Canadians and Americans Abroad

A paper I wrote for my English class – American friends please don’t take offence, as I know you are well traveled! I thought it went well with the theme of my page – all be it a tad more formal than the rest of my writing.

“Welcome to Vancouver, Canada, ladies and gentlemen, it’s currently 2:55 Pacific time. The outside temperature is fifteen degrees Celsius and we have a slight drizzle. We hope you enjoy your stay in Vancouver, or enjoyed your time away.” Many of us Vancouverites have heard this announcement many times in our lives. At this point you stand up, grab all of your carry-on items, and wait in the jammed airplane aisle before walking off the plane, and taking a deep breath of our amazing, unmistakable Vancouver air. You’re home, and though you may have been traveling for two days by this point, had a crying baby driving you crazy on the plane, left a loved one in tears on the other side of the world or are just getting home after an amazing and life changing time away, you can’t help but smile at this point. We love to travel in Canada, we love to travel to the south, and we love to travel overseas. This is not the same as our North American counterparts, to the south. Canadians travel abroad more than Americans, are generally viewed in a better light, while also having more open minds in the new places they are visiting. We may live right next to each other, but we journey in very different ways.

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Do you remember your first trip outside of Canada? There’s a good chance it was across our only land border, to America. Canadians’ number one travel destination is the USA, while American’s number one pick is across their southern border to Mexico. A much larger percentage of Canadians have been across their southern border than Americans. Only twenty-nine percent of Americans have passports, according to the State Department Report put out in 2011. On the other hand, there are Canadians, of whom sixty-four percent have valid passports, according to Passport Canada’s 2010/2011 Report. Obviously, there are many more Americans than Canadians, so there’s still many more of them traveling, but percentagewise much more of our total population journeys out abroad. Canadians and Americans both travel most on home soil; road trips, camping, cottages and cabins are high on our lists of favourite choices. Both nations like to explore new places, but Canadians like to explore many more places than the Americans to our south. Why don’t Americans have the same desire to see the world as the Canucks to the North of them?

It might have a great deal to do with the fact that Canadians and Americans are viewed very differently by the world. While Americans might be seen as warmongers, Canadians are often thought to be peacekeepers. We live in our igloos and play lots of hockey. They rule the world and live in the ‘Land of the Free’. We proudly sew a maple leaf flag to our backpack before heading overseas, while many Americans don’t like to share that they are indeed American while away. While some of these might be stereotypes – they are the stereotypes that are believed by the world outside of North America. Clearly, Canada and America are admired and disliked for different things, but since America is constantly in the spotlight there are many more reasons for the world to criticize their ways. Would you want to cross the world, only to be looked down on? Americans do things, and the world takes notice, which may be why many Americans are quite happy just staying home, where they don’t have to explain or defend themselves. Canadians, on the other hand, are loved nearly everywhere they go in the world and want to see it all. We don’t stir the pot; some would offer up the idea that we don’t stand up for anything enough, but we Canadians are quite proud to be our neutral selves, and the world seems to appreciate it. To the world, Americans appear to be strong and powerful, while Canadians are viewed as quiet observers. Obviously, this is not the case where all Canadians, or all Americans are concerned, but it does seem to be the perspective from the outside.

North America is a multi-cultural haven. There are people from all parts of the world represented in both small and large ways. Canadians have always been open to having minorities represented – just look at Quebec. This piece of our history has created an open-minded nation. Canadians enjoy learning about different cultures, many of which are represented in Canada. We aren’t scared to do things in different ways when we venture away. Canadians are open to change and embrace differences. We want to learn and know about those who are or could be our neighbours. Americans like to do things their way, no matter where they are. They have had issues with many countries, throughout their history, who view the world different than them. This history is reflected when they travel; they enjoy the comforts of home, and have a harder time adapting. I’ll be honest; I, a Canadian, have had a hard time adapting while traveling – bed bugs in India, a hole in the ground for a toilet in Laos, and over fifty degree heat (while by Canadian standards dressed for fall) in the Emirates, but I jumped into life in those places, with both feet, and went with it. I got out of the bed bug infested house, carried tissues in my bag at all times, and sweat like a Canadian in the Middle East! Not all Canadians would have reacted the way I did, nor would all Americans have reacted differently, but when such a large percentage of your total population isn’t seeing anything different than their everyday, you’d have to guess it wouldn’t have been pretty! When really, all the differences are what make the world such an amazing place to explore!

We’re right next to each other, we have many things in common, think about many things in the same ways and have similar work and social lifestyles, yet when it comes to traveling abroad – it’s not parallel. A large percentage of Canadians venture overseas, while only a small percentage of Americans do the same. Canadians are appreciated overseas, and appreciate all overseas has to offer, while Americans have a harder time being admired in many places, and don’t adapt to new environments as easily as Canadians. Though we originally came from the same places to get to where we are, we don’t journey out in the same way anymore.

the day we got nowhere.

At the moment I’m in the common room at the guesthouse where I’m staying – the old gentleman who owns the place has decided to try to make conversation with me. The conversation ended about ten minutes ago – yet he’s still here staring at me. No, not awkward at all….

Bollywood: the biggest film industry outside of America. Huge stars, blockbusters and paparazzi are all in Mumbai with it too. During orientation today we got to watch a Bollywood movie to understand Indian culture a little better and listen to more Hindi. It was a film that’s been played in Indian theatres for 800 weeks. No that is not a typo – indeed it’s been playing in theatres here for 16 years. It is a blockbuster! We had some good laughs watching; there’s lots of singing and dancing and it took place in Punjab which turns out is beautiful!

Once we were done our movie, we headed for lunch, which took too long. We were planning to go to Gandhi Smitri – the house where Gandhi was living when he was shot. It’s been preserved, has some of his belongings and a memorial. We thought we’d maybe make it just in time to get in still so we left lunch and tried to get a rickshaw – we must have looked like we had the plague or something, as none of the rickshaws wanted anything to do with us! At this point we know there’s no way we’re going to get to Gandhi Smitri on time so a new plan is devised.

We finally get a rickshaw and head to Connaught Place to wander the markets instead. We get there and look around in confusion as we don’t see a market… Oh turns out it’s under construction! Fail. We wander a bit at the shops that are there, I see a man wearing a shirt that says ‘The best thing about a blowjob is the twenty minutes of silence,’ then this young guy tells us there’s a mall down the road, he’ll show us the way. We humor him and follow – there’s no way of getting out of people knowing you’re a tourist here! He chats and chats, asks us lots of questions, we’re sweating to death and I need to pee.

We finally get to an emporium – not a mall – we’re fine with it and go in to wander. Everything is extremely overpriced. We chat with the salespeople a bit – the jewelry guy was pretty humorous and was born the same day as me so decided we were meant to be! Eventually we leave and our friend is waiting outside – joy…. He wants to take us to the mall now, ahhh I get it at this point. These are the shops where he’ll make commission if he brings us to them.. We follow him to the mall and again, wander. We come out and sure enough, he’s waiting! We say we need to get a rickshaw now to get to where we have to meet our friends. Of course he has friend right there in a rickshaw who can take us. We bicker over the price. I’m pointing at different places at the map trying to prove that I’m not an idiot. And he says ‘So many places, just like sexing’ – I’m like we’re out of here. He lowers his price to what I said and we begrudgingly get in.

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Screeeeeeeeeechhhhh! Urrrrrrccccccchhhhh! We are on the rickshaw ride from hell. We were making bets on whether or not we’d make it out alive. It was horrifying. We nearly crashed a few times, nearly got crashed into a few times and were weaving in and out of traffic at such a speed you’d think one of us was going into labor! We finally get to where we’re going and he wants to wait so he can take us to where ever we want to go next. No way partner – we’re staying here we tell him.

Out we get at the Hazrat Nizum-ud-din Dargah mosque to be there for sundown and the qawwali singers perform and well Lonely Planet, my travel bible – first fail I’ve experienced by you, this was not a good idea. We get out and look around trying to figure where we want to be amongst the confusion. We are either being glared at or looked at as though we’re insane by every person in the vicinity. It’s not comforting. Then this other white lady, in a sari, stops us and asks us if we’re going in, we reply yes, and she continues to warn us it’s pretty intense and we need to be sure to cover our heads or people will start yelling at us. We look at each other and are like wtf?! We decide to get the hell out of there and grab a rickshaw to go back to our guesthouse.

There we are cruising along the highway and there’s an elephant. A young boy on an elephant, yes riding an elephant, in the middle of Delhi. We all do a double take and regret not being quick enough to have gotten a photo.

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We get back to the guesthouse, exhausted, and laugh that we didn’t manage to do anything we planned for the afternoon. Officially the day we got nowhere, but had a story to tell.

chandi chowk.

I, leading the group, turn the corner from the main road, we’re on a hunt for the biggest mosque in India, but we get much more than we could have ever imagined. Slumdog Millionaire had come to life before our eyes – the India we had all expected to see was right in front of us.

There were buildings all connected, with power lines taking them over, stray dogs wandering everywhere you look, goats eating whatever lay around and sleeping on cars. I’d turn to see a cart full of fruit, then glance down to see a woman rolling on a board – no legs to stand on. I’d turn back often to make sure everyone was together. Through all this poverty, all the eyes looking toward the white tourists, we had a sea of smiles. It was incredible to me. The blind man shaking his cup of coins, the man with a hand cut off, the young girl with no hands, all smiling at us. They looked at us in awe and enjoyment.

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There was a jumble of twenty or so motorcycles, half pulled apart, parts scattered along the road and a dozen or so men leaning down trying to sort it all out. As we passed, one head rose, followed by the rest – smiles on every face.

Through the distinct smell of urine, there were kids walking and chatting excitedly. They were so excited to say ‘Hello!’ and put their hand out to shake a white hand.

Motorcycles holding entire families were whizzing in and out between the bicycles towing loads of ladders and propane tanks, as we walked down the street getting honked at to move over further in the single lane that was infringed by street venders and people napping on a blanket behind a bike or two.

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It was nothing any of us had ever seen before. You’d think one would leave such a place feeling depressed and sad, but we all walked out of Chandi Chowk wondering where all the smiles came from. It just shows that there are people all around the world that are much happier than us, with so very much less. Lesson received India.

the red fort.

If I was ever unsure about wanting to be a celebrity – I’m extremely sure now!

We had quite a predicament getting rickshaws to go all the way to the Red Fort. We had a few pulled over to the side of the road (as there were 8 of us and only three fit in one) and they were all conspiring against us. Rajiv – one of our program coordinators who I’d guess to be in his fifties, described rickshaw drivers to have ‘greediness in their blood’. This is why they all give hugely inflated rates and scam us… right.

We did finally sort out the rickshaws, us going ‘who cares’ and getting in was what settled it. We were arguing over a dollar – 50 rupees. It’s really quite pathetic – but you get into it! About 55 rupees is one Canadian dollar – the whole trip was 150 rupees and took us from South Delhi to Old Delhi, about a half hour ride! Could you ever imagine such cheap transport at home?!

Sidenote: The Delhi Metro is fairly new (about 10 years) and they’re still expanding it now. It already goes WAY more places that Vancouver’s skytrain. It MAKES MONEY. It is one of the only metros in the world that makes money; it and Hong Kong I’ve been told. It costs 15 rupees to ride….

On arriving at the Red Fort we have to cross a street. Now crossing a street in downtown Delhi is much like trying to walk through a Kindergarten class with a handful of ice cream cones. It’s insane. There are cars, rickshaws, buses, motorcycles, bikes and beggars everywhere, going in every direction. You have to dodge into the traffic – generally right behind an India who seems to know what they’re doing and stop and go with them. There’s no straight cross, it’s all watching and running and stopping with about a million horns going off all around you and rickshaws and bike carriers trying to pick you up. Once you finally get to the other side of the road (narrowly missing being hit by a bus), you breathe a sigh of relief and are then attacked by bike carriers wanting to take you around Old Delhi for a tour. We are the most popular as we are white – everyone wants us on their bike to show us off.

The overwhelming attention doesn’t stop once we’ve walked into the tourist attraction. We make the mistake of thinking it’s funny at first when people ask to have a photo with us. We giggle and shake hands (touching a white person is clearly some sort of feat for them) and pose with a big grin. We have small children and teenage boys asking at this point. Once we’re through the initial market and into the actual fort we start to have a crowd around us. We cannot pose for a photo without having Indians jump into the photo with us so their friends can take a shot, or just have a paparazzi of Indian tourists surrounding whichever one of us is taking the photo, so they can also take the photo.

We ended up with about 30 people surrounding us at one point and decided to take off in a speed walk. We tried to get away but we couldn’t. It was unreal. More and more kept joining the crowd of fans. We were walking fast, we had to sternly ask people to get away so we could get a photo. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

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We left after about an hour to head to Chandi Chowk…..

hit by india.

Let’s start right at the beginning, when I get to my gate to Delhi at London Heathrow….

Yes, that little bit of; ‘Oh God, what did I get myself into?’ hits me. I’m sitting at the gate, surrounded my India people, all eyes on the white girl sitting alone – in most cases this is when you’d figure you have something on your face or have walked out of the bathroom with toilet paper on your shoe – but no, it’s just because I’m white. Luckily for me, more white circus attractions slowly start to show up before we leave, so my ratings went down slightly!

I then even manage to be sitting beside one of the few white men, a white man from Ireland, who decided he really wanted to chat to me – while I’m watching a movie, with my headphones in – yes that ‘person’ was next to me. I’m polite, take my headphones off and ask, “Pardon?” He has seen I’m from Canada, he wonders where abouts, I fill him in and he then feels the need to pump me up, tell me how amazing Vancouver and the Rockies are, as though I don’t know, like duh buddy!  Meanwhile I can barely piece together what he’s saying; his ridiculously thick accent is plugging my ears with ‘blah, blah, blah’. I’m doing the nod and smile. I feel like an idiot – I pride myself on being able to understand accents quite well; well fail at life this time!

I’ve missed the strangest part of the flight though –they sprayed inside the cabin. These little cans, they obviously pulled something off them so they’d start going and then walked up and down the aisles with them. They said it’s the law before flying into India – to kill the bugs. Weirdest part – the spray smelled kind of good… Why wouldn’t other countries have this done too? Seemed questionable to me – especially because no one else had this happen on their flight in!?

When I got to Delhi the customs line was a million lines long, and yes the Irish man manages to be standing beside me in line, so I get to try to decipher what he’s saying for 40 minutes… Yippee! The people behind us were joking that the entire Middle East had just arrived to Delhi – long lines explained!

Things that have make me go hmmmm so far:

  • The motorcycles – driver may or may not be wearing helmet, they’ll have their son in front of them and their wife will be sitting with their legs to one side, not holding onto anything but the BABY on their lap! (BBM hands over eyes)
  • There are SO many street dogs – in Sharjah it was cats everywhere, here it’s dogs… Vern might need a friend?

Things I’ve learned so far:

  • The Indians here do not look like the Indians in Vancouver – at all! I knew that all (most) of the Indians in Vancouver were from the Punjab state, but I didn’t realize how different they were from the rest of India. The Sikh population is only a few percent – over 80 percent is Hindu, around 10 percent is Muslim and the rest are Christian, Sikh, etc.
  • The people in northeast India look Asian – they have flat noses and thin eyes, Mongolian features they say. This solved my query as to why there was (what I thought to be) an Asian waitress the other night who was speaking Hindi!
  • All public transit, auto rickshaws and taxis here run on CNG  – which means NO pollution. This came into affect a few years ago and has corrected their carbon footprint hugely; most cars have the option for either too!

Things I knew were coming:

  • Back sweat – it’s in full force! Two shirts are being worn – one to catch the sweat and one to make me look normal and unsweaty.
  • No shower curtains – water is all over the floor, everything in the bathroom is soaked!
  • Geckos crawling around – so tiny, so cute!

Yesterday we went and saw a few different tourist things, it was hot and sweaty and I felt gross the whole time, but well worth it! They were all pretty cool J

  1. Akshat Dham Temple: The largest Hindu temple in the world.
    1. It was finished only five years ago, after taking only five years to build!
    2. It is made of sandstone and white marble.
    3. It was built completely off donations!
    4. It was built completely by volunteers!
    5. India Gate: It was built to remember the India soldiers who were killed in WWI. India was not in WWI, but was under British rule then, and the British sent Indian soldiers to fight for them. (It reminded me of the Arch in Paris – the name has left me….)
    6. Dilli Haat: An open air market with handy-crafts. There are stands representing each of the states in India and different things they make there. The market changes every fifteen days, artisans get a stand for fifteen days and then a different one gets it for the next fifteen days. Lots of amazing stuff! More pashmina scarves than one would ever know what to do with!

I think I will leave you with that and let you get on with your day.

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hello world!

just here to share. some travel writing i’ve done. some recipes i’ve created. and perhaps some random thoughts as well. hope you enjoy.selfie at india gate