Where indifference has no home

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The morning held a lot of promise when it began with glorious sunlight and bouts of warm breezes greeting us through the window. Following too many consecutive days of huddling under jackets and fighting off colds due to gloomy, autumnal like weather, my husband and I agreed that we should take the kids out for a lovely, long walk. After all, we live in England, and knew when to make the most of any scrap of sun.

Thus, after lunch, we set off happily along the customary path alongside the River Trent that runs behind our home and housing estate (or “neighbourhood” as we’d call it back in Canada). The part nearest to our home leads through a woodsy lane that I have always found delightful since it feels like one is travelling through a leafy tunnel for a spell before the river reappears. One of the reason we chose our home was for its proximity to the river, but also for its accessibility to the nearby shops, or further on towards the castle and heart of our historic, market town.

We were just about to emerge from the wooded part of the path today, when two people were approaching from the opposite direction. As I was in the lead, I called out to my oldest son who was on his scooter to move to the side before calling out a “Hi!” to the two men who passed my son and I without any acknowledgement. I figured they might not have heard me, giving their lack of greeting no more thought as I continued onward until one of the men did speak. Only, his words weren’t directed at me, but at my husband who was pushing our toddler in his stroller just behind me. The acidic tones froze my feet to the spot:

“Get an English girlfriend!”

“Excuse me, what did you just say?” My husband had stopped to question him in disbelief as the horrible words sunk in. “That is my wife you’re talking about! I won’t have you disrespecting her!”

At this point, I had whirled around in time to see the other man turn back, drop his bags and coat to the ground, and begin to run towards my husband hurtling vulgar curses at him. I immediately grabbed my son in horror as the man lifted his arm to swing a punch. My husband immediately grabbed the other man’s hands and pushed him away from himself.

“What do you think you’re doing? My children are right here!” My husband stated loudly, glaring at the other man fiercely with all the wrath of someone trying to protect his family.

Whatever had been his intent, this seemed to diffuse the situation as the other man suddenly turned contrite and gripped my husband’s hands. He garbled out some explanation about being schizophrenic and not wanting to cause any trouble. He then began to back away, but not without hurtling one last statement that hung in the air like a dank odour:

“I hate foreigners who keep coming here to our country!”

Shaken by the entire incident, we immediately rushed our children off the pathway and towards the shops where the hustle and bustle of shoppers provided us more safety. My husband then called the police to report what had just occurred, knowing that such a volatile and hateful person shouldn’t be allowed to run loose, anywhere, but especially right in our own neighbourhood only a mere steps from our very own home. Somewhere we have always felt very safe and welcomed. A place we refuse to allow such ignorance and prejudice to rob us of our sense of belonging.

I spoke to a dear friend of mine earlier because I knew she could unfortunately identify all too well with this disturbing encounter of ours today. Having moved to the United States from Mexico years ago, she could more than empathise with how complex and conflicting something like this can be.

“To be attacked verbally or physically for who you are, the way you look, they way you speak, where you come from. To have to justify yourself, to have to prove yourself, especially to a bunch of uneducated people. To feel like you’re always having to compete, to fight and to correct all sorts of stereotypes and condescension because of merely the way you look puts you at a disadvantage. Frankly, it’s exhausting.”

And, my friend is right.

It is beyond tiring having to struggle through this extra layer of constant justification, this added battle for positive visibility on a daily basis. It is always there during every encounter from the seemingly basic to more monumental moments.

For example, I’ve resigned myself to having to spend extra time for simple interactions like introducing myself when first meeting someone new. Inevitably, I need to spend extra time repeating my name, elaborating on its pronunciation (trying to not roll my eyes at how many times I’ve heard, “Oh, it’s spelled just the way it sounds!”), and fielding the inevitable queries that often come by people asking about its origins. However, the extra effort can threaten to become debilitating during more significant endeavours such as applying for a new job where I have felt as though I’ve been banging my head against invisible ceilings as well as walls. It’s hard to forget such discriminatory statements during my job hunting efforts here in the UK such as, “Do you understand enough English to fill out the application form?” to “We’re unable to offer you anything at this time because you are just too ‘international,’ and we really prefer someone with more ‘local’ experience.” And these are just a few of my own experiences that illustrate the constant exhaustion my friend was alluding to.

I’m also aware that there is another type of fatigue that can become an unseen threat when it comes to incidents involving hate crime. This can happen whenever we give in to the temptation to look the other way when we hear or witness a racial slur, or worst, when it has been happening for so long that for whatever reason, we try to pretend bigotry doesn’t even exist. But, this is where silence can become the more dangerous foe. We need only peer around us in the present political climate across the globe, and the shadow of the past two world wars and current conflicts to see the devastating effects of appeasement, and worst, indifference to violence.

When I was reflecting on how to express my thoughts on what we experienced today, I immediately thought of the following haunting words by Elie Wiesel:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

I must say that the swift actions of our local police today went a long way in restoring my trust in the fact that our community locally, and nationally, are refusing to remain indifference to intolerance. After dispatching two officers in cars with sirens, they took our statements very seriously and carefully before searching for the offending man in the area (and unfortunately, they were not able to locate him as of yet). They informed us that all matters of racially-incited offenses and violence are being dealt with severely across the country. Their actions and words gave me a sense of hope and reassurance that we were not alone.

That our experience mattered.

That our voices are being heard.

It reassures me to know that right here in our own neighbourhood and in our town, indifference has no home.
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If you have experienced or witnessed any form of attacks based on hate, know that this is a crime and must be stopped. The following are several links that will show you ways you can find the people and resources you need to speak out against vile actions and words like the ones my family and I experienced and can find the support needed to take action against it:

Reporting Hate Crime:
https://www.gov.uk/report-hate-crime

Hate Crime Support Line
https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/hate_crime.php

Stop Hate UK:
https://www.stophateuk.org/

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KD in the UK

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Recently, two different families I know here in the UK shared their exciting news that they would be relocating to my native home sweet home within the next few months. For one family, it would be a first time overseas move to a foreign land. For the other, it would be another overseas move. Both had questions and thoughts on the logistics involved, and I eagerly listened and offered my own experiences and thoughts when asked.

And, of course, it has had me reminiscing on my own family’s recent overseas, inter-continental trek back here to the UK and all the joys and headaches that this heaped upon us. At the same time, it’s also had me listening to that inner bursting of wonder deep down inside that always has me looking over the horizon and gazing longingly at maps for my next postal code. Incidentally, I’m hoping this will be somewhere on the “Continent” as many Brits call mainland Europe to differentiate their sacrosanct status of being an island (some have also pointed out to me that this is what makes them “British” as opposed to “European”).

Then again, my friends’ upcoming move to Canada has also been tugging at the homesick heartstrings. Not that I regret returning to England by any means. I have had a deep sense of peace and being settled for the past year and half that we never really felt when we relocated to and lived in the States. Let’s just say it’s been making me miss the familiar people, places, and things that make me proud to call myself Canadian. Remarkably, this sense of longing hasn’t been aching too badly since I joined the “Canadians in the UK” expat group on Facebook.

Somehow, being connected to my fellow Canucks over here has been really comforting. Aside from the usual questions and posts about applying for visas and dealing with taxes or renewing passports, it has also been fun sharing articles about and from home (e.g., “Economist says Toronto and Montreal are the best cities to live in the world”) I’ve especially empathized with the longings for food and drink that we miss (KD and Tim Horton’s, anyone?!) or have brought back from the homeland (e.g., multiple photos posted of KD whenever anyone goes home and brings loads back, hehe). It’s also been nice to receive invitations for the occasional meet-ups in person to hang out and just enjoy being Canadians far away from home. We also enjoy talking about the things we find amusing about living here compared to what we’re used to “back home.”

It really goes to show that it’s not necessarily the geographical place that makes a place “home.” I’ve probably quoted this before since it’s definitely one of my adopted life-time descriptors, but it’s so very poignant and true:

Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” – Christian Morgenstern

Five Minute Friday: Send

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What immediately comes to mind is the phrase “Return to sender.” You know, that rejected mail that comes back if you’ve forgotten adequate postage for a letter or card. Or, what I’ve written countless times on post that’s arrived for others at all the rented homes we’ve lived at throughout the years. Basically, to let the sender know that their recipient no longer lives there and hasn’t received whatever it is that’s been sent to them.

For some, this may be a bad or sad thing, and it is. For me, it’s another expected aspect of being nomadic and the ever changing landscape that I’ve been floating through. It’s exciting and a constant reminder of how fleeting life can be. That one can still be reached without being stationary (or not, in this case since you’re not getting your mail).

It also reminds me of the ease with which we can communicate with others today via the click of a button. Email has changed this and made it so efficient to keep in touch with virtually anyone and everyone no matter where you are and so long as you have an internet connection. Now that’s incredible and incredibly wonderful for those of us who are constantly on the go or collect postcodes like some people collect, I don’t know…stamps.

It’s also a great reminder that no matter where one goes (or is “sent?”), it’s vital to keep connected.

Letter from a lifelong nomad

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the bok choy nomad

Sip a bit of the soup that makes up this nomad’s mind and journey!

Perhaps it’s more noticeable to someone like me, but the bombardment of news stories about refugees and immigrants from all around the world continues to break my heart.

A few days ago, I was invited by a dear friend and fellow nomad to write something for a presentation she would be sharing this week as part of her doctoral research on migration in Montreal. As she put it, “I want to show them that refugees, migrants have families, feelings, that is what my research is about, for in the literature we often are statistics.”

So, I wanted to share my attempts to do so, which has been a welcome break from my current full-time occupation of changing diapers (nappies) …and to update my sadly neglected blog. This second foray into motherhood has given me a few ideas to tie into culture and travel that I plan on writing up soon as well.

So, thanks to my friend for giving me the opportunity to dust off my fingers and keyboard and put my writer’s cap back on!

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Dear friend whom I’ve not yet met,

I am writing to you now by invitation of another friend who will be presenting on a very important topic to you. I have not only met her, but have shared a special part of my journey with her when our paths intersected, and we both temporarily resided in London, Ontario, Canada for a few years when I was at university there.

In fact, London, Ontario has been the longest place I have lived anywhere with the exception of my childhood hometown of Sarnia, Ontario which is about 300 km southwest of Toronto. Before that and since then, I have lived in five countries and about 14 different cities, towns and villages. You’re naturally probably wondering how someone in her mid-30s has spent so much time in migration without being in the military or diplomatic corps.

Well, I actually didn’t have any choice about the first three countries I’d lived in. Incidentally, my life began when I was born in Vietnam, a war-torn country whose new government had stripped its citizens of all their rights and freedoms.

Significantly, I was born to parents who were determined to not let these dismal factors prevent their daughter from experiencing the very best that life could offer — even if that meant risking their lives, leaving their friends and family, and fleeing from the only home they had ever known.

Thus, at the age of three months, I became one of the youngest boat refugees to escape Vietnam.

The only photo of my parents and I taken at the Kowloon refugee camp.

The only photo of my parents and I taken at the Kowloon refugee camp.

After a harrowing 10 days at sea, we drifted into the harbour of Hong Kong where its British governor granted us asylum. So, I spent the next six months of my life in one of Kowloon’s refugee camps until that fateful day when our camp was paid a visit by a young man who turned out to be the Canadian ambassador at the time.

Many countries had started pushing us refugees away by closing their shores or their borders by capping asylum quotas. World leaders, however, were forced to take notice when thousands of citizens in countries across the globe began to cry out on behalf of refugees like me. Together, they petitioned their governments to take in more boat refugees, and they privately sponsored those whom their government could not aid.

I’m grateful to say that this is what happened in Canada. Ottawa claimed it had met its intended intake quota at the time, but it agreed to take in more when various groups like churches, and individuals across the country wanted to do more. My parents had never even heard of this country, but agreed to go once they learned it was a democracy and that we could begin our new lives immediately (versus having to wait in the camp indefinitely to seek asylum elsewhere such as the US). We were then sponsored by a group of families from a little known Canadian city named Sarnia. Thus, I moved to my third country by the time I was 10 months-old.

I am a very proud Canuck and will always consider Canada to be my “home.” But, for the past 10 years, I have become nomadic again, and have moved several times between the United States and the United Kingdom. At least these times have been by choice and, thankfully, without such desperate motivating forces such as war to prompt them. Nope, nowadays, I am no longer a “refugee” or “immigrant,” but a “migrant,” I suppose, if you want to get technical (or “resident alien” as the Americans so unglamorously put it). And now I have the privilege of choosing the destinations of my relocation, based on less life or death reasons; to be where I feel my heart and soul beckon.

The first time I left Canada, I moved to Texas for a spell because my immediate family had relocated there after my dad got a lucrative job transfer with his work at the time. I had just returned after doing a post-grad internship year in Vancouver, BC, without any success of landing a job. So, figured I would go as well to see what all the fuss was about (and because I really didn’t like the idea of being left behind in Canada on my own at the time).

Unfortunately, I never quite felt like I fit in no matter how hard I tried and even after finding a good job that included an opportunity to attend law school locally, meeting some wonderful friends, and being with my family. Something just felt like it was missing. And for me, I knew that “something” was on the other side of the proverbial “Pond” in England.

Growing up, I quickly established a love for English literature and always hoped that I could someday journey to the

The Inklings Corner at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford.

The Inklings Corner at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to hang out and chat about their writing.

land of my favourite writers like C.S. Lewis, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen. Perhaps this childhood wish grew stronger as I grew more disenchanted with my Texan life. Life paled even after I returned to Canada eventually when I couldn’t bear it any longer “down South,” family or not, to the point where my physical and mental health began to suffer.

To make a long story short, I decided to quit moping and to chase my dreams instead of waiting for them to happen. So even without knowing anyone, without any job offers and without knowing where I was going to live, I bought a one-way flight to London Gatwick Airport in the UK. I packed up what I had brought back from Texas, successfully applied for a working holidaymaker visa, and off I flew.

That was just over 10 years ago.

Since then, I have met and married my British hubby, given birth to two beautiful children, and started a career working for an international development and humanitarian organization. In fact, it was because of my work that we relocated to Seattle, Washington for nearly three years before more recently returning to live again in England.

It was a difficult decision because I really wanted to live closer to my parents and siblings who had since returned to Canada. But this time, I had to make the best decision for my own family, and this resulted in us deciding to return to the UK. The bulk of our reasons were based on affordable healthcare, being closer to my husband’s family, and various social and cultural options (for example, I’ll take five weeks vacation over two weeks any day!). Most of all, we wanted to be back on Europe’s doorstep to fulfil both mine and my husband’s passion for travel.

Also, due to my nomadic lifestyle, my family had long ago learned to keep connected with me via the wonderful technological tools available to us nowadays via the internet. Things like Skype, social media like FaceBook, and using FaceTime and iMessage on our Apple devices have been life lines for me to stay in touch with my family and friends abroad. No, it’s definitely not been the same as being together in person. But, it’s definitely been the next best thing that has helped to sustain me and help keep me in the loop without actually being there.

And it has been worth it because as much as I miss being able to spend live time with my family and loved ones back “home,” I can still be where I feel my heart and soul can be fed as well. I know that living like this isn’t for everyone. For me though, life is too short to miss out on the opportunity to continue experiencing the ways and places of how others live.

St Mary's Abbey in York, Yorkshire

St Mary’s Abbey in York, Yorkshire

As my above mentioned friend once remarked to me, perhaps, I will continue wandering until I find that place that I just can’t bear to leave. Once I do find it, I’ll be sure to send you a postcard!

Wish you were here,

The Bok Choy Nomad

Five Minute Friday: Fight

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Five Minute Friday

As the New Year begins, the thought of fighting doesn’t seem to fit into all the customary nostalgia and gooey resolution type language out there. But, it’s a good one to be reminded of as we gear up for another 12 months of living.

I think about the term “fight or flight,” or something like that. True, I have never been a quitter, and usually gravitate towards things due to my nature of wanting to be in the thick of it all. But, this time of year also prompts me to not necessary take flight, but take time to rest and heal. That in itself takes discipline and a type of inward battle.

So, I am going to challenge myself to create space and time to fight the demands of time, family and career that really swamped me towards Christmas. Time to remember the sheer of joy of writing in my journal, of walking to the nearby church during the day to just pause and reflect if not pray more.

As my 35th birthday approaches in a few weeks, there’s lots to think about. And then, I’ll go out and do battle some more.

Look out, 2014!

Five Minute Friday: Belong

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Five Minute FridayIt’s rather ironic that after a few months’ absence, this should be the weekly prompt for my first entry during the first week after our most recent move.

This week marked the first 2 months since we left behind our lives in the US to return, and perhaps, reclaim, and reinvent our lives here in England. Thankfully, being back has been a real homecoming in so many ways. Like a warm embrace from a loved one, we’ve really felt like we “belong” again after being absent for so long.

It’s also the first week of us moving from my in-laws into our own space again. Even though we have just moved to a brand new town (the gorgeous, Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire) and working through all that entails, it’s felt like we’ve truly come “home.” This might sound odd since we’re essentially back to square one in terms of building brand new relationships, navigating through foreign streets, and figuring out where things are (e.g., doctors, supermarkets, schools, etc.)

It all feels completely different from when we had to do the exact same thing after leaving the UK and moving to the States. That time, it was fun, frustrating, and different.

This time, it’s been oddly comforting, re-energizing, and fulfilling. And familiar.

At the same time, it also reminds me of a song I learned in my childhood about Canada. Although I love being back in England, I am also more conscious of my home land, perhaps because I am again so much farther away from it (when we were in Seattle, I could drive up to the Canadian border under 3 hours).

Even though I haven’t lived in the land of my citizenship for nearly a decade, even the fact I can remember the first verse to this song are indicative that it will always be one of the ultimate places where I feel that I “belong:”

This land is my land. This land is your land.
From Bonavista to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters
This land was made for you and me!

Five Minute Friday: Remember

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Five Minute Friday

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November…” rolls around my mind.

It’s not something that I have heard in the past 2.5 years since I’ve been living here in the US. It’s not something that I even knew existed before I lived in England. But now, whenever I hear or read the word, “remember,” it’s nearly instinctive.

For those of us who were born or grew up outside of Great Britain, this won’t carry much weight because it is inherent only to the United Kingdom, and to England’s history. It commemorates an annual holiday that is known more commonly as “Bonfire Night,” when people will gather in English villages, towns and cities across the country to do just that. Stand around a huge bonfire. Nowadays, it’s become an excuse to bring out fireworks, pie stands and other festival and carnival-type booths.

For what, you might ask (if you haven’t already googled it)? Each year, on the fifth of November, the Brits gather to light their bonfires and fireworks on what is officially known as “Guy Fawkes” night. Believe it or not, this was a night duing the 1600s when Mr Fawkes was part of a plot to unsuccessfully blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in protest of the current, ruling government’s stance on religion (against Catholicism, to be precise).

So, what does this have to do with remembering?

Well, for me, the “bonfire night” little rhyme is a testament to the power of how something in another country’s history has become lodged into my brain.

The fifth of November was a moment in English history when someone dared to stand up for what he believed in and acted out on this belief…and has been remembered that way throughout English history ever since.

I’m not here to reason whether or not this plot was a good idea or whether or not Fawkes was sane for what he tried to do. I’m here today wondering if there’s anything that I am doing or will have done that will be remembered. Will be worth remembering for centuries to come. With or without fireworks.

“Remember, remember….”