Tag Archives: patriotism

You’re Canadian, You Idiot!

Tim_Hortons

I was recently asked about childhood memories. This was for some future project and here is a gist of what I wrote with some edits.

I don’t know how old I was, but this was back in school. My family and I are immigrants, and we were still adapting to life in Canada at the time. I didn’t have too many friends in my new school, and I was still resenting my new city and the people in it. It was a bad time to be a kid. I was somewhat resenting the whole country, wishing not to be there, probably blaming my troubles as a kid to the whole immigrant move or how different everyone in Canada was. It was not uncommon for me to begin my sentences with “Well, back in my country…” in noting how more sensible, interesting, moral, etc. people back home were compared with Canadians. In my mind, I was enlightening people, or at least demonstrating my pride for the country I just left. I could imagine how insufferable that must have been for some. I mean, who was I? Balki Bartokomous?

Then one day in English class, during some discussion or argument about a topic I’ve long forgotten, I mentioned something about being a “permanent resident” and not Canadian citizen. That was a technical term, and I forgive most kids at that age for not knowing it, but one of my classmate scoffed at my ridiculous sentiment. “What are you talking about? You’re Canadian.” I explained the situation and the difference to her, but she still insisted, “It doesn’t matter. You’ll be Canadian eventually.”

I’m sure it was a very forgettable experience for everyone else in the room. But for me, it was a microcosm of what a welcoming, multi-cultural experiment Canada is, and how wrong I was with my resentment and stubbornly sticking to what made me different at the time. I was being stupid and silly. Why was I being so negative about my new home? It was a wake-up call, and I was grateful to be very wrong.  I’m quite older now, but that was a lasting lesson on multiculturalism, acceptance, and how some people stubbornly stick to their differences for no reason whatsoever.

To this day, even when I no longer live in Canada, I proudly call myself a Canadian and value what the country has given me. And as for that classmate who put me in my place, she has become one of my best friends. Even after eventually going to different schools we’ve kept in touch. To this day, thanks to the magic of the Internet, we still watch hockey together.

Anyway, even now, as I live in South Korea, I try not to be too negative on the country too much because of the lesson from that classroom interaction. For all of its quirks and what some might perceive as shortcomings, it’s still a wonderful country. It’s a still a country most people would be very lucky to live in. I can raise my imaginary flag and proclaim my love for Canada, but not at the expense of my current home. And should I be compelled to explain differences between Canada and South Korea, I try to be as unbiased as I could.

But speaking of differences, here’s the key difference. Back then, I had someone tell me, “You’ll be Canadian eventually.” And she was right. Here, it is not uncommon for me to hear people say “you’re almost Korean!” Heck, I even hear it from people back in Canada. But the thing is I don’t think I ever will be truly Korean even if I wanted to. There is a shared national and historical identity that is very difficult for foreigners to be a part in. As wonderful and as welcoming as the Koreans are, the country in general is still not as welcoming as Canadian society. (I don’t blame them. They have a long history which would explain this, one that I won’t be able to explain in a nutshell.) It’s simply not the same as Canada.

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Oh Canada, Yes Canada

Assiniboine

O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command.

Our national anthem has always been a love song, about patriots watching over their beloved country; ready to fight should anyone threaten it and its people’s freedom. But in true Canadian fashion, the singer is insecure of his own strengths, and calls out to God and forces beyond for help in their cause.

A few hours ago, Senate just voted to make the song gender neutral. “True patriot love in all of us command.” As a man, I see this as a small gesture. Canada has bigger problems and issues which we continue to ignore; things which affect us more what some would consider just mere words in a very short song. But I’m guessing for women, especially those who have sacrificed so much for our beautiful country, changing the song to make it more gender-neutral is not so much the least we can do, but it is the right thing to do. I really never understood the opposition to the change. Conservative senators opposed the motion by saying there needs to be a longer debate, and that Parliament truly had no business changing lyrics to a song written by a man long dead. It’s a dumb hill to die on, especially since the issue has already been debated for a long time, and I find it highly unlikely that six months or a couple more years would change anyone’s mind. We’ve been trying to make it gender-neutral for a very long time. Also, “honoring” a dead man by not changing a line in his song, and in the process not honoring half the population, is really dumb politics. Robert Stanley Weir’s Canada is not even the same Canada we have now. Women couldn’t vote, Newfoundland wasn’t even a province, and we weren’t even an independent country. Our national anthem should reflect what we are now.

God bless Canada’s improved national anthem. I’m sure this will trend in progressive circles, especially with the #MeToo movement and the strong feminist wave at the moment. Now how about moving on to other less fashionable issues?

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I will miss you, Gord.

Larva

Saw the Tragically Hip play the last date of their Man Machine Poem tour online. Thank goodness for the CBC for streaming the show for free online, especially for expats like myself. It was a bit of an odd online experience, as I was watching and messaging to my friends online during the show. I imagine it was like that for many Canadians around the world, a collective experience for one of the greatest acts the world doesn’t know.

I’ve been listening to the Hip since I was a teenager and I saw them play in Winnipeg during their Phantom Power tour back in 98. I have always admired Gord Downie’s ability to meld the Canadian experience with history, grief, love and hope. I believe whoever wrote Prime Minister’s Trudeau said it best, “Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years.” The band never exploded south of the border the way Canadian pop acts often do. They’ve done concerts, played in Woodstock, and was even featured in Saturday Night Live, but they just didn’t take off. The Tragically Hip was a band that it seems only Canadians truly got. I tried explaining this to my wife, and how acts like Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber are not what Canada is about. And that often music acts like them take away from the soul of what is actually good and substantive Canadian music.

It was great to see the band play but ultimately it was sad knowing that this could very well be the last time Gord Downie plays with the band. Back in 2012, he talked about dealing with his wife’s breast cancer, and how it takes a toll not just on the person afflicted, but also to the people helping them through it. His wife recovered but her struggles have influenced the band’s album ‘Now For Plan A.’ And now Gord has been diagnosed with an aggressive terminal cancer. While the show was a celebration of the band’s history, it was also a sad farewell to a great artist. It was Canada saying goodbye to a dying man, a dying man that we love.

I still have not recovered from my mother dying from cancer. I can talk about the subject lightly and even joke about it now and then, but it is still a sore wound. I’m sure most people’s lives have been touched by the disease in one form or another. I myself have given up to the fact that I would probably die from cancer myself. The show over the weekend is a celebration of life in the face of inevitable death. However, it is also a reminder that cancer, death, will take away all of the beautiful things in life, all of them, and that we should appreciate them while we still have them.

Hug your loved ones, watch your favorite band, go out and play sports, do things while you still can. Love and appreciate things while you still have the chance. I guess that was the big take away from the weekend. And as a Canadian, I’m glad to have known the beauty that is the Tragically Hip.

You really missed out, America.

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Being “Poor” Despite Everything

American_VirginLet’s talk about my friend, Greg.

Greg has a full-time job. Aside from the full-time job, he has two other jobs he does on the side. He tries not to say no to extra work, especially while he’s still young and the opportunity is there. Now, he’s not rich, but he earns more than your regular salary man… it’s enough that his boss thinks he’s overpaid. He earns enough to be able to support his wife, go out now and then, travel when needed, buy stuff that would keep him distracted, and help out family should they ever ask. He doesn’t spend much on himself. He eats two meals a day, rarely buys clothes, and keep everything he has until they’re too old to function (like his ancient computer or his old phone).

Now what does he not have? He doesn’t own a house. He wishes he could. He wishes he could invest in one, but the real estate market in South Korea is ridiculously expensive and people are highly dependent on debt. And he’s not about to borrow money from the bank. So he wastes money on rent. He doesn’t own a vehicle. He doesn’t care much for cars nor does he need one. He doesn’t have kids and doesn’t travel outside the city. Why bother with cars, gas, and parking? In many ways, he hasn’t really carved out a typical adult life with debt, mortgages, property, etc.

And so what do he get from all of this? He gets told that he’s poor.

His wife tells him that he is poor.

The comment was just said in passing. It wasn’t meant to be critical nor hurtful. It was just an observation mentioned in the middle of a conversation about something else entirely. Perhaps she meant “poorer,” who knows? Still, it didn’t make it sting any less. Blah, blah, blah… you are poor…. Blah, blah, blah, blah. It stuck out like a sore thumb.

It’s not that he has a problem being poor. Heck, he’s an artist and didn’t really have a rich upbringing. But it’s the fact that he works too hard, earns too high, spends too much, and buys too much stuff that he doesn’t need to be called “poor.” It’s like all the things he’s done doesn’t matter. That despite waking up early, resigning to a life of being a cog in a joyless company, despite sacrificing doing things he would really rather be doing, it all doesn’t matter.

He is poor. He is poor because his life does not compare to the neighbors’. He is poor because his life doesn’t compare to the ones on television.

And really, that is the rub. More than the personal hurt, the skewed perspective bothers him more. His wife has never been hungry. He’s never said no to the things she wants. He has supported her through her studies and continue to support her even after. But that one comment tells him it all doesn’t seem to matter. It’s not that he’s fully content with his life right now. Sure, things could be better. He’s got ambitions too. Like the average human being, he wants the house with the backyard, the car, the mortgage, and everything. Someday, maybe. But there is no true poverty in his life at the moment. He’s seen true poverty. This is not it. If anything, it is selfish affluence and indulgence that have skewed what true poverty really is… the luxury of being offended by poverty. Greg’s wife thinks that he is poor. Greg is hurt at the idea of being called “poor.” You know what the poor are probably hurt about? Actually being poor.

In any case, he doesn’t deserve to be called poor, not after he’s tried everything in his power to give whatever his wife wanted.

It is one thing to be looked down upon by others. He kinda deals with that everyday, especially being a foreigner here in South Korea. He’s gotten used to it. But it’s another to be looked down upon by people you care about the most… even if it was just a comment in passing.

We all get carried away with things. I believe that that comment was just his wife getting carried away. Greg doesn’t need to work three jobs. He just needed one. He works too much that he barely has enough time to do what he truly wants to do: make art. But it’s all the stuff we don’t need, it’s doing the things we don’t really have to do, it’s comparing ourselves to others and competing in this endless Facebook wealth one-upmanship- it’s eventually what consumes his life and makes him and the rest of us miserable.

 

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