Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Narita, Japan

I can't write tons about Japan because I wasn't there very long, but I was excited to learn when I arrived at the airport that there are lots of services for transit passengers when they have lots of time between flights. I had 9 hours and had been concerned about this.  I tried to check the airport's web site to find out any information about amenities, and I learned I could rent a day room being that my flight arrived at 7am, so I was planning to find one and then sleep the day away for lack of anything better to do.  But when I ran into an airport staff person at the entrance to the international transfer area, she told me about all the services they offer, including a lounge with wifi, snacks, beverages, and sofas. They will give you coupons for free meals, massages, and showers! And they will even organise tours for you that are free to do except for museum entrance fees that you need to pay if you choose a tour with a museum.  So of course, I opted to do that rather than sleep the day away!

Japan was really beautiful, what I saw of it. There wasn't enough time to go into Tokyo proper, so I didn't get to see that part, but I did get to see some of the country side around Narita.  I saw two temples, the Naritasan and Sogo-Reido temples, and then the Kawasura DIC Memorial Museum, which housed beautiful paintings that included some by Camille Pissarro, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall. There was even a Rodin sculpture! That was very unexpected.  The scenery around where I got to travel was similar to fall here at home, similar colours and some similar trees, although one sight was a lot of persimmon trees that were just filled with fruit. That's definitely something we won't see here!  One thing that struck me as funny is how many beverage vending machines were all over the place. They would even appear to be randomly placed to block beautiful country side scenes, but it's probably more that during a long stretch of no stores, you might get thirsty and want somewhere to get a drink.  When I think about it, rather than a vending machine, many countries I've been to would just have a vendor selling some fresh juice or something like that, so I guess it's not entirely different, only that one is automated.

While waiting back at the lounge for my flight, there was a TV on that had been showing news the whole time, but at one point, they started showing people singing this song called "Flowers Will Bloom". I get the meaning behind it is special, but I couldn't stop picturing what Simon Cowell would say if he saw any of them. It was dreadful! Please realise the next 4+ minutes will be pure torture, so decide how much of a masochist you are before you play this.  When I returned home, I decided to find out what the Japanese version of the song was because the credits after the English version said it had been translated from Japanese. It turns out the Japanese version is beautiful, and the singers are excellent and better coordinated! Have a listen for yourself and compare! (I'm not sure if you will see the video properly or not because it wasn't working for me, but the sound is the most important. You can also find it on YouTube, but I posted this version for my mom's sake because YouTube is blocked where she is.)

Back at the gate waiting for my flight, they played Neil Young and Sarah McLaughlin over the intercom. I thought that was funny.  Anyway, enough about that. I know you're mostly excited to see photos, so here they are--and don't forget to click on the album to see them larger!


Friday, November 15, 2013


I don't really have lots to say about Jakarta.  I've been there so many times now that I don't really have much more to see there.  I'd still like to see the textiles museum, but that's about it.  I worked the whole time I was there and didn't have much free time anyway, so I didn't get to do much as it was.  But one thing I can say is that the fact that I've been there enough, even in that city of 17 million people, I have started being able to recognise areas from time to time, even if minimally so.  One day when my taxi driver was lost, I started recognising familiar plant and concrete garden ornament shops, of all things! They're always on the way to the hotel I usually have to stay in when I go to Jakarta, so I was surprised to when I realised I actually knew where I was.  Maybe the city is sectioned off into various districts anyway.  I went down Fatmawati for a long time and noticed it would be the place to look for furnishings, interiors and design, and oriental carpets.  It was store after store with these offerings.  Most were general oriental carpet stores, but one was specifically for Turkmenistan carpets!

I noticed a lot of funny signs this time around.  I saw one that said: Try our new twin massage, and a bumper sticker that read "Real men use three pedals." I've never driven a stick, so I don't know what that means, but it struck me as really funny regardless.  Probably would be funnier if I understood it fully!

Another thing I've noticed while travelling generally is that a lot of times, taxi drivers will switch the radio station they're listening to to what they think you would want to hear as a westerner.  Usually it's crappy hip-hop and dance music, but it's always funny to me that they assume you'd rather hear that than whatever local music they have on.

And with all the travel I do, things start to merge together in the world for me.  Perhaps that's what being a citizen of the world means.  As we drove past some Isuzu vehicles, I pondered that Isuzu is a company I'd heard of before but then couldn't remember if I'd seen them in Canada or not.  I figured I'd had, but then maybe it's just that I've been to Asia so often and seen the Isuzu so often that it's now because part of what I think are my daily general memories, and I can't distinguish them anymore.

Meanwhile, here are a few pics!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Photos from Vietnam

Here are the photos from Vietnam. Please stop at the old US army machinery if you think you might not be able to handle some of the photos I took from the War Remnants Museum. It's definitely not easy to see.

Fun in Malaysia

Me with my laksa

As much as I wish I could change up my region for work just to do something refreshing, I don't ever get tired of going to Malaysia.  My days in KL were pretty full, but I have some time to relax and enjoy some free time in Penang.  I love this place because it has great food, and if I have the time, I could technically go to the beach, but normally I opt to stay in main city, Georgetown.  I was with one colleague on Friday night, so he and I went out for supper on a street that a Malaysian friend recommended, Macalister Road.  I didn't realise it's famous on the island, but I had eaten there a year or two ago with a different colleague since it was near our hotel, and it looked like it might have some good local street hawker food, which is one of the things Penang is famous for.  I had decided there were two dishes I wanted to eat: Penang-style laksa, which was my first experience with laksa, and char kuay teow, which is something else that Penang is known for, though you can get both of these dishes all over Malaysia.  I like the Penang style of laksa because it generally comes with a clearer, sour broth, unlike most laksas that have a coconut milk base.  I'm not opposed to coconut milk-based broths, but I prefer the flavour of the sour one without coconut.  And of course, I had some satay as well, though my colleague had ordered it, so I just had a couple of sticks.  Besides, I'd already had some good satay earlier in the week at a reception we had attended, so I wanted to focus on my other treats.  I'd also already had some roti canai and roti telur (the kind stuffed with egg) in KL as well, so I was happy to say I'd had all the yummy things I planned to eat while I was in the country.
Roti telur
While my colleague and I were eating, we were served beverages by a sweet older lady, who was missing most of her teeth, and what was in her mouth was mostly blackened from smoking.  She looked weathered and had a raspy voice to boot, but she was friendly and liked to joke around--except when it came to her belief that my colleague and I were more than just work associates or that we should be more than that if we weren't already!  My colleague doesn't swing that way, and I'm sure his partner at home might have been jealous, but it gave us a good laugh.  I had hoped to take a photo of her, but unfortunately, she wouldn't appear in one.  She said, "You know how some Chinese people have that belief...".  My colleague nodded, and so did I so as not to reveal my ignorance.  I asked my colleague after what that meant, and he said some people believe that parts of their souls go out of their bodies when photographed, so that was probably it.  I've heard of that before, but I had never heard it in Chinese beliefs.  I asked a Chinese Malaysian friend at home about it, and he never heard of it either, so I'm still searching for more information.  A quick Google search didn't reveal much, so I'll have to keep sleuthing.

This time in Penang, I had almost a full day to relax and do fun things there because my Saturday was a travel day, and I had booked an evening flight so that I could eat more yummy things and do something fun in Penang because I usually don't have any time to enjoy myself while I'm there.  I learned that there was a butterfly farm, so I hopped a bus to get most of the way there and then took a taxi the rest of the waty since there's no bus that goes directly there.  I love butterflies so much.  As caterpillars, they're hairy and gross and sometimes squishy, as butterflies, they become so pretty as they flutter around with a lightness almost wispier than air itself.  If I had sad somewhere long enough, I know that they would have landed on me because they were doing that to others, but then I wouldn't have been able to do much of a good self-portrait that way, so I decided just to keep walking--though one butterfly did bean me in the head at one point!  There wasn't as much variety of butterflies as I would have liked to see, but I enjoyed myself anyway.  As I was running short for time, I took a taxi back home, but not before checking out the farm's insect section where there were a variety of beetles and scorpions, among other bugs.  It was pretty cool.  There were a few reptiles, too.

I guess there are fraudulent monks here, though I've never encountered one
One neat thing I did this time was that, between my one colleague and I and how we booked our school visits, we ended up doing a ring around the entire perimeter of the island in one day.  I've never been all around it like that before!  I was able to get the name of Indian restaurant that's really good there, called Sri Ananda Bahwan restaurant.  Oh, and we also passed by a sign for one of Malaysia's low cost airlines, Firefly, which read Wilayah Firefly trespassers will be boarded! If you have a ticket, you're not really trespassing, right? Or what does this mean?  Oh well!

Please click on the album to get the full photos and not just the thumbnails:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

One of the things I didn't get to do enough of was touring in Vietnam.  It was a little disappointing as I thought I might have more travel companions than I did, and I often found myself shopping rather than doing much else.  I didn't feel like I had enough time to learn more about life there and about Vietnam in general, which is one of my favourite things to do when I visit a country (aside from eat, and I did a lot of eating!). One of the other recruiters recommended that I see the War Remnants Museum, not because it's "enjoyable", but because it's powerful.  I figured it might be better to see something like that since it would likely have a lot of impact in the short space of time that I had to learn something about the country, and indeed, the Vietnam warm was a significant part of the country's history--I hadn't remembered that it lasted for 17 years!

The museum is definitely difficult to go through.  It's not for those that are sensitive to violence and gory scenes.  Yet it's so necessary to see it.  We have the option to look away.  The victims, both soldiers and civilians, live with images they witnessed first hand, the lives of those they lost, the physical defects of the chemical warfare that the US launched in the country.  They do not have the option to look away.  Unless they end their lives.  And we know that so many have, soldiers suffering from PTSD, feeling guilty for the role they played, probably many Vietnamese that have done the same, though I don't know how to find out the impact.  So much of the world condemned the US invasion.  While some countries were limited in their condemnation through only their national socialist and communist parties, Canada's government, among others, condemned the act.  Many said it was act of aggression.  It's hard to disagree. 

I have taken several photos from the museum, and when I'm able to post the album, I do caution that you view at your own risk.  It's not meant to make you feel happy and good.  It's meant to inform and to impact, to remind us that war is horrible and should never be taken lightly.  I sometimes think about the original series Star Trek episode called A Taste of Armageddon in which two planets engage in a simulated war where casualties are determined by computer "attacks" on the other planet, and various people are sent to incineration chambers when they are declared as casualties.  Captain Kirk destroys the computers, telling the leader that they'll have to engage in real war, which is bloody and painful and where people actually suffer and that if they want to prevent it, they'll have to negotiate with the enemy and agree to end hostilities.  These days war is kind of like that to me; it's easy because most of the people that decide to send people to war don't have to endanger their own lives or mental health.  They can hear about the casualties on the news or through their information sharing mechanisms, but they don't have to face the gruesome realities anymore, not like in the past when a King would even go to battle with his army, and combat was more often hand-to-hand than not.  It's easy when you're sitting in your safe office to make these kinds of decisions about other people.  How long it will take for Vietnam to recover I don't know; but the population has proliferated, and I'm happy to learn that the economy is growing, so hopefully this is a positive thing.  It's a wonderful country with warm people.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


My room at the InterContinental
If you're a regular follower of my blog, you probably wondered what had happened to me after a long time of no posts--although I did do that one about multiculturalism in the middle of the summer.  Anyway, I'm back on the road again for another recruitment trip, and I'm in Vietnam for the first time in my life.  I was so excited to come here because I'd heard really good things about the country, but I have to say that it's been a little hard for me to enjoy so far, unfortunately.  It seems like a great country to visit, but I haven't been able to enjoy it as much as I would like.  It's not because work is in the way, but I've found the head and humidity more oppressive than other countries I've been in recently, and on top of that, my stomach has been off for a number of days.  As of yesterday, I was supposed to have found myself in Danang after a few days in Hanoi, but Typhoon Nari decided it was the right time to hit the country, and being that Danang is a coastal city, the area was hit badly, and we weren't able to find out that our flight was cancelled until several hours after it was scheduled to depart.  One colleague and I spent the day at the airport waiting for a delayed flight, and then they finally decided to cancel all the flights for the day.  It was frustrating but probably for the best because no one could get a hold of the hotel in Danang--we learned they were closed and that even the city had started to evacuate tourists the night before the typhoon was supposed to make landfall.  It was pretty bad.  It would have been interesting to be in the storm in a way, but really, it's probably best that I was able to stay safe.  We stayed in Hanoi for another night and re-booked flights to Ho Chi Minh City the next day.  Luckily we were able to find a hotel that had space for us (there were 5 of us at the airport), and we spent the night in the beautiful InterContinental Hanoi hotel, which we discovered was built over a lake and had beautiful scenery and amenities.  When you've been in a hot airport all day, and you're sweaty and sticky and tired and frustrated, sometimes it's nice to get a little bit of a paradise in a beautiful room.  Each room had a balcony, and there was a lovely lounge/bar situated over the water, and we sat outside and had a small bite of supper.  We were none of us very hungry by that point but just tired and needing a little nourishment.  It was so pleasant, I easily could have fallen asleep.

We also faced a significant event while we were here.  One of the heroes of Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen Giap, died on Friday the 11th at the age of 103.  He is credited as having been instrumental in securing Vietnam's independence from the French, among other achievements.  A state funeral was held the next day, and then there was a long procession as they took his body to the airport.  Thousands and thousands of people attended, and for the funeral, there were also several ambassadors and other significant representatives from various countries.  Roads and sections of the city were blocked off for these events.

I did have a few good moments shopping when I was in Hanoi.  I got photos of some really beautiful vintage embroidery work, which is easy enough to find in the northern part of the country as the northern tribes are known for their embroidery work, and it's easier to find these things for sale in Hanoi than in the southern part of the country.  I couldn't afford to buy the vintage stuff because it was quite a bit more money that I had to spend, but I would have loved to buy something.  I managed to get a couple of adequate photos of the items before the shop owner caught me and told me no photos were allowed. I hate it when that happens, but I understand the reasons why.

A colleague and I also happened across a quilt store that supports women in the country.  Mekong Quilts produces beautiful items, and I hope I can buy one of their larger items one day when I have a bit more available cash.

One thing that I was surprised to see was the number of women wearing those conical bamboo hats.  Sometimes we think that these are village practices or are no longer part of people's everyday attire when westernised attire becomes available, but really, this is a very regular part of some people's every day tradition, even if it's just for street vendors or what have you.  In my romantic notions of things bucolic, I definitely find a beauty in it.
Street scene in the old city
Due to all the fatigue and issues that have happened here, I feel like I haven't been able to learn as much about the country as I normally do when I travel.  I'm hoping that will change in HCM City.  I do have some spare time--and a little more than expected since our Danang event had to be cancelled.  Meanwhile, I've been enjoying seeing the different kinds of food items available here.
 This fruit was in my hotel room, and it turns out it's called a Vietnamese apple. I don't know what the local name is for it, but it would be difficult for me to pronounce anyway, I'm sure.  One of the things I have observed is that I think I would have a hard time living here because people's English levels that I've met are enough to get by but not great, and I can tell that often I am not able to make myself understood.  I've been told by one of our government guys here that he thinks even Mandarin is easier than Vietnamese because the tones are more difficult in Vietnamese, and I'm definitely not finding it easy to reproduce words that I'm trying to say.  So I'm not sure how successful I would be here if I found the language too difficult to learn, though I guess it would be a heck of a challenge!

I found a Circle K and was excited to see some of the snack foods in it.  I found a lot of seaweed-flavoured snacks.  I bought a bag of chips just to taste it, but I realised when I got back to my room that I grabbed the wrong bag, and I've bought something that I'm unsure of what the flavour is.  It wasn't bad, but I can't tell from the photo on the bag what it's supposed to be, but it looks like grilled fish.  Oh well.  Maybe I'll have to go buy another bag of the seaweed ones, though I'm not in the habit of eating a lot of fish.  I'm not that fond of them that I want to eat them all the time.

I also discovered this winter melon iced tea drink.  It doesn't seem like something that would make a good drink.  Maybe one day, I will try it.  I've so far tried sapodilla milkshake and lemon yogurt drink (which contained no citrus and tasted like sweet lassi, but it was yummy!).  I wanted to try things I haven't heard of or haven't tried before.  It's been an adventure on that front, too! haha  As it turns out, I've tried sapodilla before, but I learned from the Wikipedia link that it's known as chickoo in India, and I remember not liking it much.  In milkshake form, it's not terrible, but I wouldn't order it again.  It was something to try.  I also had snail, banana, and tofu noodles with a curry-like sauce.  It was tasty, but I felt the bananas were too starchy and not cooked enough.  Hanoi is known for snail dishes, apparently, so I thought I should try some while I'm there.  Anyway, hopefully I'll have some more exciting updates later on in the trip!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On Culture, Immigration, and Racism

The ethnic origin of our nation

Most readers that know me personally know that a long-time topic of interest for me is national identity and multiculturalism.  One of the main reasons, I suppose, is my own mixed cultural heritage.  When people ask me where I'm from, they seem dissatisfied when I tell them I'm Canadian, as if that can't be true because I'm not white.  There is no other reason I can think of for their dissatisfaction.  And the fact is that I'm partly white (as if that's an ethnicity), so doesn't that count for something?  So I press on, I'm really from Canada. I was born here.  In some countries where I've lived or travelled, I've even been told that I don't look Canadian, as if there is a typical face of a Canadian.  I ask them what a Canadian looks like that I'm not it, and they often tell me they expect to see someone with blonder hair and blue eyes.  Hmm...maybe in Sweden?  I tell people that if anyone is qualified to be Canadian, I'm the poster child.  We may not know who we are as a national identity, but we do know that Canada is characterised by multiculturalism, and since I'm genetically multicultural, no one can be a better representation than me!  (Colonialism aside, but I'm not here to debate that right now.)

The reality is that we're all genetically multicultural.  If National Geographic's The Genographic Project is to be believed, there pretty much isn't a pure "race" left on earth, however you define race.  The Project has found so far that black Africans living in Africa have the lowest mix of genes on the planet and would be considered, by genetic terms, to be the "purest".  Another interesting finding is that, of all the people whose DNA has been tested, it's estimated that approximately 50% of the entire world's population have the genes of Ashkenazi Jews.

That's why it continues to disturb me when I see all the work that still needs to be done to combat ignorance and xenophobia.  It's not enough that we live in the Information Age.  Unless you're being exposed to some sort of messaging, whether overt or covert, that provides correct information about the origins of the human race through advertisement or some other direct format, it's still up to you to seek out and access this information.  Even with advertising, it's still a passive method of communicating a message; the receiver may walk away, mute a television, or somehow disengage from any type of advertising that could teach them what we all need to be aware of when it comes to not only culture, but also immigration.

Go back to your home country

I decided to write this blog post as the best way I knew of to try to help at least one person out there, whether it's to give tools to someone who's trying to learn more about multiculturalism, national identity, or racism and related topics, or if anyone even learns a tidbit that challenges his or her thinking, it would be a great accomplishment for me.  And what better place to talk about it but on my travel blog, which allows me to share all my thoughts and learning with you about countries I travel to and their cultures.  But why these particular subjects came to the forefront of my thoughts just now was a couple of related events in my province.  The first is the post below from the Facebook page of one of our news programs.  The comments beneath it just pained me--and people, couldn't you see that you were posting after a non-white person did so?  I guess my profile pic right now is too small to see properly, but I suppose it's just as well; quite honestly, I'd rather the blatant ignorant remarks than people pretending they don't have them.  You can't try to fix what you don't know is broken.

I've added this photo since the original Facebook post and photo seems to be a broken link as of 2016

Dozen's (sic) in Edmonton's Sikh community gathered for a parade Sunday to celebrate the anniversary of the creation of Khalsa.
  • 10 people like this.
  • Joanna Gill And they're still gathering! The parade goes past my apartment, and they haven't yet gone by 
    Like · Reply · May 19 at 2:00pm
  • Rosalee Steel I encourage my children to be tolerant of those who are different. We enjoy a Santa Clause parade at Christmas light up every year and a rodeo parade every summer. Friends of mine to to Gay pride parades. This is no different. None of us should find offence in it because nothing is directed at us. The beauty of Canada is we do not force anyone to conform to any religion or belief. Do not pretend this is a terrorist act. It doesn't effect us at all except by stopping traffic just like any other parade.
    Like · Reply · 7 · May 19 at 2:56pm via mobile
  • Christine Jones They want to celebrate their heritage, go back to their own country to do so.
    Like · Reply · 6 · May 19 at 2:43pm
    • Vera Auger racist
      Like · Monday at 12:09am
  • Terri Grills Amanda and Christine, you're right. Let's start holding all parades in parks and only for people who are originally from North America. By your logic only Aboriginal Peoples should be allowed to celebrate their culture in this country. Learn to THINK, get educated. Do you even understand what these people are celebrating? I'd stick around for your next idiotic comments but I gotta go to a park in Edmonton and wait for the K-Days parade. 
    Like · Reply · 5 · May 19 at 2:55pm
  • Amanda Stoll Cant they do it at a park or something not on a major road. Get outta the way
    Like · Reply · 5 · May 19 at 2:14pm
  • Lizzy Gillard ^ grow up..
    Like · Reply · 4 · May 19 at 2:55pm via mobile
  • Allison Currie Would love to see an overhead shot of the parade. So many beautiful colors!

    I love living in a place where different cultures can celebrate (even if there are ignorant people, as displayed above).
    Like · Reply · 3 · May 19 at 4:03pm
  • Chris Bergquist One parade people. A few hours of a Sunday. You make it sound like they're ruining your life. Get over yourselves.
    Like · Reply · 3 · May 19 at 3:40pm via mobile
  • Laura Sanford This parade happens EVERY year. It is planned out, police and other crews are on scene. For more info on parades and other "Inconveniences" that make your life so very hard one some days of the year to to the city website to plan your route and know what to watch for and stop being so bloody racist and un-accepting.
    Like · Reply · 1 · Monday at 4:48am · Edited
  • Watandash O'Neil Takes me half hr to access to 23ave, usually 3min... They should do this at the millwoods park... I just wanna move to different town just bcoz this indians look pre ugly with their traditional looks and they driving like turtle 60zone 20kmh.... Just the little bit annoying, thts all....
    Like · Reply · Monday at 12:46am via mobile
  • Gisele Paola The colors are amazing!! I want to go take pictures.
    Like · Reply · May 19 at 4:41pm via mobile
  • Allison Currie I get the impression some of these are just troll accounts.
    Like · Reply · May 19 at 4:35pm
  • Amber Eve McDuffe Yeah and they parked in our parking lot and down our backlane blocking us into our building!
    Like · Reply · May 19 at 3:01pm via mobile
  • Cheryl English If they gave notice and we were pre-warned, like all the other parades, including the Jamaican Parade, then all good.
    Like · Reply · May 19 at 4:42pm
  • Kevin Rodway wow ... glad i dont live there....

The colours were amazing indeed, as you can see.  The particular comment that angered me the most was the person commenting that the people should go back to their own country.  As a mixed person of both European and Asian descent, I've often wondered where exactly I should go to if someone ever told this to me.  Should I go back to Scotland, the Netherlands, Russia, or India?  According to the family tree that was researched about the Mennonite side of my family, some of my ancestors may have even come from Prussia, a location that no longer has defined political boundaries, so how exactly would I go there?  Would Poland or Ukraine claim me?  Do I pick the majority gene pool?  And even so, it's already known that Punjabis share their gene pool with the Aryans, who originated in the Hindu Kush and who probably looked Persian.  During the time of Alexander the Great, Alexander called the Hindu Kush Caucasus Indicus, and that same Wiki link indicates that it was to distinguish them from the Iberian Caucasus range that appears in modern day Georgia. Again, this is another region where people probably appear Persian or Turkic in physical features. So should I return to the mountains now in Pakistan?

It is noteworthy that there is one other Caucasus range, the one that separates Europe from the Middle East, and that is, I suppose, where the idea that Caucasians are white comes from.  But being a border mountain range, one has to wonder if these mountains also had Turkic-looking people living there, and this is why I really dislike referring to white people as Caucasians because it seems like a misnomer to me.  In fact, being that there is more than one mountain range using the word Caucasus, my linguistic proclivities led me to believe that perhaps there was a connection and that the word Caucasus might originally mean "mountain." My online etymology source confirms this to be the case!  (On a grammatical note, that means when we say "Caucasus mountains," it's just redundant!)

So this is my ethnic history in a nutshell.  And I am Canadian.  Even if you are of European descent alone, your own history could be as complex as this.  White people are certainly not all of one race or ethnicity or culture.  In fact, of Canada's founding nations (excluding First Nations for the sake of argument), the only thing that they did share was the same fair skin tone, but they certainly differed in language, religions, histories, and all kinds of other cultural associations.  Moreover, Jewish people are often white but are generally considered to not be white, despite the fact that their appearance doesn't differ from non-Jewish white people.  Maybe experts could identify certain physical features, but to the general population they'd look all the same, except when we find out they're Jewish, and suddenly we wouldn't consider them to be white anymore.  The fact that British-style government and religion became dominant has much to do with how our country has developed, but it by no means can even be prescriptive of how our country should continue to be.  The Centre for Race and Culture often uses a definition of culture by saying it's "how we do things around here," and I think it can easily be argued that how we did things around here in the founding year of our country, 1867, is not how we would like things to be done today.  Even something as simple as a daily pledging of allegiance to the current monarch of Britain and/or the singing of God Save the Queen/King would be eschewed by many Canadians of all origins today.  The fact that we became, for the most part, independent of British rule in 1967 and got our own flag was surely a happy day for many people living in Canada.  By that time, the ethnic population of Canada was already somewhat diverse, and while perhaps the most reported ethnicities were still mostly European origin, there were already populations of at least Lebanese, Indian, and Chinese descent, and regardless of what their origin was, I'll bet that most of them were happy to no longer be British subjects.  At that time, I wonder if being Canadian had nothing to do with being white but everything to do with not being British subjects any longer (and again, I'll need to leave out First Nations and the French, for the sake of argument).  In this case, Canadian national identity was more closely associated with nationalities that were themselves affiliated with political boundaries in Europe (nation-states), unlike today, where Canadian national identity is often appears to be associated with ethnicity (and a multicultural one at that), whether for better or worse.  At least this is my impression on an observational level, which is very subjective.

So for those people that become offended by today's multicultural practices, exactly what are they hoping to return to?  Can they neatly define Canadian identity in order to create a set of policy actions around it?  What was our national language?  What were our national foods?  Our national dance(s)?  Religion?  Political preferences?  Many of these things had a binary characteristic anyway due to our French and British colonisers.  Are we blaming immigrants for removing these things from us?  Are defenders of the nebulous Canadian identity suggesting that we go back to a British colonial model of life in Canada?  And even if the answer to the latter question were yes, how do these people propose to achieve this?  It seems to me that any policy change such as, this is a new rule about how we do things around here, and if you don't like it, go back to your home country, would probably violate some United Nations human rights law or something, and then we'd start having messy legal trials pitting national sovereignty against universal human rights.  That's not a set of events I'd ever like to see.  And of course, we'd still have to assume that First Nations people had no say in this, and now things become even messier. 

Don't cater to every culture out there

The second incident relates to the following news story that appeared on CTV news.

  • Jazmin Violet I see nothing wrong with that comment.... Is not abusive, is an opinion of someone. There can't always be happy go lucky comments. It may not be ok for some people, but it is still a right to feel and say what u want. I don't feel it was put in a way that was abusive or aggressive....
    Like · Reply · 3 · 9 minutes ago
  • Allison Currie As long as the comments weren't by actual party members, then this is more childish mudslinging.

    Comments are easily missed. Now those ignorant Facebook comments are getting more attention than they ever deserved. 

    Just look at the racist comments that were posted on the same subject on THIS page.
    Unlike · Reply · 3 · 10 minutes ago
  • Yvon Marier She lost the election because 2 of her member did some stupid comment and I guess she did not learn from their mistake.
  • Ashley Pollack I agree. Nothing wrong with it.
    Like · Reply · 8 minutes ago via mobile
  • Dennis Stewart Here we go again the old heAd wear in the government thing RCMP etc

Again, the comments to me are just astounding, more so in the article itself than the Facebook comments.  I agree with the commenter saying that we'd expect someone to do the same, to remove their hat if they came into a church, so Ms. Smith was probably just doing the same.  Was it necessary in open air?  Well, that's debatable, since it's usually only in the temple that this is required, but perhaps Ms. Smith thought it would be respectful.  It's also a matter of someone taking the time to explain it to her properly, too.  Maybe no one did that.  I remember going to a henna party for a South Asian friend of mine; this is a traditional party that happens before women get married not just in the Indian subcontinent, but also in a lot of the Arab world, as far as I know.  Anyway, my friend was marrying a Canadian white guy, and no one had realised they needed to inform the groom's family that any type of wedding-related party that occurs with lots of people is a time you really dress up, so his mom and other female family members came very under-dressed, and I assume they felt a little out of place.  I felt really bad for them as I can only imagine how uncomfortable that must have been.  No one at the party cared, of course, but it's always an awkward feeling for the people who aren't dressed according to the norm.

One thing we can see by all of these comments, though, is that anyone can be racist.  There are comments from people of all different backgrounds and ethnicities.  The comments in question that were apparently not removed from the Wildrose Party's Facebook page in time (according to critics) were made by people assuming that Ms. Smith was trying to pretend to be one of them or to identify with them, and they were offended.  Is it a problem with Ms. Smith herself that they have, or are they trying to say that they don't want any white people involved in their culture or religion?  There's no way to make any conclusions here; there simply isn't enough information for that.

I hope readers will also understand that I'm not trying to comment on the Wildrose Party itself or Ms. Smith's or the party's actions or anything like that.  I'm simply trying to tease out the implications of how people are responding to that event and ask questions that no one seems to be asking.

We were here first

I think what bothers me the most, though, is that there seems to be this mentality that "we were here first," so we have the right to determine how we do things around here.  This is the subtle implication of people saying that immigrants should go back to their own country, or even to some extent, when people say "we don't need you to represent us" because you feel that you are somehow a better representative of your own culture than someone not from there.  The assumption of the latter belief is that somehow culture is static and there is a set of learned behaviours, beliefs, and practices that you could learn that would make you the ideal representative of that culture.  The basic characteristic of culture is that it's dynamic; it's always changing. Consequently, those prescribed behaviours or beliefs couldn't possibly remain the same.  In addition, it doesn't account for individual differences and doesn't allow for someone to change his or her mind or question the culture at all.

Similarly, culture's dynamism is exactly why "we were here first" also makes no sense.  You would need to try to preserve your culture in a bottle and then conk people on the head with it until they could somehow agree to squeeze inside it.  There are several other problems with this idea.  For those that use the common argument for those that tell others to go back to their own country, there's very likely another group that could say that to you.  That's where we we can easily argue that First Nations people could tell that to anyone in the country because they were the first to settle in the region, so for that reason alone, the "go back to your country" argument really doesn't work.  Moreover, even First Nations people are thought to have originated in Asia and populated the Americas in up to three waves of migration across the Bering Strait.  Should we then admonish them for settling in the Americas?  Should we tell them to get back to Inner Mongolia or Siberia?  While they could indeed claim "we were here first", if this the sole argument about who gets to determine how we do things around here, we would have to then try to search through the history of humanity to separate people and put them back in their proper regions where they originated.  And then what do we do with people that were stolen as slaves?  Do we make them go back to where they came from?  Can you imagine what would happen if we took an African-American kid that grew up in the US, born to other African-Americans that have been in the US for generations, and then just dropped that kid off in Ghana and said, "good luck to you!"?  Somehow that just doesn't seem like it would work so well.  Likewise, what would we do with refugees?  Send them back to be killed?  Or is that okay because we're not related to them?  Obviously, I'm not suggesting that any of these are good solutions, but I'm trying to demonstrate the consequences of what is implied when people say we were here first or that people should go back to their home countries.  Countries, nations, and societies get colonised or conquered, as a general rule, whether we like it or not.  We can oppose it and try to stop it from happening, but once it has happened, it's kind of difficult to reverse the effect.  That experience, even if we remove the colonisers, changes that society's cultural reality.  It's usually not the case that you can just go back to old times and have everything be exactly the same, I don't think.  I'd have to research it more, but I haven't heard of it so far.

Canada's immigration trends

Bringing it back to the Canadian context, if we remove First Nations out of the context again, it's also rather interesting to see who was actually here first.  Aside from British and French colonies, there were some Dutch, German, and Scandinavian people that came via the US as some of the Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, but there are also some populations of people from Asia and the Middle East that have been here for a really long time, as I mentioned earlier.  Lebanese, Indian (mostly Punjabi), and Chinese people have been here since before 1900, and Lebanese and Chinese people as early as the 1850s!  They were here before the major migration of people from many other parts of Europe.  So while Canada may have been a Euro-centric country based almost exclusively on British and French culture and politics, Asians were already beginning to populate Canada before we even became a nation!  With Punjabis in particular, many had been British subjects at the time because India was still under British colonial rule, so in a way, they were British people coming to Canada, anyway!

So what do we do with multiculturalism?

I can't answer this question.  I don't know if I want to.  I do know that my views about multiculturalism have changed over the course of my life, and I expect they will change again.  I used to really love the idea of multiculturalism, that many cultures could co-exist peacefully, celebrating their heritage like a medley of tasty flavours in a fruit punch or something like that.  While I almost never experienced any racism directed at me, I definitely was aware it existed and realised in time that Canadians are just darn good at hiding it because, as much as we often hold strong views about things, few of us like to rock the boat and would rather just keep the peace (as Canada's motto Peace, order, and good government has somehow created that sentiment in our minds) and not speak up.  And not speaking up means we can't have conversations, and without conversations, we can't learn much.

In time, I began to migrate toward the camp of critics of multiculturalism.  I'd read some of the writings of Will Kymlicka, who made me rethink my ideas about individual and collective rights.  I still hold to the  conviction that there has to be a compromise in claiming our rights.  There are basic human rights that don't seem to infringe on others' rights, such as a right to education, food, etc.  Nevertheless, there exists a problem in what I would call created versus actual scarcity.  I remember when I was first learning basic economics in grade 8, we learned the concept of scarcity: you can't have everything.  That's literally how our textbook defined it.  In this case, I would say this is actual scarcity, because the way we learned it, the reason you couldn't have everything is that many resources are limited, so there will always be competition for those finite resources.  But I think that where there is an abundance of resources, (even if they are finite, they may also be sustainable, such as the ability to produce crops of wheat year after year), there end up being some people that want to hoard those resources, creating the scarcity and consequently, unnecessary competition for them. So having a basic right to certain things can be challenged by corruption, as we are probably all aware.  But as for other rights that we wish to claim, how far can we go?  In the case of multiculturalism, at least in Canada, part of our understanding of accepting other cultures is their right to self-determination, the idea that we cannot dictate what parts about their culture are welcome here and which parts are not because all cultures are valid.  This is a notion that creates a lot of hostility and backfire because we can all agree that there are good and bad parts to every culture, so how can we, as Canadians, accept the bad parts of other people's cultures, especially when those parts infringe on our individual rights and freedoms?

I also read another well-known critic of multiculturalism, Neil Bissoondath.  There are a myriad articles about him or by him that are easy to find on the Internet if you don't have access to libraries, but I had also agreed with the idea that multiculturalism focused on our cultural differences rather than trying to promote how we're the same and trying to unite us.

These thoughts have been lingering around my brain for years, ever since I did my own research on multicultural policies and how they've affected K-12 students and teachers/pre-service teachers experiences of ethnically diverse classrooms, called Multicultural education, power, and ideology: A critical analysis of teacher training textbooks and education policy in Alberta.  I concluded that despite the rhetoric claim of education being the great equaliser, the fact that school and workplaces are inherently competitive (for grades, awards, accolades, promotions, etc.), our system entails one of winners of losers.  Winners are those that have all the tools they need, be it understanding the culture and/or the language, society expectations, and so forth.  Those that don't win find barriers to understanding of those things just mentioned, and as a result, they are not able to get ahead or figure out "the system."  Consequently, it's hard to achieve equality when some of us are better able to avail of resources and opportunities than others, and there's no guarantee whether or not you'll learn how to do this.

Despite this inequality, there persists the perception that immigrants are getting ahead and ousting Canadian-born persons from opportunities they feel they deserve.  In Canada, and I imagine in other countries that are large, immigrant-receiving countries, we sometimes hear people say that immigrants are taking away our jobs.  Now, I'm not that well-read in economics, but I guess that the concept of scarcity can apply to things other than food or minerals or fresh water supply.  In this case, there's a perception that there is a scarcity of employment opportunities for people in the Canada, so it creates animosity toward the newcomers.  In this case, there may not even be a real scarcity at all, but the perception of one is causing a big problem!  Notwithstanding the recent controversy surrounding our immigration policies and companies' use of temporary foreign workers, my understanding is that the best qualified people are usually hired for jobs.  Often they are Canadian-born because they have Canadian work experience, which makes them more desirable employees.  In fact, some people, whether they are foreign- or Canadian-born, have had difficulties even getting interviews when they have names that might seem too difficult to pronounce.  Most of us know all too well about the high number of foreign-trained professionals whose credentials aren't recognised here, and then some of them end up driving taxis or working as janitors if they can't afford to go back to school or comply with other prerequisites that will allow them to work in their original professions.  And while the scandal with some of these temporary foreign workers occurred in companies offering higher-level jobs, I rarely heard a Canadian-born 15-year old kid complain they couldn't get a job at Tim Horton's or McDonald's, or a 25-year-old say they couldn't find custodial work because there were too many immigrants taking those jobs.  In fact, many of the newcomers I've met have struggled quite a lot here, personally, professionally, and economically.  Every one of them works very hard, and I'm happy to say that some that I know that  came here as international students worked their way up so much that they now make tons more money than I do, and I feel they deserve all of it because they did work so much.  I'm not suggesting Canadian-born people don't work hard, but just that a few of my friends stepped it up that much more.

Much of the literature on multiculturalism that I have encountered also fails to take into consideration the implications of migration in general.  I was volunteering for a few weeks during the summer of 2006 in Barcelona, helping to teach Spanish to Arab immigrant women.  There is a lot of animosity in France and Spain against African immigrants in general.  Some of the reasons are historical, but some of the critiques are not unfamiliar to sentiments heard around Canada.  One of the ladies, who happened to be from Morocco, that I met told me how she came to Barcelona to try to give her son a better life because the economy there was so poor that youth unemployment was extremely high.  She thought opportunities were better in Spain.  What she didn't know is that, having moved when her son was 17, he'd never be able to get into university because, even though he was proficient in Spanish, you needed to speak Catalan to get into university, and you certainly needed to know it to get a job.  It was a bit late for him to learn the language with enough proficiency to avail himself of whatever opportunities Spain had at the time, and he ended up becoming an apprentice mechanic to another Moroccan immigrant living in an Arab-majority suburb of Barcelona.  Some ladies told me that immigrants end up committing petty crimes just to get enough money for food for their families because life didn't bring what they hoped for in Spain, and conditions were no better in their home countries!  It's no wonder Spanish people would complain about immigrants increasing crime in the country.  It was, in fact, true, but there was no understanding of the reasons for this.  People just assumed criminals were coming into the country.  Aljazeera news presented another recent example of this in Sweden.

Closer to home, I ended up becoming friends with someone originally from Peru that I had met at the hotel where I was staying in Montreal as he was the front desk person there.  He told me the Quebec government had wooed him with promises of good employment, and he hadn't expected it would be a job at the front desk of a hotel.  He was told there were lots of professional opportunities in the tourism industry, and this appealed to him as he liked to travel and live in new countries, he was multilingual, and he had several years of work experience in more professional roles in the tourism industry.  When he arrived in Canada, he learned that this was not actually the case, and most of the jobs were similar to the one that he ended up finding.  These are just some of the stories, let alone the stories of refugees and other types of newcomers to Canada.  It gives one the impression, whether or not this is actually what is happening, that the Canadian government is advertising more grandiosely, but it's all false, and then when people arrive, they find out it's not what they were led to believe.

Solutions for the above?

I also don't know the answer to this question, but one book that is currently enlightening my views on multiculturalism is called Multicultiphobia, and I find it to be one of the most insightful reviews of Canadian multiculturalism out there.  I haven't finished it yet, but it's definitely changing the way I view multiculturalism.  Ryan demonstrates by using text from Canada's multicultural policy documents that the Canadian government has always intended to integrate immigrants without them having to give up who they are or entirely give up their culture.  And despite our belief in the right to self-determination, that relativistic notion that tells us that every culture is valid, the government has ruled against things like female circumcision, which is also known as female genital mutilation and female genital cutting.  This practice is illegal in Canada.  It doesn't matter what culture you are from; that cultural practice infringes on our individual rights that all Canadians should enjoy, and the federal government has made it illegal.  As a result of points the book makes like this, I am re-thinking my ideas about multiculturalism, and it's jogging my memory of things I used to think about the topic, which is that old saying we all associate with the word multiculturalism: tolerance, respect, and understanding.  I've always felt that we've done well on the first two but dreadful on the last, mainly because the way we receive information about other cultures is through superficial means by which we observe dance, song, dress, and eat food, but we rarely are given information about their histories and philosophies and the deeper things that influence their dances and songs and whatever other behaviours they may have.  Even if we still disagree with aspects of another culture, we would all benefit by having a more profound understanding of that culture.

It's definitely complex.  The solutions aren't easy, and I don't think there's any one solution.  Regardless, there are always going to be critics, but you can't please everyone!

Negotiating cultural identities - who am I?

One thing that I would add as a final note that I think is an emerging area for discussion is the notion of how we view ourselves as cultural beings.  Canadian identity may be difficult to define, but I do feel like there is a sense of "Canadian-ness", even if we can't exactly put our finger on it.  And whether we choose to hyphenate our identities or not, most people still seem like they've got a good grip on who they are, culturally speaking.  I am Chinese-Canadian.  I am French Canadian.  I am Canadian.  But as Canada's ethnically diverse population grows, there will likely be an increase of people like me, products of miscegenation that may be influenced by more than one dominant culture (I distinguish this from people that would have multiple and sometimes erased-from-historical-memory European backgrounds).  With what culture does someone like me identify?  I feel like I should have the option to choose what culture I want to identify with, if any.  After all, if we recognise gender identity as a social construction, then isn't cultural identity even more so?  Personally, I most strongly identify with Latin American culture.  There are some similarities to Punjabi culture as well as to some aspects of European culture (those things that are common to many or most European countries).  But what would happen if I said, I am Latin American-Canadian?  I'm just as happy to say I'm a Canadian that's a "latina wannabe," but I do think about negotiating cultural identities a lot and wonder whether or not we might one day reach a point that we might say, I'm an Argentinian trapped in a Senegalese body or something of that sort!  It kind of makes me giggle, but at the same time, it could happen, right?

So I don't know who will read this as it has become much, much longer than I had intended when I first started responding to those news articles.  I guess I don't really care if no one does, as the exercise was more for my own catharsis and being able to sort out my thoughts on the topic, and I hadn't realised I had so much to say.  I also just wanted to show that information is readily available on the internet about these topics that people could become informed, but most of us choose not to or don't even know that we need to.  Despite all the resources we have, we still have a long way to go.  I'm still trying to learn more and read more and understand more about what it means to be Canadian.  Sometimes I feel privileged in my perspective because I've got the immigrant side, being that my dad immigrated here as did my mom's dad from Scotland.  I've got a religious minority side, being that my grandmother on my mom's side is Mennonite, and they've been persecuted for centuries for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is for being pacifist.  I've got the farmer side, since that's what my mom's parents did.  I've got the military side, because my mom's dad fought in WW2 for Canada.  I'm missing two biggies, though, and that's no familial or genetic connection to French Canada or First Nations that I know of, but I have learned a lot just from within my own family, and I'm blessed because both sides of my family accept me for who I am.  I know that doesn't happen for everyone.  And I hope that if anyone has actually read this and you have made it to the end of this post, somehow, I first congratulate you on your perseverance, and I hope my post has been a positive experience for you and that I've welcomed you to the inner conflicting conversations I have with myself!