Move to Canada – 3 years later


It’s been three years since our move to Canada from Bangkok. A lot has happened since then. We survived two of the worst winters ever witnessed in the last 40 years. We saw Sobeys launch Chalo!Freshco, an impressive grocery store in Brampton that makes me miss India a wee bit lesser. We witnessed the rise of Justin Trudeau, the handsome Prime Minister who makes Canada look better than ever.

Cultural diversity in Canada

There are 3 main political parties in Canada: the Conservatives, Liberal Party and New Democratic Party. Justin Trudeau leads the Liberal Party. He has charmed the world with his wit, vision and yoga moves.

Trudeau’s dad Pierre Trudeau, who was PM way back in the 70’s, first opened the door to non-white immigrants, introducing cultural diversity in Canada that is now one of the country’s greatest strengths.

Pierre Trudeau’s policy is fuelled forward by Justin Trudeau. He warmly welcomes everyone to Canada – from Syrian refugees to Brexit mourners to DonaldTrump denouncers. Google searches for the phrase “Move to Canada” peaked when the Republican front-runner won seven state primaries. It’s easy to see why.

Canada is internationally favoured as a stable place to live in based on a few key factors:

  • A socially progressive government
  • Universal health care
  • Multicultural environment
  • First world comforts

But it also sparks off a new debate for Canadian new immigrants like us. Will the huge influx of globally miserable humans make settling in tougher?

So far we’ve been lucky. In just 3 years since our arrival, we managed to own a home, a car and have decent dinners without free food tickets.

The journey has not been without challenges. But on the whole, we have a lot to be grateful for. Now with 27,000 Syrian refugees looking for jobs on Canadian soil  with planeloads more on way, can we continue to hope for the best?

Syrian refugees begin to arrive in Canada

Syrian immigrants at Pearson International Airport greeting relatives. Photo courtesy: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Can Canada manage us all?

One thing goes for this coutnry. No stone is left unturned to help Canadian new immigrants nest.

Federal funds and private sponsors pitch in to help. Friends and relatives are quick to open up their homes when immigrants can’t rent. Communities step in at the slightest crisis.

JustinTrudeau’s policy of embracing all is rife with controversy. But kindness seldom goes unrewarded.

The South Asian Sikh community in Canada who Pierre Trudeau had embraced back in the 70s now return the favour by helping Syrian refugees settle in.

In turn, Syrian refugees who moved to Canada merely months back selflessly raise funds to support Fort McMurray wildfire victims that swallowed up an entire town in Alberta on May 9, 2016. When language became a barrier, they resorted to Google Translate but the services did not cease.

Canadas-Sikh-Syrian-Refugees (1)

The South Asian Sikh community reaches out to Syrian refugees

“We know what it’s like to lose everything” said Anas Khaddam to cbc.ca. So they pitched in to help in any way they could.

Closer to home, on June 29th 2016, a huge home-gas explosion rocked our pristine neighbourhood in Mississauga . Residents rushed to the Burnhamthorpe Community Centre to help displaced families. Interestingly over 47% in the multicultural suburb speak a mother tongue other than English or French.

After 3 years since our move to Canada, we still feel a bit unsettled. But no matter how tough our journey, how cold the winters, not one of us can deny the warmth we found here.

Crowd welcoming Syrian refugees huffingtonpost ca

Modern multicultural Canada

 

  • Settled in Canada and feel it’s time to give back? Click HERE  to help Syrian refugees or Alberta wildfire victims. 
  • Follow my blog “Oh Canada!”  for more on my Canadian journey. Twitter: @joeyday20

 

 

Million Dollar Question


Chap 12A castle on The Thousand Islands

It’s been seven months here in Toronto and I’m often asked if I have settled in well. That’s a million dollar question no doubt. But I stay clueless about the answer.

Is there a month or moment when you are supposed to “settle in well?” Or a time in the day when I should declare “here, I now feel settled”? Does that momentary elation get negated if I feel unsettled a few minutes later?

Isn’t settling in more of a journey, rather than the destination itself?

All I can say is that on good days, I do feel faint ripples of national pride figure-skating through my soul.

It manifests more during the Sochi Winter Olympics screenings on telly. Each time Canada races ahead, we jump to our feet bringing out ice wine. It matters little that we are blissfully oblivious about winter sports and supremely ignorant about the local champions.

The ripples multiply into waves of patriotism when local news brings up familiar faces and places.  There’s a sense of self complacency when we don’t confuse Edmonton (the capital of Alberta) with Eglinton (a street in Toronto/Mississauga) anymore. I am aware that Hogtown is not a colony of pigs but a nickname for Toronto (bet you didn’t know that, eh!)

But my national pride soared to new heights when I came across this million dollar report.

Canada has one of the world’s largest millionaire residents.

Nearly half of these are new immigrants or first generation Canadians.

What’s more, two-thirds of these worship-worthy people are self-made business barons! Very few inherited their wealth!

Nothing can be more inspiring to a newcomer than this.

Certainly we are settling in, well and truly, to a life in sharp contrast to the one we had back in Asia. However long you live in Asia, there is something unsettling about the continent that never leaves you with a dull moment.

Passionate politics keeps life on its toes. Furious strikes fire up people. Frenzy, fun, festivals, celebrations, pollution, traffic jams, maid hassles, driver’s absence, all take turns to keep the excitement and economy alive.

News channels buzz with a million reasons to keep viewership high. High viewership leads to bustling businesses and millions of dollars pouring in to make the rich richer and keep the poor in place.

Even beyond the human race, the frenzy continues. Nature works with an intensity that this part of the world can seldom match. Fiery summers scorch the earth. Monsoons hurl down thunderstorms, lightning and raging rain. Wildlife keeps up the pace with bigger, bolder, fiercer creatures. Tigers, lions, elephants…the jungles are alive with snarling predators!

Contrarily, Canada is gentler, quieter, more soul-settling. The loudest noise in most neighbourhoods is the rustling of leaves.

People go about their daily chores with a stony face or friendly cheer. It’s rare to see fellow humans cursing out loud, bringing out their fist, or throttling each other over a difference of opinion.

Toronto is pristine, peaceful and ethereally beautiful, much like the lake that it sits around.

Yes, we witnessed some of the harshest winters on this planet. But even a snowstorm has the grace of a lady.  The sky blushes pink as if in apology, sprinkling down flurries that soundlessly coat the earth in a veil of white.

Much of winter is dreary and uneventful.  We had a white Christmas, a white New Year’s Day, a white Chinese New Year, a white Valentine’s Day, a white Family Day, and with the way it’s going, looks like we’re on for a white Holi too (Indian spring festival).

Canadian creatures of the wild remain in sync with very few threatening to wipe out mankind. Friendly black squirrels, gentle Humber Bay butterflies, and peaceful doves co-exist politely. Coyotes, racoons and skunks can be cruel, but even these look more like stuffed toys than life-threatening beasts.

Recently city life did get a tad wilder when Rob Ford, the delinquent mayor of Toronto, and Justin Bieber, Canada’s errant export to the USA, made a desperate attempt to keep the country in the news with their antics.

You have to hand it to them. They valiantly salvaged the city from some of its mundane serenity and elevated it to global fame. We sat with bated breath as news channels from the farthest corners flashed the name of Toronto in some context, finally!

‘Fordism’, became a new word defining antics in an inebriated stage.

Not one to lag behind, Bieber followed suit, driving not just his fans but also the police force crazy after him.

However, such cases are few and far between. Toronto and its people remain some of the most courteous, gracious and of course, silently richest in the world.

It’s easy to see why the city tops in immigration listings and takes the trophy for the most multicultural, attracting immigrants in droves from both developing and developed nations.

Unlike Quebec which is known to be more discerning (especially after the controversial ban on selected religious clothing for public servants), Toronto celebrates goodwill. The best thing about Canada in general is that good health, good food and good education combined with safety, security and stability is not restricted to the rich. Once you are PR holder, the government goes out of its way to look after you.

No one goes hungry this country. No one goes uneducated. No one is medically deprived. What remains a stumbling block is a decent job.

But as the Chinese say, where there is crisis, there is opportunity. This is the reason why new immigrants create their own jobs here, often minting millions in the process.

Canada is a money-magnet for the enterprising with a total of about 422,000 millionaires.

The Toronto Star says that over a quarter of these, about 118,000, live in Toronto alone placing it among the world’s top, well ahead of Chicago, Houston and Moscow. In the multimillionaire category, Toronto beats Geneva, Shanghai and Los Angeles hollow. However, there are only five billionaires here. (Blame it on the taxes!)

It’s common to see business barons moving around in private jets here. Luxury boats litter Lake Ontario. In North York that falls under the GTA magnificent mansions line up Bridle Path also known as “Millionaire’s Row’! This is the most affluent neighbourhood of Canada with an average household income of over $600,000.

Others live in opulent castles ingeniously built on The Thousand Islands – a 50 mile archipelago of 1865 islands near Kingston, adjoining Toronto and New York.

It’s hard to believe that some of these little pieces of land dramatically dotted across the lake were sold for as little as $5 each in the mid 1800’s.  

Today, they double up as spare homes for the rich and famous. After Toronto, Quebec is next in line with over 19 per cent of Canada’s millionaires!

What’s more interesting is that a large percentage of these millionaires are single and eligible. According to the Huffington Post, even in this category, Toronto tops with the most eligible millionaires (2,327), followed by Calgary (1,210), Ottawa (988), Montreal (734), and Edmonton (621)!

Which brings us to yet another million dollar question – how did they fill their bank vaults?

It is commonly believed that the money spinning sectors in this country lie in finance, mining, entrepreneurship, technology, software programming, and real estate investment among others.

As the economy woke up, so did luxury homes, condos and a whole new lifestyle with it. Wealthy investors from the Middle East, China, India, USA and Europe have been flocking to the GTA, Vancouver and Montreal to buy homes for work, vacations, renting or selling.  As the city downtown run out of space, the suburbs have opened their doors with housing options that are fast appreciating by the day.

The reason for this sudden growth spurt is the country’s policies that allow not just residents to invest but also make it easy for non-residents to buy property. Now you know why Toronto tops the charts as one of the world’s most favoured destinations to live in, year after year. 

Huh? You think it’s not as bustling as other parts of the world? The winters suck? It’s a pain to get a professional foothold here? True, these are million dollar questions too.

But hey, think of the thousands of “Richie Rich’s” sitting in their castles, cruising in their luxury boats, many of them single and eligible.

Doesn’t that suddenly make Toronto a million times more exciting?

Ice Ice Baby:Freezing Rain in Toronto


The other day I witnessed magic in Toronto. It’s called “Freezing Rain”. Ever heard of it? Before I stepped into Canada, I hadn’t either. It’s brutally beautiful; severely spectacular. Notice the oxymoron? And I feel kind of responsible for the havoc it created. Well, that’s what my Facebook friends swear by! I have to plead guilty!

fr3

Freezing Rain in Mississauga – Photo Credit: Joyeeta Ray

Frigid Fantasies

I have to admit that I am born with a manufacturing defect. I dislike many things normal people like. Hot, sultry summers for one. While most sane people dream of sun and sand, my fantasies have wavered around cold, dark and rainy locations!

I have been sighing about snow for instance, ever since I can remember. Since I moved to Toronto, I have been praying feverishly to every divine power for oodles of snow. I did everything short of snow dance with the First Nations people, begging for frosty weeks to quench my fantasy.

I updated my social media sites with pleas for a good shower of snow over and over till the digital energy filtered out into the Milky Way and reached some divine power who conspired with the universe to make it come true. (Shamefaced now!)

Why? Well, I was mid way into my life and had never seen fresh snow, that’s why!

Blame it on all the Bollywood films I’ve grown up on – watching scantily clad nymphets gliding over snow, singing songs. They somehow make it seem that flurries are nothing but soft balls of cotton made of room temperature.

There’s more reason to my fantasy, let me explain. I grew up on Christmas cards that arrived every December from my dad’s British colleagues with graphics of cute kids merrily ice-skating before quaint snow clad cottages. (Pre-Millennial mortals, remember those?)

Snow flakes spell a combination of everything I celebrate – water, winter,  wonderland. Coming from a hot and humid country, the grass is always greener on the other side. When the divine forces came together to make my dream come true, it was more than what I bargained for.

First there were gentle flurries that gave me the first glimpse of a vanilla world.

Overnight our leather jackets gave way to goose-down and fur. I thanked the gods profusely, laughing at my Canadian friends on Facebook for wagging their fingers at me, ominously warning that I had no clue what I was asking for.

Throwing caution to the winds, I strolled through ankle deep snow clicking pictures till I nearly came down with the flu. That didn’t stop me. I took a flu shot and carried on. My honeymoon with snow was on. I basked in the ethereal beauty !

The universe seemed pleased to discover one grateful human and hurled down further blessings to entertain  me. Every day seemed a stage set for different dances of Arctic winter. One moment temperatures hit -16, partnered by piercing  -25 windchill. The next day would be a warmer +4 degrees celcius of sunshine.

There was snow in all colours, shapes and sizes.

White snow, black snow, pink snow, black ice, ground frost, flurries, freezing rain, sleet, ice pellets, hail and of course snowstorms to name a few! As long as you were indoors, it was all beautiful. 

Fortunately, every nook and corner is centrally heated. Back in Delhi, there is no concept of central heating despite temperatures bordering between +2 to +10 degrees celcius. Washing dishes and clothes can be quite a task especially for lower income families with little warm water at their disposal.

Here in Canada, one is not exposed to the bitter cold till you are out in the streets. The flurries increased, and so did my ecstasy.While news channels groaned about the weather, I celebrated every snow flake that came my way, craving for more.

Then one day, without warning, the skies came crashing down with bolts freezing rain. I had never heard of an ice storm or freezing rain before then. There were like sharp needles of rain slicing through the chilly winds, turning to ice like magic, as soon as they touched the freezing cold surfaces. Trees groaned with the weight of crystalline ice, snapped and crashed into electric poles, roads and roofs.

What is Freezing Rain?

In simple words, when rain falls through thin layers of cold temperatures at or below 0 degrees Celcius (32 deg F), it freezes into ice on contact with the colder surface.

It’s not as pretty as it looks, let me warn you! A quarter of an inch of ice can add 500 pounds to branches, bringing them down with the excess weight, causing power outages that are hard to fix. How do you scrape off cms thick snow from  electric wires without the risk of short-circuit?

My enlightenment on the subject came from an escapade that I won’t forget in a hurry.

fr-1

Iced crab apples anyone? 

Powerless in Toronto

It was in the winter of 2013. I was engrossed in yet another inane American TV reality show well past midnight when suddenly the lights went out. Expecting the generators to spring into action (hey, this is a first world country, right?) I continued staring at the blank TV screen for several minutes more when it suddenly dawned on me that the power was not coming back for a while. It was an outage. I peered out of the window. Much of the city had blacked out.

What came as a shock was that there was no water either. The pumps couldn’t operate without power. Somehow, we weren’t ready for that. In our part of the world, we are more prepared for this so we store water in buckets.

It was then that the perils of a First World nation that is helplessly dependent on electricity for the slightest, dawned on us. Back home in India, we could carry on with our daily ablutions without electricity. Ironically, the more impoverished you are, living close to nature, the more you remain unaffected.

You could cook on gas stoves or better still, coal-stacked clay ovens; wash yourself from buckets stored with water; handwash clothes and dishes without  without much ado. At worst, you simply steered clear of the bathroom till your bladder burst.

Here in Canada, life came to a grinding halt. Our home was on the 30th floor; not a drop of water trickled down the fancy taps. The old, rented apartment did not come with a generator. We were done! How would we manage the night?

It turned out to be a power outage of a scale we could never imagine in a place like Toronto. The next morning, we remained powerless (in every way). We found out much later that over 400,000 homes in the GTA had blacked out that night from the freezing rain.  Some families fled to unaffected suburbs. Others were stranded for a good few days. State-of-the-art electric stoves were useless without a working plugpoint. There was not a drop of water in high-rise homes.  

Outside, an invisible coat of black ice had settled on the roads. One hasty step could land you with a broken bone. Inside, we stood frozen, unable to figure out how long this would take or where we should go.

We had no flashlight handy. Our cell phones were running out of charge. Despite all the snow, ice, frost and the massive Lake Ontario frozen before us, there was not one drop of water to drink.We had to get out quick before the situation got worse.

It was a tough task  climbing down 30 flights of stairs in pitch dark. But with the dim light of our cell phones, the four of us managed.As we stumbled down the stairs to put up the night with friends in Mississauga, a thought crossed my mind.

Ironic how humans create distinctions like “First World” and “Third World”. But it takes seconds for Mother Nature to equalize all.

WEA Eastern Canada Storm 20131222

Toronto Ice Storm – The Canadian Press

New to Canada? Click HERE to prepare yourself for a winter power outage. According to Red Cross, a whopping 41% Canadians have been out of electricity for well over a day. Check out the video below to know more. Follow my blog “Oh Canada!” for tips to live and work successfully here. Join my Facebook Page  for my stories and yours.

Say Cheese!


Chapter 8

canadian fast food 1

Quick, answer this question! Have you ever heard of a Canadian restaurant anywhere in the world? I rest my case.

We have searched high and low for local Canadian cuisine here but to no avail.

Most people don’t have a clue to what Canadian food is all about. Back in Asia, Canadian food stalls in International School Fairs always looked a bit starved, standing behind a tray full of sad sandwiches, sadder salads and tarts! The full tray usually stayed that way right till the end of the fair.

Ironic that in a country one seldom goes hungry in, there is no cuisine to talk about. While those brimming over with hungry people exhibit the most interesting cuisine. The most popular restaurants here in Toronto seem to be Indian, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Afghan, Lebanese, Turkish and Iranian. At the Islington subway station bakery, the hottest selling item is the Ja Patty – a Jamaican snack.

Even USA, a country built by immigrants and Canada’s bordering neighbour, has a stronger national food identity.

True, the food culture is still evolving with the inflow of new immigrants, none of who want to label their ventures ‘Canadian Cuisine’ yet.

Even the original natives of Canada, the First Nation people, couldn’t do much to market their Muktuk (whale skin and blubber munchies) or fermented rodent delights as well as their Mohawk hairstyles and face paint. The British and French remained busy bent over their own plates.

Despite that, Canadians in general seem cheerful. It doesn’t take them much to smile at strangers. It’s common to have the guy sitting next to you in the bus break into a friendly grin and spout verbal jazz on the weather at the very mention of “good morning”! It’s easy to see why. They say “cheese” all the time.

Sounds cheesy I agree, but it’s true! The nation is obsessed with this man-made version of milk. Canadians love feasting on cheese, serving cheese, churning out cheese and taking you around cheese factories. The word ‘cholesterol’ doesn’t seem to have made its way to this part of the world yet! Every second TV commercial worships some kind of cheese, cream or chocolate, very often a combination of all three.

Cheese plays hide and seek everywhere. In soups, over fries, tucked in fruit pancakes, spinach crepes, creamy desserts, leafy appetizers and main courses! It is grated, grilled, melted, baked, creamed, sliced, garnished, powdered and matured in a variety of textures and flavours to keep interest alive.

Did you know that Canada is the largest consumer of Macaroni and Cheese in the world? The Canadian Cheese Directory lists at least 1050 varieties of cheese.

It’s also only in Canada that I heard about cheese-smugglers too. The devious crime happened last year when authorities busted a smuggling racket run by three cheesy men.

Cheese-smuggling? Mamma mozzarella! But really, you have to blame the Canadian government for this dark deed.

Authorities allow only a teeny tiny C$ 20 worth of duty free dairy products into the country! Expectedly, cheese is priced high, valued even more highly and allow interesting career opportunities to crooks who valiantly attempt to help out restaurants by supplying stolen stock from the US.

Sometimes things get even cheesier! Canada holds a Cheese Grand Prix every year since 1998. This year, over 225 varieties of cheese were entered. Only the finest cheeses churned out from Canadian cow’s milk are eligible for this competition. (Sorry buffaloes, goats and sheep! You need to find another country to elevate your efforts.)

This year’s Grand Prix winning cheese was the soft creamy Ricotta that blazed the charts of history by being the first fresh cheese from Ontario to win the award, snatching the title from more revered matured ones.

However, the cheese that has caused the most tongues to wag is the lesser valued, curdled one on the Poutine. No culinary invention has caused as much controversy as the Poutine either.

About a century after Basketball was invented in this country, Canada soared once again on the map with the advent of the Poutine!

1950 was a majestic year indeed. The year marked the reinvention of the potato. It gave the country something to celebrate in future Food Festivals and find sponsors to market at least one edible item from the country.

The story started in the suburbs of Quebec, about an hour from Montreal. An ingenious customer asked for his French fries to be topped with curdled cheese in a take-out bag much to the anguish of the restaurant manager. Fernand LaChance of Warwick was horrified. He protested about the mess it would make but consented nevertheless.

The restaurant eventually shut shop but the messy concoction lived on, taking on a new look and taste as it went along. By the late 1970’s, Poutine, as it was now called, made its way to New York and New Jersey where it was sold with beef gravy and melted cheddar to drunken pub hoppers.

Fortunately, cholesterol had not yet catapulted to villainous stardom in the 70s. The Poutine continued to rule, withstanding further destruction. Italians slapped Marinara sauce on the crispy edges; others went ballistic with bottled barbecue flavours, Allemande topping or chicken gravy. Hungry consumers looking for quick, cheap substitues lapped it all up, although fine diners turned up their noses at the commoner’s food. Over the years, the Poutine became popular with children who took it to the top of the food charts.

No one was more aghast about the potato going places than the local French-Canadians who prided themselves on their gourmet cuisine.

In 1991, Quebec politician Robert Bourassa declined to give his take on a pertinent Poutine-related question on CBC camera. Many other leaders followed suit with a non-committal stance, embarrassed to be even associated with this version of the potato.

Interestingly, ‘Poutine’ that translates to “fries with cheese and gravy” is said to be derived from the English word ‘pudding’. Today, Poutine has been refined and modified into several mouth-melting combinations. Some restaurants in Montreal serve up to twenty five varieties of the Quebec style Poutine alone which is essentially potato fries topped with cold, mostly Mozzarella cheese curds now, drizzled with a hot brown chicken, veal or turkey gravy. The trick is to gently warm the cheese without melting. The temperature is crucial to this concoction, without which the potato fries just disintegrate into a soggy mush.

Canadian cuisine now remains defined by this accidental take-out. Poutine has been elevated to Canada’s national food status.

My kids rapidly switched loyalty from regular French fries to Poutine within a few weeks here. At the Mississauga Square One Mall, the lines at the Food Court often stretch longer for Poutine than American and Asian fast food. Having said that, let me add that Poutine is not the end of Canadian cuisine!

The country offers a sumptuous range of grilled, baked and smoked fish such as the Salmon, Snapper and Cod, fantastic seafood fare and a wide variety of ground, grilled, pulled, baked and smoked meat out of which the Canadian bacon remains coveted.

Did I hear someone say what’s for vegetarians? Hey, c’mon, don’t be so fussy.

Didn’t we talk about 1050 varieties of Canadian cheese here?

Tkaronto, Toronto, Tronno…What Next?


Toronto or Tronno?

Chap 7

As a new immigrant to Canada, a few observations about this country have fascinated me. It’s the Canadian accent.

You have to hand it to the Americans. They have a way of conquering borders in a way few countries have. Their weapon? The great American drawl!

I can see quite a few arrows turning around to whisk off my head here but really, take Canada for example. The country was colonized by the British. It’s the British people who lived and ruled here for over a 100 years. They passed on their alphabets, married and multiplied, propagated their centuries old culture across the prairies, pine woods and great lakes of the country (carefully avoiding the French territories of course).Yet the accent that rules here is American!

Tell me, is there any excuse? How could the British spend over a 100 years in this country and not leave behind a trace of the Queen’s English?

Canada was under the British Empire from 1763 to 1867. Canada is still part of the Commonwealth. The Royal family picnics here often enough to remind the country of its heritage. But in came American Fast food chains, McDonalds and Dominos snatched the crown from the Queen and the British accent faded away, facing the gallows in silent defeat.

Blame it on the power of the Pizza, neighbourly bonding or just a furious firing of Hollywood and MTV from the other side of the Niagara! But America won, taking over Canadian franchises, dress code, food habits and the mother tongue.

Having said that, there is one legacy the British did manage to leave behind as the last word – the alphabet Z. Unlike the USA, here in Canada, it’s is a firm Zed, not Zee.

The distinct pronunciation is clearly the line of divide. Crossing to ‘Zee,’ gives you the American badge of honour. ‘Zed’ is the stamp of the regal maple leaf.

My kids who are bred on an American International education from South East Asia felt pretty much at one with the world here initially.

They happily rolled their r’, ignored their t’s, went heavy on their “cools” and “awwww’s” on the slightest situations that stirred their pizza-fed souls.

And then came the “zed” from an unwitting stranger one day, leaving them culturally displaced.

That ominous “zed” marked them as outsiders. It served to remind that much as they sounded close to the locals here, they were not. Their faces fell and they admitted with a sigh that they could never get used to “that word.”

Ironically, the same “zed” bonded us to our surrogate nation.

For my husband and me, brought up on a daily diet of “zed” in India, this was music to our ears. We danced to the symphony of that syllable, embracing the air of familiarity that came with it. It is indeed interesting to note how one single, simple word can make you feel at home…or out of it.

There are other interesting instances that divide the line between a local and a new immigrant like us. The word “biscuit” for example!

At no point did I imagine that such a mundane word could seclude me the way “zed” did with my children.

The incident occurred when I requested a friend for some biscuits to go with my evening tea. He stifled a giggle. “Didn’t know you had a dog”, he quipped.

“Huh?” I had no clue what he was talking about. He laughed at my confusion and explained “Here in Canada we say cookies, not biscuits. Biscuits are for dogs, cookies are what people have”.

Ooooops! How embarrassing! What more surprises in store? Here we presumed we were finally in a country that connected us to the local language! Yet we were unable to comprehend the simplest words.

In fact, the word ‘Toronto’ itself is a line divider. To-ron-to, with stress on the second ‘T’, marks you as an outsider! Locals say “Tronno”.

I just learnt that the original name came from the Mohawk word “Tkaronto”, referring to a narrow channel of water between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchichin! More succinctly it means “where there are trees standing in the water.”

The tongue twisting Tkaronto eventually morphed into an easier “Taronto” through some linguistically challenged explorers.

About 1695, an Italian cartographer (“map man” to be precise) changed the spelling to Toronto, for whatever reason that suited him. Nobody challenged his mood swing and the name stuck since. Now the spelling remains the same but the pronunciation has morphed to “troh-nou” or “tronno”.

Yet, despite the heavy American influence even here, it’s the English who have the last laugh. American spellings are completely disregarded. Words in the English language in Canada are officially spelt the British way. So they keep the “u” in “colour, “honour”, “valour” and “flavour”. “Travelled” and “levelled” use the British double “l” and not the single variant like the Americans do. Canadians also root for the Metric system (meter and grams for length and weight) not Imperial way of the Americans (inches and pound).

Having said that, American spellings are allowed as an alternative and those who follow the old school still stick to the American ways! (It’s wise to keep your neighbours happy they say.)

What’s truly unique to Canada is the exclamation “eh”, following a sentence (It’s a sunny day, eh!” Almost like the ‘lah’ in Singapore and the “ay” in Australia. Also, a one-dollar coin is the “loonie”, the two dollar coin is the “toonie” and it’s common to hear of the “tuque” – a woolen cap or hat. Some swear the Canadian accent is also a bit more clipped than the American. But to be honest, I still can’t figure out the difference. What’s distinctly different is the accent in French speaking Quebec.

So what’s the last word on cultural influence? Here’s a surprise! Things are turning once again. Ethnic groups are on the rise with more and more new immigrants filtering in from Asia, Africa and South America.

Toronto is the cultural cauldron of Canada, currently ranking as one of the world’s most multicultural cities. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) which includes the Peel region east of Toronto comprising Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon; York region in the North; Durham region and Halton on the western end of Toronto.

So back to the question, who is set to take over Canada next? The answer lies in the multiplex theatres.

Each time we go to downtown Toronto or Mississauga, we’re struck by the long queues. It’s not just the Hollywood hits that invite interest but Bollywood… and hold your breath…Punjabi blockbusters as well!

Not surprisingly, recent predictions swear that by 2020 it will be the minority ethnic groups that will grow to rule as the majority in Toronto.

Curious to see what that entails! Would be quite a sight to see our Poutine raised grandkids drawling “balley balley” Punjabi folk style or doing the Chinese Dragon Dance in celebration of Canada Day!

And what’s Poutine? Aaah…now that’s a whole new chapter! Look out for the next one. (Cheesy grin!)

 

 

Lost in Transit


Chapter 6

The other day I asked for road directions from a passerby in downtown Toronto. His answer was not as impressive as his looks. “Two blocks up north, then head west, take the 110 South bus, and there you’ll see it…third building on the eastern end” he said cheerily and sauntered away! Huh? Chaos and confusion about Toronto roads

This leaves me to deduce that the Toronto subway has been most definitely designed by a man. Train stations are a maze of criss-crosses marked East, West, North or South Bound, leaving a new immigrant utterly lost.

It can get even more complicated. There is a Dundas East, Dundas West, Eglinton East and Eglinton West. The famous Yonge Street (pronounced ‘Young’) takes pride of place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest, stretching 1,178 miles. It starts from the glitzy downtown Toronto and meanders through forest wilderness, the Great Lakes and prairies of Northern Ontario right up to the Rainy River on the U.S. border. Can you imagine what happens if you take one wrong turn?

To compound matters, buses are no better. They are numbered 76 West, 26 East etc. For example, TTC 34 Eglinton East bus is Westbound. TTC 32 Eglinton West is Eastbound. TTC 34 Eglinton East to Kingston road is Eastbound too.

So unless you are a Superhero with X-ray vision, have a GPS wired to your brain, work for James Bond, carry a compass or a Smartphone with inbuilt map tracking, you’re done!

If you’re born spatially challenged like me, make sure you hold someone’s hand every time you step out of the house.

Pray explain, how can you expect someone to go about town whole day and know exactly where they are located each time? Most other countries give arrows with station names clearly marked stating where trains are headed. God help people like me here.

If there’s one book that deserves the literary award for excellence in this direction, it is Allan Pease’s best-selling paperback ‘Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”.

I can see some of you intellectuals snicker but honestly, how many authors, especially men, have read women so ingeniously? Mr Pease deserves not just the highest award for literature, but also for psychology, biological breakthrough and genetic revelation.

Most women can’t read maps, however smart and educated we may be otherwise. Period! We are not wired to figure out where North, East, West, South is.

Leave me alone on a boat and I’ll simply drown. There’s no way I’ll be able to steer it back to shore. I’ve not even been able to track the Pole Star far up in the skies or locate my neighbour through a magnetic compass.

Let me tell you, we may be spatially challenged but not intellectually. Explain locations to us with visual landmarks and see how fast we get there.

Better still, mark the stations with arrows directing us to shopping malls, fashion boutiques or jewelry stores. See how effortlessly we find our way.

Needlessly to say, I used to be quite lost in the subway till recently. It took me two months to be all enlightened. How? Simple! I have to hand it to my husband for this one.

His brilliancy found an apartment at the western end of the Toronto subway line. All subway trains from here head eastwards. Phew! Finally I know where I stand.

People here have been urging us to drive at our earliest. They warn us in menacing tones that once the temperature drops to sub zero levels, you freeze on your tracks. Without a car with heated seats you can’t even make it to the next block. I absolutely understand their concern…but what about mine?

Can you imagine what someone as ‘map challenged’ as me has to endure? It’s not the driving that terrifies me (well that does too but not as much); it’s more about losing my way. My deepest fear is steering out alone, never to find my way back home again. Trains, buses or cars…please make location finding simpler with easier road signs and new immigrants will blaze trails like you’ve never known before.

Men never understood women but fortunately God does. Our new apartment couldn’t be better located. Shops and grocery stores are a 5 to 10 min walk away.  A mini mart in the apartment adds to the convenience. A school is right next door. The subway, bus terminus and taxi stand are all close at hand. We were guided to the perfect home for me. Thank you lord!

A month after our arrival, life slowly settled down to some kind of order. Then my older offspring got through a prestigious university. She received scholarships from all universities in Canada except this one. It was quite an honour for her to be selected here hence we decided to let her go for it despite our financial crunch at the time.

Fortunately, Permanent Residency in Canada weaved its magic once again. Just when we were wondering how to cope, the gates of the university flung open to welcome us with a special grant that virtually covered her entire tuition cost for the year. The decision was fuelled by my offspring’s high IB test scores. All we had to do was pay for the residence. We were ecstatic beyond words.

True I can’t read maps, but I congratulated myself for my astute woman’s instinct that guided me towards a better future here. Ahem…I do admit it was my husband’s decision but behind every successful man is a woman, right? (Wink!)

Despite all the challenges, it was a good decision to migrate to Canada after all.

Changing Colours


The divers colours, cultures and flavours of Toronto

Chapter 5

Little things can often create a big confusion for an expat, especially a new immigrant. At no point is this more glaring than in global events.

Who do we cheer for? The country that raised us? The country that fed us? Or the country that would shelter us now on?

It’s hard to choose between nations, each one of which has been nice to you.

While cheering the teams during the London Olympics, we found ourselves jumping to our feet over and over again saluting the TV. Five countries had a special place in our hearts!

Singing the Indian national anthem comes naturally to me. My children who have never really lived in India prefer to root for Indonesia and Thailand. My husband has a soft spot for Hong Kong and Malaysia where he started his expat journey.

Once we decided to move here, all loyalties promptly switched to Canada. I admit it was less to do with patriotism and more to support the nation with the most chances of winning medals. But what the heck! The bonding bug had bitten us. It was time to embrace step-mommy country.

July 1, Canada Day, gave us an opportunity to celebrate this new found affinity. It was just two weeks since we had arrived, so it was more of a forced attempt than waves of smouldering patriotism. However, nothing like a national holiday to get you going. Celebration was in the air. Time to join in!

We hunted out red and white T-shirts from our wardrobe, slapped on maple leaf stickers, gorged on pancakes with maple syrup for good effect and marched out to join the sea of humanity littering the streets.

It was fascinating to see the riot of colours everywhere. Red, white, yellow, brown, black, pink, blue, green, orange…! Mind you, I’m not just talking about painted faces, flying balloons, streamers or even the vibrant outfits here. I’m referring to every nook and corner of this country, especially alive this time of the year – the earth, skies, trees, leaves, fruits, flowers, vegetables,  human skin tones, eye hues, contact lenses, false eye lashes, hair dye, wigs, et all.

It was fascinating to see such a diverse, multi-racial mix moving with a united love for their country. It’s unusual to see a nation that celebrates differences. A beautiful blend of hearts, minds and souls unaffected by outward dissimilarities!

Even nature conspired to play along. The hues of summer were everywhere. I could well imagine what autumn and spring would be like, when every leaf, bud and bird competed with each other for attention.

At the celebration venue in the City Centre, a variety of food stalls fringed the bright green field. The colours spilled into the multitude of cuisines around me.  Pizzas, burgers, kebabs with hummus, nachos, tortillas, chiros, gelatos, sushis, spring rolls…the diversity all around was a sight to see. Even the mundane corn on the cob was not left behind, flecked with red, brown, purple and orange.

It was all fascinating and…strangely alienating. There was so much I had never seen before despite being so widely traveled. So much I could not relate to. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, in a whole new world that we should feel a part of, but somehow couldn’t.

The country’s maple leaf flag waved to us from everywhere. An unfamiliar tune glided in from one corner. It was an instrumental rendition of “O Canada”, the national anthem, I overheard from a stranger.

Not a wave of patriotism washed through me. Not one tiny ripple. Maybe it would surge forth with our first pay cheque, I reasoned.

A sea of unfamiliar languages, accents, faces, sights and sounds took over my senses. People guffawed over jokes we couldn’t understand. They swooned over rock stars we didn’t recognize. They discussed baseball scores and ice hockey heroes we didn’t know.

Every little ounce of affinity I had mustered up over the last few minutes slowly evaporated. I felt lost and lonely in the midst of the sea of humanity! Was it a big mistake to move here?

And then suddenly, a waft of air floated by, carrying a familiar aroma. I inhaled deeply, infusing my being with the fragrance of roasted cumin and ghee (clarified butter). In a trance, I walked towards the cloud of aromatic smoke that blurred my vision.

The sight before me at the other end made me squeal in delight. There, right in front, was a grand Indian stall offering freshly fried samosas, pakoras, batata vadas (vegetable fritters), tamarind and mint chutneys, hot masala chai (Indian tea), idlis, dosas (steamed rice and lentil dumplings and pancakes) and a host of other snacks and savouries, cooked to perfection. A family of friendly new immigrants from Mumbai manned the stall.

We emptied our wallets on a mixed platter of everything we could grab. Mouth melting laddoos and bhujiyas (sweets and snacks) were packed up to take home! On impulse, I hugged the lovely granny doling out the samosas. She looked shocked at first, then held my hand and smiled, seeming to understand where the sudden display of affection came from. The comfort food before me, served by the grand old lady offered a certain familiarity that quietly washed away the feeling of momentary alienation.

The sun watched me for a while, then slowly sank behind the CN Tower as I happily gorged on the goodies on my plate. The sky switched shades from deep pink to ink blue.

As we wound up to take the subway back to our serviced apartment, I looked at the last bit of my samosa and felt the first flush of feeling at home.

That night, I reminded myself to look up the lyrics of “O Canada”.