Having left Toronto, I now appreciate its multiculturalism

A month later, I think I am finally ready to talk about my experience in Brazil. This blog won’t list all the different things I did in Recife and in Rio de Janeiro, but instead, it’ll talk more about the aftermath of it. As I had mentioned before, I had taken a lot of photos of my two-week vacation in the country, and you can simply visit my Facebook photo album here if you would like to take a look. But to be honest, most of it is just me standing in front of a beautiful view looking out into the Atlantic Ocean. There were a lot of palm tree photos too. One of the first things I remember saying to my Brazilian friends when I arrived in Recife was, “You guys have palm trees!” Being Canadian, I have never seen a palm tree up close, and I saw so many of them in Brazil! Some palm trees were so tall, they were deemed the tallest in Rio. (I’m talking about the ones from Jardim Botanico do Rio de Janeiro!) It seems so silly that I was making such a big deal out of seeing palm trees but these little things made my trip more enjoyable.

I knew before going to Brazil that how I viewed the world would change once I came back to Canada. I was going to Brazil for the World Cup, but I was well aware that I would also be visiting a BRICS country, a fast-growing economy that still had many social and economical problems. Before visiting Brazil, I had never been on a plane before, which meant you could say that I had been sheltered my whole life, stuck in Toronto where I now feel that I took everything for granted.

It’s not that I experienced firsthand how poor people live in Brazil – because I was fortunate to live in a middle-class apartment in Recife, and then in a nice hostel in Rio – but it was because I saw and experienced enough to see that I am very fortunate to be able to live so freely in a city like Toronto, where everything and anything you want is available if you have the money for it – which most people do (have money) – but in Brazil, everything has a price. Water has a price. If I wanted clean drinking water, it was best to drink it from a water bottle instead of from the tap. Drinking water was always filtered before drinking. It was a standard. In Canada, some people wouldn’t think twice about drinking from the tap. In fact, if I went into Tim Hortons or Starbucks, Ontario laws would protect me enough that I wouldn’t even need to pay for cold drinking water. In Brazil? Not so much. Pay up for clean drinking water!

But besides those little things like clean drinking water, one of the top things I took for granted was Toronto’s multiculturalism. I know that celebrities come to Toronto all the time impressed by our multiculturalism, and although I was always proud of my city’s easy (easier) acceptance of other people’s religions and cultures, this multiculturalism didn’t strike me as particularly unique or powerful in any way. I read articles about new Toronto Raptors players describing the city’s multiculturalism as one of their favourite things about the city; Jake Gyllenhaal admiring the city’s openness and love of art; my friend’s American friend commenting on a photo of us surprised to see her friends so diverse, etc. But it was only when I actually left the city for another country’s city, did I realize what an unique and affecting trait Toronto’s multiculturalism really is.

I stayed in Recife for almost a week, and spent some time in shopping malls where I wasn’t just with my two Brazilian friends (who were half-Japanese), but sitting at a food court with other Brazilians or window shopping for clothes. Being from Toronto, I certainly didn’t see or feel anything out of the ordinary walking in the mall or eating in the food court, but when I walked, I could see people looking our way because it was very out of the ordinary for them to see not just one, but three Asians together in a Recife shopping mall. This took place during the first or second day in Brazil, and I think it was then when I began to realize that Toronto’s multiculturalism really is an unique factor that we really shouldn’t take for granted. Having studied and worked in the city for so many years, a person’s race isn’t the first thing you see. I don’t know if I would call myself “racially blind”, but what race that person is from just wasn’t important. It wasn’t a detail that I took notice of.

In Recife, even when heading home from the World Cup stadium (Itaipava Arena Pernambuco), we were approached by German fan tourists asking to take photos of us because we were three Asian girls sitting together on the bus. I remember asking this German one word, “Why?” He didn’t respond for a second while he got his camera ready. Finally, he shrugged and took a photo of us. I think out of my entire trip in Brazil, it was this moment when I felt the most sensitive about my racial background. I’ve been living in Toronto for so many years, being Chinese didn’t made me feel any different. I was just like any other person using TTC. I rode the TTC subway during my first week back in Toronto, and for the first time in 7 years, I truly looked around the subway car. There was a trio of tourists standing not too far from where I was sitting, gesturing at the TTC subway map above the train doors, and I wondered to myself how it must feel like as a tourist in Toronto. How would a tourist from a city like Recife see Toronto? Would it be strange seeing so many people from so many different cultures all in one subway? All of them not blinking an eye that a black man and an Asian woman sat next to each other so indifferent to each other’s skin colours?

But all that said, it should be noted that my experience in Rio de Janeiro as a Chinese woman was different than my experience in Recife. Rio, being such a big city, didn’t find two Asian women walking around the streets very particular. Plus, there were a lot of tourists during the days we were in the city. The France-Germany game was held at that time, which meant that the city was much more multicultural than usual. In fact, just by walking alongside the Copacabana beach one afternoon, we saw at least three different groups of Asians at the beach! If I were to visit any Brazilian city again, it would have to be Rio. I do want to visit Sao Paolo though. The bigger the city, the more exciting it is to me. And it’s by the Atlantic Ocean as well. Win/win!

So that’s one blog about my trip to Brazil. I still have lots to say about my two-week vacation – first time on a plane, how can you blame me! – but this blog has been long enough. Ciao!

P.S. If this was a LiveJournal entry, there would be a little content area at the bottom of my blog showing that I am currently listening to Anthony Neely’s “Everything is Love” (which is a Mandarin Chinese pop song, contrary to the artist’s Western-sounding name), but this isn’t LiveJournal, so I’ll just have to link the music video here instead… As a sly way to get more people listening to this catchy song!

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