What do I do with this?!

verbatimIn the early 80s when I was five years old, my parents brought my younger sister and me to live in Vancouver. Our family stayed for four years while my parents started a business before moving back to Hong Kong. Back then, occupied with priorities such as my first trick-or-treat outing and building my first snowman, I never gave any thought to diversity. It was, however, a way of life for our family. Our Hungarian neighbours in the house to our left came regularly to pick Granny Smith apples from our garden, transforming them into apple pies. I played in the backyard of the house to our right, owned by an English family with a daughter about my age. I didn’t know the word diversity, but what makes a child happy does not need labels or well-reasoned arguments.

After living in several cities around the globe, I’ve come back as an adult with the intention of making Vancouver my home. Moving here makes sense to me. I have close
family in Vancouver and have always made a point of being home for the holidays. After spending so many
Christmases and summers in Vancouver, moving here feels like coming home.

In a few months my long term partner F will also be moving to Vancouver. Having lived only in European
cities, it is a much bigger change for him. F has no family here, and as much as I’d like to think he’d move anywhere in the world for me, I know that that’s just not true. Vancouver has simply won him over. It wasn’t always the case.

F’s first visit to Vancouver nine years ago was a study in culture shock. My parents took us to a nice Japanese restaurant for dinner. For one fish dish, the restaurant would carve the entire fish for sashimi
and then deep fry the head and bones to serve as another dish. My father, in a grand gesture of hospitality, broke off the deep fried fish head and placed it squarely on F’s plate. F gave me a bewildered look that all but asked aloud, “What do I do with this?!” Nothing had prepared him to consider a fish head or fish bones as food. My father might as well have served him a stapler. At least a stapler would not have stared back. It got awkward from there – my father felt hurt that F was not more enthusiastic while F took small pretend bites. When I later congratulated F in private for surviving the dinner, he confided that he ate more seafood in that one meal than in his entire life.

As an adult, I think of life in a truly diverse community on many levels. My memories of F’s first visit to Vancouver reminds
me that living among others with different values could be stressful. Not all new experiences are enjoyable or will ever be (F is adamant that fish bones are not an acquired taste). And when others don’t understand you or misrepresent you, it could be hurtful. Aside from personal experiences, we just have to look towards recent political events to realize how deeply divisions can run along lines of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Sadly, there are no simple solutions.

I am, however, encouraged by how things turned out
between F and Vancouver. I think it’s a mixture of patience and humour that allowed him to look beyond that first visit. So why is Vancouver endearing to F nowadays? It could be Vancouver’s natural beauty or its friendly atmosphere. But I suspect that the real reason is, in Vancouver, he feels less pressure to live by one culture over others. To me, that’s truly a beautiful thing.