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.