Sunday, 19 July 2015

I think I've seen this before in books

This is a North American city that can still hawk items on the sidewalk, not fake Louis Vuittons like they do in New York, but homemade things. I've walked by children on the sidewalks of the busiest street selling lemonade and men dressed in suits buying from them. I've walked past people selling jars of jam, and rode past a family sitting on their porch yelling, "75 cents for a bike wash!" People don't have to wait for official sidewalk sale days here, nor do they have to open a store. This kind of thing died in the suburbs long ago (because no one is on the streets there! ha!), and in the cities people are too suspicious of each other to stop.

I think I've read about this kind of selling in books, but I don't recall seeing it so frequently. This place is so foreign to me, this place called community.

Surrounded by Farms

So, I inevitably landed in a place that has one of the most active community garden communities in Canada, a place where a university has its own gardens, and a place that is surrounded by farmland and where I know a bunch of people who work in farming or has farms and goes out on the weekends to farm. I didn't know that Trent University has such large environmental science and food systems programs, like Guelph does. I almost feel like I owe it to my roots to be interested in food growth, what with my mother having studied nutrition and my dad studying microbiology in Nebraska, of all places.

I am such an cold-climate urbanist that I must say this: I like the idea of gardening. I just don't worms nor insects. Yes, I am depending on others for my livelihood, but I just can't get over the idea of insects and things that pop out at you. Would this be the place to get over this fear? I don't know...I've always wanted to go WWOOFing, again, the idea of it is incredible...but would I ever do it?

So...will Peterborough make me into the permaculture enthusiast I've always been in my dreams? Or will I keep on going to farmer's markets as an urbanist crazy for farm-to-table restaurants?

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Strange Place for the Summer

I haven't managed to mention this to anyone else yet, but Peterborough, because I'm arriving in the summer, seems to me like an eerie mix of Esteli and Edmonton (the two places I went on my Canada World Youth exchange) - its lush greenery reminds me of the climate of Esteli, while its used bookshops full of paperback romances and buses always zooming around remind me of Edmonton.

By the way, everyone and their dog seems to have a vacation or escape plan scheduled for July, and I'll be working. For a person who used to be swept up by wanderlust, this is torturous. Can't complain about money rolling in, though.

Friday, 26 June 2015

In Toronto Again

So I'm in town with some folks who hate Toronto and think that Torontocentricism is a thing (which it really is). Yes, there are too many suits, too many cars and too much noise. But I see moments in which, amongst the anonymity, I observe a nod from one subway driver to the next upon shift changes. Amongst all those people craning their necks into their smartphones and stuffing their ears, I observe a woman reading a book, and the woman next to her looking over her shoulder to take a peek at what she's reading. These are hardly what one could call intimate moments, and yet I feel that because, within a crowd, they are silently shared between two people, they are heartbreakingly beautiful - they slow time down amongst the bustle.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Wake Up and Smell the Artificial Sweeteners!

One thing I do notice as I settle into Peterborough is the wafting smell of the Quaker factory as I walk down the street. The first time I noticed it, I had already read a post about the smell. But I at first did not connect it to what I had read. I passed by someone and thought, "What strong perfume they've put on!" but then the person had gone far away and I still smelled it. That's when it clicked that it was such a weird strawberry-like artificial smell. Today, on my way to work, I smelled a sort of burnt toast, and then on the way back it smelled like maple sugar. I've written before that I associate smells strongly with places - Hong Kong with sewers, Reykjavik with sulfur and the like, but what will I associate with Peterborough? Breakfast?

Road trip

The past two weeks, I've been driving between 3 cities in a sort of triangular fashion, about 2 hours away from each other.

Fun times to be had commuting at 7am then working until sometimes 8pm! In any case, the most memorable thing of this road trip was my realization of how much gas costs not in environmental or political terms, but the dollar value of it. I drive one-way and it's already costing me $25-$30! I'd rideshare or wait for a bus any day now. At least on a bus I can read or sleep.

Then again, on a bus, you can't take your own detours. I drove through several routes and small towns that I've never been through before. I'd forgotten what southern Ontario farmland looked like. These are idyllic landscapes that are quite contentious: some of the best farming land in Canada, I heard. Why are so many houses being built, I heard. People shake their heads. Many layers to this issue: multiple levels of government, developers, people moving in and looking for cheap housing, people moving out, people staying, no consultation with people who were there before...then again, there wasn't consultation before indigenous peoples all over the world were colonized, and not for those on Turtle Island, or even if there was "consultation", the power was not in those people's favour.

Speaking of power, the thing that I remembered the most about this road trip was noticing how much roadkill there is out on the road. I'd see so many every day. Anyone have any statistics as to what percentage of animals die due to being run over by cars?

Monday, 8 June 2015


It's always stressful to pack. After less than one year of living in Kingston, I am moving to Peterborough to pursue one of my dream jobs.

I am moving to increasingly smaller and smaller communities. Montreal was about 1.6 million people, Kingston was 120,000 and Peterborough is 80,000 (I don't count the metro areas).

My first impression of Peterborough is its greenery. It's full of trees, probably because it's summertime. It's a city (if what counts as a city is 80,000!) surrounded by farmland and I think that's the gorgeous part of it. It reminds me of what the Greater Toronto Area once was.

It's two hours away from Toronto, which seems like forever.

I think I'm trying to find community, but I'm a bit hesitant. I'm an urbanist at heart - will I find enough city life? The Peterborough Public Library selection is already disappointing. I tried searching for a number of books but they don't have any of them in their catalogue. Getting a bit nervous about that. They don't have an independent movie theatre, either.

So what they lack, they make up for in ____________. It's up to me to fill in the blank!

Friday, 15 May 2015


I'm from Toronto; it's part of my identity. I was born in it's suburb and spent my first month of life in iits very centrally located hospital. Except I've never really lived there. I think that it's not even about the price or the expansiveness of it. I'm afraid that if I do, it''ll lose it's beauty. And yet every single time I'm downtown, I think to myself, "I can't believe I'm here yet again" and I'm so tempted to move. Just today I was at the Toronto Reference Library and, just because I've been in Kingston for a bit I think, I wondered, "Who are all these people? Where do they come from?" Because I thought only people in Mtl used the library (the Banq). I picked up a programme of library events and was amazed at the selection. If I lived there, I'd have something to do all the time and it'd be free! Then I thought of all the jostling for the limited available space in these programmes and thought better of it. Then I mentally went one step further and thought that if I had grown up in downtown Toronto, I'd be spoiled and as a young adult I wouldn't have so much incentive to explore by myself downtown, or anywhere else for that matter. So Toronto to me is the gravitational pull, the city that pulls me back every time I want to ground myself. It's also the force that propels me to find other cities, because although it's constantly changing while I'm away, I know it will always be there.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Weaving of Identities

Like many other "visible minorities", I often get asked where I'm from. I don't get peeved or annoyed when people do that, because then I can ask them. I have a line for them now, "I was born in Canada but my parents are from Hong Kong." All that passive-aggressiveness that comes from "Where are you from?" has been analyzed, the notion of citizenship, belonging and inclusion. I'm luckier: "visible minorities" whose families have been in the country for generations are more pissed off, whereas I guess I can still say that I'm 'from' somewhere else that is 'not here'.

I'm currently reading Susan Ossman's Moving Matters in which she talks about what she calls 'serial migrants'. The thing that links all serial migrants together is that their migration starts out of immigration. And, although I have not immigrated in the way that the migrants in her book have, I would say that, as a child of migrants having long looked to other cultures for freedom from the binding, suffocating bi-cultures she grew up with, I see myself in these serial migrants' situations.

In Iceland, I found like I could breathe. At the same time as I was tied down to my Canadian nationality and my Chinese/Hong Kong ethnicity, it also gave me access - to language, to people, to sharing of experiences. I felt like I had a sort of power that neither the Europeans nor the Asians had.

I am both of those, yet I am not really fully any one of those. I speak English, but I still make non-native mistakes. I speak Cantonese and look the part, but after a few sentences I usually stop. I have Chinese mannerisms, but a Western individualism. So I'm those, and yet for the past few years I really admired and wanted to become Quebecois, which did not work out for economic reasons. I found this third culture freeing.

I think I've already said this before, but during my European tour, I spoke French in Italy, Spanish in Austria to an Italian, and when I got to Budapest my mind was already in Hong Kong, so when I heard some phrases that I understood, I looked to them and exclaimed, "Hey! Cantonese-speaking people!"

There's a lot of observation/criticism of people who go to a different place and then gravitate towards those who are more familiar. Theories say that these people are reluctant to get out of their comfort zone and there's a whole superiority factor in breaking out of that zone.

If someone had observed my joy in meeting Cantonese-speaking people in Budapest, they would have (probably correctly) surmised that I was looking for a familiar voice or face removed so far away from 'home'. I had spent the last 3 months in Europe, and so it was cool to hear Cantonese again, but I just said hi and went on my way. It was because I was in neither North America nor Asia that I so reveled in that aspect of myself.

So ultimately, will I move to that crucial third space, towards which immigration propels me? Or do I stand my ground and fully incorporate more of myself as being both Chinese and Canadian? Guilt holds me back; so does shame. I think by immigrating elsewhere, I would be escaping. Not everyone has that freedom to do so.


I'm a pretty fast person myself; that is, my pace of life is fast.

So when I go to order some take-out shawarma, I have my earbuds on listening to a podcast, I order, I stand waiting for my order, prepared to run out the door and back to my office.

First comes the tea. The woman who placed my order offers me tea, and I stand around sipping it.

Then a man (the owner or manager?) comes asking me how I like the tea (it's a blend of several types of tea, including rosewater which I can deliciously taste through all the other blends).

When I finish the tea, I am asked whether or not I want another cup of it (it's a small cup). At first, I hesitate and then I give in because it's so good. I feel guilty so I give a tip. The second cup of tea is really hot, and I go and sit on this waiting bench.

Then the man says that my order will almost be ready. A few more minutes go by, and out comes the potatoes with garlic sauce and a falafel. I was actually going to order those but I didn't! Yum. While I'm eating the potatoes (tea still waiting to be cooled down), the take-out order comes out. By this time, I would feel weird if I got all this food but then left it in a jiffy - would it mean that I don't like it? But what if I ate it all - would it look like I'm greedy? So I sit for 10 more minutes eating and drinking this food I didn't order.

Half an hour has passed for a take-out order and I don't know what to feel. Full, pleased, annoyed, guilty, pleasantly hospitalized (as in catered for). I mean, this has happened at sit-down restaurants, especially when service is slow sort of as an apology, but I think this is a different type of slowness in which take-out has transformed into a taking in of the place.

Saturday, 31 January 2015


I haven't written in here in a long time, partially because I haven't been travelling, although I have been trying to notice things with "travellers' eyes" while living in Kingston.

I came across this link the other day: Henry Wismayer: Has travel become another exercise in narcissism? There's also a response piece in which he tries to defend what he has written. After reading these, I thought they were pretty elementary. In defense of the people he criticizes for saying that once-in-a-lifetime experiences are "awesome", I would just say that a) you're putting those people on the spot - perhaps they're better at articulating their experiences through drawing, poetry, film, photography, writing? b) Perhaps they haven't had time to reflect on their experiences, partially because they're always on the move c) Try asking the same thing about eating an apple, "It was crispy." "It was sweet." Unless we're a specific sort of writer, we don't get asked those same kinds of questions about eating, do we?

The first piece is hypocritical, which just goes to show many peoples' complex relationships towards travel, globalization, development. Yes, I did say all those words in one breath. Basically, he's trying to say that travel is now more about consumption than adventure. Right?

I am aware that I myself am a perpetrator of some of those things and ideals he mentions in his first piece. I believe that when I first travelled abroad, as a young 20-something student who had just worked her way into (relatively) a lot of money for the first time in her life, travel was freedom.

One of the interesting things about my internship right now is that I help facilitate not only pre-departure sessions for students, but re-entry sessions, and I think these are the more challenging sessions. I want students attending these sessions to think and reflect. When I came back from my year abroad, I lost a lot of friends. They either graduated or were in classes that were years ahead of mine. It seemed as if everything had changed, but it had probably never occurred to me that they were jealous of me or angry that I had missed a whole year of their lives. I did ask what they had been up to, but compared to my stories, it seemed as if they had just gone on with their usual lives, which is exactly what happened.

Even the marvelous travel writer Pico Iyer's newest book is about The Art of Keeping Still. In such a mobile world, it takes more and more work to keep still, and yet I believe we need stillness more than ever. I used to say with pride that for the past X amount of years and counting, I have barely lived in one city for more than two years. I don't regret doing that, but it does have to stop. There is a quality to stillness that doesn't come with agitation, and that is depth.