Category Archives: philippines

Our trip to the Philippines

Because my dad was in poor health and it was possibly the last Christmas that my sister and her kids would spend in the Philippines, we decided to all go despite the chaos and expense of flying over the Christmas holidays. It turned out to be an excellent decision. We got to spend lots of time with everyone, and we had lots of conversations that helped us prepare for what happened.

We initially planned to be away from Dec 17 to Jan 10. When my dad was scheduled for potential surgery on Jan 8, I extended my trip until Jan 26, while W- kept his original itinerary. It was a good thing I extended my stay. My dad died on January 6. We had a wonderful wake for him until Jan 11, and I had a couple of weeks to spend time with family and help with paperwork.

I’m feeling surprisingly okay with the whole thing. We prepared a lot for this scenario, and I know we can get through it. In fact, this trip has helped me develop an even deeper appreciation of my family.

A- had a marvelous time. She played with her cousins, who were both enamoured with her. She took to asking her Lola to read to her, which my mom did with delight. She learned many new words and names. She liked following the household staff around so that she could help with washing the dishes or sweeping the floor. She started experimenting with establishing her boundaries (“No grab. This mine!”) She stopped being anxious around dolls. She often sought out her cousins to play with them. At the wake, it was delightful to hear the kids bouncing around and being their usual cheerful selves.

There’s more paperwork to be done, of course. My next priorities are:

  • Take care of A- and figure out new routines considering the travel we’re planning for the year
  • Handle all the medical appointments and other things we planned for this phase in Canada
  • Keep track of work in progress and coordinate paperwork as we go in and out of the country
  • Help check on my mom as she deals with the transition
  • Invest in little improvements

We might experiment with a cycle of two months in Canada and one month in the Philippines, at least for this year’s transition period. It’s going to take a lot of money and effort, but I think it might be worth it in terms of relationships and paperwork. I’ll scale it back if we get too disrupted by the changes in environment and routine, but maybe we’ll be able to take it in stride. We’ll see!

Replaced my Philippine taxpayer ID

I needed two pieces of government-issued photo ID for Philippine paperwork. My Philippine passport counted as one. I decided to replace my taxpayer ID because the taxpayer ID does not expire, while the barangay ID and the postal ID do.

I had my taxpayer ID number (TIN), but I didn’t know which regional district office I needed to apply to. Once I was in the Philippines, I called the TIN Verification Office (63-2-981-7000 local 7030). I gave them my name, date of birth, and TIN, and they told me which office I was registered at.

There were no notaries in front of that office, but the security guard directed me to where we could find notaries working on the sidewalk about five minutes’ walk away. The notary stamped my affidavit of loss for P 150, which was probably higher than it needed to be, but which could definitely be considered a contribution to the Philippine economy and a vote of support for people willing to work in the hot sun.

We walked back to the BIR office. Both W- and I showed IDs to get in. A-‘s presence got us put in the fast lane and processed within five minutes or so. The BIR clerk updated my details at the same time. I should probably have brought my marriage certificate, but he was okay without it. He printed out a card right away. It’s a good thing I checked it, since it had a typo. After he corrected and reprinted the card, we were all set.

I needed a 1×1 ID picture for the card, so I got ID pictures taken at the mall near my house: P 85 for 6 2x2s and 4 1×1. I signed the card, and the people at home helped me get it glued and laminated. That’s another piece of ID all sorted out!

Working around my phone plan’s lack of roaming

Constraints:

  • I need to deal with SMS one-time passwords, especially for online banking in the Philippines.
  • I like my plan with Freedom Mobile, but they don’t offer roaming in the Philippines.
  • My Philippine prepaid SIM will expire if I don’t regularly load it.

I could leave my SIM plugged into a phone and set up some kind of forwarding or logging. However, this means I can bring only one phone to the Philippines. Having two Android devices was handy for setting up WiFi Baby Monitor and for writing even if my battery was running low. On the other hand, we could use W-‘s phone as the receiver, I can keep a power bank or charger handy, and there might even be a spare phone at home that I can set up.

Alternatively, I can try to set up my Fongo number for incoming texts. I’m planning to pay for Internet access anyway. Some services like Namecheap won’t let me use the Fongo number for two-factor authentication, but others do.

I can check with W- if he has roaming. If so, maybe I can use his phone number as a backup.

I can use my Philippine prepaid SIM as the contact number (likely to be more successful with Philippine banks anyway), enable roaming before I leave, and periodically reload online to keep it active. If I can find the Smart Pinoy SIM, that can receive text messages with zero balance and it expires a year after the last load. I might also be able to change the contact number online once we’re back in Canada.

Hmm… Plenty of things to try. I think I like the convenience of bringing both phones, since they’re already all set up for writing. I’ll try Fongo first, then I’ll try the Philippine SIM if that doesn’t work. If I have to keep my SIM active by buying a roaming SIM and/or spending a few dollars a month, it’s probably worth it, and it won’t be for a super-long time anyway. It’s a good opportunity to experiment with paying for convenience.

Trip notes

We’re still jet-lagged from our trip to the Philippines to visit family and friends. Winter’s short, cold days have been making it difficult to use sunshine to help reset A-‘s circadian rhythm. Ah well! She’ll adapt eventually. We managed to get through a few daytime appointments that we had already scheduled, and now we have a more flexible schedule.

It was an excellent trip, easily my favourite of all our trips back. We stayed at Kathy’s house, acquainted ourselves with the local supermarkets, and took over her kitchen. W- discovered a nice pork bun recipe. I even managed to make a couple of lasagnas – my first time to make bechamel sauce. It was such a treat: plenty of people to eat experimental food, and other people doing all the cleanup. Also: no road trips, plenty of time to relax and take care of A-… We got to be homebodies while spending time with family. Whee! My kind of thing.

All of us were there, as my eldest sister Ching and her husband John also flew in from the US for a week. We got the requisite family photos done, of course. It was great seeing John and Kathy raise their family, and seeing my parents in their roles as grandparents, too. We got a sense of family life over there. Good stuff! A- got pretty comfortable with my parents and with John and Kathy, which was awesome. Yay!

I enjoyed playing with G* and A*, who were so excited about meeting their cousin A-. It was like a preview of life with toddlers and preschoolers. Lots of good practice in redirection, guidance, running commentaries, dispute resolution, word definition, explanation, and safety and sanity preservation. I think we’ll be okay.

The rhythm of the day worked out nicely. We were up at 7 or so because of jet lag. I had a relaxed breakfast, planned cooking, picked up groceries, had lunch, hung out with people / did paperwork, took care of A-, cooked dinner, and then retired back to our room for the evening routine.

I took care of some paperwork while I was there, and we exchanged our demonetized bills before the deadline. I also helped my parents with their Canada visa application. I learned a bit more about estate planning, too. There’s more to do, of course.

I caught up with my barkada, and it was good to get a sense of where they are today. It’s interesting to notice the aspects that have stayed the same and the aspects that have changed a lot.

Speaking of change, A- learned a lot. She’s now quite good at creeping around on her hands and knees, and has also been pulling herself up to stand with support. She likes walking when we’re holding her, too. She tried lots of food while we were in the Philippines, and she turned out to like green mangoes. As I mentioned, she’s gotten more comfortable with other people, although she still often wants me or W- in particular. She seems a lot chattier now, babbling and waving her arms excitedly. She also seems more flexible in terms of sleep. She’s slept in a small airplane bassinet and on recliners, although she usually still needs to nurse before she’s ready to drop off.

Time is double-edged, and my parents are both dealing with health issues. Still, I feel less anxious about my parents now. They have pretty good plans and coping mechanisms, and it’s all part of life. My sister is also dealing with her own challenges. We’re happy to help out however we can.

We picked Korean Air because of its reputation for baby-friendliness, and we were satisfied with the experience. The bassinet was roomy enough for A- to hang out in, and she even napped in it a few times. She wasn’t a fan of the baby meals, but then she’s not into commercial baby purees in general anyway. The child meal worked out well, though, since she could eat some of it and I didn’t mind eating the rest. The play areas and rest areas in Incheon were a pleasant places to spend a few hours waiting for connecting flights.

The only wrinkle was that we lost A-‘s ocular prosthesis during an otherwise awesome trip to Manila Ocean Park. No worries, that’s why we have an oops fund. We’ll try out the less expensive clear conformer first before considering replacing the painted shell, as she won’t be eligible for funding a replacement painted shell for another 1.5 years or so. If the clear conformer works out, it’ll be easier to let her go play and do stuff, since the impact of losing it will be smaller.

Other little notes:

  • Didn’t use my dress shoes or socks. I can leave them behind next time.
  • Should probably copy photos from people’s phones/cameras a day or two before leaving.
  • I wonder how Tim Ho Wan makes those buns…
  • W- is super awesome! The trip would have been very different without him.
  • It was nice to spend time with everyone.

Good trip, and good to be back.

Making polvoron

DSC_3080

Yesterday, I tried making polvoron for the first time. =) J- and her friends had devoured most of the stash that my mom sent us. I followed a simple recipe, but once we get through the… umm… 139 pieces (although we lost quite a few to breakage, see above), I’ll try other recipes with more cooling time. I’ll also try dividing the recipe by four, as that recipe resulted in a lot of polvoron. Mmm!

W- and I cook a lot. There’s enough room in the kitchen for both of us to work, and it’s fun making and enjoying good food. I’m really lucky that he enjoys cooking as well, and that he’s up for eating my experiments!

A braindump of tips for other new immigrants from the Philippines

For Anna Simbulan (welcome to Toronto!) and others this can help along the way. =)

  • Winter and clothing

    Toronto can be cold. Dress in layers. Long underwear, sweaters, gloves, and hats can help you keep warm. Thinsulate is better than knit when it comes to blocking out wind. Layers are better than a big coat because you can adjust the warmth depending on changes in weather, physical activity, etc.

    Winter can also be pretty grey and depressing. If you’re finding it hard to get through the day, get plenty of sunlight. Sometimes colourful things can be helpful, too.

    Things might look pretty expensive, particularly if you do the CAD-PHP conversion and think about how much cheaper you could get things at ukay-ukay or bazaars. Check out second-hand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village. You can usually find perfectly good clothes, coats, and household items for much cheaper than the retail price.

    If you need to walk around downtown Toronto, check out the underground PATH.

    Find something to enjoy about winter. I’ve learned to think of winter as a season for cooking, baking, hot chocolate, and early(ish) bedtimes.

  • Home and society

    Be prepared for homesickness. It’s a natural part of moving.

    Be prepared for cultural differences. Avoid making jokes or statements that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise politically incorrect.

    It can feel pretty lonely when your barkada and social support networks are half a world away. Check out classes, go to activities, meet people, make new friends.

    Free video-calling programs like Skype and social networking tools like Facebook help you keep in touch with old friends.

    If you want to cook recipes from home, you can find many of the ingredients in Chinatown or even in some of the larger supermarkets. For example, you can find Skyflakes, ampalaya, bagoong, and halo-halo ingredients in Chinatown. The No Frills supermarket in Dufferin Mall has Skyflakes, too.

    There aren’t that many Filipino restaurants downtown, though. Definitely worth learning how to make things at home. You may find some neighborhoods with Filipino stores (including places where you can buy balikbayan boxes). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Manila#Toronto

  • Resources

    The Toronto Public Library is amazing. Sign up, get your library card, and use http://torontopubliclibrary.ca to get books delivered to the branch closest to you. It even has a number of books in Filipino. Check out the e-books, movies, music CDs, and graphic novels as well.

    The library has many seminars for newcomers and job-seekers. There are many other newcomer organizations, too. Take advantage of the services and training they offer, such as networking events and free training.

    Public transit works pretty well. You can even use maps.google.com to plan your route.

  • Work

    If you’re applying for a job, it’s worth reviewing your resume and using the Canadian conventions. For example, people here don’t indicate their age, marital status, height, or weight on resumes.

    If you get stumped by employers requiring Canadian experience, consider volunteering or working in a different position for some time in order to pick up that experience.

  • Finance

    If you’re having a hard time getting a credit card, get a secured credit card first, then use that to build your credit history. When I started, I got the TD Green Visa card. I deposited some money and that deposit was used to secure the card. Once you qualify for a better card, you can switch to something like PCFinancial Mastercard (equivalent of 1% rewards) or MBNA Enrich (3% cashback on groceries, 1% on regular purchases).

    Compare prices online. Buying textbooks or other things? Check ebay.ca and other sites before buying things in person. You can often find significant discounts online, too, and shipping is reliable. Look for free or cheap stuff on craigslist.ca or kijiji.ca, or join a Freecycle group.

    Keep some savings in a checking account as an emergency fund / buffer and the rest in a high-interest savings account. Don’t overload yourself with credit card debt. Pay off your credit card every month, if you can, and plan your spending so that you don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.

    Enjoy life. =) There will probably always be things and people you will miss, but maybe Toronto can become a second home.

    —-

    What other tips would you add?