Tag: vancouver

…not till we are completely lost, or turned round – for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as be awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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Sometimes I forget that I don’t even need to travel outside of my own city to experience language barriers and misunderstandings. What’s beautiful is to be reminded that there’s more to communication than language.

I’m sitting at the bus stop when an old, petite lady sets her bags down on the bench with me. She stays standing. I’m in a good mood and strike up a conversation.

“That will be heavy to carry home.”

“No,” she says shaking her head as if it’s no big deal. She says a few more words – some incomprehensible – but I get the picture that she doesn’t have far to walk. I’m a little surprised that I can’t understand her because she looks European, if not Canadian. I figure I just didn’t hear properly.

“How many blocks do you have to walk?”

“One and a half.”

There is some silence and the conversation seems over.

“You’re Filipino?” she suddenly says. Now, this is surprising. No one ever guesses I have even the slightest Filipino blood – Chinese probably, Korean or Japanese maybe, but never Filipino, never without having seen my last name, and never in Vancouver – a city that boasts(?) the largest proportion of Chinese in Canada.

“Yes! How did you know?” I ask.

She begins to regale me with a story that I continue to not understand. I know she’s speaking English because some words come out loud and clear and she nods firmly after every few sentences, her body language exuding confidence as if I should be following everything she says. I’m trying hard to.

“Five days.”
“Millionaire.”
“Filipino.”

I’m nodding and saying, “Yeah,” intermittently as I collect clues on what she’s talking about. It’s as if we’re actually having a conversation. She convinces me that we are with the way she’s speaking to me – no hesitation, no pauses, no doubts, no verification questions (“Right?” “You know?”) I try to change the subject because I finally realize that she’s talking in circles…I think.

“What language do you speak?” I ask.

“Yes!” she says confidently with a sharp downward turn of the head. I almost forget what question I had and nod in agreement with her.

I try again.

“You speak another language?”

“I speak English.”

I try other ways of asking the question.

“I am Greek.” Oh, that explains it – or does it? I continue to be naïve about the stereotypes of different countries and cultures. I consider my naivete one of my greatest strengths.

The lady is eating an ice cream bar with a purpose.

“Greek-Canadian,” she confirms.

The bus is coming so we both get up and I offer to help her with her bags. There are a lot of senior citizens in my neighbourhood and I often help old ladies carry their bags home. This lady politely refuses with a smile and says “Salamat” – another clue to add to my inventory: maybe this Filipina lady in her life had some sort of influence. Despite her small stature, she assuredly bypasses the line up of people to get on the bus first and secure herself a good seat by the door.

At my stop, I’m conscious to see if she’s getting up as well. It seems like she is, but is she waiting for me to get up first? We have a bit of a miscommunication so I never really get a chance to say goodbye as she gets up. I thank the bus driver and when I walk off the bus, I turn my head slightly to catch a glimpse of whether she got off or not. She seems to be talking to the bus driver, as if convincing him to let her off the next block over. I wonder she is able to get her point across in the same “English” she used with me earlier.

At the end of my block, I turn the corner and look back. She’s walking behind me. The bus driver must have denied her request. I give a hearty wave and she communicates a goodbye with a firm nod my way. I think I see a hint of a smile.

Ciao Peruuu!

Here is my last post from Peru. We presented the final results to all the organizations we’re working with, I’ve said all my goodbyes, and tomorrow I leave Huancayo soil for who knows how long. Then one week left, relaxing in Lima, before I say goodbye to the country of Peru. Can’t wait to see all of you again soon!

A few nights ago, I lay in bed dripping with sweat in the sweltering heat of my enclosed bedroom – my thermostat said it was 31 degrees. I tossed and turned and tossed and turned and could not sleep. This is very rare for me. I’m usually an excellent sleeper – my body knows to sleep through what it needs to, but I can also be perky as soon as it’s time for me to wake up. I had to wake up at 2am last night and air my room out for an hour. Ironically, that afternoon, there was torrential rain.

Haciendo Palmadas, Cantando y Bailando
The ladies from Tanzania knew how to start the party.
Thomas (affectionately known as “Dr. Peace”) led an insightful half-day workshop on racism the other morning. It’s funny because I was constantly telling others about Vancouver’s multiculturalism when I was in Japan, but the simple fact that Canada is a country of immigrants doesn’t mean that we’re any less segregated or any more tolerant than the next person. Brittany (one of the other interns) commented that she was surprised at some of the blatant discriminatory comments she would hear from some of her friends in Vancouver when she was on the West Coast for an internship. Her friend made a face at her for buying something from the Richmond night market and it’s true that sometimes Caucasians are viewed differently if they spend too much time participating in Vancouver’s Asian culture or with Asians. Our typical language is filled with labels – “chugs,” “FOBs,” “brown,” and it’s common for us to chill with people from our own ethnic circles (my sister vouched for that, especially based on the cultural environment in high school).

It’s also important, though, that I point out what I learned about the difference between racism and discrimination. As Dr. Peace put it, racism is discrimination + power. It’s discriminating against another ethnic group for the purpose of exerting one’s power or superiority over that group. I think both are present in Vancouver.

Maria and I had the chance to meet with Julie, one of Tara’s past interns, a couple days ago who left us with several pointers.

  1. Expect vicious dogs roaming the streets of Huancayo. If I’m alone, the best way to deal with them is to make like I’m going to pick up a large rock and hope that I don’t actually have to throw it.
  2. I’ll have to deal with the machismo culture – still not sure what to expect in terms of this.
  3. Some of the Peruvians in the more rural communities think that foreigners steal children and use their fat to grease railroad tracks. (!!!) Establishing that trust-based relationship will be really important.

The other day, Sophia from Tanzania nonchalantly commented that I seemed to be gaining weight (I have been eating a lot of pastries lately – I’ve gotta take advantage of this buffet!) What’s so great is that fat really is beautiful where she comes from. If only I was going to Africa. =)

I’m going to church today for the first time in years. The ladies from various countries in Africa promised that we would be clapping, singing, and dancing like they did during the Welcome Social night and I’m always up for that!

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