyone loiters in the streets though from early to late evenings in the summer, I do meet couples strolling up and down the grass-trimmed sidewalks, conversing in whispers, except, when close to and passing by the school grounds on 68th Street, which is opened as a park in the summer, squeals of children in the slide and the swing somersault in the air. Other than that in passing, cawing crows, crying seagulls, or the brief call of mourning doves, no noise shatters the neighborhood. Until, planes begin to leave and arrive, and the cops carry out their planned bust.

When Gudrun Langolf, Marpole Oakridge Area Council Society’s chair then, passed around a petition demanding YVR to lessen noise level by any means, I signed half-heartedly. Honestly, none of it bothers me. I lived Manila, haven’t I? She couldn’t have imagined what I’ve lived through in a city where noise seems as natural as breathing. Which explained, perhaps, my half-hesitance to sign the petition; honestly, either I’m rather impervious to occasional piercing sounds and the slight trembling that come with them or I do sleep as the cliché says, like a log—how vivid the image, isn’t it?

Yet indeed, I should be concerned; I could be losing my hearing. Or should I? I can still hear a whisper, and the rustling of organza that hugs the legs, which from zero or total silence, the kind we often experience in mountain tops as a ringing in our ears, nakabinging tahimik, to 30 decibels of the softest whisper. And in normal conversations, already up 60 decibels, I hardly strain to catch a word. Yet, I should be affected when fired up spirited exchanges raise decibel levels 10 times, according to the Noise-induced Hearing Loss website; often I’m not though in bars and discos, where all sounds blare I’d leap out of a door as if from an ejection button.

But a shout or door alarm amid a din especially in enclosures does seem to shatter my ears, the decibel already up by another 10 decibels translated higher into millions through an exquisite process, which the pinna, our visible ear, catching sound that travels through tiny canals with esoteric sounding parts as waves in an inner furry tunnel of nerves to the brain. Learning in the site, too, that an ambulance siren at 120 decibels booms in trillions in the ear, I now understand Arlene’s distraught state.

Her wailing though didn’t end with such extreme exposure to loudness; as well though only muffled, the thump of a neighbor’s teenage son playing his boom box until the wee hours, and an insomniac just above her bedroom scuttling around, hammering whatever on the floor has turned her into a nightly criminal with thoughts of choking both. Sustained, she could fall ill.

Apparently because of its invisibility, it often baffles us to hear of illnesses like psychological imbalance, heart disease and even death as caused by sustained exposure to extreme sound. Who hasn’t experienced temporary deafness during take off and landing on a flight? Or heard of a homecoming seaman who worked in the engine room turned totally deaf. I knew an uncle-in-law, just out of the ICU recovering in a regular ward, died from the sound of a fire alarm due to a freak fire at Manila Doctor’s Hospital.

Warnings about the dangers of “injected loud music” with iPhones and Androids though have seemingly fallen on deaf ears, pun intended. Constant review of anti-noise pollution laws— some going back to the 1930s like in Vancouver—through activism has yielded from City Hall a list of such unimagined culprits as fitness classes, idling vehicles, buskers and street musicians, and yes, school yards, with ancillary information on what office or agency to call if feeling endangered. Yet, told about it, Arlene had raised her brows, “who would have thought we’ve come to this?” she asked. I nodded, indeed.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, August 17, 2013


On Legacies


What legacies we carry hardly ever figure out in our daily lives with bequeathals like mansions and other such obvious signs of wealth being the exceptions, of course; more common to us, like mine, in varying degrees hardly overwhelm or glitter. Often summarized in a word as ‘values’, which may include status either inherited or earned by noble action, even a way of life, families are their innate source. I would add that learning either from school or one’s own pursuits broaden legacies, and even at times turn out as sources of more priceless legacies like history as well as peace and beauty in landscapes from travels, that ironically for most, are often less valued for their amorphous nature.

Such peregrinations wouldn’t have fallen on me had I not traveled to Vermont farther north of New York last month. Or again, I didn’t count on it, expecting instead, endless romps on green meadows that the Green Mountains let nestle on their bosom. Would but Nature was all I dwelt on: cloud shapes like grazing sheep on cheeks, mountain mist on waist of giant fir descending in diaphanous calm, expansive skies as if eternity were within one’s tipped toes.

But haven’t I viewed my own legacy of the heavens back in the islands where I’m from? How easy to sound as if that spot on earth where one might be instantly implanted were the most wondrous sight. More amazing is the realization that each spot is but a window to a land and sky or seascape configured by geological shifts and human history—the Philippine archipelago would draw gushes of awe from foreign visitors as much as a Filipino would of theirs like Vermont for me.  

And so, as a traveler must zero in on destination, my friend and I drove for meal and bed in a century-old inn, which turned out as if we were unleashed into another time, again, one that I’ve merely conjured from art, books and the movies—the end of the 19th century preserved in Wilmington and lived by its people to the present day as effortlessly as waking up in both the dawns of their ancestors and their own. In the course of the trip, I discovered more of it, as the state of Vermont has simply resisted the physical corrosion of time. Apparently, families have carried on their legacies smoothly without seams.

My friend and I woke on our first day not just to a present of black-framed French windows thrown open to the mist seeping up rivers and streams that trickle around roots of flowering hydrangeas, the delicate picket fences of white balconied homes, farm estates rising on grassy knolls or glinting like an accent on foot hills but also a way of life as tactile as a child’s first touch of a goat’s horn or sinking fingertips into a sheep’s coat, a moment as vibrant as the moo of cows in the glen. A few solid pillars of silos pivot on one’s eyes, and sugar shacks divert one’s glimpse off the sprawl.

During a brief pause after a breakfast of squash omelet, made of fresh picked vegetables and multi-grain pancakes doused in farm made maple syrup, we rocked on a wooden swing at the balcony of our century-old inn, taking in the breeze that brushed an unhurried town of laced windows and a clock tower with a rooster pointing its beak where the wind goes. Strolling on Main Street in a pace that would have asked of dirndl skirts and a parasol, I couldn’t resist climbing a boardwalk that led to artists’ workshops, where in one, if it were not Labor Day, I could have sat for a pencil portrait.

An inner court shaded by cherry and apple trees, curves by the country store where the touch of woolen yarn from the local sheep triggered a picture I loved in my nursery book of a grandmother knitting on a rocking chair that was displayed, too, in a corner. We would later find in farmers’ markets fruit preserves in mason jars and maple sugar in clay pots alongside apples named after their grower like Robert Frost’s, yes, the poet we revered in our youth once lived in a cottage we did go to in nearby Shaftsbury, where he ventured, though failed, into farming.

Would this be a mere feast of travel memories? As a visitor, it’s a thought that is quite valid. But this is where my consciousness tore in half—I began to live them even taking some as my own legacy while knowing it’s but borrowed for a few days. Still, I realize, writing about it just now as stolen legacies from Wilmington locals, which by simply and staunchly preserving by living them have, unknowingly perhaps, enhanced their value by passing these on not to only to their children but to strangers who now claim a share like I have.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, October 7, 2013

What keeps you away from home, Tia?

The three-storey house has risen on soil she once called home. I’ve climbed it to the roof top where I scooped in volumes of sweetish tropical breeze, gazing at a perforated sky—I once read that the Philippines’ latitude crowns it with a concentrated view of the constellations.

Unlike the old bungalow, as if furious for the absolute, my uncle had poured his dreams into this new house: Marble floors and wide ledges, windows from across each other for counter-flow, bathrooms adjacent to the bedroom outfitted with splatter-safe floors, and elevated to bar prying eyes from the street, a free-flowing living-dining kitchen furnished ala America on the first floor.

The old house also sprawls in light-splashed spaces from high ceilings and wide windows that siphon light, but its fewer bedrooms did pose a quandry over a sister’s long-talked about retirement place. And then, horrible Andoy inundated this house almost to the roof top, washed off most of life he had stacked in books and memorabilia, and stayed as trauma dregs, which is why, in the new house, a climb begins at an elevation of tall six steps up the front door. The push for its construction came during his sister’s yet another homecoming; this time, an architect and contractor had been called.

Still, two homecomings later, the sister kept dipping her toes and withdrawing them, like testing the pool for safety even comfort, as she silently pined for half her heart in Honolulu, her home of 30 years. Apparently, without her meaning to, her veins have rooted among undulating roads around Waikiki; how could Manila’s roads in constant Gordian knot compare? At 80 years old, sustained by youthful spurts of wanting to check out a good deal at Ala Moana Mall or attend a bishop’s noonday holy mass at the downtown cathedral, she had often felt stymied by warnings of black diesel smoke that could choke her and bad wolves prowling sunset streets of Manila in the few months of her stay.

Balikbayan boxes of her own appliances bundled and humped in a kitchen corner of the old house, notwithstanding, my aunt has not ceased refining her purchases to furnish the dream house—of late, a Kuerig coffee maker to replace a yet unpacked programmable-brewing-time Black and Decker. The Kuerig, she later worried, could conk out in one of those power surges or undetected fluctuations so common in Manila.
Stacks of food also trail her as if she had not known long ago how Philippine grain tastes, insisting that the 20 pound bag of brown rice from California tastes cleaner and nuttier. She had once brought 10 pounds of steak round, claiming local beef tastes ma-anggo. Concerned whether or not papaya or what other fibrous local fruit could be available as soon as she arrives, she would stock up on Costco’s dried fruit bags and prunes to bring, not to mention, of course, those aromatic macadamia blends of Kona coffee. Several trips on buses that kneel would keep her occupied, finding more stuff to fill the dream home.

But unease have persisted each time she flew in. That first morning she and I had visited Manila, her creased forehead on waking warned me of a terrible day unfolding: she felt a blister inside her left cheek. Which dentist would see her promptly? Given her health concerns that her dentist in Honolulu would not have to review, would she get proper care? We had hang our heads on the breakfast table, despairing over seeming improbables like if no one could bring her, she would have to ride a tricycle to the gate first, flag an FX express and risk being suffocated by the redolence of bold fragrances, which office-goers wear, or worse, seated beside a svelte friendly lady whose deft wrists could magnetize valuables.

Visiting my sister and me at our hotel during a short trip to Honolulu, my aunt had complained of dizziness from sleeplessness, perhaps from the soda pop she had sipped in a children’s party though she had just received a glowing reading of her last check-up, all paid for by health insurance, of course. Again, we had hang our heads, shivering as we confronted the day when her ailments might progress, God forbid, and who would then, take care of her?

You really have to go back home to Manila, Tia, I had gently proposed. She agreed as she picked up a bagful of alamang, dried dangit and espada, pusit, too, she had brought back from Manila she had promised to share with us. And three bags of Kona coffee, of which I first demured, but she insisted, saying she had more from another Balikabayan box about ready for pick up. I hugged her, rueful with gratitude.

Against my aunt’s two lives and those of friends to which I’ve been privy, I realized what rends them apart when threatened by uprooting: As the landscape of security and comfort pushes forward, details as in forest trees, cloud the choice. Would hearth, which had birthed her, win out in the end? Among quite a number I’ve known, holding out too long turned out too late for a decision. Yet, I believe, the play of both lives sustained them, as it does my aunt.

Homecoming, Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror, Philippines, November 3, 2013, Manila