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Archive for September, 2007

With temperatures hitting 32 degrees Centigrade in southern Ontario this week, the build-up to the provincial election in two weeks is heating up.

Provincial election campaigns are often dull affairs as the main parties stir up fiscal swirls and ripples in the tax/services continuum.

However, this time around, Conservative leader John Tory has chucked an incendiary pledge into his party platform.

The promise that an elected Conservative government would fund faith-based schools in Ontario has got the province talking.

At present, Ontario funds the regular public system and the so-called “separate” Catholic system.

Current debate centres on three main arguments, which roughly break down as:

i) Fund all approved schools across the faith spectrum

ii) Maintain the status quo (i.e. “we’ll leave this sticky mess to posterity.”)

iii) Fund no faith-based schools at all

Several years ago, the United Nations declared the current system of funding “discriminatory” and gave Canada 90 days to get its house in order. The Ontario leader of the time, Conservative Mike Harris, ignored the UN’s request.

Critics of John Tory see this pledge as an ill-disguised vote grab. Chances are that the promise will lose the party a few voters, but could net boatloads of immigrant votes, who may harbour various concerns about the current public system.

Defenders of John Tory cite terms like “inclusiveness” and “freedom of choice.”

Parents on all sides have stated that they should have the right to choose how their tax dollars fund their children’s religious or secular education.

However, bringing your own kids into this argument ignores one vital issue.

Namely, people without children also pay taxes. And everyone has a stake in the education of our future generations.

For me, my gut reaction is that state-sponsored segregation of children along faith-based lines is not a recipe for future societal stability.

John Tory has spoken idealistically of students from different faiths meeting periodically on sports fields, where they would learn about each other’s beliefs in a less formal setting.

Somewhat less idealistically, I think they might learn a lot more about how separation can give rise to breeding grounds for ignorance and intolerance.

Our kids currently attend schools in a secular society, where they mix, on a daily basis, with children of many religious and non-religious backgrounds.

For me, it is this daily interaction that fosters understanding, denies uninformed prejudice, and promotes the inclusive values Canada claims to embody.

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Expat interview

Recently, I’ve been way too busy with work, family visitors, and approaching deadlines to spend much time contributing to or journeying about the blogosphere.

However, I did find the time to complete an expat interview recently. For anyone interested, here is the link:

Expat interview: Wapentake

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What fiery beast am I?

I underwent a complete personality transformation this weekend.

Yeah, I know. It was way overdue.

At the start of the weekend, I had a wild side that led me to live life on the edge, definite opinions about the world, and was animated and sociable. I was an excellent language teacher and journalist.

By Sunday evening, things had changed drastically. I wasn’t feeling myself.

Now, I want a bit of peace, am happy to go with the flow, and love being at home, where I spend time cooking, knitting, and looking forward to seeing new plays at the theatre.

That’s right. I was a horse and now I think I’m a sheep.

In short, my Chinese astrological sign is under review.

For years, I believed myself a Fire Horse: fiercely independent, blazing my own trail, inspiring movies, galloping forth towards the sunset – a stallion rampant.

I may, it seems, have been sadly misguided.

I might have to metamorphosise into a Fire Sheep: bumbling along in the pack, bleating with the flock, standing forlorn on a rain-swept moor – a bag of wool dampened.

The reason for the confusion is, of course, my time and date of birth.

I was born in the UK at 2250 on February 7, 1967.

Most websites put this date in the Year of the Fire Horse, with the Year of the Fire Sheep starting on February 9, 1967.

However, my most learned Taiwanese source had an inkling that this was wrong.

Extensive searches in arcane Chinese astrology websites reveal that the time and date of my birth appear to be in the Year of the Fire Sheep.

Especially if you account for the time difference between the UK and China.

So, I end the weekend filled with confusion.

Sheep or horse?

Pen or paddock?

Gallop or gambol?

Four legs good – two beasts bad.

If any of you happen to be experts in the field of the Chinese lunar calendar, I would humbly appreciate the fruits of any knowledge you would care to bestow.

That sounds a bit sheepish…

Check your own Chinese sign here.

So, what kind of beast are you?

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Zhu, over at Correr Es Mi Destino, kindly tagged me with this meme of her own design. The idea is to describe ten priceless experiences from where you live. Thanks for the tag, Zhu, and here goes:

1. Buying beer in Ontario.

In Ontario, you can buy beer at the BEER STORE or the LCBO (mainly wines and spirits). At The BEER STORE, the correct procedure goes something like this: 1. Kick the doors open 2. Enter while slowly turning head in each direction. 3. Join the line of suburban beer connoisseurs. 4. Edge forward full of resentment.  5. Slam a bag of change on the counter. 6. Point to a beer logo. 7. Grunt twice. 8. Put a case of beer under each arm. 9. Kick the doors open. 10. Drive home in Hummer and wait for golf buddies to arrive.

2. The highway slow lane

In Ontario, fearless drivers use the slow lane. Over on the left, you’ll notice that all the fast lane people are desperately tailgating each other in a frantic bid to get as far away from the slow lane psychopaths. The slow lane is automotive Russian roulette.

As you fearlessly hurtle along at 100 km/h, a snow-covered sign will dimly register through the blizzard. Did that say “Right lane ends?” you wonder. Ten metres later, it does.

Alternatively, an on-ramp (slip-road) will rear up out of nowhere on your right shoulder. It may be about the length of a bowling alley. A truck is approaching the end of the on-ramp just in front of you. Both lanes to your left are full of paranoid drivers, fearful of the slow-lane psycopaths. No time to brake. No room to switch lanes.

It may be time to email the CBC with an appeal for greater advance warning of highway on-ramps. Don’t worry, it’s Canada – somehow, it’ll work out.

3. Buying alcohol in Quebec

After several years of buying alcohol in Ontario, it’s time to experience Quebec. Go to Montreal first. Have a couple of beers on a summer patio to loosen up. Wander the streets and choose a convivial restaurant. Nip into the grocery store across the street and buy a couple of bottles of decent wine. Take your seat at the restaurant and wait for the waiter to uncork and graciously pour your STORE-BOUGHT wine. Relax with your friends and family, enjoying the hour-long “Yes, but can we handle the winters?” conversation.

4. Sharing your home with wildlife

In the bleak midwinter (i.e. March), you notice that part of your eavestrough has come loose. “Must fix that in the spring,” you nod optimistically. One weekend morning, spring comes and goes before you can get out of bed. Later, you check if the kids are up yet. You hear a slow heavy thumping sound coming from above your children’s bedroom ceilings. You wonder, “How the hell did the cats get up there? And get so big?”

Then, you remember the eavestrough. Yup, the coons have moved into your roofspace. And in early summer, it sure is a seller’s market in the humane pest control market. Less humane methods may well suggest themselves to you. But you’ll do the right thing in the end.

5. Watching a soccer match

I took my sons to see a Toronto FC game recently. It was my youngest son’s first live game. It was very different from my first match in Yorkshire back in 1974. Back then, the songs directed at the away supporters included such welcoming refrains as “You’re gonna get your fucking heads kicked in” and “You’re in the valley – the valley of death.”

Fans have mellowed somewhat in the interim. The corresponding anthem last weekend was “This is our house – this is our house!” I half expected the handful of Washington fans to chorus back with “And we love your soft furnishings – love your soft furnishings!” Give it a couple of decades.

6. Hockey mornings

I have nothing against hockey. It simply played no part in my life for thirty-three years, so was unlikely to figure prominently when we moved to Canada. However, kids’ hockey baffles me. Parents drag their little ones to hockey practice throughout the winter at something like four o’clock in the morning.

I suspect that, if I took my kids to, say, flugelhorn practice in the dead of Canadian winter nights, the parents at the school bus stop would give me suspicious glances. And I may well receive a visit from social services. Maybe I need to work on my integration skills.

 7. Pre-dawn February training runs

For this truly priceless experience, you will require:

a) A supreme effort of will to get out of bed knowing that outside it’s dark, 25 below, and has a strong windchill kicker.

b) A full body layer of thermal underwear, two pairs of socks, a long-sleeved running vest, a running jacket, lined running leggings, a face mask, good quality running hat, mittens, running shoes.

c)  A bottle of water – remember to drink before it approaches freezing point. In other words, on the doorstep.

d) The knowledge that, after ten minutes of acclimatisation, early morning winter runs on packed snow on deserted streets, are practically unbeatable. Ditto the shower after.

8. Leisure activities

The range of leisure activities in Mississauga offered by the municipal government is astonishing. Current options include:

Cha Cha Babies – “With your baby snuggled into a carrier, you will dance your way into shape.”

Inner Goddess Workout – “Sway your way through a passionate workout routine.”

Friends of Narnia – “Travel with the great lion through his great kingdom…”

Drop-in Family Pajama Storytime (Feb 21) – “Wear your pajamas.”

Mall Walkers – “Enjoy a brisk walk with friends.”

I’m just praying that there are no scheduling clashes.

9. Canuck Catch-22 for immigrants

Until you’ve had Canadian experience, it is difficult to get a job. Until you’ve got a job, it’s difficult to get Canadian experience.

Carved on the CN Tower. Should be anyhow.

10. Ultimate food experience

For a sincerely priceless experience, you could book a table at Auberge du pommier in north Toronto. As far as dining experiences go, this place is difficult to top. Mouthful to mouthful is just one long chorus of protracted Mmmm’s resonating throughout the restaurant. So, it’s useless for clinching business deals. Otherwise perfect.

But if it’s authentic Canadian cuisine you’re after, I’d recommend buying a pack of bacon at the local supermarket in anticipation of a Sunday fry-up.

Through the packaging, you will see layer upon layer of tantalizingly sealed pink strips of pre-sizzled delight.

Sadly, opening the pack is one of life’s great disappointments. The pink strips are about two millimetres wide. The rest of each bacon slice is pure white fat and gristle, meticulously concealed by the packaging and layering process.

However, if you fry the strips long enough, everything turns the same colour. And actually tastes pretty good.

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