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WINNIPEG – The National Research Council (NRC) in downtown Winnipeg, the two federal labs along Ellice Avenue famous for generating MRI scanners and other early diagnostic medical devices, recently had a showcase of the Filipino fiesta spirit at its best.

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Top photo l-r: Allan Jose Turner (Technical Officer), Amalia Pempengco (Diversity Ambassador) and Ian Smith (Director General  of the Institute for Biodiagnostics). Lower left photo: IBD scientists from Russia. Lower right photo: Presentation slide showing the Philippine Islands under one of NRC’s MRI scanners.
The well-lit atrium was looking very festive with the colourful banderitas (small flags) criss-crossing the entire floor amongst the trees and two huge Philippine flags (courtesy of the Pilipino Express) hanging proudly on the pillars. Approximately 90 staff members and tenants of the two buildings trooped down to get a first-hand taste of the crispy lumpia (egg rolls), the sumptuous pansit bihon (stir-fry rice noodles), pansit kanton (stir-fry wheat noodles) and the saucy beef caldereta (beef stew, Filipino style) served on top of hot steamed rice. For the sweet tooth, there were exotic desserts like bibingka cassava (cassava cake), biko (sweetened glutinous rice with coconut topping) and Philippine mango juice. Many could not resist going for seconds.

“The food was excellent! I made everyone at my meeting quite jealous!” remarked Nick Pizzi, a research officer from the Biomedical Informatics group, who had to leave right away to attend a meeting.

The lunch, called Fiesta without Siesta, was one of the featured events during the weeklong celebration of the Filipino Fiesta Week at the Institute for Biodiagnostics (IBD). A slideshow of the clear waters and white sands of the Philippines’ beaches, stunning fiesta parades and other must-see places played in a continuous loop at the entrances of the two buildings. Everyday of that week, e-mail trivia went out to all employees about certain Filipino words for the day, famous Filipinos (Charice, Lea Salonga and Manny Pacquiao), the fiesta and the siesta, the “Lady of the Shoes” and the Filipino’s deep respect for elders as reflected in their language and customs. Many tried their hand at the crossword puzzle on fun facts about the Philippines posted on the company intranet site.

The Institute’s Diversity Ambassador, Amalia Pempengco, put the Philippine Islands under an “MRI” of sorts, as she engaged the scientists and researchers in a seminar entitled, A Quick Scan of the Philippines. In a strange turn of events the Director General (DG) was assisting the assistant to the DG during her talk. She shared her stories and pictures of Mt. Pinatubo’s memorable eruption and how it lowered the temperature of the entire planet; the fabled “Lady of the Shoes” who amassed more than 3,000 pairs of pumps and stilettos while many of her countrymen suffered in poverty; the drama of the People Power Revolution of 1986 and how it ousted a dictator; how Ferdinand Marcos tried to immortalize himself by carving his face on a mountain like Mt. Rushmore and how Imelda refused to bury his remains for 17 years. When Amalia spoke about the Philippine dyip (jeepney) and its humble beginnings, the audience was amused by the customized designs of jeepneys and how they can always fit “just one more”, proving the Filipino’s artistry, accommodating spirit to those in need and their ability to improvise despite a scarcity of resources.

After the seminar, probing questions were fielded from the scientists, such as, “Where did those Chocolate Hills come from, what geologic processes were involved?” or “Considering the disparity in climates and culture, what made you decide to come to Canada?” and of course the ever-puzzling question, “Why is the Filipino spelled with an F, instead of Ph, like the name of its country?”

Allan Jose Turner, Technical Officer for IBD’s Surgical Services group who was born and bred also in the Philippines, shared interesting facts about this tiny country near the equator as he presented the answers to the crossword puzzle contest. Both Amalia and Allan surprised everyone when they wore their traditional costumes, the patadyong and barong, which were made of fine, silky pineapple fibre. They greeted their co-workers jokingly with, “Welcome to Folklorama!” as they entered the big seminar room. They all enjoyed the turon (crispy fried banana wrap) while watching the music video, Biyahe Tayo (Let’s Travel), as sung by various Philippine artists, before the start of the seminar.

“It was a smashing success, a difficult act to follow,” said Dr. Ian Smith, Director General of the Institute for Biodiagnostics (IBD) in Winnipeg, Calgary and Halifax, and number one supporter of the diversity program. The Institute has about 40 spoken languages with over 200 employees and visiting scientists from different countries. Its vibrant diversity program has showcased the Chinese, the French, and the Slavic (Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian) cultures in the past year.