Adventures in Customer Service, Episode I

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 10:37 PM
                 Everyone around here seems to look forward to Canada Day because it’s a statutory holiday. Wahoo! Government-mandated day off! Sadly, I haven’t gotten one of those in many years. In fact, my summer job makes it mandatory for all employees to work that day. The big reason for this, of course, is that we offer Canada Day activities, so people are needed to make them happen. That being said, I never got to participate in any of the fun stuff, always being stuck in the regular day job I always do…until this year.

This year, I became the mascot.

*cue dramatic music*

Yes, my friends, this year I got to be the beaver mascot for the museum. It’s funny, as soon as I had agreed to do the job, I started getting a lot of unsolicited advice from coworkers.

“Drink LOTS of water.”

“Take many breaks. Mascot outfits aren’t conducive to urgent bathroom needs.”

“Wear as little clothing as possible underneath.”

And my personal favourite:
“If you see a bunch of kids cackling and giving you evil looks, run. They are going to attack you.”

                When the day finally came, I brought the most scantily outfit I’d ever worn to work (which, admittedly, was just a tank top and shorts) and with an overenthusiastic attitude, donned the Beaver outfit.

                The experience itself was a lot less intense as I had been led to believe it would be, although it was a very hot day. This would explain why nearly every adult I ran into would say something like:

“Geeze, you must boiling in there!”

“How are you handling the heat?!”

“I hope they’re paying you a thousand bucks to wear that outfit!” (that would’ve been nice…)

Seriously. It got to be a bit weird, but I suppose it’s nice to realize that everyone was feeling compassionate towards me.

Other memorable experiences:

  • Walking into a room and having a boy (age 9ish?) literally jump on me while yelling “Squirrel!!!!!” and proceeding to tell me all about how I am his favourite animal.
  • Terrifying my co-worker’s 3-year-old son. The poor kid ran screaming into another room at the mere sight of me!
  • Various people who wanted a picture with me and would then do funny/weird poses. One person actually kissed the outfit. Another person suggested kissing the beaver to their sibling, whose response was “ew, no! I don’t know what’s under that! Uhh…no offence.”
  • Accidentally walking into a group of 5 kids who had just gotten balloon swords. The sword fight suddenly turned into: “let’s get the beaver!”
  • Meeting a really cute Australian (I think) guy who was really happy to see me, saying “I don’t know if you’re a guy or a girl under there, but I’m going to hug you!” No complaints there.
  • And, of course, having full permission to act as weird and crazy as I wanted while at work (providing that I was in the costume). 
In all, a pretty fun day. I can officially claim that I survived being a mascot. Someone should give me a certificate or something. Or maybe send me more cute Australians to give me hugs.

Oh, Canada: what are you afraid of?

Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 1:18 PM

                Working with the public, I often have the opportunity to get a good idea of trending opinions and interests. Working in an immigration museum gives me a unique opportunity to hear what people think on that specific topic. And I am concerned. As of late, I have been hearing a lot of people giving certain opinions that I find particularly unsettling. Worse still, I am hearing these opinions outside of my work area, making me wonder how popular they have become.

I’m tired of it. There is too much anti-immigration rhetoric going around. I would like to address some of it. (note: I’m not addressing the issues of the Canadian immigration system. That is different can of worms that I’ll discuss at another time.)

These are some of the most common lines I’ve heard:

“Our economy is a disaster. We can’t afford to receive immigrants; they’re going to kill the ‘system’ when the government should be taking care of us.” AND “Immigrants are stealing our jobs. The government should be giving them to us.”

                So, there’s more than one way to respond to this comment, depending on the economic and political theories you prefer. Regardless, what’s important to remember is that we are not playing a zero-sum game. It’s ridiculous to assume that Canada has X number of jobs and once they are taken, none will be left over. If that were the case, we would never be able to permit the population to grow. Immigrants that come to work in Canada require services, too. What does this mean? More jobs will prop up to fill that demand. And don’t forget that many of the immigrants also establish economic connections with other countries that help the growth of trade.

                Additionally, Canada is in position to face a population crisis with the retiring baby boomer generation. What happens when your work force is smaller than the number of retired people who will require support? It’s a bit late to tell people to have more babies. Without immigration to fill in the retiring work force, many of our current government support systems are going to collapse.

                Finally, immigrants are not stealing your job. Nobody has to hire you, because if they did, we wouldn’t have to bother applying anywhere. Employers always get to decide which individuals are best for the job. I’m sorry if an immigrant was more qualified than you, but that’s life. Many Canadians are more qualified than me to get many jobs, but I don’t accuse them of stealing jobs from me. On top of that, immigrants often do the jobs that Canadians just won’t do. Why do you think we even have temporary work programs? A lot of us don’t like hard labour, especially if you can get a welfare check for doing nothing. Fact is, even when immigrants do get jobs, they're usually not the best kind of job out there. (and don't get me started on job access limitations...)

                If you’re still having trouble with this answer, try this analogy. Would you tell a Newfoundlander that they can’t steal Albertan jobs? Or a Manitoban who wants to work up North? Better yet, would you accuse someone of stealing a job in Toronto because they live in Oakville? If you can say yes to those questions and give me a reasonable answer, I would love to hear what you have to say.

 “In my day, immigrants would break their backs to have a good life in Canada. These days, immigrants just come here for our healthcare and welfare checks.” (and yes, I’ve heard people say “sit on their asses” and various other similar phrases…some of them, disturbingly, from immigrants themselves.)

                Excuse me? Having grown up in a family of immigrants, worked, and met countless immigrants, I scoff at the idea that any of them have an easy time of it. Yes, we have welfare. But I’m pretty sure that people don’t make the sacrifices countless immigrants do to sit on their asses and get welfare. It’s not easy to leave your home country, family, friends, and support networks to come to new country that may or may not welcome you, requires you to master another language, find a place in a new community, and deal with an entirely different culture. Of course, there are the leeches that arrive, but find me a sector of society that doesn’t have its leeches. If anything, immigrants are often the most grateful for whatever opportunity they get to work, because they know what it’s like to have nothing or have everything taken away from you.

“Canada belongs to Canadians. Foreigners don’t have the right to come live here.”

                This is downright laughable. Who is a Canadian? Unless you’re proposing that we hand ownership back to aboriginal groups, Canada is yours just as much as it is an immigrant’s. What makes me more deserving of citizenship than my parents? I'm sure that I could find more to say on this, but I don't think it's worth my time.
(funny how people don't tend to complain about immigrants representing Canada in the Olympics...)

“Immigration is destroying our country. No wonder we have no national identity.” OR “Look at all the immigration problems in Europe! We’re just a time-bomb waiting to blow up.”

                Now that we’re living in a time where immigrants arriving from areas outside of Europe, there have been a lot of questions as to whether or not immigrants are looking to fundamentally change Canada and its laws. My first response is that I think people are overestimating just how much immigrants actually want to change Canada and underestimate how much they agree with us. I think that the proportion looking to institute Sharia law is infinitesimally small. After all, if they didn’t generally agree with our laws, they would not come here. People who get the opportunity to immigrate tend to gravitate towards the systems that they want. After all, Canada is often not their only choice of destination.

                I also don't like the comparison with Europe. Our immigration issues are very different to the European ones, largely thanks to many years of fairly open immigration policies. Additionally, nationalism in Europe has a very different nature and history than Canadian nationalism; they are hardly comparable.

                The big cultural differences tend to lie in the way we live: the food we eat, the languages we speak, the religion we practice, etc. These differences are very noticeable, but are not overly threatening to how other Canadians live their lives. Usually, it just means that you may see a new cultural center around the corner and a larger variety of restaurants and food offered in the grocery store.

                In the end, I find that these attitudes stem from people who feel threatened by change. It would explain why some immigrants agree with these attitudes, especially if they arrived many years ago. The people arriving in Canada are not the same as the ones who arrived a few decades ago. That being said, I don’t think that we should be any less welcoming (if anything, more, Canada’s immigration history hasn’t always been pretty) to the new arrivals.

Surviving the Trials and Tribulations of University, Op. 3, No. 3 "Three Epic Things Before the End""

Monday, April 30, 2012 at 11:36 PM

The other day, I mentioned to my dearest mother that I know that I’m an adult because I pay bills. Yes, sir. This year I got my first credit card and rented my first house. I’m all grown up! Of course, like any good, cheap university student, I had roommates in this house, which was absolutely fantastic.

We all had a blast living together, but sadly it was not to last more than one academic year. Because of that, we decided to end our time together in the best way we could contrive.

Growing up, were there ever awesome things you wished you could do in your house, but your parents wouldn’t let you? For us, there definitely were. So it then occurred to us that, since we actually have our own house, we were completely capable of fulfilling our childhood fantasies.

As such, I present to you our three EPIC acts that ended the year.

#1- We turned the ENTIRE bottom floor of our house into a GIANT blanket fort. (If you don’t appreciate how awesome this is, get out.)

#2- We spent an entire day watching all three extended Lord of the Rings movies. Oh, and we ate ALL the hobbit meals of the day: first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, dinner, and supper. In addition to lots of tea, desserts, and other fun stuff. Several of us agreed that this was the best day of our undergraduate career. Not bad, huh?

#3- We filled our living room with balloons. Lots and lots and lots of them…as in, well over 400 of them. I can’t lie; these were incredibly useful tools to vent out the stress of the exam period.

And with that, we concluded our year. My dear roommates, I already miss all of you sorely. I wish you the very best with the rest of your lives. May they be filled with as much joy as our antics brought us.

Diversions in the Last Stretch

Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 3:01 PM
Don't forget... April's Fools is tomorrow!!

Take a leap!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Today is February 29. Leap Day! I would like to wish an especially happy birthday to all of you who were born on this magical day. For the rest of you, I hope you did something out of the ordinary.

On that note, I have a random anecdote to share:

Despite being born in Canada, my first language was not English. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I didn't really start speaking that language until I was in preschool at age 3. (my linguistic-savvy roommate tells me, however, that learning it at age 3 still qualifies it as a "first language", especially since I speak with a native "Canadian" accent.) I must say, whenever I make stupid mistakes with English grammar or vocabulary, it's really fun to pretend that it's because I learnt English later than most people. That being said, there are a few times where I have genuinely mixed up languages or made mistakes because of my mother tongue... especially when it comes to understanding puns.


When I was young, I remember seeing these signs in restaurants. (Anyone else remember the days when smoking was allowed in some restaurants?)

I couldn't for the life of me figure out why puffins were being banned specifically from places. Did anyone try to invade Canada with an army of puffins? (Maybe Alaska was feeling lonely) Sadly, I can confirm that it took me at least a decade to realize what the signs were about.

Surviving the Trials and Tribulations of University, Op. 3, No. 2 "A New Year, A Winter Semester"

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 10:59 PM

A new year! Usually that is not of much significance to me. As a student, I operate on the academic calendar; the year begins in September. However, with the beginning of this winter semester, I felt compelled to mark it. I’ve never been one to make resolutions, but I figure it’s worth giving them a try.

So here goes nothing: my resolutions for the year 2012...or at least the winter semester.

Resolution 1: listen to Beethoven every morning. Start with a movement from his symphonies, move on from there.
I really don’t have a particular affinity for mornings. I’m completely capable of waking up every morning at an appropriate time for my scheduled activities, but I will hit the “sleep” button on my alarm if I can get away with it and, if not, will look like this for a good hour after getting up:

Incidentally, I’m writing this in the morning, just after preparing ingredients for the slow cooker. Note to self: always be fully awake before cooking with oil. Ow. (pro tip: aloe vera is a great investment for less-experienced, student cooks) Anyways, I did do one smart thing this morning: start it with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, 3rd movement. I listen to Beethoven frequently, but somehow I’m always astounded at the brilliance of the music. Beethoven = bliss. Cue the next brilliant idea:


If Beethoven = bliss and always puts me in a good mood, I need to get up early and put on some Beethoven. Maybe if I start to like my mornings, I can turn myself into more of a morning-person.
Beethoven = smile ;)

Resolution 2: end every evening with Debussy.
My prof likes to say that there are only two composers with whom you could take any two-bar excerpt from any moment in any piece of their music...and it would always be absolutely beautiful: Mozart and Debussy. Yes, I know that I’m not being particularly creative with my selection of composers, but they are in the standard repertoire for a reason. As a night owl, I have a hard time winding down at night. Cue Debussy’s music—also bliss! I may, of course, dip into other composers’ repertoire every now and then.

 Resolution 3: stop wasting time with flash games. (and video games in general)
Not that I was ever *really* bad at this. My brother owned and held a monopoly over all the video games growing up, so it’s not like I was ever able to play them at will. But still, it’s astounding how those things can suck hours from your day. “It’ll just be a five minute game!” –Yeah right. I suspect that this would be harder to do if I had actually bought any of the games I have access to.

Resolution 4: student + low budget =/= bad, unappetizing diet. Make good, interesting things.
Hence my slow cooker attempt this morning. *sigh* But it’s winter now, and I’m really prone to the winter blues. Good food is guaranteed to cheer me up. Plus, there’s something therapeutic about cooking (with the added bonus of feeling competent at something useful, rather than the dubious usefulness of my theory homework...). So far, this has included several yummy recipes and a few interesting experiments.
Rice pudding, bolitas de nuez (this translates to ‘balls of nuts’, which doesn’t sound as good), spicy peanut butter pea soup, chilaquiles, French onion soup, bannock, pulled pork, Belgian chocolate gateau, pasta with spicy Thai tuna...

Resolution 5: Keep beauty in life. Always.
Life is beautiful. Sometimes I forget that. But I’m going to make a strong effort to keep its wonder present as much as possible. I’m not sure yet what this is going to encompass. So far this has included getting flowers for my desk and some Japanese incense. And smiling more often to people. I’m trying to keep stress and negativity away so that I don’t project it onto my relationships with others. I would also like to be more generous... Little things are the trick—they make a big difference. I hope.

Oh, Canada: who are you?

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 12:30 PM
                Poor Canada: always struggling with identity. And once again, it looks like efforts to improve matters upon this regard are being renewed under the Harper administration. The uncertainty behind what it means to be Canadian is something akin to going through adolescence. After all, being able to ascertain our identity is incredibly useful for giving us a stable ground from which to act. This is why organizations develop mandates, why politicians and policy-makers take on philosophical approaches, and why teenagers desperately seek to affirm who they are by frequently using labels like prep, hipster, nerd, etc. The insecurities that are caused by not having an established identity can be twofold: first, a personal lack of direction in behaviour and, second, an uncertainty with our peers in not knowing where we fit in the grand scheme of interactions.

Not having an identity is unsettling.

                I recognize that what I’ve just said is vague, but such is the nature of identity-seeking. Ask about a long-established and culturally distinct nation, and even those answers will not be definite. What does it mean to be British? Italian? Egyptian? Japanese?

                Nationalism was much simpler before the age of globalization and mass movement. Humans tended to live out their lives within a small geographic area, communicating almost exclusively with their neighbours. This means that generations were defined by responding to the same things: the weather, the lay of the land, the sources of food, the spoken language, the habitations, the available entertainment, the challenges of survival, and the legacy of the ancestors. These are very concrete things that could be used to define the identity of groups of people; nations were formed around this.

                The problem with “Canada” is that it began with nations attempting to conquer territory, decimating the native populations. In doing so, the legacy of the land and its people was irreversibly distorted and a new “identity” began to be fabricated. The reason it is essential to recognize multiculturalism in Canada is because every single Canadian entered the fabric of its history at a different point. Thus each person has a preceding legacy that, though they may not be aware of it in the case of families who have been here for generations, had a unique and profound impact on how they and their predecessors interacted with other “Canadians”.  If anything, this is the basis for the Canadian identity. Instead of many “lifelines” extending from a centralized point, it is many lifelines converging on that remarkable point that is Canada.

It’s funny; the people of Canada are so incredibly complex, and yet they too often consider themselves to be the most boring folks on the planet. I think our historic inability to understand who we are leads us to skim over our fascinating complexity.

                How do you create an identity for Canada? What common experiences unite Canadians? I suppose there is a reason why the aforementioned article reminds us of the hockey and Tim Horton’s stereotypes: you will find them everywhere. Oh, and let’s not forget winter. There’s something almost triumphant about how we experience, enjoy, and/or survive the changing of the seasons. But can we go further than this? What should we take into account: the past, the present, or the future? Unfortunately, each of those approaches comes with problems:

  • An identity based on the past struggles incessantly with the fact that everyone has a different background.
  • An identity with the present struggles with the fact that because Canadians are spread out and divided by a vast and varied geography, the way they interact with their surroundings is never the same.
  • And the future? How can you possibly determine a vision to which all Canadians would like to direct themselves?

                It’s said that nationalism arises in two ways. First, as a movement that rises from the people, and, second, as a tool the government uses to move the people. It looks like the Harper administration is trying very hard to impose nationalism upon us. Feel free to question the motives. “Mr. Harper, do explain to me why the War of 1812 is essential to my experienceas a Canadian.  I can appreciate it insofar as I appreciate being a citizen of this country and not of the USA. That being said, Canada wasn’t even a country when it happened. I wonder who at the time truly considered themselves to be British subjects or people of the land. Either way, if the culture of this wonderful country and its education system has not embedded a deep sense of pride for the legacy of that war, perhaps that would indicate that we do not see it as essential to our identity. Should the government be spending $11.5 million, not just to commemorate it, but to convince us that it is important to all of us? Or how about the flag? Can you imbue a sense of patriotism and respect for the Canadian flag by threatening the people with penalties should they not treat it appropriately? 

                What is being achieved through these efforts? Is a national identity truly being solidified? I hardly think so. We need to stop kidding ourselves. Our population is too vast and varied to do that. Certainly, the history of the land must be recognized; you lose far more when you forget it. It’s what you do with history that is important. Instead of using it to manipulate our attitudes towards our country, how about we take it in as a way to accept how each of us got to be where we are? I would like to suggest that this is how we will find our Canadian identity. In such a large and diverse nation only a small idea, a small seed, can unite its collective mind and grow into a more secure identity. We are a growing quilt of many fabrics; let the threads that bind us, the idea that unites us, be acceptance. When we learn to accept our presence, we will become at peace with it.

Let’s stop worrying about our identity. Labels are for teenagers. Only in doing what we do will we become who we are.