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I’m fresh off the boat in Vancouver and proud of it.
This is my fourth round of being figuratively fresh off the boat. At the age of 13, I left my birthplace, Singapore, to start a new life in Britain. Twelve years later, I returned to Singapore for two years to explore and reclaim my elusive sense of identity. This was followed by two years of teaching English in China, and about 8 years of further studies in the USA. After that, I had lived in South Asia for 14 years, serving in minority language research and language development. My work in minority language development is still unfinished, so I will continue to make short trips there as needed.
However, I needed a place to grow deeper roots. I still have a special affinity with my birthplace, Singapore. Yet I needed a home base in the same continent to which the rest of my immediate family members have migrated decades ago. So a little over a year ago, I moved to Metro Vancouver as a fresh-eyed new immigrant.
Why did I choose to make Vancouver my new home? Among other reasons, a key one is that Vancouver injects freshness into the cliché, “unity in diversity”.
As a newcomer to Vancouver, I have no desire to assimilate into a melting pot with mashed-up ingredients. Instead, I seek to find my place in a refreshing fruit salad dish with distinctive, complementing ingredients – a kaleidoscope of tantalizing taste-bud-awakening morsels.
Metro-Vancouver, in many ways, is more like a fruit salad dish than the proverbial melting pot.
An outstanding chef-special fruit salad dish has three main components: the mouth-watering combination of exotic and familiar pieces of fruits; the signature dressing that permeates and unifies the fruit pieces; and the heirloom bowl that provides an exquisite setting for the dish.
In Metro-Vancouver, the ethnically and culturally diverse residents are like the assorted pieces of fruits in the salad. Here, one encounters ethnic and cultural groups who have originated from almost every country in the world.
On the one hand, I have heard numerous Vancouver residents declare proudly that Canada is the best country, and Vancouver the best city to live in the world. On the other hand, many of these same residents (including those of European descends) are still able to talk about their ties to the original countries of their ethnicities. This is partly because the non-indigenous history of pioneering citizens to Vancouver had only started about less than 160 years ago. Of the various major cities that I have lived in, it is in Vancouver that I have met more citizens – whether they are Asians, Latinos, Africans or Caucasians – who still maintain some connections to theirs or their forefathers’ countries of origin.
Vancouver attracts me, because newcomers who are eager to learn new things and make new friends have ample opportunities to take their places among the long-term locals. These locals may have been here much longer, yet many of them also share some “fresh off the boat” memories in their own or their not-so-distant forefathers’ histories.
The second main component of the fruit salad dish, the signature dressing that permeates and unifies the fruit pieces, serves as a metaphor for the traits that help to unify the ethnically and culturally diverse residents of Vancouver.
Two general unifying traits that seem to prevail among Vancouver residents stand out to me: the spirit of volunteerism, and the frequent enjoyment of outdoor festivals.
I have been impressed by the abundance of volunteers who have played vital roles in shaping Vancouver to become the vibrant city that it is today.
I have much to learn from volunteers who contribute patiently behind the scene, such as in setting things up and cleaning up at public functions, or in visiting housebound senior citizens to talk to them, help them run errands and take them on outings. I have also been inspired by volunteers who advocate for the underprivileged or for better stewardship of our environment.
It has also been a joy to meet or hear about volunteers who serve the most marginalized men and women of society – with compassion and respect for their dignity. For example, the First Baptist Church and 10th Avenue Church are among several communities whose volunteers serve the homeless guests who come into the church buildings on certain nights of the week, for shelter and nourishing meals – with no strings attached.
It is also the spirit of volunteerism that has made it possible to achieve what seems to be Vancouver residents’ second unifying trait: the general enjoyment of frequent large-scale outdoor gatherings to celebrate diverse arts and culture – accompanied by plenty of street food.
What a delight it is to participate in Vancouver’s numerous street festivals. It seems that almost every weekend throughout the summer, people of diverse ethnicities turn out in throngs to celebrate a particular culture that may be different from their own. I felt happy, for example, to see an older Filipino couple tangoing gracefully alongside an older Italian couple during an Italian Festival, or to see Asian preschoolers twirling uninhibitedly alongside rapping African buskers, or adult Koreans and Anglos kicking their legs and waving their arms in sync with the Indian and Pakistani stage performers during the Bangra Festival.
The general traits of volunteerism and the frequent enjoyment of outdoor festivals have helped in some ways to bring Vancouver’s diverse communities together. These unifying traits are further enhanced in the same way that the experience of eating a scrumptious fruit salad becomes even more enjoyable when it is served in an exquisite heirloom salad bowl; our lives are enriched as they continue to interweave against the setting of the aesthetic salad bowl – the metaphor for the backdrop of Vancouver’s spectacular landscape, with its restful parks, and stunning skyscrapers that contrast with majestic mountains and oceans.
I love Vancouver, my new home.