Category Archives: Off-Topic

Reflecting on Canada: Reverse Culture Shock (Pt. II—The Niggling Little Issues)

Canada’s larger paradigm shifts while I was away are dealt with in Part I. There are also the seemingly small things about Canada that might cause reverse culture shock. Though uncomplicated, these changes in yourself, or your home country, really hit you where you live. It is the reverse culture equivalent of simple culture shock—why do you eat that? You think karaoke is fun? How is that joke insulting?

The first of these simple reverse culture shocks would undoubtedly be the weather. I remember watching an expat friend return to Saskatchewan from Taiwan for a visit in winter. He’d been living in Taiwan for a decade and arrived during a cold snap. The skin on his hands dried up and fell off, leaving red, itchy, gross appendages. I wouldn’t look forward to dealing with a real Canadian winter.

One of the most bizarre changes to Canadian cultural norms that happened while I was gone—and totally blows me away—is Tim Hortons. When did that place become THE Canadian food experience? When I lived there it was little more than a place to go for crap coffee if you were out in the wee hours and nothing good was open. Ironically, it became an iconic piece of Canadiana when it was sold to an American group. If I ever consume that crap and pronounce it wonderfully Canadian, shoot me.

Growing up in a cold climate I cocooned myself in layers of blankets and quilts to sleep. It was a wonderfully secure and relaxing feeling to poke your nose into the cool air from under a mountain of blankets, very like swaddling. When I first moved to Taiwan, one of the adjustment problems I endured for years was being unable to get a really good sleep without the weight of a pile of bed covers pressing down on me. After decades, I’ve finally habituated to sleeping semi-nude upon the bed, under the air conditioner, with no covers. Try getting that out of your mind. Of course, why would you want to? Now when I visit Canada, I struggle to sleep under all those covers. I feel claustrophobic, like I’m suffocating.

One advantage of living in a foreign language environment is you have a fair expectation the people around you will not understand what you’re saying. I have become used to saying whatever I think whenever I want. It is becoming a problem as more people in Taipei understand and tune in, but my social habits were set in an earlier time. This assumed privacy has made many of my generation of Asian-based expats excessively direct and often rude. [See: The Benefits of Being Misunderstood]. Canada, during my time abroad, has gone in the opposite direction, becoming less verbally freewheeling. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize my mouth getting me into trouble upon returning to Canada.

Most Canadians would be surprised to learn that they have a reputation for being aloof and borderline unfriendly. Though I understand the Canadian perspective on personal space, privacy, and amiability, after spending most of my adult life in Taiwan, I don’t share it. My personality tends towards introversion and quietness, but when you throw over all your friends and family to live as an expat, being an introvert doesn’t work. [See: Expat Friendships]. You need to be gregarious, meet strangers, and form new connections. I’ve gotten used to committing random acts of friendliness that fall totally flat in Canada. Once walking down the street in Saskatoon, I spotted a shop girl, in a store window, with a full-sleeve tattoo. It was impressive. So, like the Canadian-Taiwanese that I am, I spun around and went into the store to talk to her about her tattoo. You would have thought I was a mass murderer hell-bent on raping her in the middle of the store. It was a Canadian moment. I didn’t enjoy it, and it has repeated itself with both men and women when in Canada.

As a long term expat, one problem I have returning to Canada is finding everything unreasonably expensive. I think this is as much a psychological issue as economics.  My sense of Canadian value was set as a student 25-30 years ago. At the time, I might have reasonably, tried to eat and entertain myself for a week on $5-$15. Now when I go home and find a beer and burger kicking the crap out of a twenty dollar bill, I start channeling my grandfather: “$17.50!?! $17.50?!? That’s outrageous! Why in my day a lad could live for two weeks on $17.50, and still have enough change leftover for a blowjob”. It might just be age and psychology. I wasn’t present for many changes in Canadian society, including a period of hyperinflation during the oil boom, so I keep getting blindsided by costs. It’s like the normal aging process amped up on crystal meth.

Finally, no discussion of reverse culture shock would be complete without talking about driving. When I drove in Canada, before coming to Taiwan, I was a cautious and patient driver. I do drive in Taiwan and have the whole time I’ve lived here. I am , also, a very cautious and patient driver in Taiwan. But, when you take that careful and patient Taiwanese driver, and drop him onto a Canadian road—he’s the most aggressive asshole out there. I struggle with this every time I return to Canada. Usually before driving, I take the car out and drive around quiet streets, trying to redevelop a sense of Canadian timing. Even so, I struggle not to turn left as soon as a light turns green, to beat oncoming traffic. I find it hard not to dive the car into the smallest of spaces when changing lanes. I have a totally non-Canadian idea of proxemics as related to traffic. Most streets in Canadian cities seem like giant empty parking lots to me.

I could keep this list going for much longer. I haven’t touched on tipping, meat portions, socially acceptable sweat levels, etc., but I’ve run long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on Canada: Reverse Culture Shock (Pt. I—Big Things)

After I posted my article on transnationalism, someone wrote and asked me to expand on what I’d said, and I thought to myself…fuck off. Just kidding. I thought who knows. Maybe. My articles on the Taiwanese generation gap and Taiwanese reverse culture shock got me thinking more about alienation from home and globalization, so maybe I have more to say. This article is in two parts; the first part is somewhat serious and deals with bigger issues, the second part is lighter and discusses small things.

Friends and family tell me that I’ve changed and wouldn’t fit back into Canadian society. From my perspective, I haven’t changed much, but Canada and Canadians have changed a lot. I’m a perfectly preserved specimen of 1994 L.B. canadianeis. Some of Canada’s evolution matches global trends, others are uniquely Canadian. Either way, we’re in agreement that I wouldn’t fit in anymore.

I’ve been pretty continuously outside Canada since 1994. When I left, the internet existed, but it was totally different than it is now. There were no browsers. Very few people had even heard of it. It certainly was not putting the world at your fingertips. I’ve written a bit (here) about how the internet has internationalized life in Taiwan. It has also internationalized Canada, particularly in rural area. Fads, fashions and trends are instantaneously global now. Growing up in Saskatchewan, we used to be able to watch a fashion trend arrive. It followed a certain pattern. If the trend was coming from Europe or New York, it would hit Toronto first. In a couple years it would arrive in Saskatchewan. If the trend came from Los Angeles or Asia, it would hit Vancouver first, and make its way to Saskatchewan in a year or less. Via travel and TV we’d be aware of what was happening in the major centers, it’s just that it would seem stupid until the fad actually swept over Saskatchewan.

The internet has changed my home for good and bad. Almost anything that is available anywhere in the world is also available in Saskatchewan which is more a part of the wider world. However, some of the more lunatic ideas sweeping social media have found fertile soil in Western Canada.

In particular a kind of anti-science—anti-fact—ethos pervades. The root cause would seem to be oil. Much of Western Canada really profited from the oil boom when China ramped up industry. At the national level a pro-oil Albertan Prime Minister was elected. He did what he could to stifle the spread of facts. He went to war with Environment Canada and tried to muzzle scientists. It had a Dark Ages feel—we can’t stand the light of knowledge, it scours the flesh so. Judging from social media, Western Canada is a sucker for every piece of unsubstantiated, nonscientific, BS that gets posted. I think the root cause is a strong desire to deny climate change in an attempt to help the oil industry. There is room for legitimate scientific debate on climate change. However, the people filling my social media with climate change denials don’t know anything about climatology. They back themselves up with pseudoscience and fallacious arguments: It flooded a hundred years ago, so all the flooding now cannot be caused by climate change; it snowed, climate change is a hoax. I know nothing about climate change, so I’m going to take the word of oil executives and the politicians they pay. Of course poor scientific education and a lack of critical thinking are partly to blame, but largely it is economic self-interest. In the words of Upton Sinclair:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The same thing is happening around the world, President Trump is trying to destroy the EPA and crash global climate change accords, because it’s all a hoax the world’s scientists concocted. His single-digit IQ and empirical research tells him so. Canada actually beat Trump down the path of ignorance.

I left Canada before the last oil-boom really got going. People didn’t try so desperately to deny science. There was always a kind of anti-intellectualism that I assume is common in farm communities, however no one was trying to say the earth is flat, vaccines are harmful, or that scientific knowledge must be stopped—it’s all bunkum. Now when I go home I do meet people desperate to be freed from knowledge’s oppressiveness. It’s weird.

Another area where Canada is following global trends is the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment. As essentially an immigrant myself, I find this one especially execrable. My contact with Canada mostly comes through family and friends in Western Canada. This may be skewing my understanding, the politics of Western Canada can be particularly vile. Maybe I’m looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but during the last major refugee crisis to hit Canada, we took a lot of Vietnamese boat people. I don’t think there was so much negativity around the refugees. We didn’t have a direct role in creating that crisis. Canadian military operations helped create the Syrian refugee crisis. Bomb the shit out of people and they’re going to run. I suppose the difference with Vietnamese refugees is Syrian refugees are a little too brown, and a lot too Muslim.

I guess I came of age in a much kinder and more humanistic Canada. Since I’ve been gone Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, and he brought Alberta’s political culture to the nation. Alberta politics has been borderline insane since 1935 when a right-wing populist party took control of the Provincial government and held it for almost forty years. Right-wing populism always has aimed to exploit voter’s fear and bigotry. That this political culture spread to the rest of Western Canada, and with the election of Stephen Harper, infected the national body politic, places me outside Canada’s Overton Window. National and provincial politics, and Canadian political discourse,  would undoubtedly cause reverse culture shock as 1994-Canadian meets 2019-Canadian.

The rise of endless war in the Middle East parallels my expat experience. Desert Storm I: The Genesis broke out while I was in Thailand, my first extended stay in Asia. Canadian troops were there for the original, the sequel, and all other messes in the Middle East, up to and including the Syrian crisis’s early days. I believe this continual war footing has had a strong effect on Canadian identity and psyche. It has been a slow moving change, so it seems like Canadians living in Canada are unaware of the changes. Blind patriotism, jingoism, my country—right or wrong—has increased since I’ve been gone. The Canada I grew up in hated this attitude. It was part of the reason Canadians feared being misidentified as American. To me opposite to blind patriotism partly defines Canada’s national identity. Seeing Canadians acting like Americans is disconcerting. This attitude also contributed to the rise of right-wing populism. The hate engendered in these politics were part of the lunatic fringe in my Canada. It is a lot more mainstream now.

During return trips to Canada the thing that has caused serious reverse culture shock has been massive inflation brought on by the oil boom. The Canadian dollar’s value rose dramatically without a commiserate drop in prices. Most Canadians were unaware of this inflation, because the prices they paid remained stable, but there was approximately a 25%-30% rise in the real cost of products. (The equivalent to how much the dollar rose in value). I sure noticed the difference as my Taiwanese money went much less far. The price of a trip home rose precipitously. The cost of servicing my Canadian student loan debt became very onerous.

Despite all these changes, it is nice to note that some things are shockingly consistent. Growing up in Western Canada was a continual political battle with Trudeau. Forty years later and it is—amazingly—the same. Kind of warms the heart.

Part II talks about some of the fun little sources of reverse culture shock. [See: Reflecting on Canada Part II]

Dancing Octopus Legs

I have mentioned in passing some of the odd foods available here, and there are some doozies, but the weirdest dishes passed my palate while living in Korea. There was the ever-popular street food—silkworm pupae. I came to quite enjoy a cup of worms as I strolled around window shopping. The taste and smell are not the best, but when you bite into one there is an initial crunchiness followed by a spurt of goo. Very satisfying. Then there was Korean dog soup, a favorite on cold winter days. The meat is dark, tangy, and shockingly delicious. It reminds me a bit of moose. I only ever had it one time. I was hungry when I first tucked into the bowl and well-able to power through, but as I ate, I became less hungry, until eventually every time I raised the spoon to my mouth I thought: “This is dog. This is dog. This is dog.” And, that was the end of that. Still, by far the weirdest food that I’ve eaten came in a high-end Korean sushi joint.

Now, personally, I can pretty much choke down anything. I may not enjoy it, but I get it done. It is one of the social graces I’ve developed living in Asia. If you’re invited to have dinner with a friend’s family, you should suck down your lightly boiled pig’s intestine, roasted pork fat, and under cooked chicken—and smile. This is the story of a newbie to Korea, who lacked my gustatory disposition, and a formal dinner party we attended together.

Tammy was a fresh graduate from an Ontario university. She was about 22 years old, and spending a year teaching in Korea was to be her first big international experience. It all seems romantic and wonderful when you’re young and sitting in Canada, and then you get here. Tammy arrived in my little corner of Hell—living in rural Korea thirty years ago really was a horror—a giggling mass of excitement and good intentions. The school director was happy to see her as he was short-staffed. I was happy to see her because I’d been living as the lone white guy in that Korean fishing village for months and I was going stark raving mad.

To celebrate Mr. Lee took the entire staff out for a nice Korean dinner. At that time in Yeosu (여수) if you wanted to go out for a decent meal you had two choices, sushi or Korean barbecue. Mr. Lee chose sushi. Yeosu’s sushi was hardcore, as you’d expect from a Korean fishing village. There were slabs of raw fish, uncooked mollusks and sea urchin, which if you’ve never tried is really tough to get down—there was none of this California Sushi Roll shit.

So, off we went to a restaurant. As we were a group of perhaps a dozen, we were able to get our own little private room, that had one of those tables with the legs cut short so that you could sit cross-legged on the floor while eating, Japanese style. The table ran parallel to the back wall of the room, so nearly half the people sat against the back wall, with the table in front of them. Tammy, as the guest of honor, was seated in the center of the table, with her back against the wall. There were at least two or three people on either side of her. On her left sat the boss, Mr. Lee, and on her right sat Mrs. Lee. The rest of us were randomly gathered around Tammy, who was the evening’s focal point.

As I’m telling this story, you have to bear in mind that this was 25+ years ago, and the availability of different types of food around the world has increased exponentially since then (The WTO and My Waistline). This was a time when not every gas station in Canada was serving sushi rolls. Most small- and medium-sized cities had no sushi. For the adventurous western Canadian, you could go to Vancouver and try it. Probably Toronto had sushi restaurants too.

So, this was a new experience for our girl Tammy. She bore up under the strain pretty well. It was very obvious to me, watching her face, that she was not enjoying the meal, but she managed to put on a reasonable show. You know, smiling, nodding, joining the conversation, complimenting the food, having a bit of Soju, and just generally holding her end socially. Neither the boss, nor any of the other Korean staff seemed to suspect just what a difficult time she was having choking down the food. Of course they wouldn’t. It was a really fine, high-end, dining experience—they weren’t looking for signs of dietary distress or nausea.

But, Tammy was showing all the classic signs. She was barely touching her food, while doing her best to appear to be enjoying the meal with all the fake gustatory verve she could muster.  But, a slightly closer look revealed she was green around the gills. Whenever she put some raw seafood in her mouth you could see that it wasn’t going anywhere. She would chew, and chew, and chew, trying to get it down, but it just stuck there. Inevitably she’d have to take a drink, and try to swallow it like a pill.

I’m not as fully evolved as I appear, I’m definitely capable of enjoying a bit of schadenfreude from time to time. I especially enjoy watching people suffer through culture shock, I suppose because I’ve spent so much of my life doing the same. I was seated opposite Tammy, and had a terrific view of the whole spectacle.

The meal was coming to an end, and Tammy, realizing the ordeal was ending, was visibly beginning to relax. I was proud of her. Then the final dish arrived. The table hushed in anticipation as the server came from the kitchen carrying the pièce de résistance. I knew something was wrong when I saw Tammy turning from sickly green to pale white. I looked over my shoulder to see the waitress carrying a large platter of slimy looking things—and they were moving. I had never seen the likes before. It looked like a heaping platter of wet writhing worms.

I turned my head back to the table, just in time to see Tammy, who was trapped between Mr. and Mrs. Lee, move her head to the left, and forcefully puke down Mr. Lee’s side, from ear to waist. Such a pity, she had done so well.

But, on the plus side, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Mr. Lee was an ass—it was awesome.

What had been delivered to our table turned out to be Korean-style Dancing Octopus Legs (video here). According to Wikipedia San-nakji (산낙지) is a raw long armed octopus (Octopus minor), a small octopus species. They are killed before being cut into small pieces and served. The octopus’ complex nervous system, with two-third of its neurons in the tentacle’s nerve cords, allows the octopus to exhibit a variety of reflex actions without brain activity. In other words, the tentacles move on the plate posthumously.

As a meal, the San-nakji was tough to stomach, but as dinner entertainment, it put on one hell of a show.

 

 

 

Profound Musings

This week I haven’t got a post. Life got in the way. However, I do have this decidedly off topic piece I prepared to celebrate passing my first half-century. It was my birthday this weekend. Here’s what I’ve learned from 50 years of living. I hope you enjoy it.

50 Years of Wisdom with Darren

1. Never fall in love with a stripper. If you fall in love with a stripper, don’t buy her new boobs. If you buy her new boobs, make sure you have touching privileges.

2. Scotch from China is not Scotch.

3. Never answer when your wife asks, “How does my _______ look in these ______ ?”

4. Always buy a couch that’s long enough to sleep on.

5. Karaoke is never a good idea. If you can’t avoid it, then own it. Sing loud, proud and off key.

6. That hot Thai chick with the Adam’s apple is a dude.

7. Go to 2nd base. She’s likely the most beautiful woman you’ll ever get, but avoid 3rd base – it’s frightful.

8. Middle aged white men can’t twerk.

9. Writing your name in the snow looks better after taking your vitamins.

10. 18-24 year old Asian girls really are better.

11. Don’t play sports – there’s no upside.

12. Hone a vacant disposition. It’ll serve you well in all your endeavors.

13. Spare no sympathy for vegetarians. It’s their own damn fault.

14. Don’t piss into the wind. (Same advice goes for puking).

15. Your ultra-healthy friend is just as likely to die as you, probably over their post-workout non-fat, no foam, chai soy latte. That’s no way to go.

16. Any penis worth its salt deserves a cool nickname.

17. If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re doing the wrong thing.

18. Perfectionism is an inability to prioritize.

19. Bacon is good on everything.

20. Alcohol is a temporary solution only if you stop drinking.

21. Marry a woman who makes less money than you. There’s less pressure to compensate in the bedroom.

22. My wife did not settle. She compromised. It’s different.

23. I’ve never met a happy couple where the husband is smarter than the wife.

24. Edible panties are best eaten straight out of the package.

25. Telling your love that her eyes are deep and piercing like two piss-holes in the snow (high-romance in Canada) does not translate well into Chinese.

26. When you get married don’t let your wife throw away all her g-strings. (She’ll want to).

27. Don’t stop your friend if he is about to unwittingly pee on an electric fence. (High-quality free entertainment is hard to find). Don’t stand behind him.

28. The problem with being a conservative is that you’re always on the wrong side of history. Time never flows backwards.

29. Single ply toilet paper builds character.

30. Salad is not food. It’s what food eats.

31. Men, don’t be embarrassed about your cleavage.

32. Men have difficulty expressing their emotions in words. Say it with interpretive dance. Chicks love that.

33. I once dated a Vogue model. There’s no deeper meaning to this entry. I just want everyone to know.

34. Skirts are best for car sex. Bing, bang, boom, and you’re back at the mall.

35. The problem with women is they always think you have potential. Potential for what?!?

36. If you find yourself shopping for vegetarian cookbooks as part of a grand scheme to get into some hottie’s pants, just walk away. It’s not worth it.

37. It takes a lot of time to do nothing.

38. Listen to no sense; speak no sense; anything less would be wasting the privilege of being old.

39. Strive to be just slightly above average in all that you do. Under-performing brings stress. Over-performing brings more [unpaid and under-appreciated] responsibilities, work, and stress. Just slightly better than average – that’s your sweet spot.

40. Women like it sweet; men like it dirty; and never the twain shall meet.

41. Don’t try to sit on a squat toilet.

42. Date pessimists – they don’t expect much.

43. Never give the object of your affection a romantic gift basket of deodorant. It seems no different than soap, bath oil, and perfume – yet it is (apparently).

44. When flying, always ask the head stewardess where and when that plane’s chapter of The Mile High Club is meeting, because you just never know.

45. Trans fats are the best fats.

46. The squeaky wheel is annoying.

47. If I could travel back to 1978, I’d kiss Wendy Hayes right on the playground. If she beat the crap out of me – so be it.

48. Smooth is good; honest is better.

49. Kissing was invented to prevent guys from saying something stupid right when they have the most to lose.

50. When you’re married, hotel sex is the closest thing you can get to the excitement of a new partner – doing it on a different bed, in front of a strange chair, while looking deeply into a mirror you’ve never seen before.

51. Peeing in the woods – macho good times. Pooping in the woods – just plain disgusting.

52. A great head of hair can hide most other social failings. Always use conditioner (f*ck Pert+, a separate conditioner – condition like a millionaire).

53. Never argue with a women, instead patiently explain to her why you’re right. That’s chivalry.

54. At formal functions, business meetings, PTA gatherings, job interviews, etc. follow church rules (i.e. put your booze in a thermos).

55. “That’s what she said,” is not witty repartee when talking to the female judge hearing your case.

56. Despite what your mother says, all the cool kids do not wear bedazzled slacks to high school.

57. When ending a long term relationship always put a puppy with heart eyes emoji at the end of the text. That’s class!

58. Only sleep with people crazier than you. I’m not sure this is really good advice, but it always seems to work out that way, so you may as well embrace it and try to enjoy the ride.

59. If everything seems to be going well at work, you’re out of the loop.

60. Should you find yourself at a hair waxing salon, in a curious/adventurous/metrosexual mood – do not try the “Between the Cheeks” special.

61. If you do, have Johnny Cash’s cd queued up. The lyrics to Burning Ring of Fire will never be more personally meaningful.

62. A full Brazilian will not make your penis look larger.

63. Paradoxically, Brazilian barbecue makes it look like you have more meat.

64. Your parent’s stupidity is inversely proportional to your maturity.

65. Look upon the world with wry humor in your heart and a smirk on your face, for then the world will never disappoint you.

66. Yogi Bear 3D is the movie of our generation.

67. The advantage to dating young women (besides the obvious) is they can’t tell the difference between intriguing and fucked up.

68. Black and white is for the young, when you get older you find only hard and harder decisions.

69. Skidmark is not as cool a nickname as it sounds.

70. If life hands you lemons, buy salt and tequila.

71. Even people who are total shits may have an underlying good; even a turd can contain a kernel of corn.

72. The microbial flora in your intestines has more to do with happiness than your bank account.

73. A baculum might be nice.

74. When one has a penis such as mine, one does not do dishes.

75. When you reach 50 you can no longer distinguish between the hip trends and the ones that are just stupid. Frankly, it’s a relief.

76. Young children are an unending source of joy and wonder for fifteen minutes.

77. You realize how insignificant you are when you pee in the ocean.

78. You can’t ruin a friendship with sex, that’s like trying to ruin ice cream with chocolate syrup and sprinkles.

79. Moody self-obsession is only attractive in men who can play guitar.

80. You can lead your mother to the dough, but you can’t make her pinch perogies.

81. Never throw away (delete for you young whipper snappers) porn.

82. I haven’t got a problem with God, it’s his fans that annoy me.

83. Men don’t like taking instructions unless it involves really complex lingerie.

84. If you forget your wife’s birthday – don’t panic. You can make a romantic handcrafted gift from easily available household items. With just a pair of her old panties and scissors you can create a lovely pair of crotchless panties.

85. Whatever happens in Bangkok doesn’t count.

86. The best way out is by going through.

87. Faster horses; younger women; older whisky; and more money. That’s what it’s all about.

88. I don’t care what you’re excuse is – grandma panties are never okay.

89. At least once in your life you need to rock a unitard.

90. Believe or don’t believe; you can only follow the path your senses reveal to you.

91. If a woman is dressed in such a way as to expose half her boobs and I look – I’m the pervert. If I expose myself and a woman looks – I’m the pervert.

92. Marriage brings many positive changes if you keep an open mind. For example, when we got married my wife insisted that we buy a second towel. I thought she was crazy. Now I like it – very opulent. It’s nicer than using the bath mat.

93. Never regret the stupid things you’ve done; regret the stupid things you could have done.

94. Rum is a natural laxative. Do with that what you may.

95. It’s only kinky the first time.

96. Never make snow angels in a dog park.

97. You get all the greens you need from grass fed beef.

98. Everything in life truly worth doing can be done in the shower.

99. Never take two steps when one will do. If that leaves surplus free time, that’s why God invented sofas.

100. Never miss the chance to do something nice for your fellow man in a really dickish way. Doing good pleases the soul. Being a dick thrills the id.

101. All I know is there’s more than I know.