Daily Archives: 6 February 2005

Bournemouth-on-the-Pacific: Victoria, B.C.

The Britishness of Victoria, the main city on Vancouver Island (and the official capital of British Columbia), seemed exaggerated to me. With its red phone booths, wrought-iron pavilions, pubs, Wax Museum, Crystal Garden, afternoon tea, and kilted bagpiper playing Christmas tunes out of season, Victoria was a Busch Gardens version of England. But the cloying atmosphere was not wholly invented; there were historical and social reasons for it. Though the Canadian Pacific had hoped to extend the transcontinental rail line to Vancouver Island, the railway had never gotten this far; it had terminated in the city of Vancouver, on the mainland. From that point onward, Vancouver projected itself into the future, as the rail bridge across the continent is now being reconceived as an air bridge across the Pacific. Meanwhile, Victoria, in its isolation, clung to the comfortable colonial past, redolent of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the British Navy. By the turn of the twentieth century, Victoria was a Bournemouth-on-the-Pacific, a clubby haven for “remittance men,” the unemployable sons of wealthy English families.

Elizabeth Archibald, a medieval scholar from Cambridge, England, who teaches at the University of Victoria, told me that when she had been at Yale, “Everyone was enchanted by my English accent. In Victoria it’s not even noticed. The flights between London and this part of Canada are full. Many Britons come here to live.”

The abundance of Britons in Victoria, along with the nicely cadenced speech of English Canada, has produced a wonderfully clear local accent. The words slip from people’s mouths like springwater vectored by rocks in a stream. This, at any rate, is what I thought when I met Douglas Homer-Dixon, who has spent his life as a forester on Vancouver Island. He escorted me for a walk along the coast in East Sooke Regional Park, pointing out the western cedars with their fanlike, matronly branches, the gnarled, sienna-hued arbutus trees, and the Pacific yews, whose coat of carbohydrate-rich lichen deer feed on. A gentle wind blew through the fog and ash-blue Strait of Juan de Fuca, connecting Puget Sound with the Pacific; it had been named for a Greek explorer who had sailed for Spain and adopted a Spanish name. Unlike the eastern fog, weighted with heat and humidity, the fog here is a silken lacework, draping the hillsides. I watched a Steller’s jay, described by Meriwether Lewis, land silently on a branch, its fabulous midnight-blue color clashing with the green background. Each rain droplet seemed to have hardened in the cold air, as if millions of glass beads rested upon the leaves.

SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America’s Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 324-325

And, speaking of Vancouver Island, the Dictionary of Received Ideas alerts us to an online exhibit of the Virtual Museum of Canada entitled Graveyard of the Pacific: The Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island. The South Pacific has quite a few nautical graveyards as well.

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Covering All Religious Bases

My maternal grandparents were buried in the Philippines. Our rites for the deceased ancestors are half Filipino and half Chinese. My mother, sisters, and I were converted to Catholicism when we were in school. Following the Catholic feast of All Souls Day, November 2, the Chinese Filipinos would go to the cemetery and stay there all day. They would bring food and games to play, as for a picnic, and even books to read. My mother would bring fruit, burn paper money and incense at the grave, and make us bow. I remember my grandmother’s funeral. At a certain hour, the Catholic priest celebrated Mass. After that a Daoist priest came and said some prayers. That was followed by the Buddhist monks performing some ceremony. There was the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the side. Over at the end was the statue of Kuanyin, the bodhisattva of mercy. My father said that this way everything was covered.

SOURCE: “All Bases Covered,” by Deanna Li, in Being Chinese: Voices from the Diaspora, by Wei Djao (U. Arizona Press, 2003), pp. 119-120

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Part Chinese, Part European, Part Latino

MY GRANDMOTHER, my mother’s mother, was born in China. Her name was Lee Chung. She came to Peru in 1905 or 1906, at the age of 18 or 19, to work on the coffee plantation in the jungle of Peru. At that time many people came from Europe and Asia as the government was giving free land to immigrants willing to go to the eastern side of the Andes Mountains. She came with about twenty families, altogether more than a hundred people, from the same province in northern China. They lived together like a family because the government provided housing for people working in agriculture. But they were really not one family, and she was by herself. She told us that she had some brothers, and their families were living in China and Hong Kong. She did not have much education.

She married my grandfather, an Italian. It was funny because my grandfather from Italy did not speak Chinese. She did not speak Italian. But they communicated somehow. They got married in 1907 or 1908….

My grandmother never spoke Spanish. She only spoke Mandarin Chinese to us. When I was small, it was easier to communicate with her. Then when we grew up, we began to speak Spanish. She only spoke Chinese throughout her life, although she understood a lot of Spanish.

My mother speaks some Chinese because she lived with my grandmother all the time. My mother speaks Italian too. My Chinese was not good because I learned it by ear, listening to my grandmother. As a kid of six or seven, I would speak with whoever that was there. In Peru, it was mostly my grandmother. She lived to sixty-four or sixty-five years of age.

In Peru, there are still some old Chinese families that have been there for generations. And the Japanese too. We have many Asians in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. In all these countries the Asians and their cultures are very strong. The Asian cultures are very respectable in South America. If you are part of an Asian culture, people respect you more because they think that you are more trustworthy. The Chinese who were born in South America act like Latinos in their manners. They look Asian but they speak Spanish. They are very integrated.

The last time there were Chinese immigrants to Peru was in 1968, I think. They stopped coming because the economic situation in the country was not good. Most Chinese went to Argentina and Venezuela. I have met a distant aunt in Venezuela. Most of the Chinese there came from Hong Kong, from around 1984 to about 1995. Venezuela is the only country you can pay for your residency and work. The people from Hong Kong learned Spanish very fast.

My uncle has been in Australia for forty years. He lives in Sydney now. He is the nephew of my grandmother. I met him several times in the U.S. He did not speak Spanish. We communicated in English, but sometimes he spoke to me in Chinese, and I had a hard time understanding him because I was out of practice and hadn’t spoken Chinese for a long time.

I see myself as part Chinese, part European, and part Latino. I feel that way always. I like Chinese culture, as I do European and Latino cultures. Chinese culture is part of my background. I went to the U.S. for my university education. I made friends with students from Hong Kong and Taiwan. We would get together and play soccer. We discussed about things, and we enjoyed ourselves. We talked about things in Peru and how the Chinese came to Peru. Some of the Latino students from South America who saw me then did not think that I was a Latino because I was always with the Asians. When I am with my friends from Hong Kong or Taiwan, I feel Chinese. I feel I am part of that group. I feel that I belong there.

SOURCE: “San Ramon the Coffee Town,” by Juan Miranda, in Being Chinese: Voices from the Diaspora, by Wei Djao (U. Arizona Press, 2003), pp. 131-134

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