Category: General


Connie                                                                                                                                                                                                        Connie of Manila BBQ

Like the TV series, ‘Cheers’, for those of you who remember, ‘where everyone knows your name’, this constantly helpful, bubbly proprietor who readily welcomes you by name, once she knows it; as opposed to you being, just another customer intrigued me. I had to know more about this atypical businesswoman named Connie, so I decided to ask.

Born into a middle class family with three other siblings (two brothers and one sister for which Connie was the 3 in line of accession) in *Quezon City, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines she (Connie) counted herself as having been, ‘greatly blessed’ compared to most when growing up. “The class system in the Philippines, unlike Canada”, she commented, “is very distinct and life can be extremely hard, even for the middle class.”

With an almost musical laugh and a twinkle in her eye, she reminisced of growing up in a rice store, which also served as home and where her parents still reside and maintain the store to date. It was a two-story building she explained, with the store on the main floor and living accommodations on the second level.  However, she pointed out, unlike here (in Canada) there was no furniture due to affordability factors. She recalls how beds, the family couch and even the table and chairs were sacks of rice, which, as she pointed out, were very comfortable based on the fact you were able to shape them to fit your body contours.

Living in such a manner, she explained, taught her at an early age to appreciate having your own business as it enabled you to sustain a livelihood to care for you and your family. More so when compared to North American standards, for in the Philippines there is no welfare or unemployment insurance or even a retirement pension option, you survive solely on what you can generate for an income.

Because of this and the inability of many individuals to find work in their home country, many individuals (called OFW’s = Overseas Filipino Workers) have no other option but to leave spouses and children behind to seek a livelihood elsewhere in the world. In doing so, it enables them to provide their families the basics: food, shelter, and clothing and where possible an education and medical needs.  Most times they work in extremely abusive circumstances depending on the employer and the country, they work in for which they are under contract for up to two or three years at a time and often with long hours and no days off. It is that or imminent starvation for both them and their family.  Those fortunate enough to open their own business or able to obtain an education and skills for a specialized trade stay, if they can.

Education in the Philippines is not free, meaning unless you or your family can pay for an education you do not obtain one because the Government does not provide any form of assistance for the public schools. Cash is king and schools will not allow you to register or even proceed into each new semester once you have enrolled unless the required fess have been paid. The same rules apply when writing your exams, which are an additional fee per exam, is the norm.

Here again she, as well as her two brothers and her sister were blessed not only with the fact they were a middle class family but that their parents had a family run business that provided not only an income, but also an education, which was not only a priority for future survival, but also an attainable option. (In Connie’s case, she graduated from University of the Philippines Los Baños with a marketing degree…)

After graduation, she applied and worked on a cruise ship as an activity staff member, a position she held for three-(3) years after which time she tired of the constant travel and returned home to the Philippines.

After returning home, she became a sales representative for a cosmetics ingredients supplier for which her position entailed her to meet and sell chemicals/products to cosmetic manufacturing companies. It was during this period that she learned to drive out of necessity for her job, for which as she gleefully put it, “I learned to drive Filipino style”. She goes on to state, “I was a little rowdy driver…”

“I really enjoyed the job”, she informed me based on not only the flexible hours but also the fact she had to talk to people. “I am a people person”, she commented.

“That”, she continued, “is what I feel was my strong point when I eventually opened my own business in Canada, the love of talking to people”.

Now married with two children, a son and daughter, she explained she and her husband met, courted and married in the Philippines. Her eldest child, Chloe, was born a year after her arrival in Canada.

“Courting in the Philippines”, she commented, “unlike in Canada, is not that long.” Soon after they were married, her then husband made the decision to re-locate to Canada for which he would sponsor her once he was established.

“When we separated”, she reminisced with a sad tone in her voice, “We really did not know each other as we had not been married that long”. “Unlike in a normal relationship where you court, get married and live together”, she continued, “You are with each other each day after day and get to know each others  likes and dislikes and learn the truth about each other.” “Long distance does not allow for that,” she stated.

Not being, as she put it, the jealous type and having faith that they would one day be together again for good helped make the year bearable. That and the telephone and Skype communications to each other. “Trust was the number one factor”, she stated.

During the temporary separation, she stayed with her parents and helped with the store to help time pass more quickly.

When asked about her initial thoughts when she knew she would be leaving home and moving to a new country (Canada) her reply was, “Scared!”

“Life in the Philippines for me was very different, “she explained. She had her own job, her own income, which for a girl made life easy, as she put it.

“Coming to Canada was hard with no family not to mention it was more expensive,” she explained, “especially for girly things such as a manicure and pedicure”.   However, when asked what she missed most about home she very pointedly stated, “Family!”

When asked if she ever contemplated returning to the Philippines when she retired, as an example, her reply was a resounding, “NO! Absolutely NO!” “I would go back to visit only” she continues, “my children were born in Canada and would, I am sure, appreciate a vacation there, but not to live”.

She then laughs with a twinkle in her eye as she commented, “I was raised there (the Philippines) but I think of myself as a Canadian now”.

Asked why she chose Manila BBQ as her choice of employment she said, “While I had no knowledge of the remittance end of the business, I did have a retail background living and working in my parents’ small grocery store in the Philippines”.  “Remittance” she stated, “is not easy to deal with as you inform customers what they have to expect, good or bad”. “Remittance is about trust”, she continued, “Not an easy sell”.

“It is easy to have this kind of business in the Philippines”, she commented, “Just fulfill government requirements”. “It is much easier dealing with government requirements here in Canada”, she stated.

It has been four-(4) years since she took over proprietorship of Manila BBQ and as she informed me, “Every day I am still learning”. “Each day is different people and different problems, it is a lot of work running a money remittance and grocery store.” She continues, “But I never contemplate giving up”.

As she explained, “The disadvantages are not being able to shut the business out of your mind at the end of the day”. “However, the advantages are being you own boss”.

When asked if knowing what she does now would she still take over ownership of the Manila BBQ, she replied, “I worked at ICBC for three-(3) years then stayed at home for one-(1) year with only the walls and the kids to talk too. Manila BBQ gives me the opportunity to be there for my children while allowing me adult interaction so my answer is, YES!”  “Each day”, she continued, “is interesting, with new challenges and the daily interaction of my clients who keep coming back, something I missed from when I was in sales prior and always wanted”.

Because of her love of interacting with people, she noted that she would love to once again work on the cruise ships but as she is now married with children that is no longer an option. “If it was not for Manila BBQ”, she commented, “I would love to work at Canada Place to greet the visitors from the cruise ships or the Airport at one of the Airline check in/departure terminals”.  Asked why, “I love talking to people”, was her instantaneous reply.

When asked about how she marketed Manila BBQ, without hesitation she exclaimed, “Word of mouth!” “Ninety-(90) percent of my customer base is Filipino,” she continued, “with the remainder from other nationalities who come mainly for the food”. “I do have a web site but still, word of mouth serves me the best”, she stated.  “More so since New Westminster has a large Filipino working class community who desire not only affordable living space but the shopping convenience as well as the local transportation system that makes it easy to get around”, she advised me.  “But,” she stated, “my customer base is not just regulated to New Westminster, I also have customers from South Burnaby, Coquitlam and even a few from Vancouver which keeps me very busy”.

During the interview I observed, which I was informed, one of her customers assisting in managing the store for which Connie never hesitated to patiently guide her when she had questions.  She (Connie) informed me the assistant was a longtime customer who was temporarily laid off so she (Connie) hired her just to help her out until she was able to return to her regular job.  I also noted that whenever a customer came into the store with their children Connie again would give not only the customer, but the children as well her undivided attention as she communicated with each by name.

Having known Connie for about two years now as a customer via my wife who is also Filipino I now call her Kapatid (meaning sister in Tagalog) because she makes me feel like family when I am there. Despite the latter, I did not really know that much about her personal life, until now.

In conclusion, I came away with not only an even greater respect for not only Connie the businesswoman, but Connie the person   For truly she has created a business where your shopping experience and money remittance needs are taken to new heights. Connie, once she knows your name and, or your face and even if she does not yet know you and your name,  greets you with a cheery hello and a smile and I like to think inwardly that, she is welcoming you home.

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*Quezon City, Philippines is the sister city to New Westminster, BC Canada.

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Life As I See It

Life as I see it can and does vary with each individual depending on one’s personal outlook and circumstance.  In many instances, our lot in life is not by choice but purely by where we were born and to whom. It can be a life of subjective poverty, middle class or of great wealth.  However, despite our lot in life there are some things that each of us can attain if we but try, using what we have to the best of our advantage and that is inner peace and honest gratitude for what we have in life no matter how little we may have monetarily…  Something I honestly did not learn over night because like most I grew up wanting what I did not have based on desire and not need.

I am thinking, as I write, about life and what is termed here as the Great Canadian Dream, a dream that many Canadians, in my opinion, will never even have the hope of attaining based on pure greed of politicians and top-heavy corporations.  That same said greed has forced many businesses to move much of their product production to third world countries in order to compete as labour continues to demand wages and benefits that most companies and more so the small mom and pop operations can ill afford.   I say most because while in the same breath our government allows outside interest to exploit our natural resources and commodities while unionized labour forces the wages up for its members and the non-unionized Canadian is left scrambling to just to have the basic needs in life as prices continually climb. Added to the mix is the international ability of large corporations and their CEO’s to exploit 3rd world citizens a with sub-standard wages and living accommodations to increase profit margins to levels that are attainable in countries where they were held accountable for their actions.

Two Thousand and eleven(2011) saw British Columbia’s Union wages in the Government sector frozen, yet the politicians of the day decided that those wage savings would better suit their personal needs as opposed to assisting the non-union working class as they allotted themselves a 10% plus wage increase depending on their position held.   In addition, now thanks to the now infamous past Liberal *Premier, Gordon Campbell again showing his contempt for the public at large as a whole minimum wage has finally increased in British Columbia by the new Premier Christy Clark ; albeit the cost of living in BC had all but eaten it up before it even came into effect.

*Now the obviously corrupt Gordon Campbell is (who had during his political career been charged with drinking and driving in Hawaii) is now once again being pampered as he climbed the political ladder to further abuse his position of power and bring further shame to the good people of Canada as the High Commissioner of Canada.  It pays to be a politician.  Where else can the employee tell the employer what they pay level they want and get it and benefits including extremely bloated pensions when they retire and get it?

That is not to say that all political parties and their often-questionable practices are totally at fault, after all we the populace elect them in the first place then fail to keep them in check as we put on our blinders and grumble and complain until the next election. Then, having forgotten what we were complaining about for a brief period of bind insanity, we make the same mistakes all over again as we vote without either rationally thinking or demanding change prior to electing anyone to protect ourselves from further damage. In retrospect, we are the employer and the politicians the employees yet we the employer in this scenario, are being told what to do by the employee.   Alternatively, if you like, the tail (politicians) is wagging the dog (taxpayer) and not the dog wagging the tail)…  Go figure

In retrospect, Canadians are just as much to blame for our demise as those that lead us as we make the choice to refuse jobs based on the low pay, location, or both and in many instances we would rather collect welfare as opposed to working period.  Yet, when individuals from outside our realm elect to make the sacrifice of leaving their homelands and often family we object saying they are taking away our jobs.  In most cases they are not as they are taking jobs, we refuse to do for reasons as noted prior based on location and level of pay.  While Canadian living standards are high and most positions unless you are skilled labour are indeed low paying, there are those from other countries who define our low paying positions we tend to decline as golden manna compared to their homeland.

I talked recently with a fellow from Czechoslovakia who informed me that what we term as skilled labour here in Canada, carpenters for instance, are the poorer paid positions in his homeland. In Canada and the USA, as an example, we are guaranteed a base hourly rate and more depending on your skill set and place of employment.  In his homeland your wages, as he informed me, can be increased or decreased monthly, depending on the disposition of the company you are employed by and yet we as Canadians complain.

My finance and I for example have decided that although we love Canada, when we retire we desire to move to the Philippines. An opposite of Filipinos who leave their country to seek employment and send money back home to help feed their families due to poor and often non-existent jobs with a higher cost of living then we face here at home.   Here we have welfare, Unemployment Insurance and Pensions where there as in other 3rd world countries there is no such option available.

We have concluded that to stay in this land of milk and honey we would have to use the greater amount of our combined monthly pension income to pay rent, maybe a little food and definitely little to no travel options even with the monies we are able to save in RRSP’s.  On the other hand moving to the Philippines, where the love of my life is from originally, while contributing to the Filipino culture we can easily live very well, using just half my pension alone.  The remaining along with her pension can be used to travel back to Canada to visit family here and other worldly destinations, help family there in the Philippines and be economically secure and happy in our senior years. A no brainer as we see it…  That includes potentially buying a home, which here is unattainable even with both of us working…  My eldest son and his wife are Mexico bound in the future and have already started purchasing a home there as for them they have plenty options not financially available here financially and otherwise.  My second eldest is looking at the east coast of Canada as a potential option for his future due cheap land and good paying job options and due to the fact British Columbia is truly living up to its name (British Columbia or BC means bring cash and plenty of it if you want to stay…)

It seems as we look at the world as a whole, in many instances it is a hole and not in a good way, but then again it all depends what we make of it. One man’s misery is another man’s fortune for which can be taken many ways, but in the instance that I am alluding to, where an individual may be in poor country finding a way of leaving for another and taking what is considered menial work in another is by far a greater benefit for that individual.  As a Canadian, for example, I am taking my hard-earned dollars and pension and moving to a 3rd, world country to retire is my beneficial escape and happiness.

I am reminded of story my Eldest son told me about a fellow he worked with many years ago when he (my son) first entered the job force.  The fellow he worked with at that time was an ex-policeman from the Philippines.  Now you know that working in a car wash in Canada is minimum wage at best… Well this fellow informed my son that working in a car wash in Canada allowed him a far better life style for him and his family then he enjoyed as a police officer in the Philippines, and yet we as Canadians complain…

The biggest problem I see as a Canadian is that we, due to our obsessive greed, out price ourselves to the point we can ill afford the basics of life let alone the greater desires to own an automobile, a home and to travel in later years when the children have left the roost.  We demand higher wages, charge more for home-grown and manufactured goods then we charge outside customers, sell all our business off to outside investors and allow our governments to sell control of public sector business ventures such as BC Gas, BC Transit etc., as an example, to American investors.  They in return bring their own business practices with them that are often just as shoddy or worse than they are at home and attempt to pay American wages to Canadian employees who live in a higher cost of living bracket than their American counterparts.  I have enjoyed, in the past, more spending power as a Canadian then I do now with a wage that is over 4 times as much as I used to make.

I recall a farmer in Paris Ontario want to purchase a Massey Ferguson tractor for his farm, which then was manufactured just thirty miles away in Brantford Ontario. He eventually did purchase a tractor manufactured in Brantford, but he did so by flying to England, purchasing the Canadian made tractor there and shipping it back to Canada and his farm plus his own travel expenses in the process. He did all of that and still save himself $500, 00  He paid less than he would have if he had paid for the same tractor just thirty miles away and enjoyed a vacation while he was there.

In my opinion, we need to say NO to the Unions that have become what they once fought against; we need to stand up and say NO to the corrupt politicians who are fleecing us daily.  We need to say NO to the governments selling off our land and public corporations (BC ferries was a prime example) and other big business who are raping our economy even as you read this. We need to say NO to those over paid CEO`s of Public corporations and to the banks who invest our money and giving us a pittance in return while giving it to the CEO`s for who without us, the working class they would have nothing… Moreover, you perhaps question my motives for retiring to a 3rd world country… because I cannot afford to live here in my senior years and because I do not want to give up my right to retire when I feel my body says so, not when my government says I can.  I would stay if I had the outlandish pensions our elected politicians enjoy for just a few years’ service, but I don`t and I won`t…  I am going to attempt to move to my self-proclaimed land of milk and honey and enjoying life, as it should be in my final years…

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Originally uploaded by cvm_inc / Allan Herman

Early Morning (3am) at Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver, BC

Grooming the Slopes

Originally uploaded by cvm_inc / Allan Herman

Self Portrait

Originally uploaded by cvm_inc / Allan Herman