Friday, November 19, 2010

Finding an Appropriate Mandarin Class

Close-up of a persons hand writing Chinese script Model Release: No Property Release: NA

I seriously want to learn Mandarin.  Trouble is that I can't find an appropriate class.  I speak Cantonese already, but my reading/writing level is almost non-existent (I can recognize no more than 50 characters).  In Toronto, there are two types of Mandarin classes.  One is for people who know no Chinese of any kind and the other expects one to have at least a Grade 6 reading level.  I really don't understand why there isn't anything for those who speak but don't read/write.  With more and more Canadian born/raised Chinese in this city, you'd THINK that there'd be something.  Google didn't turn up anything and contacting language schools didn't help, either.  They were directing me to programs for people who knew NO CHINESE whatsoever. Even after tons of explaining, they didn't seem to "get" that I was looking for a program for Cantonese speakers who don't read/write Chinese. A lot of people who already speak Cantonese want to learn Mandarin from Cantonese, not from English.  They want to know what "gai" is in Mandarin, not "chicken."  They want to know from "che," not "car." So why is it so hard?  Is it because our so-called multicultural society here in Canada expects everyone to know a great deal about their (non-Anglo/Franco) heritage(s), even if we were born/raised here?  No wonder most of our non-Anglo or French politicians are non-Canadian born (or even non-Canadian raised, for that matter).  I've been told that someone like me is "unelectable" because I'm too "white washed" for many minorities (so tell me why:  if it's my private school background, then every non-white kid who went to my high school with me is "too white-washed" too) and "too ethnic" for the Anglo and French Canadian public.  Whatever.

Just a note:  I *DID* go to Chinese school, but only lasted 2 years.  The teachers all sucked and treated us kids like dirt, probably because they didn't know how to work with Canadian-born children. We were wild monsters to them. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Permission to Marry....

46565, NORTHLEACH, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - Tuesday November 16 2010. FILE PICTURE DATED Saturday October 23 2010.  Prince William and Kate Middleton are engaged and will marry in 2011, Clarence House announced today. The announcement came after speculation reached fever pitch following a visit by Kate's parents to the Queen's Scottish estate last month. The invitation was seen as a clear sign that the couple were poised to announce they were marrying. They have been together for eight years and have recently been spending much of their time in north Wales where William is a search and rescue pilot. Their wedding, scheduled for 2011, will be the biggest royal event since the wedding of William's mother and father. ORIGINAL CAPTION: Prince William and girlfriend Kate Middleton attend the wedding of thier horse riding chum Harry Meade in the Cotswold village of Northleach, Gloucestershire.  Photograph:  Ikon Pictures,

So it was recently announced that Prince William and Kate Middleton are to marry next year.  Apparently, William went to Kate's father to ask for his permission and some people over at Jezebel are quite upset about this.  They think it's too sexist and old fashioned.  Fine, think what you like, but there's no reason to get angry over this.  My husband asked my dad for permission (though he asked me if that was okay first).  It's just a gesture and a tradition, no different from having the bride's father walk her down the ailse.  Honestly, people who get really angry over things like this may be why a lot of people don't want to call themselves "feminists."  In any case, who's to say that William didn't ask Kate if it was okay for him to ask her dad? If Kate was okay with it, then no one should be upset.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Whole Maclean's "Too Asian" Thing

I'm sure by now, a lot of people, especially in Canada have read about the Maclean's "Too Asian" article.  While I agree that the article is poorly written and researched, this HAS been an issue for many years.  I'm actually surprised it took them this long to talk about it.  When I was applying for universities 13 years ago, it was very well known which schools were where the Asian kids went and which ones were not.  The top three choices for the Class of 1998 at my school were the University of Toronto, McGill and Queen's.  The girls who chose U of T were overwhelmingly East Asian (or to be more accurate, Chinese), while McGill and Queen's was mostly white. I also doubt that these girls kept their noses in books when they were undergrads.  If their university behaviour was anything like high school, then they would have partied a great deal - hey, it's Toronto, after all.  There are plenty of karaoke clubs and other places where you can chill, have fun and get drunk.  I think the whole stereotype of Asians being extremely studious probably comes from the fact that they party with their own friends from their own culture rather than "everyone else."

There was a lot of voluntary ethnic segregation at my high school.  It was a girls only private school similar to Havergal (where the two of the girls in the article attended) and some of it probably has to do with boarding vs. day students than actual culture (boarding students see each other 24/7 and are pretty much another family.  Naturally, they'd hang out with each other more than with people they only see while they're in class).  Many of the East Asian students were boarders.  I think a lot of people calling out on the article don't really understand this cultural difference.  I don't blame them.   Most people in the city went to public day schools and don't really know the independent school culture. There were also some language issues (though a typical foreign-born Asian student at my school was tons and tons better in English than newcomers at a typical public school.  I don't think the typical newcomer with very limited English could even survive a semester at my school), sure, and many were quite shy when it came to presentations.  That's probably why a lot gravitated towards the sciences or more math-oriented business courses (accounting = no presentations).  Hey, I was like one of two Asians in OAC Writer's Craft.  Advanced Placement Calculus?  Pretty much 98% Asian.  And I don't think the grad class was any more than 40% Asian (probably more like 30-35%).

Ethnic segregation occured with extra-curricular activities as well, and this probably has to do with exposure. In many modern Asian cultures, both in Asia and in western countries, kids start learning music around kindergarten.  Taking up piano or violin at the age of four or five is a sign of middle class success (think Jane Austen).  If a kid keeps it up, he or she would be very music-literate by the age of 12, when many schools start offering instrumental music (having taken piano since I was four, it was really frustrating for me to sit through music classes where the teacher explained to everyone else what middle C looked like.  Music class was boring because of that).  That was probably why there were many Asian members in instrumental music ensembles at my school.  Since admission is by audition, many of these kids who have been playing some sort of instrument for close to 10 years by the time they audition, will be much better than someone who has only been playing for two or three years.  Of course, this isn't to say that every single upper middle class Asian kid is fluently music literate.  There are many who aren't.  As for sports, the badminton teams at almost every age level was dominated by Asian students.  Badminton is a pretty popular sport over there, and again, competitive sports teams choose their athletes based on ability.  If someone has been playing for years, he/she is probably pretty good, and therefore more likely to be picked for the team. That's probably also why you don't see too many Asian kids (particularly  girls) play on the hockey team.  An Asian Canadian girl probably took skating as a kid, but it isn't likely that her parents (very likely immigrants) would have encouraged her to play hockey.  And the foreign kid probably didn't step on the ice for the first time until she arrived in the country.  How could you expect one to be able to make a school team?  You want your team to win, not lose.  As for other clubs, math was very much Asian, while, say, women's activism and debating were not.  Extra-curricular activities play an important role in friendships, so again, Asian kids are hanging out with the Asian kids and non-Asian with non-Asian (for the most part, anyway...there were definitely non-Asians in instrumental music ensembles as well as a small handful in badminton.  There were also Asians who were in debating.  No Asians played (ice) hockey, from what I recall, though.  Maybe things are different now.)

So back to the whole university situation.  A lot of people applied to the same schools their friends applied to.  Others applied to the same schools as the "cool kids" in an attempt to become more popular.  The definition of who is cool and who isn't depends on your social group. While U of T wasn't where most non-Asian students ultimately chose (McGill was - likely because people found Montreal exotic, alluring and sophisticated.  Queen's and Western, both known for school spirit, were also top choices), for many of the Asian kids, it was cool to go to U of T.  Not only is it a well-known school with an excellent reputation abroad, but there's so much more to do in Toronto, especially at night.  I mean, the clubs in Kingston, for example, are no where near as good (and sometimes, fancy) as Toronto - sorry folks, but as much as I went to places like Stages and AJ's, they really weren't that great.  They were kind of dirty, too (not that there aren't any gross/dirty clubs in Toronto or Montreal).  I also don't remember any good loungey type bars in Kingston.  And while Montreal's night scene is even better, many may be worried that the Quebecois are xenophobic and in any case, the Chinese food isn't as good (I think, anyway). On top of that, those whose families are in town can live at home, saving them (and their parents) thousands of dollars (this may actually be why U of T is seen as uncool by some people.  University is a time to learn more about yourself, and what better way to do that by going away?)  It could also mean that they can get a complete free ride courtesy of the parents.  No worries about having to pay back loans means that they can save up to buy a nice home for themselves a lot earlier or use the money to travel.  As for why Waterloo is "cool" considering that it's 90 minutes away by car:  90 minutes isn't THAT bad (compared to 2 1/2 hours for Kingston and London and 5-5 1/2 hours for Montreal).  And the programs there are, for the most part, co-op).

ETA:  They really shouldn't have spoken with girls from private schools (especially one with boarding) since their experiences would have been very different.

*** The above views are based on personal experiences and observations of the author.  She realizes that others may feel very differently, to the point that they'll disagree and find this piece insulting.  This is NOT her fault.  Again, this is based on her personal observations ***

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