Oh, the *other* Canada…

I’ve heard people joke, especially pre-9-11, about how Americans think there are only two kinds of people in the world: Americans and Foreigners. Well that applies at least as much in China; I’ve heard Chinese tell that joke about themselves, that there are only two countries: The Middle Kingdom and The Outside Kingdom. And to a Chinese learner’s half-tuned ear the way people talk sometimes sounds ridiculously funny, because when you hear things too literally all the time it sounds in Chinese (to you) as if “Foreign Country” is proper noun and people do think there literally are only two nations in the world.

In English we have “abroad” or “overseas” and those words don’t sound or look anything like Germany, the USA, France, etc. And we have to have an article in front of “foreign country” (a foreign country). In Chinese, many oft-used country names are two-syllable words all with the same last syllable: “~” (“[~]” + “country”). For example:

  • 德国 dé guó – Germany
  • 法国 fă guó – France
  • 美国 mĕi guó – USA
  • 俄国 é guó – Russia

Pay attention to these last two:

  • 中国 zhōng guó – China (literally: “central” + “country”)
  • 外国 wài guó – abroad, overseas, a foreign country (literally: “outside” + “country”). “Foreigner” = “outside” + “country” + “person” (外国 + ).

So whenever Chinese talk about going abroad, it literally sounds like they’re dividing the world into two different countries, even if they aren’t.

But sometimes… I wonder. This morning I was somewhere meeting a bunch of new people, and there was this kid, maybe 10(?), who was all about quizzing the foreigner while he had the rare chance.

Qingdao kid: “Where are you from?”

Me: “Canada.”

QK: [leans in, stares closely at my face] “But your eyes look like foreigner eyes.”

It took me a couple seconds to figure out what had happened. The kid had never heard of Canada, and “Canada” in Chinese isn’t “[~]” + “country” like all my examples above, it’s just a transliteration of the English: 加拿大 jiā ná dà. He heard a name for the first time, and it wasn’t obviously a country’s name, so he assumed it was somewhere in China.

Most of the adults present had a good laugh, though I’m not sure some of them weren’t as confused as the kid. We do occasionally bump into grown-ups who don’t know where Canada is or if it’s even a country.

And just to be fair, a week ago today we had a group lunch that included an American woman who ended up saying, “Shanxi? Where’s that? Is that in Qingdao?”

Chinese “birth tourism” & “passport babies” in Canada

As white, native English speakers, we were ethnic and linguistic minorities in the birthing unit of our local Canadian hospital for both of our daughters’ births (they’re 2 3/4 years and 7 days old). My daughters and I are covered under Canada’s socialized health care system, but Jessica isn’t because she’s American; she’s on international health insurance. Similar to a growing number of people in Canadian maternity wards, she was a foreigner giving birth in Canada.

Jessica’s foreign status means a $6000 deposit from us before the hospital deals with the insurance company and personal visits from Accounts Receivable agents hours after the child is born. Literally right as I was meeting my parents and daughter at the reception desk when they were coming to see the new baby for the first time, an agent showed up for a 20-minute lecture/interrogation, asking us the kind of questions you get when going through customs: When did you arrive in Canada? How long do you plan to be here? Where is your permanent residency? Etc. She was friendly and reasonable and I had no problem with her (don’t shoot the messenger, right?). But I was already annoyed at the idea of a $6000 deposit (which I negotiated down to $3000 and eventually $1000), and in my mind I was thinking: You know we’re insured. How is any of the rest of this your business? She even photocopied Jessica’s passport, even though Canadian border agents don’t usually stamp American visitors’ passports. I get them being all on top of securing Jessica’s insurance info, but what’s her status in Canada have to do with it?

It turns out that there are different prices for foreigners and non-covered residents. But I may have discovered another part of the answer in the high school staff room this morning, where the Vancouver Sun was open to this story (online version behind a pay-wall):

Apparently they’re on the lookout for “passport babies” and “birth tourists”:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is poised to crack down on so-called “passport babies” or “birth tourism” – the practice of travelling to Canada to give birth so that child can have Canadian citizenship.

The Canadian action comes an investigation by a Hong Kong newspaper found that bogus “consultants” are teaching Chinese women how to hide their pregnancies and how to apply for Canadian visitor or student visas.
The government will introduce changes to the citizenship laws in the next year, Malcolm said.
“By definition the hospitals don’t ask. You know, when the birth certificate is issued no one is asking what was the immigration status of their parents. So, there is no statistical register of this,” Kenney said.

(Well, they do now! At least, they asked us. Anyway, back to the article…)

Canada and the U.S. are the only two countries in the developed world that have an automatic inheritance of citizenship if you’re born on their soil, Kenney said.
“And maybe our citizenship laws are rooted in a time when people couldn’t fly over here, fly in and out so quickly, so easily. I think maybe there’s a need to modernize our approach.”

I wish I’d thought to ask the lady straight-up about Chinese birth tourism. Maybe if we have a #3 I’ll remember to inquire about China-related issues with the hospital staff, but somehow I doubt it… :)

See also: ‘Birth tourists’ believed to be using Canada’s citizenship laws as back door into the West
Some Related Stuff (Chinese in Canada, Reverse Culture Stress, Pregnancy, Babies):

Asian ‘gendercide’ in Canada — our local paper opens an explosive can of worms

Gendercide usually refers to how people are killing so many female babies that it skews your society’s gender ratio. Most of the “missing daughters” are killed before they’re born when the family discovers the baby’s female gender via ultrasound and chooses to abort her, though some (who knows how many) are still killed after they’re born (in China and Canada). Where I’m from in greater Vancouver, Canada, an area with high percentages of Indian, Korean, Chinese and Southeast Asian immigrants, ‘gendercide’ is so prevalent that our particular local ultrasound clinic flat-out refuses to tell people the gender of their baby. We asked one doctor about that restriction during a prenatal checkup, and she told us bluntly it was because they were finding too many ethnic minority babies in ditches.*

When we temporarily returned from China in 2009 to have our first child in my hometown of Surrey, B.C., I was a little shocked to discover signs like the one above in our local clinic. We’d just left the land of the One Child Policy, where it’s illegal for ultrasound techs to reveal the baby’s gender because sex-selective abortion is so prevalent, and arrived in abortion-law-less Canada. How could they get away with withholding personal medical information? Surely that’s a blatant violation of rights — women’s reproductive rights, no less. Our ultrasound tech, himself an immigrant from Pakistan, provided the answer when he said, with a nod at the signs taped to the walls of our examination room: “That rule is not for you,” before telling us he was 70% sure our baby was a girl.

Reporting on sex-selective abortion in North America steps on the multiculturalism social issue landmine because it necessarily involves very bad press for immigrant communities, and in Canada multiculturalism is sacred. (For the record, we both have M.A.’s in Intercultural Studies; we like the multicultural environment here.) But it also picks at the festering scab of the strangled abortion debate by putting the pro-abortion ‘rights’ cause (an even bigger sacred cow than multiculturalism) in a rather awkward position. In Canada we’ve been bullied for decades to believe that women have the unquestionable right to kill their unborn children for any and no reason, period — there are no abortion laws in Canada, that’s the establishment’s position. But along comes sex-selective abortion, and suddenly women — or ethnic minority women, at least — no longer have the divine right to do what they like to their gendered tissue blob (or distinct human being that isn’t a person, or innocent person whose rights are overridden by those of the would-be mother, or female not-a-baby, depending on which pro-abortion rhetoric you favour), at least not if the reasons involve her gender. The voices that have preached for decades that no one can tell women what to do with their own bodies are now doing just that: telling women what they can and can’t do with their suddenly-significant tissue blobs, and for what reasons.

The earlier reports I read about ‘gendercide’ in greater Vancouver seemed to downplay the fact that this is mostly an immigrant phenomenon. But the first installment in a new series in our local community paper (‘I am someone’s daughter’ from the Surrey Leader) shows no such fear:

But while their data shows dramatically fewer second-generation (as opposed to first generation) immigrants choose to have multiple children to achieve a boy, the researchers did not observe such a sharp decline between the generations when it comes to sex selection.

“It could be argued that unlike a preference for high fertility, a preference for sons and a (relative) lack of aversion to sex selective abortion is not costly to maintain in the West,” says the research paper.

For those who work closely with Surrey and Delta’s immigrant community, the fact women continue to get rid of unwanted girls is no surprise.

They barely mention China, instead focusing on the larger Indo-Canadian community while also mentioning east Asians, though it’s a given that this phenomenon exists in the local Chinese population as well.

(Interestingly enough, the main opinion piece in the other local community paper was all about how unfortunate it is that the Indo-Canadian community often gets bad press, because a few bad apples don’t reflect the community as a whole, with no reference to gender-based abortion choices. I have no beef with that article, but it was curious that it appeared on the same day as the other.)

For more about Asian gendercide in Canada or gendercide in China, see:

P.S. – Apologists for abortion ‘rights’ are welcome to comment, if you’re willing to own your statements by answering my challenges to them (I promise not to yell).

*P.P.S. – I don’t understand our doctor’s explanation that the ultrasound restrictions are because too many babies were being abandoned. Wouldn’t allowing sex-selective abortion result in less abandoned babies? I can imagine situations where her statement makes sense, and anyway I get her general point, so maybe she just misspoke.

Racism in Vancouver, Canada and my ESL student’s experience

It started with an unengaged substitute teacher, escalated with white kids throwing unprovoked juice boxes and insults at the Chinese kids, peaked with a fistfight between one of my Chinese tutoring students and two local black kids, and ended (hopefully) with a two-day suspension from school. My student ended up with a long, nasty scratch across his shoulder and chest.

I get that cafeteria scuffles will happen, and that race is only one factor among many and perhaps not even the main one. But the local students were swearing at the ESL kids in Chinese — they’ve been around Chinese classmates enough to pick up the swear words. It’s his first semester in Canada, but it’s not the first time he’s been randomly accosted for being Chinese. Getting cursed at in your own language by passing locals seems to me to be a little bit worse than having random Chinese people yell “老外!” at you.

Since we’re back in Vancouver, Canada for a few months I’ve picked up some ESL tutoring students. This one, like many, came to Vancouver to finish high school because his parents knew he wouldn’t do well on the 高考, the Chinese college entrance exam. He’s in a grade 11 ESL program at a local public school, with generally poor English, and it’s interesting to hear him relate his fight at school yesterday from a second-language, only partially-understood perspective (for example, he knows he was being taunted and challenged but doesn’t know exactly what they said to him, aside from the Chinese swear words). But it also makes me rethink about the experiences of Chinese students in Canadian schools. I don’t want to imagine what kind of impression he and his mom are getting.

I assume that my white majority perspective, growing up and being educated in a multicultural environment, maybe gives me a rosier-than-reality view of the current Asian Canadian racial experience in Vancouver. I’m not accusing Vancouverites of being exceptionally racist; although I think we’re generally much less civilized than we think we are, it was just one schoolyard scuffle, and I didn’t notice any racism when I was a white student among a large minority of Indians and Asians. But incidents like that of my student yesterday start me wondering if perhaps some of the sunshine and rainbows of our multicultural utopia shine a little less brightly for the immigrants and international students than they do for us in the white majority.

More about Asian Canadian and ESL student experiences:

About racism in China:

Traffic right-of-way: China vs. Canada

This is our second time coming back to Canada after extended time in China. This time (unlike the first time), slipping back into driving and biking has been easy. I haven’t messed up traffic patterns yet like last time, even though I’ve been biking to work and driving other places for a month now. But one aspect of Canadian — or at least suburban greater Vancouver — that has really stood out to me this time is right-of-way, particularly crosswalks.

Right of way in Tianjin, China is simple:

  1. If you are in the way, you have right of way. Lights and crosswalks are basically decorations.*
  2. Size + speed + honking = in the way, even if you’re technically just on the way.

But in Canada, if you’re in the crosswalk, you’re golden. You’re king of the road. Your apparently inviolable right of way extends as far as the crosswalk stripes. You can take your sweet time. I’ve even had drivers wanting to turn right stop and wait because they saw me approaching the crosswalk. I have to wave and smile every time; I can’t get over it. I’ve yet to get honked at, and I don’t know what it would take: maybe sit down in the middle and start texting?

Anyway, that’s probably the first big impression I’ve had this time coming back (aside from the air, trees, mountains, friendliness, cleanliness, orderliness, tastiness, safety-ness, expensiveness, and extreme-to-the-point-of-unconscious-Orwellian-levels-of-hypocrisy political correctness). And the handicapped stuff. There’s way more accommodation here. The buses lower on hydraulics so elderly and physically disabled people can step up, and if that’s not good enough a ramp folds out! Crazy.

*(P.S. – I should note that this seems to be changing. I’ve seen traffic both improve dramatically and devolve noticeably during our years in Tianjin. So when in doubt, follow the locals, if you dare.)

Related reverse-culture stress and comparative traffic stuff:

Temporary return to Vancouver – Day 5

So we’re been in Canada for five days now. After sleeping off the jet lag, loafing, eating, and playing with family that we haven’t seen in two and half years, I’m finally getting around to increasing my so-far meager ESL tutoring workload and cracking the Chinese textbooks we brought with us… after a little blogging, of course.

oh. Canada.
I’m delighted by all the trees, clean air, dishwashers, real washing machines and dryers, water pressure, counter space, and the customer service. Do you Vancouverites have any idea how unbelievably easy it is to get things done over here? I went to do some banking — they practically fell over themselves trying to serve me; I was almost embarrassed for them. They worship customers here!

Jessica and I were walking home from the store and stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the signal to change. There weren’t any cars. “Do people really just wait for the signal even when there’s no cars?” I honestly couldn’t remember. Jessica was certain that they did. I’m still not sure. It felt so weird to just stand there, all that open road space in front of us… surely that’s not necessary!

It was a little disappointing to find out that the Asian supermarket up the road uses traditional characters, and I still have to consciously remind myself not put the t.p. in the garbage can. But it’s too early for us to be really annoyed with anything yet.

In honour of Chinese New Year and our temporary return to the Great White North, I’d like to present Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his rather Canadian Chinese New Year greeting to Chinese Canadians, which for some reason made it on CCTV (begins at 1:22):

(Australia’s PM did his video in Mandarin.) There’s apparently a some sort of Chinese New Year’s celebration this coming Saturday in Richmond, Vancouver’s newer Chinese center, and I plan to be there (CNY is on a Monday in Canada, so some festivities are postponed to the weekend, or so I’m told).

dscn9300Greater Vancouver’s an odd place, though aside from reverse culture stress stuff I don’t plan to blog about it. It’s not particularly Christian or American, but I biked by this sign on the way to the bank. Also, it turns out that just before we arrived, some homeless guys (homeless people have conspicuously strong political advocacy in Vancouver — contrast that with Tianjin!) set fire to the wooden supports for one of the major bridges going into Vancouver, meaning 80,000+ vehicles per day can’t use the bridge for at least a month, turning our whole area into a “traffic nightmare.” Funny thing is, this ‘traffic nightmare’ looks rather quiet, calm, and orderly to me. Only two lines (lines!) of cars where Tianjin would have four abreast plus bikes, and they’re all carrying only one person each! Canadians…