Canada's Racist Money

We are sorry that we haven't updated in a while. It's summer and we're busy enjoying life and you know what? You should be too. Get off the internet, we'll see you at the beach.

One day soon, we are going put up a Q&A with illustrator Ness Lee, a Hilarious-Hakka-Chinese-Canadian whose stuff we love love love. Above, her take on today's news that the Bank of Canada wussed out on putting an Asian woman on our $100 bill because of some random jerks in a random focus group. If you want to hear Denise Balkissoon's take on it, go here.

But really, you should go to the beach.

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.

The Shipment: On now at Harbourfront

If you’re looking for a soft and fuzzy feel good play to ease you into a discussion of racism, then Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment isn't for you. While “dissect[ing] what it means to be [B]lack in America,” Lee pulls no punches, spares no feelings and handles no one with kid gloves.

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Teachable Moment: Ethnic Cleansing vs. Taxes

Yesterday, CTV hosted a six-minute debate on the Ontario NDP's proposed tax increase for people making $500,000 or more a year. The guests were Jim Doak of Megantic Asset Management and Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

During the discussion, Jim Doak twice referred to the proposed tax as a form of "ethnic cleansing." This bit of hyperbole rather distracted me from the issue at hand - how best to deal with the economic challenges facing Ontario in 2012. It's surprising that someone as accomplished as Jim Doak, a graduate of U of T and McGill, would confuse two things so inherently different. One is deciding what portion of one's salary is required for good governance. The other is terror, war and systematic murder.

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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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Some Like It Hot

Indian food is the best kind of food.

These aren’t my words but those of my mother. All my life, as I substituted salads for her cooking in an attempt to lose weight, she’d convince everyone at the table that I would never achieve my desired results until I started eating Indian food for every meal, every day. So, I rebelled, completely ditching my diet. I asked my dad, who was more open to a multicultural palette, if we could eat somewhere non-Indian.

I took my parents to eat some Thai, which has slightly similar flavours to Indian. My mum said she could make it at home. I took my parents to Chili’s to have some nachos. My mum said she could make it at home. I took my parents out for pasta at the best Italian restaurant in town. My mum said she could make it at home. I snapped. I challenged my mum to forego her regular schedule of cooking daal and rice to baking a batch of nachos. What happened next blew my mind.

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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.

How to Learn or Unlearn Any Accent, Guaranteed

By Denise Balkissoon

Something about YouTube How-To videos really cracks me up. Once I watched a 12-minute video on making a t-shirt into a tank top, which involved a really made-up blond American teenager paaiiiiinfully explain to me how to cut the sleeves off a t-shirt. It's kind of ballsy that people presents themselves as experts on any given topic that they're currently into, and cringe-inducing when they are so, so far from experts at...anything.

So, I thought I'd gather the Tube's best videos on learning or unlearning accents. Next, I'll make a How-To video on culling YouTube videos. Meta.

[youtube] Informative video from Mikey Bustos of Canadian Idol fame: "It's worth noting that the Pilipino language lacks 'he' and 'she' pronouns. That is why many Pilipinos get 'he' and 'she' mixed up - 'I like Ricky Martin, her music is berry good.'"

[youtube] YouTube girls seem to think Edwin Chang is hot. I think he should regret this three-year-old video on doing a Chinese accent: "What you gotta do is like go to local shops or whatever...over time by listening to the way they speak, you can sort of catch it."

[youtube] The first of 10 (!) instructional videos on how to speak with a Glasgow accent. See, this is the kind of thing that kills me - if I were inviting the whole world into my home, I'd personally put away my laundry.

[youtube] This tracksuit-wearing Greek accent instructor is way intense. Best comment: "way to talk about greek accent when you actually speak greek with an american accent...."

[youtube] Warm up exercises for accent reduction. Start off with a nice ho-hum to really open up the throat.

[youtube] Spazzed out GTA teens attempt to teach West Indian accents. "Allyuh? See allyuh deh?" Alas, their sound is almost as bad as their "badass" attitudes.

[youtube] Reverse racism! Tokyo boy speaks in "redneck." What is wrong with people? Technology sucks.

What to watch at the 2011 Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival

By Jef Catapang

The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival kicks off its 15th anniversary with an opening gala screening of Lover's Discourse tonight at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Directed by Derek Tsang Kwok Cheung and Jimmy Wan, the lush exploration of love and heartbreak is one of our top picks of films to check out this week.

Need help navigating Reel Asian's great program for this year? Check below for a list of five films to catch at the 2011 Reel Asian Festival.

* * *

Lover's Discourse


Stringing together four Hong Kong tales that run the range from fleeting meet-cute to heavy heartache, Lover's Discourse is a bittersweet look at the addictive properties of love. Combining the rush of Before Sunrise with the slow letdown of In the Mood for Love, the film explores a larger picture of romance while also avoiding abstraction. Some stories will resonate more deeply than others, but all of the characters are wonderfully acted and the entire package is beautifully shot. Features singers Kay Tse and Kit Chan.

Tuesday, Nov. 08, 7:00 pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre

Saigon Electric


A Vietnamese hip-hop dance flick? Sold by the summary! The set-up is the familiar trope of a traditional dancer who moves to the city and encounters hip-hop for the first time, but Saigon Electric's similarity to Hollywood dance flicks ends there. Featuring authentic teens with real b-boy/b-girl skills and a refreshingly insightful class consciousness (this movie isn't about the traditional dancer co-opting hip-hop and learning how to throw-down in a five minute montage), the film is as comfortably real during its lively dance numbers as it is during its quiet character moments.

Friday, Nov. 11, 8:45 pm at The Royal

Bleak Night


After the suicide of his son, an absent father tracks down his son's two best friends. Hoping to understand who his son was and why he took his own life, it becomes clear that blame is something easily passed around and that ties with even friends and fathers can be tenuous at best. Though utilizing a challenging time-shift structure, Bleak Night is an arresting film that lives up to its title. Exploring a darker side of high school male friendships, the film is well worth the viewer attention it demands.

Saturday, Nov. 12, 2:45 pm at The Royal

Piercing 1


An oddball animated flick, Piercing 1 is a timely story featuring a disillusioned college grad caught in a world full of scheming businessmen and corrupt officials. Once holding dreams of living large in the big city, Zhang Xiaojun now spends most of his time sitting around smoking cigarettes, gossiping about the success of the others and reminiscing about the simpler countryside lifestyle. From artist and first-time director Liu Jian, the film has visual style and substance to match.

Saturday, Nov. 12, 10:30 pm at The Royal

Buddha Mountain


Li Yu follows her confrontational Lost in Beijing with Buddha Mountain, a much more reserved film that is nonetheless raw and affecting. Following a tightly-knit group of three burnout friends who end up renting a room from a retired opera singer, the film bounces the trio's dejected worldviews off of the former diva's memories of greatness and tragedy. A trip to the mountainous ruins of the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 leads to realizations that are a bit heavy-handed, but still genuine with beautiful bits of subtlety throughout.

Sunday, Nov. 13, 8:00 pm at The Royal

Shortlist: Full Metal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos and Jump Ashin!

The 2011 Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival runs from November 8-13 in Toronto at various venues and November 18-19 in Richmond Hill at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Check the Reel Asian website for more info.

Get The Ethnic Aisle To Go!

If you've just started reading us, welcome! (Longtime readers are totally welcome too!) We've collected all our posts during summer 2011 in this handy Kindle edition, where we discuss topics like the times we were racist, how queer pride and ethnicity intersect, and the merits of delicious, delicious "ethnic" foods. Grab your copy and we hope you enjoy your stroll down the Ethnic Aisle. :)

Teachable Moments: Spiritual Gangster

What we're making fun of today: the "yoga" clothing line Spiritual Gangster.

Denise: Were we discussing Spiritual Gangster?

Anupa: No. But is that the yoga clothing line?

Denise: Yes...weren't we? Like way a long time ago? Anyway. they're selling it at my yoga studio,  sigh

Anupa: Ohhhh. I thought it was someone else i was discussing it with. Hahahah. How does it make you feel?

Denise: Sad. Sad at yoga people

Anupa:  Why would someone think that's an okay name for a clothing line? Like really.

Denise: Because they are yoga.  They probably think they're reclaiming both words.

Anupa: We should write an open letter Dear Spiritual Gangster, STFU. Sigh

Denise: Lolol what?

Anupa:  I am tired

Denise: I thought you were sighing about how hilarious you are

Anupa:  It is very convenient that their about page isn't working right now. I would've loved to read the description Denise: vomit

Anupa: Why is it $44?

Denise: Right?

Anupa: I wish i could comment on there "Why is this $44?"

Denise: It comes with spiritual vibrations. This is making me like actually mad. But also I am laughing at myself. Are people going to understand why it's annoying?

Anupa:  I think we should maybe try and explore it a little otherwise we're going to sound like yawny brown oppositeyuppies

Denise:  Ok well - I will admit, I wear Lululemon. But I always say, love the clothes, hate the brand. Their "Love! Feel! Breathe!" shit is annoying, but they do make good, structural workout clothes. Whereas...this is just about shopping. But pretending it's deep. Yeah?

Anupa:  Sure. Or "branding." Barf. I mostly only buy Lululemon when it's on sale. Basically nothing justifies $100 stretchy pants for me. Also, everyone in there is an asshole.

Denise:  I go more for the shirts. Ummm...but also the word "gangster"?

Anupa:  I know, right? It is weird because it's basically utterly confusing? But also seems like the yuppiest thing to say ever? I kind of resent atheist, agnostic whites borrowing spirituality from yoga. Which is why I prefer the least "spiritual" studios possible.

me:  And also all the models are super skinny super long-haired white girls. Kind of what I like about yoga is when women that aren't your "typical" hot body are super muscular and flexi.

I'm sad about my studio carrying these, sob

Anupa is busy. You may be interrupting.

It'll always be Caribana to us!


Toronto's annual Caribbean festival underwent a major branding change this year, with the end result of the fray being a tacky corporate renaming of the long-running summer bash that originated in 1967! We like to keep it old school here at the Ethnic Aisle (shout out SkyDome, Paramount Theatre!) so check out our little acronymic ode to our favourite, local fete below.

But first, Trinidadian transplant Renee Sylvestre-Williams wonders if her refusal to attend this weekend's festivities--uh, every year--makes her a bad Trini.

Cops will jump up too; all you have to do is ask!

Arrive early to the parade, or you'll be wandering aimlessly down Lakeshore forever.

Royalty, West Indian-style is better than any fascinator Kate Middleton ties to her head. Watch the coronation of the carnival King and Queen tonight at Allan Lamport Stadium.

If you haven't planned your Caribana outfit yet, get thee to Costa Blanca for a surplus of "fun and stretchy," post-haste!

Beware Yonge Street on Caribana Friday.

American guys think they are at a premium up here, ladies and gays: do not entertain them.

Need libations along the parade route? Look for my friend Brad selling water, pop, and airplane bottles of booze if you ask nicely, out of his cooler.

After it's all over, let us know how it goes--we'll be at the cottage!