Chinese Tourist of the Year

This summer, during our family’s first visit to North America in three years, we shared the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria with a literal bus-load of Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourist in Canada

I’m giving this guy from Yunan, who was really nice and took pictures for us, the Chinese Tourist of the Year award for coordinating his Canada hat and Canada shirt with the Canada flag. Full points for Canada enthusiasm! Just warms my frozen Canadian heart…

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.

Eaves-dropping on Beijingers in Vancouver

Last Friday I started teaching a month-long EFL “Winter Camp” program for nine Beijingers aged 8-13 who arrived the night before. We have English class in the mornings and field trips in the afternoons. They’re all staying with Canadian families and it’s a shocking cultural adventure for them. Almost everything is different. It’s rare to get a group this “fresh”, and I plan to have fun with it.

We’re using a classroom in a posh local private school that is pretty impressive even by Canadian standards, so the facilities and grounds are really nice; they were awed by the interactive white board, for example. But they were also excited just to walk down the hall to the bathroom, armed with their cameras, taking photos of everything from the vending machines to the high school classes in session with their doors open. I’ve taught this kind of EFL gig before, and sometimes the kids have already traveled so much that being in a developed Western country isn’t so special, but not these kids. They’re apparently doing this kind of thing for the first time. I felt like a celebrity in the classroom with all the cameras aimed at me.

I’ve decided to keep the fact that I can speak basic Mandarin a secret from them for as long as I can, so I can listen in on their conversations as much as I can. Between my limited Mandarin, my teaching responsibilities, and the fact that four excited 12-year-old girls babbling away at once is hard to decipher in any language, I don’t get to tune in to their conversations near enough to satisfy my curiosity, never mind pausing to scribble down notes of what I hear. But it’s still funny what I do catch.

Friday morning was their first morning in Canada after their first night and breakfast with a Canadian family. Before class started they were animatedly telling one another about how BIG everything in their homestays’ house is, even the bookshelves. Then they were talking about what they were fed for breakfast and what was packed in their lunches, how it was either gross or they didn’t know what it was. It was funny in its own right, but extra funny to hear the “foreigner” experience in reverse. We’ll see what the next month brings!

Other experiences of teaching Chinese students in Vancouver:

You can browse all of our ESL/EFL teaching post here.

Chinese “evil cult” propaganda in our Canadian mailbox

As soon as I saw this in our mailbox today, it reminded me of something I’d read in the news a couple years ago. A certain religious group in China, famous for being brutally persecuted by the gov’t in the late 90’s, was apparently squandering Western public sympathy by selling tickets to Chinese cultural stage performances that contained explicit (but unadvertised) political and spiritual messages. This was making some Euro-Americans feel deceived. People felt ripped off that they’d come for a family show and got explicit politicking and proselytizing.

I didn’t know if this was them or not. My suspicious were heightened when I read the vague but very spiritual introduction section and this statement:

A performance like Shen Yun can no longer be found in China today because many of China’s best artistic traditions have been lost in recent decades.

The last page confirmed my guess. Turns out the performance advertised in the pamphlet (not mailed but hand-delivered to our door by an elderly Chinese man) is put on by the “evil cult” at the top of the Chinese government’s hit list — one of the largest, most viciously persecuted Chinese religious groups in the last fifteen years. There were propaganda posters in our neighbourhood in Tianjin denouncing them (see here for images and translations), and you have to walk past their demonstration to get into the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. To avoid tempting China’s net nanny I won’t write their name here, but here’s a picture:

I don’t blame them for presenting their religion and protest message through art and entertainment like they do. We Westerners are, after all, well-accustomed to ideological propaganda in our entertainment; that — and money — is what our entertainment is all about. But it takes a little more nuance and subtly to do this effectively to a Western audience, as evidenced by the negative reactions they’ve provoked (here’s an example). Who knows, maybe this go around they’ve tailored their message a little better.

Anyway, it’s interesting to find yet another example of China popping up in the daily life of Canadians. For more about this particular “evil cult”, see:

P.S. – “Shén​ Yùn” refers to charm or grace in art and poetry. Literally it is “God/spirit/divine” (神) + “beautiful sound/charm/appeal” (韵). Here are some different dictionary entries.

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:

Belatedly starting to understand my Asian Canadian high school classmates

Greater Hongkouver is loaded with Asians. There’s the “University of Brilliant Chinese” (UBC), and it has the fastest way to get from India to China (the Alex Fraser Bridge). There are two Chinatowns, and whole shopping malls that are 100%-Chinese-language-English-is-absolutely-unnecessary (we’ve gone there to practice Chinese). The parents of Taiwanese kids I’ve tutored complain that their kids speak Chinese all day at their Canadian public high school. Even 500 years ago when I was in high school, I had no shortage of Korean and Chinese classmates (most of us couldn’t tell them apart, at least I know I couldn’t!).

Of my high school classmates (small high school, 50 kids in my graduating class), I can specifically remember five who, while certainly Asian and from Asian families, fit in well with the rest of us. I didn’t consciously talk or relate to them any differently, though I remember once or twice one girl getting annoyed if someone thought she was Chinese: “I’m Korean!” she’d emphatically reply in 100% native-speaker English (sorry, Jennie! ;) ). But aside from those five, our class also had a small group of Asian girls who, from my perspective at the time, were nearly invisible. They were the quietest and most unobtrusive students in our class; they kept to themselves and I can’t remember them ever speaking up in class. I have memories of coming up the stairs, seeing them huddled together by the lockers, but never talking loud enough to be heard.

I recently read Yell-Oh Girls! by Vickie Nam (ed.), 2001, a book of essays by Asian American high school and college freshman girls where they talk about their experience of growing up as TCKs (though they don’t use that term). There’s one particular essay that really made me think of my old classmates, especially that group of quiet girls; I wonder how much this essay does or doesn’t resonate with their experience. It’s unfair in the sense that it compares American cultural ideals to the worst side of particular aspects of East Asian cultures, from the view of a teenager, but it’s still an eye-opening read. You can read the whole essay and more at this googlebooks link. Here’s an excerpt:

“Identity Crisis” by Michelle Chang, 17.

Being Taiwanese American is supposed to give me all the benefits of two rich, vastly different cultures, when in reality, every cultural influence from either side makes it impossible for me to be accepted by the other. Everyone who is Taiwanese considers me American. Everyone American considers me Taiwanese. It’s like standing with one foot planted on the side of a crack that continually widens with time. For every time I thought I actually belonged to either side, there have been five times when I’ve felt entirely lost, bereft, and on my own. When I begin to feel comfortable in one environment, something brings me back to reality. I don’t fit in anywhere.

“Do your parents encourage you to speak your opinions?”

I sit listening to the teacher in an orange chair in the warm classroom, half asleep from yesterday’s grueling six-hour gymnastics workout. Leaning over the desk with my head down in my arms, I try not to attract attention to myself; I am content to listen to, but not participate in, the discussion of a book. Slightly interested, I hoist my head up to watch the other students’ reactions. Of course, the ones whose parents have encouraged them to form opinionated minds are the first to respond.

Someone answers, confidently, “My parents were extremely oppressed and not allowed to voice their opinion, so they try to encourage me to always say what I think.”

Well, then, that was profound, safe, and politically correct. Intelligent, creative, thoughtful answers like these scream, I’m trying my hardest to let you know that I see everyone as an individual and I know that everyone is equal. Their preposterous self-righteousness makes me want to laugh, but instead, I put my head back on the desk and close my eyes.

I consider the question, too, but what could I say?

“Well, actually—no, not really. My parents’ opinions were suppressed; therefore, they silence mine as part of traditional Asian beliefs. I supposedly have no opinion, because as my parents’ daughter, I have no right to an opinion.” Besides, according to my parents, it’s not right to talk about personal, family matters. And now I’m wide-awake. My teacher’s question has reminded me once again of my inner conflict: I don’t belong here or there.
The generation gap that separates teens from their parents makes communications difficult; in my case, it’s more than twice as bad, not only because my parents are extremely conservative, but because they’re extremely conservative for even for Taiwanese parents. They seem to think that they can raise us exactly the way their parents raised them in Taiwan; the fact that we’re living in the United States a quarter century later apparently means nothing to them. Even though I was born here, I go to school here, and I spend eleven months of every year here, I’m supposed to be 100 percent Taiwanese. Clearly, it doesn’t work, and it’s obvious that I don’t belong in Taiwan. Regardless, they continue to try to make me into something I’m not.

Imagine being unable to lock (or even close) your door for any reason, ever. Imagine being punished for listening to WILD 94.9 radio, not because of the sex and violence contained in the lyrics, but because the music is a sign of how “American” you’ve become. Imagine being treated as if you were less important in the family because you are a girl and because your last name will be lost when you marry. Imagine having to listen constantly to sexist, racist or homophobic ranting and getting punished for expressing an opposing viewpoint. Imagine a place where staying silent when you disagree is not enough; you must vocally agree and submit to their power. Imagine having to follow a course of action that will lead you nowhere, simply because your elders are always right—even when they’re wrong. Imagine living in constant fear of being disowned by your family were you to do something wrong. Imagine having you entire life plotted out for you without your opinion or consent. Any deviation from a prescribed path is impossible.

Imagine all this, living in a country supposedly built on liberty and equality for all, while going to school in a supposedly open-minded environment, where independent thought is encouraged. The home environment inevitably has an impact on everything else, especially school. For instance, how can I participate in class and present opposing views when it’s expected that, at home, I shouldn’t have an opinion at all? How can I choose my own classes, my own path, make my own decisions, when my parents have already made them for me?

Living in the U.S. has instilled me with more American than Taiwanese values; I think we should develop strong, personal opinions and foster creativity. I believe in freedom, equality, and nondiscrimination, wherever these issues might be problematic. Unfortunately, for me, my parents have been more successful than they know in inscribing certain Taiwanese values ideas in me. I feel uncomfortable talking to anyone about my personal problems, or even presenting my own ideas. I’m never happy with anything less than perfection. I see things skewed through the window of my own experiences…

If you’re interested in reading more about Chinese American and Asian American identity, I found these worth reading for the cross-cultural angle:

On the blog, there’s more about Vancouver, our own reverse-culture-shock experiences, raising a foreign kid in China, and Chinese parenting