Friday, August 12, 2005

Stop #1 - Toronto

So, my first stop on my trip is Toronto. I have been here for two weeks now and find the place fascinating. I was expecting it to be the exact same as the U.S. but in many respects it is quite different, though in many instances the differences are certainly subtle. One of the major differences is the national health plan, which guarantees healthcare to everyone. The city also has thrown a few surprises my way, it is not as clean as I was expecting and there are a great deal more homeless people than I had anticipated.

Furthermore, I cannot believe how diverse this city is. I have heard several people say that over 100 languages are spoken here. The area where I am living has people from every region of the world, mostly coming from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, east Africa, and Latin America. A couple days ago I went on a two hour walk through several parts of the city including Little Italy, Chinatown, Korea Town, Greek Town, Little Portugal, Little India, and other ethnic areas. With the exception of NYC I have never been anywhere with such diversity. I would dare say that even London is not as diverse (though of course I could be wrong about that).

So, on my second day here I ended up moving in with a Tibetan family who live in a modest yet comfortable apartment. The man, Thupten, has been here for three years while his wife, Tsering, just moved from India eight months ago. He and his wife both work ‘survival jobs’ i.e. he watches over a two churches (one from five to ten in the morning and the other from 3-10pm) and she works for a temp agency; they carry out these jobs as they wait for better opportunities to come their way. He is also involved in the Canada Tibet Association of Ontario, volunteering for them every day between his two church jobs. When he has free time, which is almost never, he likes to watch WWF wrestling. (I can’t help but wonder what watching the show makes him think of American culture.)

Thupten has told me that visiting Tibet is his number one priority and the only reason he moved to Canada was so that he could get citizenship. Doing so would ultimately allow him to visit Tibet. Unbeknownst to me, India (where most Tibetans have moved to Toronto from) has never granted citizenship to any of the Tibetans that live in the country, even those born in India. So, those Tibetans who are able to get citizenship in the US, Canada, or some other country, are doing so for the very first time. Though I am sure they would all prefer Tibetan citizenship I would think it must be an amazing feeling to finally have a country call you a citizen.

Most of my days here have been pretty laid back. I have befriended a 20-year-old Tibetan, Tenzin, who has been very kind, showing me many parts of Toronto and relating several stories about his life as a refugee in both India and Canada. Last weekend we spent doing an array of interesting activities. On Saturday morning I went to the Tibetan Cultural School, where little kids are taught to pray, sing their national anthems (both Tibet’s and Canada’s), how to speak, read, and write Tibetan, and how to perform traditional Tibetan dances

After the class we headed over to the annual Tibetan basketball tournament. Six or so teams played for the tourney title. One of the teams was even from Minnesota. I never imagined that Tibetans could be so good at basketball because after all, it is not played in India where most of the kids lived before coming to Canada or the U.S. The highlight of tournament, however, was the halftime show—a performance by Canada’s first Tibetan heavy metal band. What a sight it was to see a Tibetan wail on his guitar all while head banging and flicking his tongue out like Kiss. I never thought I would see such a sight.

I have also spent a lot of time talking with Tenzin and his friends about many of the differences between living in India versus Canada. They all say that life is much too fast here and too expensive. From the stories it seems as though it is easier to have no-money fun in India whereas fun here always has a $ price.

Tenzin also told me that he has met Tibetans who were born here (as opposed to those who have recently come like him) and he believes they are more self-centered and selfish as a result of growing up in Toronto and being exposed to western influences. Tenzin tells me how many of these first generation Tibetans do not speak Tibetan, and for that, Tenzin blames the parents for not speaking the language in the home.

All his friends also say how hard it is to get a job here, but that the welfare system, compared to America, is so good and helps them out greatly. Tenzin (who is on welfare right now) showed me his healthcare card, saying that the visits to all doctors are free. I think this must make life much easier for immigrants and refugees, what a world of difference it could make for people in the U.S.

Below I have posted some pictures of the apartment I am living in and from the basketball tournament. The quality of the photos is not great since I bought the cheapest digital camera I could find, but I think they are good nonetheless.

A group shot of two of the teams.

One guy getting award. Notice the american influence on his dress, the air jordan head band. And in the picture directly below check out the guy on the left with his baggy shorts, they are almost long enough to be pants.

A guy lines up for a three-point contest before a game.

A group huddle. If you look carefully at the back of #23 the jersey has both the Tibetan and Canadian flags which is emblematic of the way in which Tibetans must promote their patriotism--they must straddle their allegiance to both Canada and Tibet simultaneously.

Toronto’s future Tibetan Eddie Van Halen rocks out.

The small grey object underneath the paper on the mic is a rubber bat that the singer taped to the mic. Reminiscent of Ozzi Ozborns bat eating days?

My bed in thier apartment.


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