Rowena E. Preston achieves her Canadian dream

Fred and Weng on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

    Rowena “Weng” E. Preston has traveled to various countries for vacations,  considering it part of a greater and more challenging journey, life itself!

    She and her family do not have to worry about the next meal on the table or a safe place to sleep or stay for the night.

    They are now retired and living comfortably, although they wonder how long it will last with the decline in the social fabric of Canada. This question makes her and her family work hard.

    Rowena, 61, thanked God that her sons Charwin and Clark now have their own families with secure jobs.

     She and her husband, Fred Preston, a Canadian, own and run a bed and breakfast (B&B) in their Penticton, British Columbia home.

    With Norman, Weng’s youngest sibling, she and Fred flew to Europe where their older sister Rosanna or Rose, 63, lives – in Nice, France with her family.

    The plan was for Norman, 59, to tour Paris with Weng and proceed to Nice after three days for the Cotillion of Sophie, Rose’s daughter,  on the weekend following. He would visit tourist attractions in southern France and Spain while Weng and Fred would travel to Amsterdam to board a cruise ship for a 15-day Grand European  River cruise.

    The river cruise package would take Weng and Fred to key European cities, including Cologne (Germany), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Budapest (Hungary) and Vienna (Austria).

    Weng and Fred booked the travel package with specific considerations in mind. A travel brochure mentioned that the Netherlands’ North Sea coast was ideal for a family holiday.

    It was near major cities and forest areas. “Spending a holiday in the Netherlands means your stay will be a big hit!” the brochure said.

    The Rijksmuseum was particularly interesting, although Weng was not sure if they could visit it. It is a 19th-century building housing Dutch Golden Age painting masterpieces and a vast European art collection.

    They also prioritized visiting the Anne Franks House, where the teenage Jewish girl hid with her family and friends in secret rooms above a small business to avoid capture by the German SS and transported to an extermination camp. Sadly, they were discovered after several years of hiding, and all but one did not survive the camps.

    “During your holiday in the Netherlands, discover the country’s beautiful nature reserves and sights. You can enjoy the richness of its flora and fauna, from sand dunes to forests and lakes,” the brochure added.

    On the other hand, Cologne conjured dreamy images and lingering melodies and sounds. It is a 2,000-year-old city spanning the Rhine River in Western Germany and the region’s capital hub.

    A landmark of High Gothic architecture set amid a reconstructed old town, the twin-spired Cologne Cathedral is known for its gilded medieval reliquary and sweeping Rhine River views. It is one of the few structures that largely survived the destruction of the Allied bombing of Cologne during World War II. The adjacent Ludwig Museum showcases 20th-century art, including many masterpieces by the Spanish master Pablo Picasso. The Romano-Germanic Museum nearby houses Roman antiquities.

    Vienna, the Austrian capital, is famous for its castles, palaces, and buildings, among other architectural works. Some of Austria’s most famous castles include Festin Hohenzalzburg, Burg Hohenwerfen, and Castle Liechtenstein.

    Habsburg’s summer residence is Austria’s most popular tourist attraction. You can take a guided tour through the Imperial ceremonial rooms or stroll through the freely accessible garden.

    Many of Austria’s castles were created during the Habsburg reign. The House of Habsburg-Lorraine still exists and the family’s current head is Karl Von Habsburg.

     The Austro-Hungarian monarchy ended with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914, which was the spark that ignited World War 1 and resulted in the proclamation of the Republic of Germany and Austria and the First Hungarian Republic in late 1918, at the end of the war.

    Budapest, Hungary’s capital city, is architecturally a feast for the eyes, mixing Roman, Ottoman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau influences. It is also famous for its thermal baths, cuisine, unique festivals, Danube Promenade, rich musical heritage, and museums.

    Back in Penticton, with Norman having arrived earlier and enjoying quality time with the family in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver, Weng feels reinvigorated after the European tour, though feeling slightly tired.

    But she is happy and has peace of mind. She and Fred are in good health, and her sons Charwin and Clark enjoy life with their respective families. Rowena could not ask for more.

    Having good  health due to moderation in everything like food, exercise by walking when she has the time, and socialized  medical care provided by the government, Rowena  remembers what she has often heard, “Enjoy life… that’s what we are here for.”

    She smiles a lot these days as if everything is all right, and she has not had any problems recently.

     This is particularly true when her grandchildren run up to her with their little arms open when she and Fred visit them.

    Her life now starkly contrasts how she lived growing up in the Philippines.

    They were not rich, but her late parents—Aresio P. Erediano of Minglanilla, Cebu, and Lolita Flores-Calixto of Vintar, Ilocos Norte— were good providers.

    Their four children earned college degrees. Mandy, 65, received Marine Engineering and Civil Engineering degrees from Feati University in 1981. He is a retired seaman.

    Rose received her Bachelor of Science in Accountancy in March 1980 from the University of the East in Manila; Weng got her Mass Communication degree from St. Joseph College in Quezon City in March 1982; and Norman graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the Technological Institute of the Philippines in Cubao, Quezon City.

   But to many, including Weng, a college degree did not necessarily ensure success, much more a high-paying job. She already had a relatively good position at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) when she followed her sister’s example. She left the country in 1997  to seek a better life.

    Coming from a close family, she received moral support from her siblings, who offered her a helping hand.

    After hearing good things about Canada as a destination from other Filipino immigrants, she decided to go there.

    Mandy contacted a friend in Vancouver to help  Weng if she needed assistance upon arrival. Rosanna, already working on a European cruise ship, provided the airfare.

   Norman and Mandy in the Philippines were to help in case Teresita S. Sarco, caretaker of Weng’s family, would need assistance in looking after Charwin and Clark.

   In 2000, three years after Weng left for Canada, she brought her two children to Canada as immigrants. Norman would follow with his family in 2005.

   Considering that she already had a relatively good job, one could not avoid asking why she still had to leave.

    But those who knew her would say, “Why not? She was bright, driven to succeed, still young, and gifted with the beauty and charm inherited from her mom. She believed she could make it.”

   Arriving in Canada, Weng was lonely for her children, but she soldiered on, taking up odd jobs to survive, like cooking, cleaning, and retail selling.

    Tired after a day’s work, she would call her two boys and regularly remit money for them, especially after they transferred to Dasmariñas, Cavite, and stayed at their Uncle Mandy’s house while studying at the Philippine Christian University.

    In 2003, Weng enrolled in the culinary arts program of Vancouver Community College to obtain a trade certificate in cooking. Later, she worked as a chef in a hotel near the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond and at a prestigious golf club. After obtaining her “Red Seal” as a professional chef, she taught cooking at a local high school.

    At her oldest son’s suggestion, she joined a local dating website where she met and became friends with Fred Preston, an accountant and former banker who had attended the University of British Columbia.

   And the rest, as we would say, is history or, as Weng would say, “It was meant to be.”

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