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This is the second letter in a series where Peter Paulino and I are sixteen year old pen pals. They are based on the reality of our lives at that age.
I got your letter yesterday. Thanks a lot. John had to go into Rupert to get some parts for his chainsaw and picked up the mail. I read it to him while he was fixing it for work. John gets extra pay for having his own chainsaw. We donít have anywhere to do repairs and it was raining so he fixed it inside our cabin. The room smelled like an oilcan this morning. He even brought me some more stamps so I guess heís okay about me having a penpal. Iím writing this right away so I can mail it on Saturday when we go to town.
To answer your question about how far away Vancouver is. Itís just over five hundred miles down the coast. Itís about double that to drive because we have to go west on highway 16 to Prince George and then south to Vancouver. I have uncles, aunts and cousins in Vancouver and Iíve been there for summer holidays. I probably wonít be down there again for a long time because weíll be going to Fort Saint John to live as soon as John pays off a debt a friend left him with. He cosigned a loan for this guy and got stiffed. Fort Saint John is close to where John has the homestead where weíll be farming. Iíve never done any farming at all. The crops grown up there are grain. John says Iíll be able to have a vegetable garden but Iím not sure if Iíll be any good at that. My mom only has flowers in her garden.
Your letter says so much and your English is great. Thanks for giving me a history lesson about your country. In Kitimat there is one Chinese family who owned the only Chinese restaurant. Most of the immigrants are Italian, Portuguese and German. In my high-school we had teachers from all over the world. Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, India, Hungary, Australia, England, Italy, the US and some Canadian teachers too. I grew up hearing foreign languages all the time and had to take French for two years. I didnít do so great trying to learn the other language of Canada. Is the Filipino language like Spanish?
Prince Rupert is a city which is populated with fisherman and pulp mill workers. Itís a port and there are ferries which go to Alaska and the Queen Charlotte Islands. The airport is on an island just off the mainland and you have to take a ferry to catch a plane. Iím going to put a road map of BC in this letter so you can see where I am and where Vancouver is too. I was surprised to read you have relatives in Canada. Do they write you at all?
I have two older brothers and I used to have an older sister too. She drowned when I was really young so I donít remember her at all.
You have rebel soldiers in the mountains there? Is there a war or something? In Canada the only place that has anything exciting going on is Quebec and they donít have an army. My parents will be going to Montreal in the summer for Expo. Itís the hundredth anniversary of Canadaís confederation and there will be a worldís fair there. A hundred years isnít really all that long for a country to have existed. Our history goes back further than that with the French and British explorers. If the war had turned out different I suppose I would have learned French when I first went to school.
Your dad works in the middle east sometimes? My dad used to work at logging camps before he got a job at the Alcan smelter. Sometimes my mom would go with him and thatís why I was born in Fort Saint John. Iíve got a picture of the shack I lived in when I was a baby and thereís one of me outside in a cardboard box too. John says that weíll be living in a trailer until we get money to build a house. I havenít seen it but he says itís small. Would you like a picture of me? My mom gave me a few but I donít have a camera of my own. I could send you one if you like.
I went Ft. St. John a few years ago when my dad took me and my brother on an excursion up the Peace River to where is joins the Parsnip River at Finlay Forks. My dad wanted us to see the Peace River country before the big dam was finished and we went on a river boat from Hudson Hope where the dam is being built. It took us three days to go up river and only half a day to come back. When the dam is completed it will fill up a valley and provide electrical power for our province. Ft. St. John is a dusty place and the land is really flat. Itís nothing like Kitimat or Prince Rupert. My dad says it gets very cold up there.
The weather here is wet. In winter it snows a lot and our winter lasts from late October to late April. This winter the road to Terrace was blocked by an avalanche that took three days to clear away. My brother-in-law Dale works for the railroad and lives at a station by the Skeena River on the way to Terrace. Dale is married to Johnís youngest sister Agnes. Sheís just a year older than me.
John is a Mennonite and has eleven brothers and sisters. Itís really hard keeping track of them all. We went to his momís farm at Takla Lake for Christmas. Itís near Burns Lake and an all day drive from here. We have to do a lot of driving to go anywhere. Johnís mom is nothing like mine. She doesnít say much and spends most of her time gardening and cooking. I like my momís cooking better but Mrs. Fehr makes wonderful soup. When I told my mom about her soup my mother said she wasnít ever able to make a decent soup except for pea soup which I hate. Mrs. Fehr gave us a hand quilted raw wool comforter for Christmas. Thatís another thing Johnís mom does that mine doesnít, she makes quilts. It has a coverlet which can be removed and washed. Itís really warm and cozy.
John speaks two languages. German and English. He was born in Canada but the Mennonites keep to themselves and speak German at home. His momís English is okay but she is more comfortable speaking German. When I was there and the family came for dinner they all spoke German. I didnít mind really. After dinner which was in the middle of the day, two of her grandaughters sang Christmas carols in English. They sang so beautifully. Their father is a Mennonite minister. Johnís father died a few years ago. John didnít like him much because he was strict. He took the high gear out of the tractor so the boys couldnít go into town. He wouldnít let them play cards and he made John quit school when he was fourteen. Iím taking some courses through a correspondence course but itís dull and I doubt Iíll get through it. Both John and my parents want me to finish high school. Sometimes I feel like I got another parent instead of a husband. He smokes but says I shouldnít. Oh never mind, I shouldnít complain about him. Heís a good person really.
Itís spring now and itís raining. I got cedar poisoning two weeks ago from the drinking water because the snow melt raised the levels of the creek. I had to go to the doctor and get some pills to cure it. The resortís water is piped in from the creek and isnít treated with any chlorine. I suppose itís because it doesnít need any chemicals and besides chlorine wouldnít have made any difference when it came to the cedar. The trees here are huge and evergreen. Logging goes on all the time and what isnít used for lumber is taken to the pulp mills to produce paper. We have cedar, douglas fir, spruce and pine trees. I suppose you have exotic types of trees in the Philippines. Is it like a jungle in the mountains?
The first thing Iím going to do when we move up north is learn how to drive! People can get a driverís license at sixteen. Weíll be forty miles from town and I need to know how to drive.
I hope you donít think Iím rude but what is Tagalog? Is it different than being Filipino? You wrote that you went to Chinese Sunday school. Was it christian? I was brought up Anglican and went to sunday school, church and even summer church camp until I was thirteen. Our old minister left and the new one was a jerk. All of our family quit going and even our next door neighbour stopped attending church too. When we got married, it was in my house and we were wed by a Mennonite minister. I didnít have to become Mennonite though. The reverend was really funny and told me that marrying a Mennonite was penance enough.
I should go and get dinner started. I cook on a hot plate and electric frying pan so dinner is never much. If I plug them both into the same socket the breaker goes and I have to reset it.
Peter, thanks again for writing me back. I hope you are doing okay. Maybe if I stick this in an envelope and take it over to the cafe the owner might mail it for me. Wish me luck.
ps What do you want to study in college? oh yeah, what wonderful names your cats and dogs have! Sh-Boom, Smirnoff and Halapoosa which made me think of Appaloosa horses. Gotta go Bye
I am tired. My limbs are aching and itís too bad I am still excited to write a response to your letter. My brother who is younger to me by two years, Robin, helped me clean two neighborsí houses this afternoon. Our salary for that will be given to us this weekend. Afterwards at dusk, both of us sat among some bunch of espiritistas. My brother and I accidentally attended†that 'spirit quest' because the owner of the house often invite us to have moon cake after cleaning their house.
Robin thought most of them were loonies while I believe some of them seem to be genuinely possessed. At least the latter part of my day became interesting. Oh, but Penny, I am not to tell you yet the rest of the story.†Let me answer your few questions first.
Few? You had eight actually.
Is the Filipino language like Spanish? I havenít learned how to speak Spanish but my parents have the subject in their high school as what they told me. We have words like Ďparaí meaning for in English, Ďmedyoí meaning slightly, and Ďbasoí meaning drinking glass. They are the same words in Spanish, only with different spellings. There are in fact a lot more. But then, some of our words are a bit similar with the Indonesians, Malaysians, Chinese and Japanese. Filipino is not just like Spanish but more of a mix of different Asian languages as well.
Nope, my older cousin Candy doesnít write to me. My Aunt Carmelita sends me birthday cards though. I am thankful she doesnít forget my birthday: March 31. They migrated there after Candy graduated from college. Aunt Melyís eldest son was the one who petitioned them.
I really donít know what exactly is happening why some people hide in Mount Banahaw. All I know is that sometimes in early mornings men with firearms knock on our doors to ask for some cups of coffee. I guess they donít like our present government. I donít believe there is war, though, and Penny, I am sorry I cannot tell you more about this as I hate talking about politics like what I said in the first letter.
My Tatay will be going to Bahrain next month. In the past heíd been to Kuwait and Khamis Mushayt, KSA. He said that working there in the construction was so difficult but that to his next destination it wonít be as much.
Yes I would love to see any of your photos. I also have lots taken when I was a kid because the aunt who adopted me (for six years) is a photographer. I can only send some of them to you next time.
My Tatayís brother bought a small land way up higher in Mount Banahaw. That was where we supposed to build a house. My Nanay opposed to the idea because the public schools and the market are very far from the place. Means of transportation is only by horses, no jeepneys or cars. The place up there is called Nangkaan because there are lots of nangka trees besides coconut and coffee, which is more known as jackfruit in English.
You bet most parts of my little barrio are like a jungle in the mountains except there are not any elephants or lions. There are some monkeys and colorful birds. It is only here that Iíve seen trees that are as tall as the hills and valleys, and god, rocks as big as houses! The tall trees I donít really know how they are called because I am more fascinated by dragonflies of multitude of designs (yes you heard me right, God designed them correct?) At first I thought there were no two that are alike. Itís very easy to catch them; they even land to peopleís shoulders and stay for hours. The butterflies are also big and are as special as the dragonflies. But, oh, the ants! You wonít believe me Penny because I saw a few with very peculiar colors: half-black and half-red! They are very rare and I couldnít find one more lately after I thought of bringing some to the schoolís science lab.
Tagalog is a dialect; all 120 Philippine dialects are called Filipino.
That was Sacred Heart School where my cousin Jade finished his primary schooling. I went there only on Sundays to study Chinese.
Guess I will be enrolling to a Fine Arts course or anything related. Many folks are saying I am making the wrong decision. I donít really know. I have lots of things in my mind.
Now, about the Ďspiritistsí. Thereís one old house here where such folks meet and exhibit their unusual mystical prowess. Most of them claim to be the leader and that leaves no one as a member. But categorically, yes, some are members. There are Rizalists, Marianists and I donít know what else. I have respect for them and I know some of them because we clean their houses. I am quite enthralled by one of them; I call him Kuya Marius Ďkuyaí means older brother. Not only that he is handsome and tall, he also claims that he is able to read dreams and meet someone in dreams. I am a dreamy young lad and his ability interests me.†Tonight was my first time to be in such a group. One of the psychics even pointed to me and said ďYou, you are going to marry at an early age!Ē I giggled inside. I am wooing one cute girl in school for three years now, is she going to be my destiny? I wanted to ask some more but the adults seem to be drawn amongst them again. When we left the place Robin and I were laughing, very much amused by the experience. We couldnít forget that these people even speak in variety of underworld languages.
Okay, Penny, I think I should save the rest of my story for the next letter. I really should sleep now, thereís still school tomorrow.
150 Sta. Lucia,
ps Penny, what is the other language of Canada, was it French? I am glad that you are happy with your marriage, although I honestly felt so surprised with the fact that you married very early. Anyway, Marius taught me some spells on how I could meet with him in our dreams tonight. I don't know what's going to happen. Do you think I became loony tunes like them just as what Robin†thought they were? In my next letter you'll know if†my witchcraft worked.