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Preface - Are You My Motherland?

12 Oct 2013

I have a history of uprooting and moving. Usually it’s due to circumstance, on occasion by choice. Most of the time I got to stick around long enough to make friends, but never really long enough to feel allegiance to any particular nation.

Whenever the open-ended question of my origins comes up, I gauge which answer would be most interesting to the asker – China (my birth country), America (where my family resides), or Canada (where I go to school). Canada generally prevails. I mean let’s be honest, no one wants to admit they’re from America except to other Americans. When people hear Canada they tend to respond with something along the lines of “I wish I could visit!”. At this point I question their sanity in disbelief and get labeled as having anti-pride. As much as I love the free health care and politeness, nothing about Canada particularly strikes me as extraordinary. Then again I’m not sure what exactly would make a country exciting.

That’s why when I travel to foreign lands, the back of my mind is always comparing them to my “homes”. What’s better / different about this place? What have I been taking for granted?

Some things do seem to be pretty constant no matter where in the world I go:

  • (to my dismay) Comic Sans in store signs
  • American Billboard Top 40’s playing in shops. “We Can’t Stop” really doesn’t ever stop
  • The abominations known as pigeons polluting the streets
  • McDonald’s. Every other chain has a Bermuda Triangle, but not good ol’ Mickey D’s. The menus do vary from place to place but if it doesn’t cost you a kidney in one way, it will another

And some things appear to be universal in most of Europe, but for whatever reason is not in North America:

  • Including tax in prices - Things actually cost what they’re advertised to be! What a revolutionary idea
  • Tipping is not mandatory. You do it to reward servers for actual good service, not because they won’t make minimum wage otherwise. Being expected to tip at least 10% is absolutely ridiculous
  • Allowing people to drink in public - Some days you just want to kick back at the park with a nice cold one. Why is that a problem? The people who would be obnoxiously drunk on the streets are there regardless
  • Pharmacies are just pharmacies. What do you mean I can’t also pick up shampoo and cookies when I get my prescription drugs!?
  • Building heights are zero-indexed. The floor when you enter a building is the ground (0th) floor. The one above it is the first floor
  • Using the metric system!! Come on ‘Murica
  • Phone plans work across the entire country. I’m looking at you for this one Canada. Now you look even more silly for charging long distance for being a city away

In this on-going series I will examine some of the cities I’ve stayed in and what I’ve noticed to be different about them, mostly looking at culture and urban design. We were told during our exchange orientation that we should not scrutinize every little change we experience while abroad, since it’ll make us just glorify our homelands. I guess I’m doing exactly that, but I’ll try to do it while keeping an open mind about why the differences exist, and enjoy them for what they are. Perhaps doing this will help me find pride in somewhere. Or maybe I will discover a new place to call home!

Below are cities I’ve written on:


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