Snow Falling on Bamboo and Waiting Periods

It was night­time and I was just leav­ing Game­lan rehearsal at Simon Fras­er Uni­ver­si­ty when I walked out into my first Pacif­ic snow­storm. I guess I was the only tru­ly sur­prised per­son in the group, as I did not know that snow on the Burn­a­by Moun­tain Cam­pus is quite com­mon and these snowflakes were right on sched­ule for this time of year. As my ride, Tony, drove down the moun­tain, the flakes turned into wet snow and final­ly driz­zle. there was noth­ing more dur­ing the dri­ve home. Nev­er­the­less, by mid­night, the snow had made it down to sea-lev­el (or close to it). Not much stuck overnight, but as we looked through the clouds today at the moun­tains, they were most­ly cov­ered in white. Sor­ry that I don’t have a good pho­to; I’ll try and get one tomor­row, if we get a lit­tle more light (it was very over­cast today, except for the clear­ing at sun­set). It cer­tain­ly looks incon­gru­ous to see the snow through our bam­boo trees on the ter­race. Almost like see­ing Mt. Fuji from some pago­da. Maybe not.

Some Good News from Immi­gra­tion
Today I had an email mes­sage from the Human Resources per­son at the com­pa­ny where I hope to work. The Immi­gra­tion ‘Opin­ion’ that we were wait­ing for had been approved (thank good­ness). While I jumped on this as a a sign that I’d immi­nent­ly be work­ing, she wrote back that this is just one step in a process that is still ongo­ing, so I’ll need to wait just a bit longer. I should know more tomor­row, but it is unequiv­o­cal­ly a step in the right direc­tion. After see­ing that the aver­age wait for var­i­ous types of appli­ca­tion on the Cana­di­an Government’s Cit­i­zen and Immi­gra­tion Web Site was any­where between 38 days and 8 months, any­thing that is a bit more con­crete is a good thing. I’m not start­ing work tomor­row, but we are mak­ing progress, and the wait now prob­a­bly will not be 8 months.

Cana­di­an Cur­rent Events (and what they mean to us)
So, the ‘No Con­fi­dence’ vote came down upon Canada’s Lib­er­al Par­ty who are cur­rent­ly in office. Pam and I can­not stop shak­ing our heads in dis­be­lief at how big a deal is being made of the rel­a­tive­ly small Spon­sor­ship scan­dal, when you com­pare it to the ram­pant and open cor­rup­tion in the US when we left; the whole scan­dal seems like some­thing that Tom DeLay would do in a typ­i­cal week of busi­ness in Texas or Wash­ing­ton D.C.

Still, it’s yet anoth­er exam­ple of the supe­ri­or­i­ty of the Cana­di­an sys­tem to the US; if the pub­lic and oppos­ing par­ties have a strong enough rea­son (like catch­ing them red-hand­ed in ille­gal activ­i­ties), a lame duck gov­ern­ment can be swift­ly vot­ed out of pow­er. The wait for the ‘Hol­i­day Sea­son elec­tion’ sched­uled for Jan­u­ary 23, 2006 (a month and 25 days from today) stands in stark con­trast to the dis­tant hori­zon of three long years that Bush and his fel­low crim­i­nals and incom­pe­tents are guar­an­teed before the US can final­ly be rid of their stench. Three years to stick it to the poor, give hand­outs to rich cronies, rape more of the land, water and sky, stack the Courts with right-wing lunatics, sac­ri­fice more lives in their mean­ing­less and cru­el war, write hate into the US Con­sti­tu­tion and all-in-all make a mess of things.

I may be impa­tient for my wait of a few weeks now, but that three years feels like an eter­ni­ty.

Showtime is Off Limits to Me

I found out some­thing fas­ci­nat­ing when I tried to find out about an upcom­ing Show­time Net­work ‘Mas­ters of Hor­ror’ that appar­ent­ly makes a not-too-sub­tle jibe at Ann Coul­ter (the Right Wing’s Queen of Ven­om). If you’re not in the Unit­ed States, any page on the Show­time web site looks like this: (click on this graph­ic to see the full size page I see).
SorryAppar­ent­ly Show­time has infor­ma­tion that it doesn’t want for­eign­ers like me to see, I guess. I’m dis­ap­point­ed. A show that used to air on Show­time was among my favourites: ‘Dead Like Me’, which is now show­ing on Mon­day nights here on the (basic cable) Show­case chan­nel. It was also shot here, and I’m now watch­ing it to see when I can pick out scene loca­tions. Dead Like Me was abrupt­ly can­celled because (as I learned lat­er) new own­ers of Show­time hat­ed the show, which was a real shame. It had some of the most inter­est­ing ideas, a great and quirky musi­cal score, a very appeal­ing actress as the lead (Ellen Muth), and Mandy Patinkin, who is one of those actors who I could watch read the phone book and love every minute of it.

Allo. My name is Ini­go Mon­toya. You killed my father, pre­pare to die.
(Ring a bell?)

Ah, Vermont. Still My Favorite State

Appar­ent­ly the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion is so thin skinned that they start to harass a teacher in Ver­mont who dares include some (pur­pose­ly humor­ous) anti-Bush Lan­guage in a vocab­u­lary quiz. Ver­mont remains one of the sav­ing graces of the US for me. Hey, if I could invite them to join us in Cana­da (by, er, join­ing Cana­da), I would.

More Reasons for Staying

When stuck for a blog entry, the experts sug­gest a vari­ety of inspi­ra­tional devices, includ­ing the ever pop­u­lar: A List.
So, with­out fur­ther ado, here are a few more rea­sons why I’m hap­py we moved here (besides the ones that brought us orig­i­nal­ly). Most of these were a pleas­ant sur­prise:

  1. Health Insur­ance: Even when pay­ing for it pri­vate­ly, the cost is a frac­tion of what we paid back in the States, and cov­er­age is bet­ter. After I get my work per­mit, I’ll get it for even less. I did know about this, but it sure does make a dif­fer­ence now.
  2. Cor­ner Gas, a hilar­i­ous CBC sit­com that is set in Saskatchewan and is droller and has bet­ter act­ing than most US come­dies I’ve seen late­ly. (Actu­al­ly, I don’t think I’ve reg­u­lar­ly watched a US sit­com on a reg­u­lar basis since Sein­feld, if you don’t count The Simp­sons.)
  3. While I’m talk­ing about the CBC, I’m also a big fan of Music and Com­pa­ny with Tom Allen, Canada’s nation­al morn­ing clas­si­cal music pro­gram. Allen is smart, fun­ny, and with­out a doubt the best clas­si­cal music DJ I’ve ever heard. He is nev­er pompous, snooty or con­de­scend­ing, some­thing I’d always found with all of those NPR and even worse, Clas­si­cal-for­mat sta­tions (like WFLN in Philadel­phia and WCRB in Boston), which were what I would would call ‘Snob Radio’. They played most­ly Vival­di and Tchaikovsky and prob­a­bly served the pur­pose of pro­vid­ing stuffy son­ic wall­pa­per for Doc­tors’ wait­ing rooms. Tom Allen makes each morn­ing a lit­tle bet­ter, which is just about the best com­ple­ment I can think of mak­ing to a total stranger.
  4. The Emi­ly Carr School Annu­al Stu­dent Art Sale: While I’m not in the mar­ket this year, I can fore­see get­ting some­thing next year, as there was a ton of real­ly good art at bar­gain prices.
  5. Dol­lar and Two Dol­lar coins: Final­ly, change is worth some­thing again. And I real­ly like the heft of the Toonie (Two Dol­lar coin nick­name). Cana­di­an paper mon­ey is in dif­fer­ent col­ors for dif­fer­ent denom­i­na­tions (imag­ine that!) and has lit­tle ridges for blind users. I seem to remem­ber some­thing about US bills hav­ing that too, but they don’t seem to be as easy to find as the Cana­di­an ridges.
  6. Decent TV News: The CBC is much bet­ter than CNN, and the sto­ries are not just about crime all the time. We’ve seen a few doc­u­men­taries that are real­ly excel­lent. We do get CNN and MSNBC here. I’m hap­py to say that Fox News is not car­ried by our cable com­pa­ny, but unfor­tu­nate­ly I’ve seen it beam­ing their brand of jin­go­ism and hate on the TVs in bars and restau­rants.
  7. Bet­ter Edu­cat­ed Peo­ple: Actu­al­ly, the medi­an lev­el of edu­ca­tion here feels high­er. I’m not sure I can back that up with actu­al sta­tis­tics (and I’ve not been able to find any­thing sub­stan­tial yet), but I sus­pect that it is part­ly true . I expe­ri­ence that in all sorts of lit­tle details (clever head­lines in the paper, more sophis­ti­cat­ed TV com­mer­cials, chats about more than the weath­er with cashiers, wait­ers and bar­bers, and a host of oth­er lit­tle things that even­tu­al­ly you begin to notice. This may be per­va­sive enough for a post of its own, but I’ll fin­ish this list first). Any­way, no one ever says they want their MP or even their City Coun­cilor to be some­one they can imag­ine hav­ing a beer with.
  8. BC Hydro: Who’d ever guess that I’d actu­al­ly like my elec­tric com­pa­ny (which they call Hydro here). I find their web site pret­ty well designed, and it lets you check your bill before the paper one arrives. No sur­prise there, but it also includes a tool to deter­mine your con­sump­tion trend. Elec­tric­i­ty also costs a lot less than we used to pay in Boston. I fear that this bar­gain won’t con­tin­ue much longer, but for the time being I’m glad we have it.

I’m sure it won’t be long before I have an equal­ly long list of things from the US that I’m sur­prised I miss, but so far it’s most­ly just food — Emma’s Piz­za (no sur­prise there), cheap red wine that doesn’t taste like vine­gar, whipped unsalt­ed but­ter, Atlantic cod — Pacif­ic cod has a much stronger fishy taste. For now, to use that phrase that kicked around for a while in the ear­li­er part of this decade (and prob­a­bly came from Caribbean patois): S’ all good.

The ISS and American Thanksgiving

Today I went to a place that I had dis­cov­ered almost by acci­dent a few weeks ago, the ISS or Immi­grant Ser­vices Soci­ety of British Colum­bia. It was a small build­ing at the edge of Yale­town (which to the unini­ti­at­ed, is the rapid­ly grow­ing south­east­ern end of the city that looks remark­ably like parts of Man­hat­tan — no won­der they shoot so many movies that are sup­posed to be tak­ing place in New York City there). Accord­ing to the pam­phlet at the front desk:

The ISS is a non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion that receives fund­ing from the gov­ern­ment to assist immi­grants and refugees in dif­fer­ent ways.

Our man­date at ISS’s Set­tle­ment office is to help you adjust to life in the Greater Van­cou­ver area. We under­stand that mov­ing to a new coun­try can be very stress­ful.

Our team of pro­fes­sion­als can guide you, in over 25 dif­fer­ent lan­guages, through the many chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties that Cana­da presents. Our ser­vices range from pro­vid­ing:

  • tem­po­rary hous­ing
  • infor­ma­tion, ori­en­ta­tion, and
  • refer­ral assis­tance.

When you have a ques­tion, we will share with you dif­fer­ent options/ideas so that you feel con­fi­dent to make a deci­sion. If we can not help you direct­ly, we will do our best to ensure that you are linked to oth­er ser­vices and resources.

The refer­ral infor­ma­tion is just what I need­ed. I entered and told the recep­tion­ist that I was there to get some infor­ma­tion on health insur­ance, and she told me to take a seat in the wait­ing area. It was near­ly full, with peo­ple who looked like they were pre­dom­i­nant­ly from Africa and the Mid­dle East. I sat next to a guy with a Rasta­far­i­an hair­do under a cap. I doubt if any­one else in the room was a native Eng­lish speak­er. After a short wait (about 15 min­utes or so), I was met by a very help­ful and patient woman named Rita who I found out was from Ghana (via Sene­gal). In the coin­ci­dence depart­ment, I learned from her that pri­or to com­ing to Cana­da, she had spent about 6 months in Tako­ma Park, Mary­land in the ear­ly nineties. She pre­ferred Cana­da, she said, because it was far more ‘peace­ful’ here.

We also chat­ted about the talk­ing drums of her native land, as well as the usage of the word ‘part­ner’ here to denote one’s spouse or gay part­ner. Rita felt that it was a del­i­cate way of hid­ing whether one was gay or not, because in cer­tain parts of the coun­try one could be still be shunned, and the term ‘part­ner’ allowed some­one to hide their sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion behind a gen­der-neu­tral des­ig­na­tion. After pro­vid­ing me with some help­ful refer­rals and phone num­bers, Rita wished me well and I offered the same to her.

I’d have to say that the whole expe­ri­ence was hum­bling. Pam and I are very lucky to come from a rich coun­try, with resources, fam­i­ly, and skills all work­ing in our favor. We have so few­er prob­lems than the peo­ple who were at the ISS, I sus­pect. In fact, I learned from Rita that there were peo­ple liv­ing in refugee camps for over a decade, wait­ing to get into Cana­da. Some had chil­dren while liv­ing in the camps. It made the few weeks I’ve been wait­ing for my work per­mit seem a lit­tle less impor­tant. Nev­er­the­less, we are immi­grants as well, and the folks at ISS made lit­tle dis­tinc­tion that I could dis­cern between me and any of the oth­ers who were sit­ting, mak­ing phone calls, read­ing the free news­pa­pers, and get­ting infor­ma­tion from the staff there.

I came home just as the rain was end­ing and the late after­noon sun­set made one of its fre­quent appear­ances. I had got­ten some extra gro­ceries for din­ner, includ­ing some frozen whole cran­ber­ries, which I lat­er made into cran­ber­ry sauce. Yes­ter­day at Granville Mar­ket we picked up two bread­ed turkey ‘breasts’ (real­ly cut­lets wrapped around stuff­ing) with sage and cran­ber­ry stuff­ing from the Turkey farm stand, as well as some sweet pota­toes. I baked the pota­toes and turkey, and made some peas with pearl onions (had those lying around from a cou­ple weeks or so ago for a beef stew).

Pam and I both called fam­i­ly din­ners in the East, where every­one was fin­ished with their Thanks­giv­ing meals. In a lit­tle while, we lit the fire (well, turned on the switch and the gas flames leapt up, right on cue). It wasn’t a huge feast, but it was tasty, nour­ish­ing, con­tain­ing turkey and cran­ber­ry sauce, and fine for just the two of us. Many past fam­i­ly gath­er­ings in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions and loca­tions make me want to hang on to this Amer­i­can tra­di­tion more than some of the oth­ers. I hear that most Van­cou­verites observe the time-hon­oured rit­u­al of dri­ving down to the out­lets just south of the bor­der tomor­row, for the big sales that are the start­ing gun of the Hol­i­day Shop­ping Sea­son. It’s hard to get much of a Nor­man Rock­well glow from that, I guess.

At any rate, Hap­py Thanks­giv­ing, Amer­i­ca, from two immi­grants to Van­cou­ver, BC.