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Return to glitzy Canada

August 24, 2009

Over the weekend I returned to Canada after nearly a year abroad. I had been living primarily in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the continent’s largest and most developed meccas, referred to as the “Mother City.” During my time there I was aware that Cape Town was different from Vancouver, of course, but felt that the development and infrastucture was remarkably similar, with sprawling freeways and sky-scrapers a staple of both environments. Imagine how surprised I was, then, to find myself shocked by the overwhelming size and scope of my beloved city. Vancouver is big—bigger than Cape Town, bigger than Johannesburg, bigger than any other place I’d been over the past year. Population wise it may be comparable, and perhaps even beat, by it’s South African counterparts, but it’s buildings and buses and trains and roads look shiny and new compared to what I had become used to. As I peered out my window, the word that came most readily to mind was “copious.” There’s just lots and lots and lots of stuff here.

And I began to wonder, the question that historians and development specialists and economists and Africans and North Americans have asked throughout recent history, and continue to grapple with today: how did it get this way? What made Canadians decide that they need stores devoted only to outdoor equipment and artfully-decorated cupcakes? And why is everything so big and overdone? And why is it all here, not in other parts of the world? It’s a simple question, really, but I can’t find an answer, let alone a simple one. We can look back through history at centuries of exploitation and politicking and religion for the answers, but it is always baffling to me to move from one part of the world to another and be reminded at just how different this country is from that, this hemisphere from the other. Despite all this modern talk of globalisation and resistance to a homogenised world, it’s amazing how disparate this city-by-the-sea is from the one I so recently inhabited.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. reneethewriter permalink
    August 26, 2009 11:23 am

    Thank you for this meditation on the 80/20 split. Your questions ask us to survey our world, that is “Canada’s role in the world,” in a personal and yet also political/sociological way, that resonate with me. Although born in India, I’ve only been there once, in 1987: upon my return to Vancouver, standing in a Safeway store on Broadway, in the toothpaste aisle, I started to cry. Too much choice. I just wanted a tube of toothpaste. Your piece reminded me of a line of poetry from Cavafy, “thinking about those halcyon days/this can’t go on” or something like that. I very much appreciate that in this piece, a space is left for questions and reflection, rather than a too easy shift into meaning or proscription/prescription.

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