Monday, November 25, 2013

Impressions in Canada

I just returned from a whirlwind tour of Canada, visiting Niagara, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa in seven days, meeting my wife's relatives and visiting places of interest that would fit in a day, eating local foods promoted by television shows like Diners and Dives in the Food Network channel. It was an enjoyable trip despite the hectic pace, focusing on reunions, meeting relatives and eating local food, sharing a camaraderie evolving out of a shared lineage, culture and country. It was a time of reminiscing and story telling, of road trips filled with jokes in the Ilocano dialect as old friends were met, going into grand churches built in the ancient and ornate Catholic manner (way too much in my opinion) as compared to the Puritan lines of the Protestant churches of the South. We walked the streets at night and in the morning, talking and discovering the city of Montreal and Ottawa and Toronto, swapping stories and jokes, drinking hot coffee to relieve the cold of the coming winter.

It is interesting to know that English Loyalist in the Carolinas migrated to Canada particularly to Quebec and Ontario after the English defeat in the American revolution, escaping the wrath of the Patriots after the defeat of Cornwallis in Yorktown. Centuries later, their Canadian descendants would come back to the South to help their poor cousins by buying bankrupt banks; the icon Dominion of Toronto bank significantly displayed in both cities of Toronto and Greenville. It was a fitting conclusion to my studies in American history after reading Barbara Tuchman's 'The First Salute' and attending various revolutionary war reenactments in Musgrove Mill, Spartanburg and Camden and, finally,  visiting the English dominion of Canada where the Loyalist fled. I also enjoyed a brief visit to Buffalo, the former great industrial city bordering Niagara falls, where William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, paving the way for Theodore Roosevelt, both figures who played a significant role in the occupation of the Philippines on the way to the rise of American global power.

It was a welcome respite from my hectic work and I had a chance to meet an old friend in Toronto, talking about old times and discussing the future, seeing how the Filipino diaspora has thrived in cities like Toronto and Montreal, with flashes of history and connections all around as Filipinos migrated across the seas into a better life. Now we have become part of the affluent class, the consumer society declining in the West, as documented in a book I brought along with me 'Time to Think' written by Luce an English reporter of the Financial Times, serving as a modern Tocqueville by relaying the malaise that inflicts American Society, seemingly drifting into decay like those old industrial cities of the north like Buffalo and Toledo and Detroit, overshadowed by the resurgence of the American south where multinationals now build their plants, benefiting from lower cost and the right to work statues. I had an interesting discussion on this topic while drinking with a Canadian who was born in Jamaica, a kind man who worked as an accountant before retiring, listening to him rail against corruption and decay in both sides of the border.

I had dreaded the vacation before leaving, reluctant to miss a day of work, neglecting my responsibility to my relative, but I had needed a break, to recharge my batteries and rethink new strategies. Travelling to a different country is the best solution, recalling the biography on Winston Churchill by the historian Paul Johnson who wrote that Churchill's gift was in conserving his energy and in seeking a break from his hectic job; Churchill was an expert in having a good time, eating good food, drinking fine wine, painting, travelling and having excellent conversations. I had hopes to achieve a certain relaxation and distance from work by travelling to Canada, meeting my wife's relatives and being embraced into the closeness of their community; eating bagels and smoked meats in Montreal, Buffalo wings and roast beef in wek sandwiches in Buffalo, Saigon noodles and spicy curry in Toronto, lamb and basmati rice in Ottawa and reunion dinners with pakbet, roast pork, Chinese takeout, German beer, Philippine sausages and suman in the warm rooms in apartments and large  houses of friends and relatives. It was enough for me to gather my wits despite minor episodes of irrational fear and doubt, by a mind that never fails to dwell in the past. One should just breakaway and walk in the glass floor of CN Tower, aware that one would not fall to the ground though paralyzed with fear and unable to move because of a mental delusion.

My close friend in Toronto gave me the answer; to avoid being emotional and attack the problem without emotion or feelings, similar to the lesson of the Bhagavad Gita, not to dwell on the fruit of the effort but on the necessity of the task. My mind never fails to dwell on past thoughts, perhaps fueled by a wrong turn in one's mental growth, when trying to develop creative skills, to delve in the past with sentimentality, perhaps that is what hindering me, the sentimentality of a fool, prone to emotions and feeling when there is no place for such trivialities in the modern world. The government shutdown was an act of sentimentality, of emotion,the inability to accept facts and logical reasoning; perhaps that is the reason someone like the president, known for his coolness cannot tolerate the fierce emotionalism of the tea party as they hanker for the past. Canada on the other hand, did not seem to have any emotion, like the government is ran like a machine, its citizens taxed in an all expense paid welfare state; perhaps that is why the Toronto mayor is popular despite his drug filled excessive lifestyle, an  episode of color a midst a drab though highly sophisticated surrounding, where a leading cause of teenager death is by suicide.

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