Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Seoul Reason I Left Canada

I didn't like the outcome of the election so I moved to South Korea. Okay, okay, I was already planning on it, but saying it that way makes me sound so much more outraged and spontaneous. Curiously enough, I went not by myself, but with Boyfriend. Or rather, Boyfriend went with me. Why South Korea? We came to pay off a mountain of student debt, and figured it was teaching English in Asia, or working the rigs in Fort McMurray. We figured we'd have an easier time adapting to the culture in South Korea, though no doubt I would have looked fantastic in coveralls.

We took positions in a private school in the city of Bucheon, approximately 40 minutes from Seoul. We were hired to teach preschool in the morning, and elementary in the afternoon. My mind was filled with images of small Korean children, hunched over their desks, dutifully completing their work in silence. I should have known it seemed too good to be true. It immediately became apparent that the Asian student stereotype was a cruel lie, no doubt spread to seduce foreigners into teaching ESL.

Korean preschoolers are no different from preschoolers everywhere. They run around, hide under tables, sing by screaming at the top of their lungs. They are impossibly cute, to be sure, but I still have nightmares of a "Lord of the Flies" scenario (complete with Caitlin Teacher tied up in the corner, or perhaps roasting on a spit). To prevent this, I try to keep them entertained. Mostly I perform crowd control. I often wonder how much English they actually take in.

To get through the day, I must retain my sense of humour. That's right, parents. I laugh at your children. I laugh at the way they repeat after me when I tell them to sit down. "Shit down!", they say. Good idea, I think. You probably shouldn't shit up, or shit sideways. I try to correct their pronunciation, but have not bothered to tell them why they shouldn't say "shit" instead of "sit". It would only make them want to say it more. I laugh at the way they look shocked and embarrassed when I tell them to get their finger out of their nose. Hey kid! Did you really not think I'd notice? It's in there up to your second knuckle! Ah school, a viral cesspool.

The little carriers got me sick almost immediately. I had the flu for nearly a month. This eventually required that I see a doctor. My very kind manager took me to the clinic near our school, and luckily the doctor spoke a little English. He had me describe my symptoms, and then had the nurse stick a giant suction tube down my nose. Then he looked in my ears and my mouth and told me, "don't worry, very sick. Don't worry, very sick." Ah... haha... great. I, uh, won't worry then? When I went back 2 days later, I was somewhat anxious. What would he tell me now? "Don't worry, terminal"? In the end, I was only given a second dose of medicine and sent on my way. I am better now, but carry hand sanitizer with me at all times.

Also, it always helps to know I am being paid for what I do. Boyfriend and I are richer than we have ever been in our lives. We are millionaires in won, and we get to live in a very cool part of the world. Much better than Fort McMurray.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rob Anders - 21st century imperialist

I've arrived back in Canada in the middle of an election campaign, which doesn't necessarily help with my reverse culture shock. Elections should be the time citizens feel most powerful, but I am as helpless as a the first lemming standing at the edge of the cliff. "No!" I cry to the other lemmings, "there's a 70 meter drop into a frothy ocean! Stop before we're all doomed!" But they do not heed my warning. They do not understand me because of their tiny lemming brains. Replace "lemming" with "Conservative" (or previously, "Reform") and you'll see what I'm getting at.

My electoral riding is Calgary West. It is ruled by the tyranny of the majority, their king an embarrassment to many, including members of his own party. Rob Anders is like an infection, a pustule waiting to burst and spread green goo all over the country. There are two reasons he is elected time and again: he is in the Conservative Party, and he is kept tightly muzzled by them thus lowering his profile in the media.

My mother used to say you could put a Reform sign on the dog and she would win, and no doubt do a better job than Anders. This is because many westerners voted Reform/Conservative based on the fact that it's some sort of "western" party. Oh, nevermind the fact that many of their beliefs and policies go directly against what many Canadians (westerners included) actually want. Rob Anders takes the Conservative party to right wing extremes that would even shock Americans. I know because I polled a total of one (my boyfriend) and he was shocked. But this doesn't seem to matter because Alberta is so anti-liberal and so anti-NDP (and don't even get me started on their views of Québec) that Anders is elected time and again.

Most are familiar with his refusal in the House of Commons to allow Nelson Mandela honorary Canadian citizenship. After calling Mandela a left-wing terrorist (seriously), his party must have kidnapped him and locked him in a basement because he's managed to keep a fairly low profile since. This week, however, they let him out for a playdate whereupon he managed to make two outrageously offensive comments in one. While speaking with a local lawyer and humanitarian, Anders stated that he personally thought Canada's diplomacy should focus on converting others' language to English, and to spread Christianity as an international religion.

I honestly don't know which remark angers me more. As a multilingual Canadian, my blood boils at the thought of English language imperialism for political purposes. Where does Anders think he lives? This is Canada. We have 2 official languages, as well as many Native languages from people who were here long before Anders oozed out of the primordial political slime. Not to mention our multicultural society, and the languages that new citizens bring with them. And as someone who loves to travel and experience new cultures (with varying religions) I am disgusted and frightened by his views on spreading Christianity. Who does he think he is, George W. Bush?

I was unfortunate enough to meet Rob Anders about 8 years ago at a candidates forum at the Varsity Community centre. He had a limp handshake and a permanent shiny dampness to his face. I asked him a question about his views on French immersion and he (predictably) snaked his way around the issue. But perhaps the people of Calgary West are changing THEIR views somewhat because Anders seems afraid to go to forums nowadays.

It makes me want to revoke my citizenship. I am routinely embarrassed to tell other Canadians I come from Alberta. Sometimes I lie and say I am from Montréal (which admitedly sounds more exotic anyway). My parents have now moved to Victoria, and I live abroad more often than not (ironically my next adventure will be teaching English in Korea). But I keep my registration in Calgary West because I feel I owe it to the other lemmings to try and stop them. And if Anders ever does manage to spread his twisted version of Canadian diplomacy I can always marry Boyfriend and become American. At least their international reputation can't get any worse.

For more on Anders' recent remarks (and his side of the story which includes a fervent defense of his donations to Buddhist-run charities), see http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=d86e4039-dd77-49ac-886e-2111e4cd35b9

There is actually a (small) group of educated people dedicated to ousting him. To vote him out go to www.voteoutanders.com

Monday, May 26, 2008

I'll Have to Carrie a Sick Bag

Are you a Carrie or a Miranda? Is your sex life like Charlotte's or Samantha's? If you actually bothered to answer this, you need to find a hobby. And if you don't know what I'm referring to, congratulations! You are obviously a man. Feel free to celebrate by grunting and scratching. Oh, don't worry. I'm not so presumptuous as to think all men have escaped the Sex and the City phenomenon. Surely any man who has at least one woman in his life has been forced to acknowledge the existence of this show. He may even watch it and (secretly) like it. I myself happen to think it's very clever. But if I have to hear yet another girl comparing herself to one or more of these fictional characters I'm going to be sick.

Every girl seems to think she is "a Carrie", which I find surprising and sad. Why on earth would you want to compare yourself to a woman who possesses the common sense of a fruit fly? Let's face it, this character is not empowering. She's not good with money, she lets men walk all over her, and judging by her snippets of simpery narration, she's not even a good writer. As a rule, there should be maximum ONE rhetorical question per column. What Carrie delivers to her readers is a series of dead ends, interspersed with the occasional anecdote from her friends' lives. Anyone can do that. Example:

"And as I sat here typing, I began to wonder... would I ever find a new literary device other than the rhetorical question? Maybe men are like similes, and you can only compare them to each other in order to know their true character. Perhaps they are metaphors, symbolising the choices we make in life. For Charlotte, men symbolise babies, for Samantha they symbolise sex, for Miranda they are not to be trusted. As for me, they are my history, doomed to repeat itself. Is old history the new history? Will anyone actually read this?"

In a recent CBC column, Heather Mallick delivers a scathing review of the show, the movie, and the type of women they attract. http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_mallick/20080519.html I agree wholeheartedly with her portrayal of 'those' women who think romance and life are akin to what's found within the plot lines. The show is absolutely unrealistic. Oh, to be sure, everyone has a Mr. Big... but in the real world he's called 'the one who can't commit', 'the jerk who tempts you with something more, but then gets offended when you take him up on it', and a host of other names I won't use because my mother reads this. We've all fallen prey to it... maybe even been strung along for years by the same guy who always seems to show up every time you think you've forgotten him (um, not me though, nope). But nobody should WANT to be that woman. Come on, ladies! We're better than that.

Even so, I liked the show very much. The dialogue was clever, and the characters played off each other nicely. Yes, I found Carrie annoying, but overall I thought it was funny. So even though the cinema is bound to be full of Carrie-wannabes that make me want to hurl, I'll be spending my pounds to see the movie when it opens in a few days. I'll even be dragging my boyfriend along with me. He'll complain, but I know he secretly likes it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Other Man


Some women spend ages complaining they have no man in their life. If they'd like to give me their contact details I would be happy to provide them with one. I have a spare, you see. There are 2 men in my life here in London. One is my lovely boyfriend. I don't write much about him because I can't think of anything bad to say. Gushing never makes for good writing. It's far more interesting to read about the misfortunes and weird antics of others. So, for the sake of my readers, I turn my attention to 'the other man' in my life, my flatmate.

Almost 31 years old, tall, with eyes so dark you have a hard time finding the pupil, my Peruvian amigo embodies the essence of all things Latino. I should know, I've done a lot of research on the Latino man... fieldwork mostly. I first met him 5 years ago in Strasbourg, France. We went for a beer one afternoon after class and he proceeded to tell me about Peru. "You know, Cait," he said, "my grandfather was the last of the Incas." I was very impressed.

"Really?" I asked, eyes wide with appreciation for his heritage.

"No," he replied, laughing, "not really. My God, you gringas will believe anything!" Our friendship began there.

Four years later we discovered we'd both be in London for our Master's degrees. We decided to live together. That decision has made this year much more interesting than it would have been had I taken a place in the university residence.

It is a bit like living with a child. He doesn't cook for himself, and has to be reminded of everything. He has a terrible tendency to say exactly what he thinks with no filter between his brain and his mouth. When I came home from Christmas in France, decidedly a (teeny) bit more rotund due to gorging on cheese, it did not escape his notice. "Dude, what did you do with my flatmate?" he asked, pointing at my small belly, "did you eat her?"

I had hoped to improve my Spanish with him around. But he won't teach me properly, and now we speak a mixture of Spanish and English. A 'Spanglish' of sorts. I remember trying to ask him to help me extend my vocabulary. I pointed to the small crocodile on his name-brand shirt and asked, "Cómo se llama esto en español?" His response?

"Lacoste."

He sings in the shower. Mostly Frank Sinatra, or whatever song happens to have inspired him from the night's dancing before. It is loud and off-key, but it makes me smile.

He is very charming, and usually has more than one woman after him. Some of them send him chocolates, which he gives to me. He doesn't really like chocolate... they obviously don't know him very well.

But I know him. I know he is possibly the only Peruvian to dislike spicy food. I know that he dances like a gringo. I know that he uses my iPod and computer, and naps on my bed when I'm not around. I know he likes the 'pull my finger' fart trick. I know this because I taught it to him.

He is the only person who calls me by such interesting terms of endearment: 'gringuita', 'gordita', 'pollito' (little gringa, little fatty, little chicken). He always brings the newspaper home for me to read when he is finished with it. I could train a dog to do that, but then I'd have to pay for it myself.

We will probably part ways this October, given that neither of us know what to do after we graduate. Even if we both stay in London it is unlikely we'll share a flat again. I won't have to cook 4 extra servings of food, or constantly put the seat of the toilet back down. I won't have the extra comments on a bad hair day to deal with (ex: "carajo, Cait! you look like crap!").

I'll have to give up the other man in my life. And I'll miss him very much. So if you're looking for a man in your life, I have one for you. He's ready to go to a good home, if you're willing to love him, cook for him, tell him to shut up on occasion, and hear him sing in the shower. You'll have lots of fun with him, I promise. Just pull his finger and see what happens!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rats With Wings


I love animals. I've been a cat owner, a dog owner, and as a child I was a pet-sitter of various other creatures (much to the chagrin of my parents). On a school field trip to the local farm/ petting zoo, I was the only kid to pet a chicken. Like all little girls at some point, I desperately wanted to be a veterinarian and later an equine veterinarian. I competed successfully in hunter jumping and show jumping, owning 2 horses of my own.

With that in mind, imagine this: you're walking down a lovely street in (insert name of favourite city), Europe. Or South America. Or even North America for that matter. So you're walking down this street, the sun in shining, making the buildings even more lovely, the parks greener. You're soaking up the rays and smiling to yourself. You pick up your pace. But wait a minute! Your path seems to be obstructed by slow-moving winged rats. Pigeons! Pigeons all over, in the trees, on the sidewalk, on the grass. What do you do? Well, most people would press on, nonplussed by these giant pests.

I prefer to aim a smart kick in their direction. That's right, I kick at pigeons, and before you go report me to PETA, keep in mind I never said I manage to make contact. I hate pigeons. I hate that they poop all over, that they carry disease... but most of all I hate that it takes them ages to get off the ground, and as they do so above my head they make a horribly loud flapping noise with their wings. Yes, I fear the flapping. I have flapophobia, and I feel perfectly justified in using my own methods to rid my presence of these fat, grey, flapping banes of my existence.

But there's no getting rid of them. They are everywhere, in every city, and in every country I've ever been to. The one saving grace of London is that it no longer has many pigeons in Trafalgar Square. On my first visit to London in 1997, the population was at its peak of around 35 000 pigeons. Thousands and thousands of pigeons would flock around tourists and locals to be fed. I remember watching, horrified, as they completely covered one older woman from head to toe. Call the fire brigade! Call the police! Call Scotland Yard! But she was SMILING! Ew. That image will haunt me forever.

Eventually, due to the droppings, the disease, and the police discovery that one man had been secretly trapping them and selling them (probably into the human food chain), the mayor decided to take drastic measures, imposing a large fine on anyone caught feeding them. That, combined with some trained falcons, managed to rid the square of the vermin. And how did the people react to this? Some of them actually set up an organisation to SAVE the pigeons! How very British... it conjures up all sorts of lovely images of Mary Poppinsish scenes. "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!" They have this crazy idea that people should (insert British accent here) 'feed the poor pigeons'. Um, I personally don't think the pigeons need your help. And I seriously doubt the falcons managed a mass-pigeonicide. Probably most pigeons were scared off by the falcons... and instead of starving, they probably found food the natural way, by eating dropped garbage.

"You don't need to kick at them!" My boyfriend used to tell me this as we walked around downtown. Now he doesn't bother. Instead he just rolls his eyes as I press myself against him and cringe, waiting for the beating wings to pass me by. And when I kick at them, I know he looks around at others with an apologetic look, as though to say, "sorry my girlfriend is crazy." Oh yes, I can feel the British 'look of distaste' as I kick at their precious pigeons. But I don't care. And I bet if Mary Poppins had been around Trafalgar Square in 1997, she would have got one look at the crazy old hag covered in birds and droppings and taken her tuppence elsewhere.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Brief Introduction

I've lived in France, Brazil, and am currently living in London, England. I guess it sounds like a lot of places considering I'm not yet 25, and I'm always a bit surprised (and obviously pleased) when people find this so impressive. Okay, I admit it. I shamelessly promote this fact about myself. But in a way, I always want more. More countries, more experiences, more stories. Don't get me wrong, I love Canada. In fact, I ALSO lived there for the first 20 years of my life, and a few months here and there for the last 5 years. It has made me who I am... I think. Well, my Canadian blood (by which I really mean immigrant blood) gave me my blonde hair anyway.

I think it was this blondeness that created my sense of adventure, and I wanted to share it with the world. Living in Montreal as a small child, people would stare at my hair. My parents tell me that little old quebecoise ladies would come up and stroke it, murmuring 'mais elle est blonde, blonde, blonde!' It instilled in me a sense of being exotic, my hair was my 'thing' that set me apart. It made people happy. It probably gave me a bit of an ego... but I'm very humble now (see: shameless self-promotion above).

From the time I was old enough to have a sense of awareness about 'different countries' and 'far off lands', I wanted to move away. So much so that my constant tantrum refrain became 'I'm moving to Australia!' My mother's attempts to amuse me consisted of spinning a globe and telling me to close my eyes and place my finger on it. The globe would stop, and wherever my finger landed was to be my new 'home'. I can't remember all the countries I went through, but one fact remained: I never expected to stay in Canada forever. Even my parents didn't expect it.

I started with baby steps, moving across the country (by this time we were living in Calgary) to attend a small, maritime university. It was different, it was quaint... and it got really boring after my first two years. I signed up for an exchange to Strasbourg, France, and my life changed from there. In Strasbourg I continued to meet interesting people from all over the world, one of whom I became quite close to; a Brazilian man who, by his looks anyway, was God's gift to women. I became hopelessly infatuated with him, and by proxy with Brazil. This was how, after finishing my bachelor's degree, I ended up living in Rio de Janeiro. Which then brought me to London at the hands of a very expensive Master's in Latin American studies.

No doubt in this blog I'll include the occasional old observation of France and Brazil (especially when I get lazy about updating). Of course my time in London will also feature. Who knows where I will blog from in future? Who knows if 'blog' is even a verb? For now, I'll leave you with this brief introduction, and hopefully leave you wanting more.