Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Brief History of Guyana and Good Bye Toronto

First Generation Problems slash Why My Family Hates My Life


My Guyanese family, especially my grandparents, are surprisingly the biggest brand ambassadors of Canada. Though they have visited three of the world's 196 countries, they have the audacity to claim that Canada is the BEST one. Are they hanging with Rob Ford smoking the c-rack?! Maybe not. Here's how they broke it down to me.

"Do you know how hard we worked to come to this country?" They asked me with scowling dark eyes. " Do you know how many people are dying to get into Canada, and you.. you! You can't wait to leave!"

How does one respond to that?

Normally, I feel no more or less Canadian than my whitey compatriots even though I am the first generation from my fam to be born in this country. So what if I didn't grow up listening to Rush? I like hockey, I'm polite and a strong liberal and say 'sorry' and 'about' in ways that foreigners find off ( or cute?).

Yet, when my family plays the ol' Guilt Trip playlist with hit songs like 'Responsibility to the Nest' and 'Ungrateful Child of Mine' I quickly remember that in fact, I am different. I am not only Canadian, I am Guyanese. You hear a lot about ABCs and CBCs (American/Canadian Born Chinese), but do you know anything about why there are so many people from West Indies (Guyana, Trinidad) here?

Once I understood the sad history of Guyana and my family as orated by my family I started to understand why my incessant wayfarer-ness is a life choice they cannot accept.


Asian first-gen problems are not so different..

A Brief History of Guyana
Just look around Toronto and Queens New York. These places are rife with people who look indian but sound like a cross between Bob Marley and a songbird. The Guyanese and Trinidadians all showed up in the 70s because shit was going down in the homeland after the ruling British power decided they couldn't handle their colonial empire no mo'.  Typical colonial bullshoi around the globe at the time.

The West Indies'  brand of strife was between the Indians and the Africans—the two main groups the British brought over to work the sugar cane fields.  Over time different social economic statuses developed between the two, creating a class tension that burst like a pus-filled pimple once the Brits left.  Scape-goating and targeting of the Indians took place. Riots were brutal, no one felt safe. It was during this period my grandfather had his house burned down and had to hide in fields holding my uncle, a mere baby at the time.

In Guyana, my grandpa George at 26 (my age now!) owned land and a shop but there was no way in Zeus's lightening was he going to risk his family through the volatility that Guyanese politics were at the time. He decided it was time to make like a cricket ball and bounce. And that's when the universe smiled at them and a golden gate opened up. The golden gate was Canada's Open Door Policy of the 1970s and the gate keeper— the revered prime minister Pierre Trudeau. A legend for Canadian immigrants, making faithful Liberals out of them for life. It was a golden gate indeed for so many people who needed it in the terrible global fall-out of post-colonialization in the context of a divisive Cold War. Never doubt an immigrant Canadian's patriotism. I get their vigour. I hope it makes sense to you even if you ain't an immigrant.

My mom and three of five siblings in the early days of Canada life.


But swinging into that open door wasn't easy at all. My gramps had SIX children that he needed to import to Canada from Guyana. And he had had a lot of his assets destroyed in the riots. What the hell was he going to do, right? But he was determined and hardworking. As such, him and my other grandparents worked menial jobs earning meagre wages in order to bring their whole family over to Canada—a stark contrast to the lifestyle they had in Guyana. My grandmother dragged buckets on her feet as she collected worms for fishing bait here, earning 5 cents for every worm she collected (this is the same grandmother who gave me a Versace handbag and a fur scarf..!). My grandfather worked in a hospital as a cleaner. You know how expensive flights were in those days?! My grandfather was also divorced, so he was a single father with those six immigrant children trying to support and shape into what would be the new faces of Canada.

The new faces of Canada. My Mom in the 80s


He lived like a bottom-feeder and slaved away to leave third world's instability so his family could build a better life, one of both security and freedom.  And they succeeded, my whole family is in Toronto. Now they all  have massive homes and everything they want, they can obtain. It makes me fiercely believe that a country that has a strong presence of these sorts of immigrants has a vein of strength and perseverance pulsing through it that those without can possibly imagine. Sure, there are risks of crime and instability that comes with reintegration, but the longterm effects build the foundation of people that will drive the country… aka us first-generation kids.

Anyways, fastforward to tomorrow. Grandpa George's granddaughter is leaving Canada heading to Southeast Asia, to a country still stiff with political tensions, underdevelopment, corruption and more. By following my dreams like an old Canadian (re: white), I have veritably slapped him in his face.

All I can say is that I agree. Toronto and Canada may indeed be one of the sweetest places. Thanks to them I am the holder of one of the best passports in the world—able to travel anywhere, grew up in a just society with good values and an education that has enabled me to go to the places I have. Toronto is an amazing city with great music (Metric, Feist, Austra, The Diamonds) film life (James Cameron, Ryan Gosling, Michael Cera, Ellen Page), food (it's the foodcourt of the world), universities (U of T) delicious tap water and greenery that will make you cry in the presence of its beauty.

It's only because they left Guyana I have any of the opportunity I have today. I wish they would realize that.

Anyways, in a very Canadian fashion I will apologize. Sorry for the extremely boring post. Below I've posted some pictures that highlight my love of the city. I am sad to say goodbye to all my friends and family, but honestly so excited to get back! I love Asia. I love the adventure and hope to see you soon!




Wearing my Autumn hat because I needed it and not because I was forcing fall fashion in hot Asia.

Chinese Checkers with my bro at Grandpa George's house on his 75th birthday.


Trinity College at University of Toronto. Amazing school. Brought me where I am today.


Things like this happen. Canadians love Halloween. Will miss friends. Obvi. 

Wide open spaces. Suburbia has its charms. 


Access to vegan and organic everything in life does not exist in Asia. 



Is your family like this? Any advice on how to win their acceptance? Be a bro, share below. 



Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Power of Fashion Blogs and My Parisian Gala Crisis

Retro Post from 2009.. ah to be young and in Paris!



A post I had never published from back in the day. No idea why. The blog that inspired me must be of an old friend when she was also starting out (I think!?). In any case, to this day, Camille Over the Rainbow remains one of the few fashion blogs I love. Check it out for the fashion tastes of a half French half British babe.

***

The year end event of one of the Grande Ecoles of France, the Sciences Po Gala, had finally arrived and I was ghetto and screwed. I was completely hung over from a dinner party involving too much 3 euro wine, the floor had already seen the inside of my stomach twice and on top of it all I had no dress and my head was pounding. Class act, I know. Correction, I had a dress, but it was ripped and I had discovered a stain on it at the last moment, mew. I was feeling royally foutue on a day that I had looked forward to since my first Gala two years prior as an exchange student, where I had to play the mama poule to my inebriated partner instead of rockin' out. This year was supposed to be different but now it was I who was the weakest link. I really didn't know what to do and I was feeling so horrible that I was at the point of giving up on even going. Yet somehow I found a pretty wicked solution.

Rewind a couple days to when I read this fashion blog posting on recycling clothes and making dresses into skirts. Fast forward back to Gala day, to me desparately scrimaging through my friend (savior)'s closet and finding this beautiful white thing I thought was a dress but was told it was a skirt. My heart plumeted because I thought the dress of my dreams was a fraud, until I realized that there was no reason that I couldn't make this rude boi into a dress given the right belt! The revelation and the result had me quite pleased.  I tried to keep it simple with white but needed to jazz it up so added in the electric blue heels I bought in Hong Kong for 5 bucks (best place ever to shop btw).

Anyways, I've never been one to follow fashion so here's my hommage to the world of fashion blogs, especially this one that spiked my throbbing brain with inspiration in my moment of girly desperation before embarking in one of the classiest events of the French student world.

Struggling to overcome the hangover crescendo 


Make-up. Nail polish. Dress. Standing. Win. 


Friday, November 1, 2013

Indie Guide Indonesia: Where to Live in Jakarta

The (Brief) Jakarta Apartment Guide for Young Groovy Expats

Who needs Bali when you live in a place like this?! Jakarta Residence..my home. 

As you read through this, you may be sensing a slight psychotic obsession with all things green and TENNIS and health oh my. I am Canadian and these are aspects of life I took for granted up until the point I moved to Jakarta and it was violently ripped from beneath my feet. Things you did with the ease of breathing, like walking to the store or taking the subway, don't exist here. And if you can walk to the store, it is usually accompanied with blackened lungs and clothing from pollution or the risk of being honked at because you're always always always in someone's goddamn way! Why? Because there aren't many sidewalks and you are walking on the street. Ah okay. Calming. Down.

Photoshoot in the middle of the Jakarta streets with badass artist Kendra Ahimsa

 As a result you have the potential (especially ladies!!) to get super fat. I did anyway, even though I went to the gym and had a bicycle..there was just an irreplaceable amount of activity in daily walking that my body missed desperately. Your geography in Jakarta means everything to your happiness. I've never seen a city where it matters so much where you live and that's because the traffic is truly devastating.

With this guide on where to live in Jakarta I hope to help you make good decisions! Please choose wisely. Ask your colleagues where they live and try to live in some of the places or areas I've recommend below.

Btw..you will also sense that partying, young people and cool culture are priorities for my ideal hoods and have biased what I have recommended. If that doesn't describe you then this is not relevant.

Good luck!

Before You Choose

You should base where you live on where your friends and social life will be more than your work. Trust me on this one. I lived 5 km (at Lavande Residence in Tebet) from all my friends for the sole purpose of living next to my office and beating traffic daily. It worked (beating traffic to work) but I rarely saw my friends. They mustered the strength to come ONCE in a month. If you breath social life, dinner with friends, watching shows on your couch with your homies, seriously don't make the mistake I did. Traffic is a biatch, but isolation is worse.


Pasta. Beer. Italians. at my place in Jakarta Residence. Hosting friends and being hosted was an essential part of my being. 

1. Jakarta Residence (Central Jakarta)

Located behind the major shopping centres of Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia, this was my favourite place to live. Everything happens in malls here and I would rather have spiders die in my ears than sit in traffic. I had my gym in Plaza Indonesia and all my friends lived in the same building or in the guesthouses right outside. Only on weekends did I need to venture away from my hood. It's great because it has an enormous pool, pool-side restaurant, neighbourhood where you can go jogging, lots of foreigners and most important for me.. TENNIS COURTS! A lot of people from the UN work there or Lion Air Pilots in training. IMO best bang for your buck.

1 BR: about 5 million IDR
2 BR: 7 million IDR
*not including electricity and internet

Why choose Jakarta Residence? You work at the UN or Menara Thamrin and want great facilities without dishing out all of your paycheque for it.


Weirdest thing about this place was that they built a neighbourhood on the roof of the mall! 

2. Thamrin Residence (Central Jakarta)

Located just next to the Jakarta Residence, this basically is the same vibe and access as what I wrote above. The difference being that the rooms are slightly more expensive and a bit smaller. The plus side is that the pool is better and they have 2 tennis courts rather than one. However it does not have a cool neighbourhood on the roof that you can go jogging on and ignore that you live in a pedestrian-hating city.

Why choose Thamrin Residence? You want something slightly nicer than what Jakarta Residence could offer.

3. Taman Rasuna (South Jakarta)

As an intern I apartment-sat a place for 2 months in Taman Rasuna (tower 6) and I must say I loved the place. It is filled with journalists from the Jakarta Globe and all sorts of expats because it is super affordable yet spacious and with decent facilities. There is a pool on the roof, pool-side restaurant, a tennis court and best of all is that it is built away from the Jakarta chaos with clean, smooth roads. You can walk and jog around there without feeling that death is imminent. Also it is right next to a shopping centre with lots of cafes and bars and a good local mall known as Pasar Senen (that has an Arab shop where you can fresh pitas for the hummous you make!).

The location is between the centre and further south (Kemang) so it's a good middle point to live for everyone.

Why choose Taman Rasuna? You work near or around Gatot Subroto or need to go south but don't want to imprison yourelf too far in traffic hell. Also, you want to be around other young people.

4. Other spots to check out

Bellagio: Swanky but crap tennis court. 
2 BR : 10 million IDR min

Sudirman Park: Cheap, giant pool, lots of Indian people. My intern friends lived there and it was not bad at all when on a budget but want an apartment. 

The Peak: If you're ballin' outta control, live here. Private elevators, giant flats, lots of diplomats living here.

Suites @7: This is a serviced apartment with a shared kitchen and private bath. Lots of young Germans and ecommerce bros live here. It's very transient and not a place to live for a long time. But you will have an amazing social life!
1 BR: 5 million IDR/month

Suburbs and Neighbourhoods to Live in

Kemang (South)

 This is a southern suburb that is filled with cool bars, restos, cafes, the Jakarta art scene and more. The expats who live here tend to be here for the long haul. You can find a room in a house to rent usually or rent your own house with people. The bitch of it is that you are in a prison of traffic. If your whole life jives in the south then whateva but if not..you better be prepared to track traffic flows more closely than your own blood pressure. I stayed in Evergreen Townhouses for a while and it was great! But my gym was in Plaza Indonesia so I rode my bicycle every other day for 1 hour to the centre. The pollution was treacherous and ultimately I don't advise it. With most of my friends living in the centre, I was finally compelled to move out of Kemang.

Senopati (South, SCBD)

Located between the Kemang and the centre. Jalan Senopati is one of my fav neighbourhoods. There are lots of good outdoor restaurants (recall that most things exist in a mall..well not here). It is close to all the hot spots (Lucy in the Sky, Potato Head, not far from Kemang), and the neighbourhood is kind of green looking. The infrastructure isn't great for walking but it's centrality to party spots and good dining is huge. I had a billion French friends live in the apartments in this neighbourhood.


Blurry picture of a French party in Senopati apartments. Spot the naked guy? 

Panglima Polim (South, Blok M) 

If you want to be in the heart of Indonesian hipsterdom, Panglima Polim (around Blok M) is the place to be. You're surrounded by cool cafes (Coffee Beerian), hipster restaurants (Taco Loco), lots of street art, a skip away form Little Tokyo and beautiful houses and wide streets that have lots of trees. The streets are lined with swanky mansions but it's a great neighbourhood if you're looking for a house. If you want to get even swankier go to Dharmawangsa hood. Not far away and even more green! It feels like a Jakarta escape


Menteng (Centre) 

Beautiful, walkable and a classic expat hood. The expats here are not your young party animals though. They are seriously mature either in age or career wise. Menteng is filled with beautiful mansions and when it rains the air is fresh and pleasant. For this reason alone I'd live there. If you can find an affordable room to rent go for it!!

Conclusion

 When I move to a new city I always hope to have the stereotypes laid out in front of me so I can understand what's what. It helps me from getting duped into a place that's not my flava flaves (old people who complain, far away from fun zones) but in the end anywhere that you are able to cut your work commute time while balancing your social life is the promise land. Cherish it.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and recommendations with others. Sorry for typos, I did this in a rush! My last couple days in Toronto on my long overdue visit to see my family!


Peace from Toronto, Trinity College

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