October 8, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed

Tuesday, October 08, 2013 Posted by Mary No comments

Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Khaled Hosseini. His first novel, The Kite Runner, is unlike anything I've ever read before, and in its poignancy, still haunts me to this day. His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was also remarkable in itself, so one can imagine my excitement when I found out that his third novel was out.

In a nutshell, And the Mountains Echoed, Hosseini's third book, tells the story of Abdullah and Pari, siblings who are separated as children in mid-twentieth century Afghanistan.

Normally, in a story like this, you would expect to know what happens to the two after they are separated. But no, Hosseini proceeds to tell you stories about other people, some of them, yes, vitally connected to the main plot, but others I found to be insignificant.

It feels to me as if the book can be summarized into two thoughts--the siblings getting separated, and then reunited--and since that is so simple and makes all of two pages, he inserts anecdotes about other people in the middle instead. I found myself either asking, "What was the point of that," or getting submerged in a subplot only to be subsequently left hanging. 

Hosseini is a very talented storyteller, and it still shows in this book. It is just not as good as his previous two. I was less invested in the characters. I didn't really feel what they were going through. I barely even cried! And I think that even if I stopped comparing it to his previous work, I would still not be too impressed.

I wonder if I expect too much from this author. I did only rate the book two stars or it was ok on Goodreads.com. In all honesty, rating a Khaled Hosseini book with just two stars seems blasphemous. But that was it. It was all the impact this book made on me. It was just ok.

October 3, 2013

Moraine Lake

Thursday, October 03, 2013 Posted by Mary , , , , No comments

If you google images of Canada, there's a popular picture that is sure to grab your attention. In fact, if you do that right now, I'm 100% positive your eyes will hone in on a picture of a lake, with trees around it, and with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

That, my friends, is Moraine Lake at the Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest national park in Canada, right here in Alberta. That image, because of its astonishing beauty, has haunted me for years, even before I knew I was coming to Canada, even before I knew I was marrying a Canadian. A few weeks ago, after being in the country for 8 months, I was finally able to behold it with my own eyes.

It's funny because my husband didn't even know Moraine Lake existed. But I insisted, and googled, and thankfully, GPS led us there. Although still inside Banff National Park boundaries, it's actually not anywhere near the Banff town center, but some 60 km away in the town of Lake Louise (74 km if you consider the drive up to the lake itself). It was almost sunset when we drove there, and I was freaking out, because we were in a narrow, winding mountain road in the middle of nowhere and we didn't exactly know where we were going. When we arrived at the lake area though, I was relieved to see a lot of people, and when I saw the lake itself, I actually had tears come to my eyes.

Moraine Lake was breathtaking! It was every bit as beautiful as in the pictures, maybe even more so. And it was very humbling, actually being there, a place I never imagined I would be able to visit...

It was definitely a dream come true.

October 1, 2013

Rueon Thai Restaurant

Tuesday, October 01, 2013 Posted by Mary , , , No comments

I'm not too big of a fan of curry, and since I've never really had real Thai food, I thought I wouldn't like Thai cuisine. Boy, was I wrong.

Last night, on our quest to find as many ethnic restaurants in Alberta as we possibly can, hubby and I stopped at Rueon Thai Restaurant in Red Deer. The place is highly recommended by a co-worker and has a 5-star rating on Google, so we thought we'd give it a try.

Rueon, apparently meaning "wooden house", is a gem. The restaurant decor is simple, but the food and service was great. We had Spring Rolls as an appetizer and it didn't disappoint. It was perfectly cooked and tasted really good with hoisin sauce and sriracha. It was so good that we had to order another serving! We also had Pad Thai. It was our first time having it so we don't have anything to compare it to, but it was delicious. The best food of the night, however, was the Mas Mann or Massaman curry (pictured above). Like I already said, curry is not in my list of favorite foods, but Rueon's take on this concoction of coconut milk, peanut sauce, and of course curry, is heavenly. It's a mixture of flavors that ends up as a party in your mouth. The added star anise made it the most engaging dish I've ever had in my life. By engaging, I mean: I wanted to look at it, I wanted to smell it, I wanted to eat it--and not stop. LOL!

It's been a while since I wrote about a restaurant on my blog. This post is proof of how inspiring Rueon is. I can hardly wait to sample more of their exciting offerings.

September 3, 2013

El Pooch-o

Tuesday, September 03, 2013 Posted by Mary , , , No comments

Yeah, yeah. I know that's not how you say dog in Spanish, but that is how my husband likes to call them anyway. And yup, we have a new little pooch.

I never thought I would like small dogs, but when we moved into our new place last month, we were surrounded by little doggies. We wanted one then too, especially since both my husband and I are dog lovers. We didn't have enough space for a big dog, and a puppy was out of the question since our landlady wasn't too keen on us having one, so we looked at adopting a small, adult dog.

I can't believe we found our Curly through Kijiji. For those who don't know, Kijiji is like Craigslist to Canadians. It seems totally random to adopt a dog through Kijiji, but that's what happened to us. His old family had to find another home for him because they were now only allowed two dogs at their residence, and they had three. Luckily, out of all the people who expressed interest in Curly, his previous owners chose us, and we couldn't be happier.

Curly is said to be a Bichon Frisé and Shih Tzu cross. This mix is also called a Zuchon or a Shichon. He doesn't shed pretty well at all and is such a good little boy. He's happy and well-behaved and loves to cuddle. He's absolutely adorable!

We take Curly everywhere. We just took him to Banff National Park last week and that was pretty awesome. We're can't go everywhere now because we have him, but we don't regret it. He has been such a wonderful addition to our lives.

March 16, 2013

(Almost) Dream Car

Saturday, March 16, 2013 Posted by Mary , No comments

I've always wanted to own a sedan. To me, they look so chic and sophisticated. But of course, my parents never wanted one, so we never had one in the Philippines. They were either too small, too low, too long, too impractical... so I drove an efficient hatchback, and then a big-ass SUV. Fast forward to small town Canada, I found myself in need of a vehicle.

Owning a sedan has always been big on my list. Back home, that is. It's even on my bucket list. So you'd think it'd be my first choice of vehicle in this new search. Actually, not anymore. In Canada, Alberta especially, people love to drive big vehicles--big SUVs, big trucks, you get the picture. So if you drive a not-so-big vehicle, you seem to be at a disadvantage.

Now since my husband and I are just starting out, we found that we could not afford another SUV (he already has one), not to mention a truck. The Hyundai Tucson, a dream of mine for the past few years, was just a little bit out of our financial reach, so we looked at sedans. My first choice was the Chevrolet Cruze, mainly because of its 5-star safety rating and on*, the amazing communications technology that is available on all vehicles made by General Motors. But the more I looked at the Cruze pictures online, I realized that the body on this car was not my type. Then, I remembered the Hyundai Elantra.

I almost smacked myself on the head. Why did I almost forget about the Elantra? When I looked it up online, the decision was immediately made. Sleek, fuel-efficient, 5-star safety rated, multi-awarded, and with sexy curves all over, this was the car for me. Two days later, I drive one home, and it's a dream. In fact, even if it's not classified as a luxury vehicle, it's amazing. It's almost my dream car. If it had navigation (like the limited edition) and a rear camera, it certainly would be. Of course, there's the slight issue of having to pay for it for the next eight years, but I think it's worth it. And yes, with this purchase, I can finally cross out one more item in my bucket list: own a sedan.

March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 Posted by Mary , No comments

We have a new pope, and I'm so excited for the Catholic church!

After the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis I, the Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, has been elected as the new pope, after just five ballots in the conclave. He's the first Jesuit pope, and the first pope not born in Europe since the 8th century.

People say Pope Francis I is a very humble person, and his first message to the people after being chosen clearly shows that. He is a moderate, and seems to be just the kind of modern the church needs. It's certainly a beautiful time for our faith, and I have a feeling a lot of positive things will be coming to the Catholic church in the near future. I'm looking forward to that!

If I could sum up this choice in a word, I'd say, "perfect." His background, his papal name, the man himself--this is clearly a work of the Spirit.

January 31, 2013

The Landing

Thursday, January 31, 2013 Posted by Mary , , , No comments

When you come to Canada as a permanent resident, you're often referred to as a "landed immigrant". It doesn't matter if you've visited the country before on a tourist or work visa, you're only "landed" when you enter the country as a permanent resident. This status is coveted by a lot of people, especially Filipinos.

Because my husband is Canadian, acquiring the permanent resident visa for me was relatively easy. I say relatively because all I needed to do was prove to the immigration officials that our relationship is real. I didn't need to speak French, have amazing work experience, or come up with "show money" to get my visa. Despite that, the application was not without difficulty. It was still a long and painful process.

It took exactly 9 months  from the time Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) received my application to the time I received my visa. This time frame excluded the more or less five months I needed beforehand to come up with all the required documents. When your life is on hold and you're away from a loved one for this amount of time, it isn't easy. It was probably one of the most stressful times in my life.

When I received my visa on November 29, 2012, the stress wasn't over. My medicals were set to expire on December 19, and as per Canadian immigration regulations, your visa expires when your medicals do. That only meant one thing--I had to land in Canada on or before December 19! My husband quickly purchased a ticket for December 11.

I crossed the Pacific on Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight PR 106, flying direct from Manila to Vancouver. It took all of eleven and a half hours. Holy crap! I thought that flight would never end. It wasn't really bad, it was just boring. The plane was an older Airbus A340 that didn't have Audio/Video On Demand, so I basically just sat there, trying my damnedest to sleep because that seemed to be what everyone was doing. Of course, I came ready with a netbook + movies and books, but when the cabin is dark and everyone seems to be asleep... let's just say I didn't have the heart to turn my reading lights on.

Thankfully, despite some major turbulence over Alaska (hello, Sarah Palin), we arrived in Vancouver safe and sound, and even twenty minutes ahead of schedule. When the airplane's wheels touched the runway, I had tears of joy. It was only then that I finally allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief.

The Vancouver International Airport is beautiful. It's new, not crowded, and well laid out. After I got my luggage, I had to go through the border guards. This was the most important step of all--these guys had the power to allow or deny my entry into Canada. Fortunately, it was a breeze. There were no lines, the immigration officer got impressed with my English, and even spoke to me in Japanese when he learned I once lived in Japan. It took all of five minutes. I was finally landed!

My husband was right there, waiting at the greeting area. Finally, we were together! And then, for my first meal in Canada, I had a sub from an airport branch of the Canadian icon, Tim Hortons--a very, very fitting welcome meal, I say.

January 29, 2013

Home Away From Home

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 Posted by Mary , No comments

For the longest time, I felt like I was born in the wrong country, that I was meant to be somewhere else, and meant to be with someone who was not where I was. When I met, and then married my husband, it was an unexpected yet somehow fated falling into place.

Now, I live in Canada. Alberta, to be exact. I arrived on December 11, 2012. It's been less than two months, and I'm thousands of miles away from what used to be my home, but being here already feels more like home to me than any place I've lived in. It's not even because the place is beautiful (I know it is but I can barely tell right now because of all the snow covering everything), or that it's glamorous (because it's not really), or that it's easy-breezy to live here (because it's also not), but it just... fits.

I remember when I lived in Japan. I never felt like I truly belonged. I always felt like an outsider, especially because of the color of my skin. Canada doesn't make you feel like that at all. It's very multi-ethnic, and most of the time, I don't even remember that I'm not of the same race as the locals. Canadians are also very polite and humble people, and that makes living in their country even more desirable.

I'm not surprised that I don't miss home at all. I wish I could share this experience with my parents and my close friends, but that is all. There's no pining for my motherland and it's eccentricities just yet, and I don't know if there ever will be. For now, I'm just happy to be with my husband, in this province, in this country. I don't want to be anywhere else.