Yearly Check-Back

The last time we last talked, I was blathering on about renovations I had planned for my apartment. This has been almost a year ago now. The renos are done, and I love the new place. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to take any photos. But if you use your imagination, I’m sure you will take a deep breath and congratulate me.

It was a rough few weeks, but in the end, absolutely worth it. Tina Tuna, who had ended up a casualty from all of this as she stayed with Trung’s dad for the most of it, has gained an inexplicable amount of weight. My guess is that Trung’s dad essentially gave her non-stop treats and free-fed her Fancy Feast for a month.

“I don’t think she wants to leave,” Trung’s dad said quietly in Chinese on the day we came to take her back home.

People now think she is pregnant and she has trouble rolling over her big belly when she cleans herself. I feel mostly guilty, but not really ashamed. Her portly shape is quite cute.

In other news, I’ve also been meaning to talk about some other little revelations. Particularly, one that has spent a large amount of time swimming in my head.

I’ve been thinking about life priorities for the past little while. I think it’s because I’ve been forced to rethink and overhaul my financial plans. It started with whether or not a renovation was worth it, and it had somehow become a year-long reflection on what it means for me to be happy.

For the most part, I think I followed more or less the same variations of footsteps as people my age. Graduate from school, get a job, fill a house with garbage from Ikea. Maybe save up for a car.

One of the things I’m proud of, despite the weird grown-up-old-lady image it conjures, is my mortgage. I still have a long way to go, obviously, but I am more than aware that I’ve been very blessed with being able to carve out a tiny piece of Vancouver for myself.

It’s a strong reminder of my decision to grow roots here in Canada, and a realistic indicator of how much it takes for me to be as responsible as possible. It weighs me down by just the right amount. Enough to make me feel grounded, but not so much to make me feel trapped.

This year put a lot of that into focus for me, as I went home to Manila again twice. Last year was both for Ivan, a year of very harsh discoveries and stark conversations with people I love, and people I didn’t even know I loved so much.

In contrast, this year’s homecoming trips were for two happy occasions. Two weddings: one, of Ivan’s older brother, who is much like a brother to me also; and another, my oldest sister, who I thought deserved so much of the pomp and pageantry her wedding entailed.

The decisions to come home for family instilled various bouts of reflection for me. Perhaps due to the 15+ hour flights to Manila, where you sit in the darkness and static amongst others, lost in the sea of weird interconnectedness surrounded by various degrees of emotional separation.

It was maybe during those flights where I thought the most about what I wanted to get out of my work and life. The same way I had asked myself questions like, “Do I really need these three jackets, none of which I have worn in the past five years?”

Did I really need to work to get to a million dollars (as a random, outrageous number) a year? What the hell would I even do with a million dollars?

After all of what’s happened in the past two years, the shit inside my house just didn’t seem as important or felt like they deserved dramatic decisions anymore. I found myself wanting less stuff and looking for more things to achieve.

What were the main things that were important to me at this point?

  • I wanted to be able to fly to Manila at least once a year.
  • I wanted to be able to pay off my mortgage each month at a minimum.

And one of the things I realized was that these were relatively simple goals for a year. If I just shut up about getting a new sofa or getting a bigger television, I’d immediately have enough funds to put towards a two-week trip to Manila. All the rest could go to my mortgage, and I’d be looking at a 10 year amortization rather than 30.

And that was pretty much it. I didn’t want a new car. I really hate driving anyway. I’ve given up the idea of owning a giant 60″ television because that is crazy. Like, actually crazy. I didn’t need a matching dining table set because the $240 table I got from Craigslist is a beautiful piece on its own, scratches, rusty legs and all.

Even my battle with this fucking sectional sofa had lost its zing.

Things around the house get old. I’ve done enough laundry and ruined enough shirts to know this now. After a while, wool sweaters lose their rich blackness, the chrome rubs off metallic edges, and the glass chips in little unnoticeable pieces.

In contrast, being able to fly to Manila with Trung for the first time was one of the best experiences of my life. He got to meet my awesome family, my fantastic grandparents, and witness things that I could only tell him about (and he assumed I was lying).

The other day, as he and I lounged around the apartment watching Netflix, he turned to me absently and said, “It’s weird because it’s only been a few days since we got back, but I kind of miss the Philippines.”

I looked up from my knitting and gave him a big smile.

“I don’t know,” he continued. “It’s just that a lot of things about you finally make sense to me.”

 

I’m Renovating My Apartment

“Here’s what you should do…” is probably one of those beginnings to sentences that will set me off and land me in a fistfight. I’ve come close a few times, especially with people I love the most, and we all deal with our triggers differently.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I know it has and will be received with mixed reviews. I haven’t been very vocal about it because of this, but I’ve decided to do renovations on my apartment.

I get the impression that my friends think I’m wasting my money or that I just really hate my money or something. Why spend the money on a perfectly useable space? Your apartment isn’t leaking. It fits your things. Sure, some of that stuff is old, but it still works. Why bother?

“Here’s what you should do. Save your money for something else. Nobody cares about a new kitchen sink.”

Dudes, you know what? I care. A lot.

I work from home. It’s a happy joke that I am willing to play along with, but the truth is, I spend 23 hours a day on average in this apartment. I know every inch of this place by heart, and I do a lot to keep it well-maintained and loved.

I also come from a family and culture of people who love their homes. My family in Manila, we invest time and energy in our homes because it’s one of the most important things in our lives. It carries our memories and our eccentricities, physical manifestations of our habits and flaws. Our homes are a reflection of who we are. My family and I aren’t fucking nomads like the people who travel and find themselves and do whatever. I’m not Julia Roberts. I don’t do that Eat, Pray, Love shit.

Decorating and designing a home for me isn’t just a fun thing that lonely housewives or bored celebrities do. It reminds me of my mom a lot. She loved doing this shit as much as I do. I remember when she did a renovation on our first Manila house.

We had shirtless workers in and out of the house for weeks. Our shit was all over the place. I even remember being tasked with peeling off bits of wallpaper from the room I shared with my brother. She transformed this house that was originally a 1970s bungalow for a newlyweds into a family home for six.

And my sister, bless her, went slightly over-budget with renovating our new Manila house, but you know what? It’s fucking glorious. It’s a beautiful space that she worked hard to decorate, and when I saw it on my trip back, I was immediately comfortable. It was a decent house when we purchased it, but now it’s actually our home. And therein lies the difference.

She put in touches and details that considered my shirtless father (shutter blinds in his room and a full-wall built-in for his trinkets and collections) and my brother (large desk space for his computer work station and drawing area).

Our kitchen is now open and inviting, and makes you want to have breakfast with each other in the mornings. It overlooks the back yard where we can have our cousins over for BBQ’s and pool parties.

Now that I’m older, I feel like I’ve stepped into the same shoes, and our feet are the exact same size. Now that I’m actually able to accomplish this, I’m so excited to do it. If not just for the shirtless workers. But this is Canada. People here don’t work shirtless, unfortunately.

I’m not putting in a stripper pole in the middle of the room or adding an extension for a bowling alley. I’m just updating my apartment to how I’d like it to be. Sure, there are cheaper ways to do it, but I want to do it the proper way. You go spend time re-sanding and re-finishing that weirdo Craigslist tabletop with the gargoyle feet. I don’t give a shit.

Some people get new fancy cars or nose jobs, or they go travelling around the world to find themselves (again, Julia Roberts). Well, I don’t want a fucking Lexus, Trung thinks my nose is cute, and I hate flying.

This apartment helped me grow up and out of being a shitty baby from Emily Carr. It’s given me a wonderful place to appreciate Vancouver and all its fine points. It’s helped me host many dinner parties and family guests over the years. It’s a milestone that marks my responsibility and obligation, both financially and emotionally. It’s become mine.

This is something just for me, and I don’t think anybody has much of a right to tell me what I should do.