05 September 2005

A Trip to Canada, Day Four

Pictures to go with this diary entry are here. New pictures tomorrow.

With Heather's help, I have identified/remembered what the problem affecting me is -- my second attack of Acid Reflux Disease (the last one was some months ago, which is why I didn't recognise it myself). Moving is painful, particularly anything that involves the lower back. I seem to have adopted my dad's stoic approach to pain management -- just slow down, and get to a spot where it stops hurting.

Earlier in the day, before I was sure what it was, I bought some Maalox, which helped get me through the night. In hindsight now, I should have picked up some Pepcid AC (which is available here w/o a prescription, of course), but I just didn't recognise the problem for what it was at the time, hoping still that it would pass.

I managed to check out in a timely fashion and take a tour of Craigdarroch Castle, some 1890s monstrosity of overindulgence built by Canada's answer to Randolph Hearst, a railway magnate named Robert Dunsmuir. It looked on the surface to be a good picture-taking opportunity -- the largest collection of turn-of-the-century stuff I had seen in one place since my great-grandmother died in the mid-1970s. The darkly-lit and extremely woody nature of the interior, however, made taking pictures of the rooms challenging. I really do have to get a digital camera with a "hot shoe" (detachable, powerful flash) next time.

Many of the rooms struck me as being "over-furnished" (ie not truly accurate to their time) and although there are only four "real" floors, there are enough rooms "in between" to make it feel like seven or eight floors. In my present condition, this wasn't my favourite part, but an interest in history trumps discomfort.

I headed out of Victoria earlier than I'd originally planned, around 2pm -- I just didn't have the energy to do anything else -- and made my way to the bus/ferry station, to reverse the trip from yesterday. Having already taken the pictures I needed to last time, I got a chance to just zone out (much needed). After much haggling, I got dropped off at my hotel -- well, almost. As I arrived at the Hampton Inn on east Robson, I discovered that I had in fact been booked for the other Hampton -- the one in Richmond. Rats.

I was about 6pm by now, and I was failing fast, so I just hailed a cab and paid $25(US) to go to the correct hotel. Checked in and crashed for a while, then woke up due to hunger pangs (which don't feel at all good in my present condition ñ a lot like somebody is poking a spear from inside you!) and had to walk a few blocks to the nearest "7-11" (my term for any brand convenience store, though they did in fact have plenty of 7-11s in Victoria), a place called "Huskie," to pick up some Ibuprofen (I felt I was running a bit of a fever) and some munchies (still no real appetite). There were several middle-aged and old duffers there buying scratch-off tickets and then buying more scratch-off tickets and complaining a lot. I guess there's no coffee shop open that time of night (around 9pm).

My impression of Richmond is that it's absolutely typical of the airport-bedroom community -- mostly industrial, and the few people who live there have little civic interest. Not dissimilar to the working-class neighbourhoods around the Orlando airport or other industrial districts, though of course the colour balance is different.

This gives me an opportunity to expound on one of my favourite "hot" topics ñ racism. Canada is, obviously, a much "whiter" country than much of the US, at least the southern US. Although the area I'm visiting is heavily Asian (at least 50%), the dominant force in Canada, like the US, is Caucasian.

But the two countries really couldn't be more different when it comes to racism. The people in Canada, like Europe in general, worry a lot less about the colour of your skin (or your sexual orientation) and a lot more about the poverty level. They've largely figured out that crime, not skin tone, is what fuels hate, and crime is inextricably linked to poverty. (Insert your own thoughts about New Orleans at the moment here).

That's not to say there is no prejudice -- of course there is, it's human nature to be afraid of the different -- but that it seems a lot less related to race and more to other factors, like economic status. Their solution -- which isn't perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than the one the US has -- is to continually try to raise the minimum standard of living.

The people in Victoria brag that they have hardly any crime compared to Vancouver, but what I saw in the newspapers and news stations in Vancouver (the CBC is kind of "off the air" due to industrial action as I write this) seems to suggest that Vancouver's "crime problem" is only the sort of stuff you'd find anywhere there's a large concentration of poor people -- burglary, theft, gang activity, drugs -- nothing like the constant string of gruesome murders or hate crimes the US has to report on every day.

In short, Canada has very little time for the concept of ignoring people based on the color of their skin, or writing them off as incapable of improving. If anything, the country seems to have been at least as horrified by the early inaction on the New Orleans crisis as most of the non-neocon American public was. Despite the fact that, to the typical Canadian, New Orleans is a strange and exotic place filled with people they can barely relate to, they nonetheless understood the suffering and injustice those people were cruelly and deliberately subjected to, and were shocked and moved to help.

Having said all that, I imagine that there is some lingering anti-Muslim fear -- this side of the country seems to have relatively few such people, compared to Florida anyway -- but that's mainly manifested as a concern that Canada, as one of the countries foolish enough to send troops to Iraq, might also be attacked as England was in retribution. There is nobody here that I have spoken to that has anything less than utter contempt for Bush, Blair and the Iraq war.

Anyway, the bottom line of the "rant" above is that in my view, skin tone isn't the enemy ñ it's poverty and poor education. Each and every major problem the world faces could be solved if we'd just tackle those two issues with more focus. From my observations, I'd say Canada is a lot further along towards that conclusion than the US.

I got back to the Hampton, took the IB and the food (a hot dog and a hazelnut bar), and watched some TV/iChatted with Heather (I was too ill-sounding to go for a phone call)/surfed the net till about midnight. Crashed again -- thank goodness this hotel has a check-out time of noon!

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