A Dubliner’s Rantings on St Patrick’s Day

Starting off, let’s confront St. Patrick’s Day head-on with a Dubliner’s Rant by Séamus Conaty. “Patty! Really? Patty? That is either an old WASPy woman’s name or a delightful Jamaican pastry, not Ireland’s main man.”

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Authenticity at Jane and Finch: African Dutch Wax Fabrics

During my early childhood, my Ghanaian immigrant parents decided to move our family to the north Toronto neighbourhood of Jane and Finch. Jane and Finch hosts one of the largest Ghanaian communities in the city, so I became quite accustomed to seeing small parades of women (and occasionally their spouses and children) covered head to toe in African print fabrics.

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Kim's Convenience: On now at Soulpepper

Esther Jun as Janet and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as her father, Mr. Kim

Esther Jun as Janet and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as her father, Mr. Kim

By Denise Balkissoon

Every second-gen* daughter of a workaholic immigrant father should go see Kim's Convenience. Mr. Kim may be Korean, not Trinidadian, and he's a shopowner in Regent Park, not an electrician-turned-politician in Scarborough, but I'm pretty sure he got his schtick from my dad. Item A: fatherly concern wrapped up in insults. Guaranteed my dad has come out with just what Mr. Kim asks Janet: "Why not do something 'real' and make your your low-earning, arty job a 'hobby'? What? Why are you mad now?" Item B: Brutal, bone-cutting arguments about who owes who what, in terms of money, time and respect in this new land where none of the traditional rules apply. Item C: Oceans of intense love tussling for shelf space with old-school notions of masculinity, culture and honour.

Every member of the Kim's cast did a fantastic job breathing real personalities into the classic immigrant archetypes that we think we understand, but probably haven't though enough about. As a note-perfect Eau de Convenience Store wafted from the stage, Mr. and Mrs. Kim conversed in Korean, yet the audience kind of knew what they were saying. So real, and so brilliant.

I can't say if Kim's Convenience is actually Toronto's play of the year because I am a boor who never goes to plays. But in this one, I saw myself, and I saw my city, not just its hardworking past, but its brave, mongrel future.

Kim's Convenience is on now at the Young Centre in the Distillery. It's almost sold out, but there are still tickets left in mid-June. Grab 'em, now. 

*Or maybe I mean first-gen? Copy editors and genealogists, help me out here.

Shame and the Shalwar Kameez

My mom's not a jeans and t-shirt type of girl.

And now in her mid-50s, it's doubtful she'll ever be one. My mom feels most comfortable in the traditional Pakistani shalwar-kameez, a loose-fitting tunic top and flowing pajama-like pants that billow in the wind every time I see her walk out of our Mississauga home.

Her outfits often have unimaginable bright hues, anywhere from magenta to parrot green, colours that seem to blind you on a cold, tombstone-grey Canadian winter day. They always grab my attention.

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Toronto, Growing Up

By Denise Balkissoon

Launching at the Gladstone this Tuesday, December 6, is One Millionth Tower, the latest installment of Highrise, the NFB's webstravaganza (wait, I hate made-up words. Sorry). If you haven't seen the site yet, you know nothing about Toronto, since the Emmy-award winning project is the best bit of storytelling yet produced about the 1,000 highrise towers in Toronto's outer suburbs, and the ten of thousands of people who live there.

Luckily, director Katarina Cizek has been doing a cracking job. The first installment, The Thousandth Tower, took us into the lives of six Torontonians who live in these vertical communities. Since then, she's led planners, architects, musicians and many, many enthusiastic residents in putting together a next-level web project that looks at towers all over the world.

The new segment, One Millionth Tower, re-imagines what life could be like for the residents of two adjacent towers on Kipling Ave. It's fun and energizing to walk through the virtual landscape - and Owen Pallet and Jim Guthrie helped with the soundtrack. In inspiring the hundreds of people who live here to imagine life with a vegetable garden or a dance studio, Highrise has helped instigate actual change: last summer, residents and a local charity got together to build a playground to replace a desolate and decrepit basketball court.

This is a global issue - the Highrise site points out that over a billion people worldwide live in mid-century apartment buildings that are starting to develop serious repair issues. As much as Toronto's brown 1970s towers might be eyesores, it's unrealistic to talk of tearing them down and replacing the majority of the city's affordable rental housing stock (and, you know, condescending to the people that live there). But we do have to figure something out - as the United Way's Vertical Poverty report points out, these complexes are troubled, structurally and economically. Many are out in the outer suburbs, where new immigrants and low-income communities become increasingly isolated as public transit gets increasingly crappy.

So far, Mayor Rob Ford hasn't made an official statement about the future of the Tower Renewal project. Let's hope that no news is good news.

The Problem With Food and Authenticity, Part One: The Restaurant

By Chantal Braganza

A year ago I interviewed a brilliant and incredibly nice woman named Lily about a book she wrote. It’s called Eating Chinese; a perceptive look at how Chinese-owned restaurants in Canada both invigorated the country’s restaurant industry in the early 1900’s and, in some cases, created cuisines of their own. If you’re interested in food, immigration issues and Canadian history, this is a read I would suggest. Among many things, what Lily’s book does remarkably well is make a case for North American-Chinese cooking as a legitimate cuisine. And by North American-Chinese cooking, I mean the stuff no one ever thinks of as “authentic” anymore: egg rolls, chop suey, sweet & sour and moo shoo pork.

With time, our ideas in this part of the world about what food is change. Fifty years ago we’d go on dates and bring our kids to restaurants with such sino-colourful names as Gold Mountain or Red Dragon, awkwardly slurp a bowl of egg foo yong with these newfangled things called chopsticks and tell ourselves we were eating something exotic—the way everyone, every person, from all over the most populated country in the world, ate at home in China.

By the late nineties, and definitely now, to certain types of food lovers there is no such thing as Chinese (and yes, rightly so). There’s Szechuan, Hong Kong and Hunan, sure. Double points if you can pin what you’re eating to a specific city. Triple if the person who made it is actually from there.

Lily told me funny research stories about poring over archived menus, photos, even grocery orders while working on the thesis that later became a book. None of these made it to the story, which was kind of a shame.

One time, she looked at the grocery orders from a migrant Chinese cook who worked for a wealthy family in Alberta a long time ago. I never wrote down when. It wasn’t in a major city, so he would have had to send out orders weekly for the household’s food. She looked at what the cook was ordering and could figure out what kind of dishes the cook was making based on the ingredients. When more vinegar was being ordered, more sweet and sour dishes were happening. Bell peppers and onions for improvised stir-fries were a common occurrence. As with a number of Chinese restaurant owners who by the Second World War no longer felt they had to serve canned spaghetti and hot beef sandwiches to stay in business, this cook was simply using ingredients available with techniques he knew to make what he could.

“What’s so interesting about these kinds of Chinese restaurants,” Lily told me, “is that they take what that question of ‘What is Chinese?’ reveals, and they give it back to them. They say, well, ‘Here’s what you think real Chinese food is, and this is what we think you want.’ They were incredibly perceptive, these restaurant owners, at reading the communities they were in, and giving back to people a version of it.”

And you know what? That version’s actually pretty great if you know where to go. Try the chicken balls at China Gourmet, and tell me I’m wrong.

Top Ten Assumptions I Make Because I'm From Hong Kong

By Simon Yau

Oh sure, everybody knows that people make generalisations about other people based on ethnicity. I’m supposed to be good at math, for example, or be able to run atop a cedar forest (which I totally can do).

I’m not here to throw a pity party though. Let’s face it, we’re all human, we all make assumptions. So here are 10 things I take for granted about other people just because of where I’m from.

1) People know what HK is

What, you mean you don’t refer to Hong Kong by its initials? I thought that was a universally accepted colloquialism, like A.C. or the P.R.C. Maybe I should have just named this point “Chinese people love acronyms”.

2) Not everybody eats all of an animal

Sure, people might think I’m weird when I say I eat tripe or chicken feet on the regular. But you know what? If your entire diet consists of items I can order at a Firkin pub, I’m judging you just as much — so, you know. We’re square.

3) People have heard of ‘Infernal Affairs’

That’s INFERNAL with an F. What the heck is a Departed anyways?

4) Everyone is tiny

I make this assumption because in Canada, I buy clothes sized XS and they fit me perfectly. In Hong Kong, I am a size XL. That kind of disparity will confuse a dude.

5) Cups are redundant

True story: until about grade 10, my house had no cups. We only had mugs. I mean, I guess my parents figured why have separate vessels for hot and cold liquids when you could drink both out of a mug perfectly well? And the weird part is all my friends had no cups either! I swear cups weren’t in vogue amongst Hong Kong immigrants until 1997. I will believe this until the day I die.

6) Instant Noodles are an acceptable breakfast food

I’ve touched on this before in Ask a Chinese Person, but eating instant noodles will not make you a social pariah in Hong Kong. If you are scarfing down pre-packaged Beef Flavoured Ramen noodles at 9am, it does not signify that you need to get your shitty life together or that you’re still living like a college student. It means you are having a delicious brunch, particularly with a raw egg and some spam. Bon appetit.

7) Girls expect to be doted on

Speaking of generalisations, I feel I can safely say that in Hong Kong dating culture, men are… how shall we put this delicately… whipped? It’s very common to see a dude carrying his girl’s Gucci purse around the mall for her, even when she has nothing in her hands. Or standing beside her in a clothing store while she picks out dresses while holding her shopping bags. It’s weird. But it’s true.

8) Pizza Hut is a classy dinner

Ok, FIRST OFF, in HK people like thousand island dressing on their pizza. SECONDLY, Pizza Hut is a classy joint over there. I mean, it’s the same Pizza Hut, but it’s not the equivalent of Pizza Hut here, if that makes any sense. It has the cache of say, The Keg. It would be fine to take your parents to Pizza Hut for their birthday. So reverse that and imagine going somewhere The Keg was considered junk? Culture shock!

9) Parents do not show affection towards each other

Unless you mean helping each other do chores around the house. But no joke, I have never seen my parents kiss. Ever. Unless they were just accidentally head butting each other in the face reaching for the same item from the car cubby.

10) All kids live at home as long as they want

When I found out Western parents encouraged their kids to move out, I was blown away. If my folks had things their way, we’d be like a farm house with all my siblings raising their children in the same building. As it were, living at home into your 30′s is completely typical amongst many people I know. It’s cost efficient you know — mortgages are for the weak.