The first time I set foot in Canada was at YVR: Vancouver Airport.
We had a layover en route to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
I was 8-years-old.
I remember getting off the plane and I was barely tall enough to see the giant posters on the wall, covered with advertisements about the Rockies.
I remember being so upset that there were no windows at the terminal (other than the ones overlooking the tarmac) because I wanted to see the mountains. (I realize now that you can’t actually see the Rockies from Vancouver, but hey, I was 8.)
We got onto our connecting flight and arrived in Winnipeg shortly before 8:30 p.m.
I remember the time because the sun was just setting.
I remember being picked up by my mom’s cousin and her husband. We were driving down a beautiful road and the sun was setting in front of us.
I’m from the Philippines, which consists of hundreds of islands that are just above the equator.
The sun rises and sets around 6 o’clock everyday, all year round.
I’d never seen the sun set so late in my life.
It’s one of the most beautiful early memories of Canada that I have.
Now, you’re just showing off
Sorry to perpetuate the stereotype but the first thing I noticed about Canada was how cold it was.
We arrived in Manitoba on a chilly day in May.
It was supposed to be spring yet, I was freezing.
When my cousins took me to the park, all they had on were tank-tops and sweaters.
I remember asking them why they weren’t bundled up.
Just to prove a point, one of them threw his sweater to the ground and said, “This is Canada. Get used to it!”
Everything is bigger in Ameri… er… Canada
A day after arriving in Canada, my mom and I ducked into the store across the street to get some groceries.
First of all, I’m not used to getting food indoors.
In Manila, we shopped in an outdoor market, where vendors set up shop and you haggle for the best price.
If you wanted coconut water, there was a man with a machete and a wagon full of freshly picked coconuts. He would cut off the top, stick a straw in it, and off you went!
So, we walked into this store, and I remember thinking how beautiful it was.
The fruits and vegetables were piled artistically on top of each other. The place was clean and shiny. But, they mistakenly labelled the grapes “raisins” for some reason.
I complained to the cashier, who just laughed at me.
“Raisins is French for grapes.” she said.
Everything was bigger. It was the first time I had seen onions the size of softballs. Tomatoes were so big, I couldn’t wrap my hand around it.
We didn’t stay in Winnipeg long.
Within several days, we got on a Greyhound bus and took a 3-day ride to Toronto. It was THE LONGEST automobile ride I’ve ever been on.
We got picked up at the Toronto terminal by another one of my mom’s cousins.
She had a white Buick, leather interior, with a digital odometer and a car-phone.
This was 1995.
It was the sweetest ride I had ever seen.
We got onto the Gardiner — which everyone hates today. Everyone complains that it’s an eyesore and it needs to go. Yet, on that day, in 1995, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
As we drove west towards Brampton, I saw the CN Tower, the shiny office buildings — for me, it was a positive omen. I remember thinking, “This is the start of your new life. It’s going to be amazing.”
From the best to the worst, just like that
We weren’t in Brampton long before I got in trouble. Real trouble.
At that age, I had two favourite shows: MacGyver (random) and Rescue 911 which, was hosted by none other than, the great William Shatner.
I watched Rescue 911 religiously.
At that time, I didn’t even know what the emergency number was in the Philippines. I’m not even sure we had one. I knew it wasn’t 9-1-1.
So, I get to Canada, arrive at the house we’re supposed to live in and within days, what do I do?
I call 9-1-1 outside of an emergency.
I dial. It rings. A lady answers.
“Oh crap. It’s real. It works.” I thought.
I quickly hung up and thought nothing more of it.
About 30 minutes later, the doorbell rings.
It’s the police.
I run upstairs and I hide in the bathroom.
The bathroom overlooks the entryway to the house.
My mom called out to me, I stuck my head out but I refused to come down.
I remember one of the officers looking up at me and just staring. He wasn’t mean. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t yell. He didn’t talk to me. Nothing. He just looked at me.
I shook with fear.
But, my mom apologized, closed the door and they left.
She later gave me a good talking to but from that day until fairly recently, I shook at the knees every time I interacted with police.
One time, my friends asked me why I was so afraid while speaking to an officer.
“Are you hiding something?”
“Why, yes! One time, when I was 8, I dialed 9-1-1 outside of an emergency.”
“You really need to get over that.”
To this day, if I need only the police and no one is dying, I call dispatch directly. I don’t dial 9-1-1.
I’m the last person to ever abuse 9-1-1.
Hey, look! At least the kid in this Rescue 911 video knew well enough to call the none-emergency number. Lol!
And that’s how it goes, folks. My first few days in Canada.
So embarrassingly pure, innocent and already full of trouble.