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, November 25, 2012

Let There Be Apes

This weekend, I am going to lighten up the mood a bit by sharing yet another animal oriented anecdote. In March 2007, I travelled with my folks to Spain where the primary purpose of the trip was strictly vacation. Since graduating from university, my radius of operation had been greatly restricted. My regular weekends were either busy with work-related activities or spending time in Kingston, visiting my grandfather in a nursing home. The headquarters for the holiday in La Madre Patria was the colourful beach city of Islantilla, near the southern border with Portugal.

The Rock as seen from the RAF airstrip

One of our longest day trips was to Gibraltar, about a 4-hour drive. Why Gibraltar? Honestly, my father and I wanted to see the Barbary apes – not to be confused with the Burberry apes, those very fashionable primates. In fact, the history of this tiny 6.8 square kilometer (2.6 square miles) British overseas territory on the edge of Andalusia is quite interesting. These humongous natural rock formations on the European – which can in fact be seen from quite a distance across the bay - and African shores, serving as the gate to the Mediterranean, were referred in ancient times as the Pillars of Hercules.

The English captured Gibraltar in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession – a major European war over the unification of the Kingdoms of France and Spain under a Bourbon monarch. It served for several centuries as a strategic base for the Royal Navy and the small settlement of 30,000 Gibraltarians is very distinct from La Linea on the Spanish side. It remains perhaps one of the few border crossings left within the European Union with a controlled customs checkpoint. This small piece of land marks a contentious political divide between Spain and the UK. As a matter of fact, this was my first trip to the UK! Upon clearing the border crossing, one must then carefully traverse the width of a Royal Air Force tarmac before entering the settlement.

It was really curious that such a minuscule settlement remains quite heavily armed. The town actually resembles a tropical or sub-Saharan version of England leaving no doubt on their allegiance to Her Royal Majesty. We rushed through town looking for a way up the rock to see our apes – we were on a tight schedule. The importance of these glorious creatures to the people’s sovereignty is key. Popular legend has it that as long as the Gibraltar Barbary macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. In fact, in 1942, their population dwindled to just a handful so British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered their numbers replenished from Morocco and Algeria due to this belief.

An ape in service of the Queen

After several obstacles, such as high winds and pricey full service tours of the rock, we decided to climb from sea level to about 200 meters to find the apes’ pen. I was surprised that they were all out in the open and able to roam wherever they please. One of the apes noticed my father was carrying a plastic bag, snuck up behind him and ran off with our supply of water bottles. This was the first time I ever was mugged by an ape. After this unfortunate violation of personal property and having enough fun among our new friends, we decided to head back down the rock and return to Islantilla. As soon as we made it back to downtown Gibraltar, I spotted a Barbary ape sitting on a tree eating a cake. Guess we didn’t need the hike after all. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Road To Rio: No Samba For Canada

Canada is often recognized internationally as an ice hockey powerhouse. This indisputable fact is a source of great pride for the average Canadian. These fine specimens will even mortgage their homes to ensure their son becomes the next Wayne Gretzky (Canada’s Maradona) with tens of thousands of dollars “invested” financing the dream. It may not be Junior’s dream, but hey, if he becomes a star, I am taken care of! You will find peewee hockey leagues – children’s competitive leagues – with a head coach dictating team strategy accompanied by up to three team coaches teaching young prospects stick handing skills, puck handling, speed skating and endurance.

The children opting for soccer (aka football or footy), the fourth most popular recreational sport in the country, have some large balding fellow smoking a dollar store cigar, arguing with his ex-wife over alimony on his phone as a head coach. He paces along the sideline wheezing away giving only an occasional outburst of flatulence as encouragement to his squad – well at least that can guarantee some humour for the children. Some kids wear flashy uniforms, others their favourite jerseys from European clubs. Regardless of the wardrobe, each of them tries to emulate the gods of the beautiful game on a much lower budget than ice hockey. The ball bumbles back and forth following an erratic ebb and flow facilitated by a referee who is as familiar to the sport, much like a baboon dismantling land mines. On more frequent occasions, an unbiased observer may even notice the actual absence of a match official altogether – sometimes ideal when faced with the former scenario. Developing young fresh talent starts at this age.

As a soccer fan having witnessed first-hand some of the greatest moments in the game, I sense discrimination toward the sport in the Great White North. A discrimination fuelled by a lack of financial interest. We can hardly call our national leagues professional, as we lack a top tier division such as the EPL, La Liga, the Serie A or even the Congolese Première Division. We do have a minor role in the MLS, which is more of a conglomeration of franchises rather than neighbourhood or city clubs that fight to the last drop of blood, sweat and tears to avoid relegation. If you have the cash, a fan base and a neat stadium with a food court and shopping centre, you may be able to join the league so long as you can keep a profit. It is not a league based on merit that rewards perseverance and punishes underperformance. That’s the same American professional sports model that saw teams like the Seattle Sonics disappear or the Lakers move to a city without any lakes. It works for their market but tarnishes the structure and philosophy of international football – I mean that game where the ball is kicked, not carried across the field – and most importantly hinders nurturing talent.

Canada’s dreams of making it to the next world cup in Brazil were decimated by a Honduran team on a mission, losing a must win game 8 goals to 1. That sounds more like a hockey or baseball result but it is our usual exit strategy in the qualifying process. After such an embarrassing result, we should not worry about not making it to the big stage, as perhaps better teams could have set Guinness Records trouncing our lads. Is there anything we can do for the next season in qualifying for 2018? Maybe not. The only solution to our football malady is travelling to Brazil with a suitcase full of passports and dole them out in an effort to recruit the next Neymar or Ronaldo, hoping to bring to prop up our lack of natural abilities nurtured from a young age. The only obstacle to this prescription is that our government may not feel this is a proper use of our Citizenship and Immigration Department. I guess foreign policy is all in the eye of the beholder. Anyway, our women are pretty amazing in contrast to the men, although FIFA politics have played a controversial role leading to multiple shortcomings.

Canadians sports fans are generally supporters backing only a clear winner. When the tide changes, so does their wavering support. Although Canada won the CONCACAF Gold Cup back in 2000 beating guests Colombia 2-0 in the final, the victory hardly raised the profile of the sport nationally. I recall the game was played before a practically empty stadium somewhere in the US. Fans in Canada are quick to stand behind the national teams representing their ancestral origin or any other country much like they would pick one of the teams in the US franchise-based league before backing our local boys. There is no hope for a Cinderella story or underdog triumph in the hearts of Canadian soccer. Should we see a change in this support, we should begin to witness the birth of a new game and hopefully a true economic investment, turning Canada’s fourth preferred recreational activity into something resembling an international team.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day – Lest We Forget

This year, many calendar days marking special events have overlapped on my new blog entry schedule. This coincidence is beneficial for those of my loyal readers outside of our Canadian borders who hope to catch a glimpse of what we are all about up while we sit comfortably on top of the globe – except in the winter where we would gladly switch positions with Cuba. Furthermore, I am able to share with my fellow Canucks a bird’s eye view on our rich history we tend to neglect because we are too busy. I continue to underline our heritage as the backbone of our identity and nationhood.

The tomb of the unknown soldier, Ottawa, Canada

On November 11, many nations that participated in the Great War, take a moment to honour their brave soldiers who put everything on the line for their country. The Dominions of the British Empire (including Canada) joined immediately without hesitation in support of the United Kingdom’s declaration of war against Germany. Our engagement in the First World War changed our history through our many sacrifices and contributions, enabling us to become more independent – although this did create a rift between the French and English populations – and distance ourselves from Britannia. Canadian troops fought as a distinct unit and our efforts in the battles of Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the Battle of Somme continue to be remembered especially on this day.

During the Great War, Canada’s casualties stood at 67,000 killed and 173,000 wounded out of an expeditionary force of 620,000 people mobilized at the end of the war. These numbers could appear low in comparison to other manpower contributions (it certainly does not seem that way to me), Canada’s population at the beginning of the war in 1914 stood at approximately 7,879,000. In other words, our contribution to the defense of the Motherland against Germany and her allies represented about 8% of our total population. Canadians were considered expert and professional soldiers and were greatly feared by the Germans as an omen of impending attack. Aside from being directly involved on the European front, our people were also busy on the home front, manufacturing goods, ammunition and other strategic supplies.

Canada had further contributed 1.1 million soldiers in WWII and was the first Commonwealth country to sends troops to the United Kingdom. Following these two bloody world wars, our armed forces were amongst the largest on the planet yet our military began to downsize and transform into an international policing contingent. Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson spearheaded the concept of peacekeeping missions in the newly created United Nations, seeking to avoid the traumatizing gruesome bloodshed of the last 40 years. Peacekeeping is an attempt to create conditions that favour lasting peace by placing the blue helmets in the crossfire between warring factions. There are several issues existing in the operational protocol for units serving as peacekeepers although there have been successful missions to Burundi, Cambodia, Guatemala, Haiti and Suez, just to name a few.

Crowds gather at the National War Memorial to pay tribute

Remembrance Day is not a moment to dwell on the politics behind conflicts in which Canadian soldiers and other service men wearing any other flag on their shoulder have paid with their lives for. Today, we recognize their efforts, their lives, their service and their devotion. These men and women put everything on the line for us. Thanks to them, we can stay away from the battlefield, form strong opinions and debate until the cows come home. Their lives are forever changed by combat, bringing back difficult memories which we cannot even imagine which can even lead to post traumatic stress disorders affecting their entire families. Others left their loved ones behind and never came back. Lest we forget.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lunenburg’s Blue Nose

Just like this morning’s cup of java, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This tiny coastal village is hardly “just another port city.” Its rich history traces its lineage to the colonial era when the Protestants set up shop and wore those lovely red coats. They managed to survive numerous waves of Catholic Wabanaki Confederacy raids, the American War of Independence incursions and the War of 1812. Diversity has always been around since the very beginning and after a couple hundred years, French, English, aboriginal cultures buried the hatchet to make way for new cultures to settle. The key to overcoming any argument is to put a good two hundred years between the two parties and then... there should be peace.

Lunenburg's wharf and financial district

During our 2005 family trip to the province, we headed up to Lunenburg. My father was the only family member who had any idea about the significance of this place in the history books. After all, it was his idea to take the day trip and I do not regret his decision or tagging along for the ride. My Dad shares many qualities with his tribe of origin, including his love for the seas. The British were able to dominate the waterways on the entire globe from their tiny little speck of land - pretty amazing. Since I was a little squirt, I remember my Dad building very detailed model wooden boats from scratch with his power tools. He would become possessed by the demons of carpentry keeping a keen eye for detail without losing sight of the bigger picture, ensuring every imperfection was surgically removed from his divine work. He even made Brian and I some big destroyer class navy boats to play with our toy soldiers. In Lunenburg, a very special boat kept calling him over and he was only answering this call - we'll get to that shortly, just building up the suspense here.

Immediately upon arriving to town, we drove around the waterfront in search of a decent place to park our road warrior and spend some quality time on foot getting acquainted with the locals. The town’s claim to fame was more than being the first English settlement outside of Halifax. It was a home to a prominent shipbuilding community and served as an important seaport for Eastern Canada. Nowadays, it’s bread and butter is tourism, like Peggy's Cove and other beautiful small towns in the province welcoming thousands of visitors a year. The town centre reflects a unique architecture and civic design spreading along the waterfront, with several quaint hotels and inns admiring the captivating bay. There are a large number of restaurants serving quite a variety of local seafood dishes yet provide landlubber favourites for those who are adverse to the sea’s bounty. I guess not everyone loves cod tongues. There are art galleries, souvenir shops selling crafts and a number of quality museums to educate the rest of us on the importance of the sea and the lifestyle that goes with it.

My father was like a child on Christmas morning, checking if Santa had dropped by Lunenburg to leave his Bluenose schooner in the harbour. This is without a doubt a major attraction when the boat is not on tour - check the website. The Bluenose was a racing and fishing vessel that bravely competed against American East coast ships of similar classes. It became a certain crowd pleaser through its many consecutive victories against the Yanks, eventually becoming an undisputed heavyweight champion of the high seas. Its unparalleled success and beauty as a competitive seafaring juggernaut transformed it into a national icon in the eyes of a plethora of Maritimers. The ground crew and engineers however, decided to do some pimpin’ up of their smooth ride revamping it now to the Bluenose II (think of it like those pesky computer software updates you need to install on your PC). There is even a Bluenose IV in the works, although the glory days of these sexy beasts – as far as sailboats go, of course - are long gone and sequels are not often better - remember the Rocky series?

The Bickfords vs The Bluenose II

Should your travels take you to Nova Scotia, Lunenberg should be your first choice when contemplating a day trip out of Halifax. In the case that the Atlantic’s nautical superstar is touring the world giving out autographs to its loyal fans, there is still plenty to visit and a world of taste just a plate away. I would most certainly enjoy spending another fine summer evening there again, sipping on a warm cup of tea walking along the waterfront as the sun slowly heads out to brighten up other people’s days. It is truly an enriching experience giving us marooned on land a bird’s eye view into the history of fishing and a complicated intercultural dialogue that once existed. It is certainly an ideal destination for a family trip.