A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Canadian Giant In Danger of Extinction

One of Canada’s most important sites in terms of our international image sits approximately a 50-minute scenic drive from Halifax. Many around the world are familiar - but can't name the place - with the image of a tall red and white lighthouse bathed in a misty layer of ocean spray coming from the angry waves smashing into its rocky base. This lone tower is one of Canada’s most famous landmarks, not because of its purpose – directing maritime traffic safely to port is quite a noble enterprise – but its spectacular natural beauty, making Peggy’s Cove an absolute must see when in Nova Scotia.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

I visited this fishing village of Peggy’s Cove back in the summer of 2005 and my first impression of this place was as if it had been clipped out of a National Geographic magazine or spruced up for a prestigious photographer that was coming to town. Everything was immaculate and served a divine purpose, from the small houses partially built on the rocky shoreline and backing out onto the waterway, to the multicoloured fishing nets sitting rolled up on the street and ready for action, and fishing boats patiently awaiting in single file their crews to resume their high-seas adventures. The fishing industry has lessened in importance in terms of municipal revenue for the inhabitants being eclipsed by tourism which has continuously gained momentum post-WWII.

The lighthouse, officially the Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, is one of the most photographed structures in Atlantic Canada and has played an important role in Canada’s worldwide PR campaign. I recall attending cultural events overseas, both as a child and as an adult, and this place was always at the forefront of our national image. Posters, videos... you name it. Thank you, Nova Scotia for putting us on the map! At the time I visited, the lighthouse was at still operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. In 2010, it was declared surplus by this organization given the high tech improvements in navigational devices and ever since, there are many questions as to who will become the next caretaker. That could make for an interesting reality TV show.

As our society continues to mature through technological evolution – nowadays, anything can become obsolete overnight – it is our duty to insure the survival of our proud and rich history. Canada Post closed its office at the lighthouse, citing mold growth as a main reason, which suggested a safety hazard to employees and parcels. Losing this tenant generated a further blow to the revenue and increased the taxpayer burden during already challenging economic conditions - there have not been many booms in this part of the world. The last I heard regarding its quest for survival - a poster child reflecting our trivial global economic decay - was that the lighthouse had until May, 2012 to be nominated under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Bill S-215) or it would face disposal - a sad retirement for a loyal 97 years of service. There have been inferences that the province of Nova Scotia will claim ownership at some point in time of this property but as far as I know, no one has stepped up to the plate.

Real estate in Peggy's Cove

For now, the site is still open to visitors from far and wide although I do believe it is open only a seasonal basis – usually between the end of April up to October. I suppose you can see the lighthouse anyway from afar during the wintertime along with the rest of the village under a heavy blanket of snow, but it may resemble a frosted ghost town from classic Western movies. It is truly a unique pillar of our country’s heritage, lighthouse or no lighthouse. The future of the entire village is in the balance, as with the loss of the main attraction, it will be like watching the Chicago Bulls after Michael Jordan’s retirement. Their playing field to successfully draw tourists will be put up to par with other small settlements that already struggle to survive on a very limited and seasonal industry.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Halifax – From The Sea, Wealth

Halifax is one of Eastern Canada’s most important cities and I dare baptise it, “The Boston of Canada.” You may disagree, but I am the one writing the story here. The city possesses a well-established institution, Dalhousie University, which is a source of pride for Haligonians and one of our country’s finest schools. Its port has been a strategic asset as much to the Dominion of Canada fending off the Gringos as to Canadians living in Dubai who have their Christmas trees shipped off from there. It’s just not a Holy Night if you are gathered around an air-conditioned living room with a palm tree full of sashes pretending to be Miss Universe. MoneySense classified the capital of Nova Scotia as the fourth best place to live in Canada for the year 2012 and I hope to show you why in the next few paragraphs.

Maman with a highland lobster

When I visited in 2005, I found the downtown area one of the cleanest I had seen. The buildings had a special Colgate smile with extra whitening to them. Either the citizens had a great civic pride in their structures or they had more capital to dispense on cleaning and maintenance services. Even the glamorous Sparks Street Mall in downtown Ottawa has something to be envious of. The National Capital Commission does make it up to us in different ways I suppose. I found scattered throughout the city centre plenty of people-sized Lobsters statues – and no, they were not edible – painted in different colours, much like Toronto did years ago with a moose on every street corner. You are welcome taxpayers!  Can’t you tell that Canadians are outdoors people and proud of our unique wildlife? I never tire of saying this, but we do have nature’s best and biggest natural playground. The downtown is small compared to other cities, yet there are great restaurants, ferry rides, bus tours, hotels and breweries.

My favourite sight without a doubt was Fort George – named after King George II - that sits on Citadel Hill, like the protector of the city and port down below. This fortification had originally been erected to defend protestant settlers from the fiendish French, astute Acadian and mighty Micmac raids. In the summers, university students participate in re-enacting bits of our history wearing the traditional thick wool red coats from the British colonial times with a slight twist – you guessed it, kilts! I wouldn’t mind getting paid for wearing a kilt the entire summer. It's a free flowing cooling system. The 78th Regiment of Foot and Pipe Band Highlanders run and hide the highland way (note the Braveheart reference)… although the constant bagpiping must routinely give away their strategic position. Bagpipe music served as a WMI (weapon of mass irritation) to the opposing military units. That's how we beat the Americans in the War of 1812. For those of you who are not history buffs like yours truly, I still recommend the visit as the view down onto the bay is quite spectacular.

Another pretty area is the public gardens, just down the hill from the citadel and next to the Alexander Keith’s brewery. Did I not say that we do produce incredible quantities of alcoholic beverages in this country? There seems to be a brewery in every story of my East Coast experience. I am not much of a botanist but nature has a soothing power on me personally - much more than tall concrete structures - especially when the public park is so quiet. Halifax is somewhat of a hidden treasure, as there is hardly the same quantity of tourists than other Canadian cities that usually take away anything special from the local atmosphere. This is not a cheap shot aimed at tourists but we can certainly agree that the more people are around, more garbage mysteriously is summoned from nowhere and pushing and shoving dictate your every movement. It is rather unfortunate but people prioritize themselves as “numero uno” and ruin the experience for the more passive visitors. Anyway, there are several wonderful species of flowers, plants and trees which I cannot name but trust me… they are amazing! These grounds are maintained by the city, so enjoy and please don’t pick flowers before asking the municipal government unless you want to anger the Haligonian Gods.

Hop aboard the beer bus

While I was choosing my schools to pursue undergraduate studies, the East never crossed my mind even though the Bickfords have quite the history there. I usually consider Ontario as home, having spent memorable moments in Etobicoke, Grimsby, Kingston, Ottawa, and Toronto when I was growing up. My father had briefly visited Halifax during his childhood and returned there less than a handful of times. Once he left the Maritimes, something about this land still had a special meaning to him. Funny how land has a way of becoming part of you. In a way, I was surprised that he identified himself as a Maritimer and other aspects of their lifestyle. I guess it is not so odd that a young English and Welsh lad, growing up on the East Coast and then travelling around the world the rest of his life still finds an affinity with the East. After all, my brother and I spent most of our childhood in Latin America and still found a home in Ontario. Guess we have more in common with my father than we thought!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Introduction to Nova Scotia

If you have never been to Digby, Nova Scotia, you have yet to live. This scallop capital of the world – the size of hockey pucks, I kid you not, amigos – was my port of entry to Canada’s ocean playground for highlanders, although everyone else seems to be allowed to join in on the fun. There is nothing more exciting than starting off your journey into this beautiful, rugged land with a belly full of the freshest and finest scallops. Everyone needs that cholesterol rush from time to time. There are plenty of restaurants where you can sample grilled scallops, sautéed scallops, steamed scallops and scallop ice cream – well, maybe not this last one. Bubba Gump Shrimp could benefit from a partnership here.

Downtown Digby, Nova Scotia during rush hour

Scotland gave the world great heroes such as William Wallace, a brave warrior poet that bears a striking resemblance to Mel Gibson. A day without a kilt is like a day without sunshine, wouldn’t you say? The newer version of this Gaelic land sitting across the pond has gifted its own heroes such as Sidney Crosby (you’re welcome Pittsburg), Robert Borden (the most charismatic Prime Minister we’ve ever had) and Alexander Keith (a hero to many Canadian university students) just to name a few. Culturally, there are several similarities between these fine people and New Englanders. Many venture into the high seas amid very dangerous conditions to ensure every Canadian household has a lobster on their dinner table. There is also a French connection among some of the population, adding to a rich Acadian culture all along our East Coast. Viticulture is starting to take off in the Annapolis Valley and Lunenberg now plays host to one of the most important rum festival in Canada.

What I most enjoyed on the way to Ingomar was the peace and solace found throughout this scarcely populated region. If you seek some quiet reflection, this may very well be your ideal place – in the summer time of course. The coastline has few settlements and their respective populations are barely in the hundreds. The long empty sandy beaches are waiting for you. Ever dreamt of having your own private beach? Well, it is possible in southern Nova Scotia. Every time I am in need of a brief escape into the land of meditation, I transport myself to the beach where I once sat, admired the waves, felt the soothing embrace of the wind and listened to my mp3 player serenading me with my favourite tunes. Absolute bliss, wouldn’t you agree? In most other deserted beaches around the world, you’ll go from zen-like conditions to being quickly swarmed by legions of local merchants as you watch your five seconds of peace dissipate like Richard Kimble in search of the one-armed man.

The accent in Southern Nova Scotia is very distinct. For a moment, you could swear you somehow ended up somewhere in Ireland, leading you to believe that the ferry from Saint John to Cork is much quicker than an airplane ride. Top of the morning to you, boy-o! Life is much simpler there and this is something many of us could learn from these kind souls – or at least appreciate it while you are there. While I was on my reconnaissance missions in Shelburne and Barrington, the locals smiled and actually said “Good morning!” I had almost forgotten the existence of those words in the English language after the many years in Ontario. I felt like a deer stuck in the headlights wondering what would be an ideal reply to such a salutation. During one of our family walks, one of the few residents in Ingomar insisted to have us over for dinner one evening. That’s just the way they are. Too bad we couldn’t take a few of them and recolonize Ontario.

Good times in Ingomar, Nova Scotia

Ingomar was our base of operations during our week in the province. From there, we planned strategic visits to Halifax, Peggy’s Cove and Lunenberg, some of the usual touristy destinations. The commentary on those places is soon to come, I promise. It was surprising to find large supermarkets comparable to those in metropolitan areas in a very isolated part of the world but even more, live lobsters the size of a small child. I was not sure if to react in amazement or worry – the beasts could rebel against their captors for sure. Although I had initially suggested to my father we should pick one up – even if it was just to have one as a household pet – my mother discouraged this decision. They were much too large to fit in a pot or our small oven at the cottage. Nothing life fresh seafood!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend

Canada typically slips under a deep turkey-induced slumber over this weekend, as is customary every year. Canadian Thanksgiving – yes, the real Thanksgiving! – is celebrated about a month before the American. The usual meal come dinnertime is a fully stuffed turkey (without stuffing, there is no turkey), soothing gravy, heavenly roasted potatoes and peas and carrots (yes, just peas and carrots). We say goodbye to a joyful summer season full of activities in great fashion and gear up for old man winter. This is "hands down" my favourite holiday because it is one last hurrah with the family before Christmas and it becomes more difficult to get around when we are buried under hundreds of feet of snow.

We can be heroes, just for one day

In the past, our ancestors used to congregate around the dinner table, thankful of a bountiful harvest. I always believe that the closest families are those that sit and eat their meals together, cashing in on some valuable and much needed face time. Communication is everything, don’t you know? The elegant turkey, a wonderful beast native to North America (nothing short of a gift from God), replaces the jolly old goose that the English consume over important festivities. In the old days, if our adventurous farmers avoided their routine obligations of labouring the land, winters would not give up the chance of punishing them. There were no Costco or Walmarts back then – hard to believe, isn’t it? Nowadays, we take for granted the fact that we can go into any supermarket, any time of the year, and buy “fresh” fruit. Our strategic free trade agreements truly play an important role in stocking our finest stores with produce.

Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate everything we have earned. We all feel we deserve the break. Let’s not forget, there are also many unexpected gifts that come our way during the year, making the nature of our lives so much more the sweeter. We spend our days in hectic, fast-paced environments, which facilitates forgetting far too easily our blessings. We are guilty on several counts of complaining to our friends and family that we want more out of life or we would rather be in a different situation. We all have our own paths in life and there is no “one-size-fits-all” prescription to our life’s purpose. It is amazing how we can neglect all the little (and not so little) things that make us wealthy in every sense of the word and sometimes, the envy of others. What we should be doing more often is investing more on our worthwhile relationships instead of pushing these aside putting all our eggs in the wrong basket.

This season, I am grateful for my dearest friends and family who have been extremely supportive during my injury and the challenging road to recovery. On June 24th, I celebrated Saint Jean Baptiste in the emergency room after tearing my left Achilles tendon, something I cannot recommend anyone else to do. On the plus side, I lost a few pounds I didn’t need due to the trauma. That is still not much of a tradeoff. A few weeks later, I dropped into the hospital to undergo day surgery and they sure weren’t kidding when they thought that name up. I did spend almost an entire workday there. All of your visits, phone calls, e-mails – and let’s not forget the Soy Tazzo Chais from Starbucks - letting me know you are there for me. That means the world to me and it is the best gift I could ever receive, far surpassing anything material. In fact, you really know whom your friends are when you go through these kinds of situations and I am truly blessed. Now, I am taking on physiotherapy and look forward to the future.

A portrait of a healthy man... minus the left tendon foot

In the spirit of Turkey Day – more like Turkey Weekend, am I right? – I hope you are all extra careful out there on the road and eat turkey in moderation. This fantastic fowl has some somniferous proprieties. Everything always has a catch. This is a time where joy, appreciation, friendship, reconciliation and quality time with your loved ones are the most important ingredients to your family gathering. The good times are the special moments we hold dearest, giving us the edge over challenging moments. It is also an ideal time to grab a coat and head to the nearest shelters to help those who are less fortunate. There are people out there who could use a smile and a hot plate of food to warm up their Thanksgiving. Happy tukeying to all!