Packing away a lifetime

Unlike most others who immigrate and could leave home—which in truth, holds more emotions than someone we love—with a kin or caretaker, hence, to which seamlessly they could go back, my sister and I having been orphaned with me, childless and widowed, there was no one. Like a wild wind, we packed away our life, uprooting ourselves with waivers as heirs to leftover generations-owned farmlands, and handed over frayed documents of family history to relatives, whom we knew would know how to preserve them.

No hint at all in our growing up and adulthood that we would jam in two suitcases and in my case, a box I sent to my own self via UPS to Canada. Indeed, who has seen one’s future exactly the way it unravels especially those sudden turns? And who is ever prepared? For me, who my sister sponsored, it happened in less than three years. The arrival on a FedEx package from the Canadian embassy of my immigrant visa had felt like a storm and it churned on until my flight in two months.

Arrival at YVR (Vancouver International Airport) on Dec 23, 2006


In those months, remnants of years most of which I’ve forgotten or never knew had slumbered in corners, turned up. I tossed out from my mother’s beribboned cache, yellowed and crumbly report cards from the grades and up of my sister’s and mine, receipts and tax returns, notes from friends of my parents and ours, greeting cards and wedding invitations, my father’s heavily stained favorite hard plastic coffee cup that I must have snitched from Korean Airlines, and a steak plate he must have used a few times, among mounds and mounds of settled dust.

But I kept my parent’s love letters and my mother’s birth certificate and packed our photo albums especially a picture of my grandfather, a studio portrait of my father as a young man, my mother in the buff at eleven months and posed atop a wall in Intramuros during her years at the then, Philippine Normal School.

If I could, I wanted to keep more but wondered how and for whom in Canada? Like my late husband’s (Felix Imperial II), notes on restoration of Intramuros that I had hoped could be useful someday. After nights of poring through them, into boxes I loaded and delivered these to UST’s Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics, and my own collections, along with researches I had hoped to write about to the National Library. I had asked Jack, a nephew, to take for a living museum he had mentioned he would build, my mother in-law’s wedding gifts of depression tinted glass sets, and brocaded crystal plates, as well as her hand-painted Japanese tea sets. So what else were in my suitcases and the UPS box?

It turns out that I packed randomly, taking along mostly souvenirs. Take this wood carved cherubim I had set on an accent table. The Northern Canadian sun now starkly reveals smudges on its varnished cheeks and tiny cracks behind its ear, and none of the smoky calm it had effused when I needed it in what seemed then, a life, which would just flow on.


The size of my palm, the late National Artist Lucrecia ‘King’ T. Kasilag sent it to me after an article I wrote of her came out in the defunct Chronicle. “You brought tears where sadness had long withered away. Only angels do that. Thank you,” she scrawled on a piece of yellowed wax paper she had used as a pillow to lay the angel.

A Union Jack lapel pin, too, had stayed in my jewelry box, with an unsigned note possibly in a rush with this scribbled message, “…from the ‘unlikely chorus guy for ‘Miss Saigon.’ Yet, you believed in me,” quoting from an article I wrote for the musical published in Philippine Star. At the CCP auditions in 1989, he stood out with his self-consciousness, being a first-timer then to Manila, flown-in on a sponsored ticket—his first airplane flight—from Tacloban. He had left this souvenir on my desk when he came back among those who ended their first contract to perform in London.


Even in Canada’s morning mist, this treasure stands out—an arrangement of “Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing” for voice and piano, that the late composer and conductor, Lucio D. San Pedro signed as a gift when he learned I’m Ilocano. From many lunches at the then, CCP buffet-eria to which he had treated me with pritong isda and guinisang monggo, finished off with turon, I had written about his music’s emotional content when he was declared National Artist that seemed to deeply link us.


None of the flimsy clothes I had worn for milestone events, like my book launching, fit neither spring’s wetness nor summer’s cool. Or could a pair of Marikina shoes last through undulating walks in the winter’s extreme cold and summer’s humidity. Like a birch, I now wear a new skin. Yet intact within me, at most times even simultaneously as evidenced by these souvenirs, is one still prowling Manila’s sunsets and the other, scouring Vancouver’s snow-covered peaks, as in permanent bilocation, perhaps?

Peregrine Notes at Business Mirror Opinion Page 08 June 2013

9 Comments so far
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I hope your husband’s work is accessible to those people now working on Intramuros. Reading you, I could just imagine how difficult it is for you to live in a country so far away. You’re so Filipino, living in a country with hardly a trace of your former life, that’s tough. I worked for a year abroad, now I’m back. I consider myself lucky. Last year I considered moving to US. I went there, spent weeks, then I decided, no. I don’t think I can I’m presently without work. Now I’m starting to look for work and there are tempting posts abroad. The only ones locally pays too little. I don’t know if I’ll pick these, or, work again abroad. While that sure would get me more, I’ll be away. Earlier, my mother cooked ‘dilis’ in vinegar. She placed a few ‘camias’, typically Bisayan. Its so cheap, simple a dish but I’d rather have that than a juicy burger.

Comment by De AnDA

Oh, Arnold, yes, I do hope, a young architect bitten by the restoration bug like Felix was would find some use for his notes. I had wanted to make a summary of them but I had too much to clear out. I didn’t realize until then how much we hoard in our life!

Yes, implanting one’s own life in another country seems tough yet not quite. Apparently, the secret is to know who you really are and I mean, a totality that must include your culture, country, heritage, history, beliefs, traditions, etc…or everything you wouldn’t have thought would come into play. I didn’t. But inevitably in encounters with Canadians most of whom are hyphenated citizens like me, a kind of interweaving to find commonalities and differences happens. Imagine if I haven’t carried with me that much.

You know what I’m saying, I’m sure. And if you do decide to work in the US again, I’m also certain you’ll make it. It’s true though that changing one’s own self to suit new norms and keeping an old life under wraps could be tough but eventually, like water, you’ll rise to your natural level.

Except that as in your last sentence, food such as your mom’s dilis with camias would haunt you even in dreams!!! Maybe then, stay for now. Why not try to ask around if cultural institutions like the NCCA, CCP or the DOTourism have openings? These might not pay big but if it’s work you love doing, half of your pay is more than fat.

Thanks again for reading my posts and for always interacting with me. Greatly valued, Arnold!!

Comment by filipineses09

I hope you’re well there. New coming out of there shows a lot of floods, destruction. But that’s news-most of it I’m sure doesn’t reveal what’s really happening.

Comment by De AnDA

Oh, how sweet of you, Arnold! Yes, the floods are in Alberta and Toronto far from here. BC is usually more protected from inundations because it’s made up of islands and waterways here are vigilantly protected. We live close to the Fraser River that winds through almost all of Central BC but a walk to a park on one of its clearing reveals how even the tide is because there’s no silt.

I’ve been quite neglectful of Filipineses again, and my poetry blog, jornales, because of our trips first to Manila, and a month later in May to Honolulu. I’ll post my column on our trip to Hawaii soon at Filipineses, “Who do you expect to meet in Hawaii?”

By the way, are you on Facebook? We could communicate faster in it if you have. While my timeline is mostly on haiku and other poetry, you can always hide my news feed, and let’s just use it for updates and exchanges. My Fb name is Alee Imperial Albano, set up as such because I had wanted to find my relatives. I did, some. Send me a friend invitation and I’ll watch out for it.

Thanks again, Nold! I’ll get on Filipineses in a few days. I’m writing as much as advance columns for peregrine notes as I can because I’m leaving for NY at the end this month and staying there till the end of Sept.

I hope you’re doing good yourself. Keep posted.

Best regards!! Alegria

Comment by filipineses09

It’s nice to her that you and your family were not affected. By now, I’m sure most people are going back to their homes to rebuild, start anew. As you know, we have typhoons and floods, we all could relate to such tragedies.

I don’t have a facebook. But I had one before. It was strange actually, because I had 300 plus friends and family there but it felt fake. I mean, people are posting their new cars and expensive stuff there, gossiping, some post gruesome images, some showbiz stuff. In short, it was too negative for me to look at—I’m the kind of person that gravitates towards positive things, you know, arts, religious stuff, anything that projects beauty, especially related to our culture and tradition. And I find these in writers like you. So while I love everyone in my facebook, I just can’t handle the negative stuff there. I don’t want to block or delete people because that would certainly offend them so I just decided to turn off my facebook. A relative of mine manages the facebook ‘fan page’ on my site, so people could ‘like’ the blog if they enjoy the amateurish stuff that I write. But yeah, no more facebook for me 🙂

By the way, I would like to know more about the role of your late husband in Intramuros. Could you write down some of his contributions? I’m going to visit the walled city later and I would like to mention him in my blog. I’m sure he’s one of those guys that deserves our gratitude for his work. I think I have your email, so I’ll send you a list of questions.

Ingat po!

Best Always,


Comment by De AnDA

Opps. I can’t find your email add 🙂 if you don’t mind please send me a message so I could save it and send you my questions.

Pasensya na po sa abala.

Comment by De AnDA

Guia, this is Fr. de Mesa. Am still IT-illiterate and know very little about computers. This is actually a stab in the dark, if I may say so. Please let me know if this reaches you alright. I’ve wondered all these past years where you might be. And I felt helpless, because I had absolutely no idea how what to do. Everytime I pass by your place at Sta. Mesa, I would heave a sigh and wish I knew how, where to start searching for you. Then last night I just thought of trying the Internet. Hope I hear from you soon. Am in LA now and will be flying home tomorrow night.

Comment by Fr. Pompeyo de Mesa, O.P.

Oh, wow, Father, what a wonderful surprise!! It’s great to hear from you and this is definitely not a shot in the dark…it’s a bull’s eye. Me, too, I’ve long wanted to get in touch with you but couldn’t find a way. I know you’re still at UST and I should just have mailed you a letter but pulling out of one’s life to implant one’s self in another country got me entangled with the details of settling down. I’m pretty much a Canadian or more specifically, a Vancouverite now! But my affections have stayed with Manila, of course. Needless to say, it would take quite a few chapters to update you and I suppose you, too, me, though this a terrific start. I’ll email you a longer letter from the same gmail account where I received this comment. Thanks so much for taking a shot! It really feels so good to be in touch finally. Till next mail, then. My warmest, Guia

Comment by filipineses09

Guia, it was here last year when I found you. I’ve not gotten the chance to follow up that great discovery since. So I thought I should come back here and try to start again from where I left.

I was in Mississauga with my brother Miling and his family, then in Chicago with my sister Baby. I’m with Didi in LA for a few days before my flight back home. I’ll be home for the wedding of your godson Ton-ton on 14 Dec.

Guia, I think it would be best if we communicate directly by e-mail. Here’s my address:

I hope you are well and doing well in whatever you’re presently involved.

Fr. P. De Mesa, O.P.

Comment by Fr. Pompeyo De Mesa, O.P.

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