Final Notes on Having Gone Home- Aw, Dang it, Canada!

This is me in Canada

This is me in Canada


It’s a funny thing writing about Canada from an internet cafe in Kandy, waterlogged and slightly dizzy from the monsoons, with bejajs sputtering past and Sinhalese pop music blaring.

I’ve had a follow-up post fomenting in my head since, well, since about a week into my three week trip back home. I even took copious notes while I was there, tapped with one finger onto my ipod screen then eventually emailed to myself, a loose collection of thoughts as they came to me and observations as they occurred.

For those of you who are waiting anxiously to get back to my original focus (um, hello, impractical guide to Shanghai?) you will have to wait until mid-late August. Until then, my friends, China has left the building.

Let’s get the Canada post out of the way, shall we?

Canada and I, we have what is referred to in social media circles as a complicated relationship. Let me give you an example.

When we flew into Colombo the other night, delayed until well after midnight, delirious with two levels of jet lag, there was a television monitor above the immigration officer’s booth. It read: The Ministry of Something or Other warmly welcomes you back to your motherland. I felt warm inside, being welcomed back to a motherland that wasn’t even my own (hell, I’d never even been to Sri Lanka before and they were welcoming me back like a lost lamb!).

Now let me tell you about coming home to Canada back in 2007 after 3.5 years in Turkey when I hadn’t been able to get home due to work and money and visa complications. I should note that this was just before Christmas and I had just flown into Vancouver after two days en route from Istanbul via Amsterdam. I was shaking with exhaustion. When I finally reached the end of the queue for immigration, I handed the woman my passport and declaration form. As a Canadian citizen, I filled out the part for Canadians, noting that I’d been away since 2004. The officer shouted at me to return to the end of the line and to fill it out as a visitor rather than as a resident. Her last words to me as I turned away to fill in my form again (incorrectly, I might add) were: “When you decide to stop living in the middle east and return to Canada then we’ll call you Canadian again!”

So yeah, me and Canada.

What I have here is a collection of the notes I made whilst in Canada, edited for context and clarity. Most were written in a tent or in the rain. Some were written in frustration, others in recognition.


Oh Jericho


  • In cafes, I see them everywhere. Supermarkets too, as mixes. Chai lattes. Sometimes referred to as chai tea lattes, which is partially redundant and barely resembles what is served in India but I am loathe to come out and mention it because I fear I might sound pretentious because I know things because I’ve traveled a lot. But really, people, Chai is tea. Same same.  Sometimes when I am not careful, I feel just a flinch of condescension and I hate myself for it. And I like chai lattes, which makes it even worse.


This is how they do tai chi in Vancouver


  • When I was in Turkey for many years without a break back home, all the Canadians I came across moaned about how much they missed Tim Hortons, how the thought of TimBits and a DoubleDouble made them achingly homesick and I came to believe that these things might possibly be true and I started to irrationally associate Tim Horton’s with my own mythical homeland, thinking that they actually were good or had some deeper national feeling for me. They aren’t and they don’t. When I came back this time, I decided to check them out for myself, having not stepped into one since some time in the early 1990s. Tim hortons is crap.  The coffee is like dishwater and donuts sickly sweet and idea of a doubledouble (aka double sugar, double cream) is an abomination. Like a lot of coffee I was served, it’s coffee for people who don’t actually like coffee.  But I feel vaguely wistful when I hear the name.


My friends and I the day before I left Turkey in 2008



  • I went to a dinner party at my friend’s house just before I went back to Shanghai. He’s from France but is now Canadian and his guests were from France, from Brazil, from Ontario, from the West Coast.  All were somewhat self-defined outsiders to the Canadian mainstream. There were some very intense conversations about being Canadian and about being on the fringes of being a Canadian, whether due to being an immigrant or an expat.  One thing that was noted was that myth of Canadian politeness, which is actually quite lovely to be enveloped in after years of pushy shouty crowds in Asia.  Apparently Canadians say sorry for everything. Why are they always apologizing in situations where they are not at fault in any way, asked the non-native-born Canadians and non-Canadians in the group. I nodded sagely and agreed that it was oddly passive and possibly meek (etc, etc).  Then, at the end of the evening as I was putting my cardigan on to go, I dropped my keys on the floor next to the Brazilian guest and automatically muttered, ‘sorry!’ Everyone grilled me as to why exactly I was sorry and, really, I couldn’t say. Maybe it’s ingrained.


My cat is apologizing for sitting on my dad’s uke.


  • Canada- or rather, the West Coast, or rather, Vancouver and southern Vancouver Island- is inconsistent in how it hits me and my emotions. I loathe it or crave it depending on context or neighborhood or weather. When I first arrived, I spent the weekend with my friend from Istanbul and we drove around running errands and blurted out how frustrated we were with how our lives had worked out since leaving Turkey. We were in big box super stores and Home Depot and we were jointly annoyed with our surroundings and the indignities she had endured since emigrating.  But other times, when the sun is lovely or even when it’s pouring rain but oh, there are trees! I am delighted to call it my homeland. When there are good visits with family (and there were many), I love Canada. When we camp up island, I love Canada. When I see all the vegan organic farms and artisan goat cheeses, I love Canada. When I stumble upon the inevitable summertime drum circles with the helicopter dancers and the reek of sweet smoke, I love Canada– especially if there’s a beach in the background and a ton of trees.  But the superstores and car culture and sprawling towns and uninspired architecture baffle me.


If this is a drum circle, I must be home…


  • I love that there is music everywhere and and that creativity is seen as something to be encouraged and not stifled (at least not too much). I love the overt air of activism and social responsibility– or at least the lip service among many and devotion among a key few.  I love that so many people make their own wine and brew their own beer. I love that I have friends and family there who mostly get me but I know that there is no real room for me to fit in.


Like I said, it’s complicated. Tomorrow I’ll talk about Sri Lanka.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.