Filed under the mostly boring topic of returning to North America for the first time, I apologize ahead of time for the cushy little post about what we did on our winter vacation. In keeping with my blog’s slightly edgy but realistic views, I’ll start by pointing out that Americans worried about immigration can chill out because apparently, every immigrant bound for North America has mysteriously landed in Western Canada. In only eighteen months, the whitest place I’ve ever lived in morphed into a multi cultural center of ethnic, religious and racial diversity. Strolling through the streets and malls, we’ve seen literally thousands of non white immigrants blending in just perfectly with Canadians. Mostly dark-skinned Africans, head dressed Muslims from every conceivable nation and Hindus from nations other than India, it seems the like first course of action for the Trudeau administration was to stick it to the Trumpsters by letting tens thousands of immigrants call Canada their home.
Being Canada, nobody cares, argues, stares, protests, tweets, spews hatred or otherwise argues. And much to the chagrin of angry white American voters, its obvious after one day visiting that not only are they all peaceful and appreciative to be here, they’re all employed and contributing to the local economy. Where there used to be teenage white kids staffing retail stores and old Indian men sweeping streets and filling custodial jobs, now there are Senegails, Gambians, Bangladeshis, middle easterners and oh, yeah, thousands of Syrians that the Canadian government welcomed with open arms. Demographically speaking, it makes sense because in every developed nation, someone has to do the service jobs and just like American teens, Canadian kids have grown out of mall jobs and now probably earn online income to support their insatiable smartphone habits.
Seemingly about one out of every fifty or so women wears headdress and it blends in seamlessly in a cold nation where everyone’s bundled up. But that’s not the point. Understanding that diversity doesn’t stifle economic growth, Canada is a big wide nation with lots of room for immigration and although the number of Syrians is paltry compared to many European nations, Canada clearly does its part as a humanitarian nation helping solve the universal problem of mass emigration caused by extreme poverty and war. Conversely, Americans go backwards and revert to the nineteen fifties by electing a xenophobic billionaire dead set on making isolationism the nation’s policy. And that makes me proud to live in Malaysia; a nation dominated by moderate tolerant Muslims with little desire to invade Wisconsin. Last night I watched a documentary on PBS’s Frontline that followed refugees from over ten different nations all fleeing and desperately trying to make it into Europe. Showcasing nations like Austria, Finland and even Croatia that spend vast resources trying to help get them settled, it’s obvious to anyone bothering to watch that there’s no “immigration problem” in America, due mostly to stringent laws, dedicated agents and a big ocean. And now, having said that, I’ll move to the topic of what to do when it’s ninety degree colder than you’re used to.
After spending a week visiting old friends and feasting on real western food that Southeast Asians simply don’t understand, we packed up all the presents and hitched a ride up to Edmonton with Diane’s brother-in-law. A few hundred kilometers north of Calgary, the city isn’t as glamorous but has a really homey feel and the most dedicated hockey fans anywhere. Forgetting how much I miss the beautiful open space and spectacular Canadian skies, we both marvelled at the scenic beauty that you don’t really appreciate until you leave.
Settling into Diane’s parents house is always strangely cozy for me. Having always slept in the basement because it’s way too hot upstairs in winter for someone whose nose goes into a dry caked up state of complete dryness, one of my favourite parts is admiring the old Compaq computer that Diane and I first used to communicate way back in the days of dial-up, modems and really grainy video.
Having spent many years cooking for a living, Diane’s dad usually whips up a holiday dinner as good as anything you’d ever get but time and age creeps up on everyone so this year they wanted to go out for a Chinese dinner. Experiencing this very poor substitute two years ago at one of the few Edmonton Chinese restaurants open on Christmas, we all wanted turkey so we cheated and opted for a catered Christmas dinner. Choosing Sunterra Market, an Alberta specialty grocery store based in Calgary, we learned an important lesson; never pick up a holiday dinner at 5 PM on Christmas Eve in a nation filled with new immigrants unaccustomed to working so close to the holiday. Complete with attitude and total incompetence, nobody at the store attended to us properly and the manager wound up giving us about fifty bucks worth of free food after we complained and explained our intention to pan them on social media and never return. And yes, despite my comments earlier, I never said new immigrants don’t need proper work training. Luckily, dinner was better than expected and cheaper than an overpriced Chinese meal.
The day after Christmas serves as Canada’s version of Black Friday and Diane’s sister never misses an opportunity to jump up hours before sunrise and hit the malls for Boxing Day Specials. Still recovering from a nasty two-week head cold, I almost resisted and stayed home but instead we found some great deals even for tropical weather and ended up with ten quality name dry fit t-shirts, a nylon hat and a pair of brand name hikers suitable for the jungle for about $200 USD. Thankfully, the Trump effect remains and the world’s currencies continue to suffer versus the US dollar. Benefiting greatly, we’re getting $1.35 for every USD in Canada and when we get back to Malaysia, we’ll be enjoying a Malaysian currency so low that a recession seems inevitable unless there’s an emergency central bank intervention.
Boxing Day also marks the start of my favourite hockey tournament, The IIHF World Junior Championships that features the world’s best junior players. Returning to Canada this year, there’s a whack of new talent set to emerge into the NHL in the next few years but watching in prime time sure seemed strange after getting used to breakfast time matches thanks to a sixteen hour time difference.
Highlighting the trip for us, Diane and I bought tickets for an Edmonton Oilers NHL game and tonight we’re visiting the new arena a day early for a minor league hockey game. Featuring a state of the art scoreboard that blows the San Jose arena off the earth despite the Sharks presence as Silicon Valley’s official team, the Oilers have the hottest young hockey player anywhere in earth and remain in playoff contention after ten years of missing the playoffs. For us, this is really big news.
Remaining here in Canada for another two weeks, I think I’ll be ready for a return to early retirement in the blazing heat and humidity of Penang after a month in the cold. But visiting tthe developed world for a while is a necessary evil for me despite the cost and distance. Perhaps next time we’ll opt for a summer time trip. Still needing to enjoy some real Canadian beef, we plan on eating a large steak dinner and making a trip to the grocery store so we can stuff the suitcase with as much non perishable delicious western style food as fits; all unavailable in Malaysia. With due respect to the Hokkien Chinese people on Penang, Diane’s mom makes a mean version of real Cantonese food and while she can’t make laksa, I sure wish the Malaysian Chinese people understood more about Chinese cooking the way most western Chinese people do. But I guess that’s what makes being an expat so interesting
Cheers and Happy Holidays from Edmonton, Alberta