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Ling Wang

Ling

Have you ever attempted DIY?

In China, where I grew up, DIY (do it yourself) is still a very trendy word. DIY generates lots of business opportunities. Many urban people pay to DIY as a pastime or for entertainment. On holidays or weekends, many people undertake DIY projects in order to satisfy their curiosity or hunger for creativity. Some DIY activities are even elaborated as symbols of quality life.

Books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched described how handy many people are in North America. I was surprised to see that even pretty young ladies in movies shop in paint stores, returning home to change the colour of their rooms with rollers and brushes. Painting seems easy and fun to them.

To most Chinese people, home renovation is considered as work for men, yet not necessarily for husbands, as rural migrant workers are easily available in great numbers and at low cost. The workers may not have academic training, but they do have lots of hands-on skills and experience. A family who could afford buying a condo in the city wouldn’t bother themselves with the mess involved in home renovation, especially when the labour cost involved is often far less than the cost of materials.

Immigrating to Canada showed me a different picture. My husband and I bought an older house, knowing and accepting the fact that it requires many upgrades. But I was still shocked to find out how unbelievably expensive some trades people could be. DIY in Canada is not the fashionable activity as it is in China, but an attempt by home-owners like us to put hard-earned money to the best use. Doing things bit by bit every day and to the correct standard can test a person’s patience. But DIY definitely saves large amounts of money on labour, although it might take months or even years to get the home the way we would like it.

Fortunately, my husband amazes me as a very skillful person, capable of doing things with various tools. He finds it exciting and satisfying to use and refine his self-taught skills. He also has strong interest in exploring new techniques and products.

I am also eager to help and learn, although I was not sure if I could make it. However, the old-fashioned floral wall paper in our house bugged me enough to go ahead anyway. My husband explained to me the procedures to prepare the walls, why it is important to prime the wall and how to attend to details. Also, internet provides good tips on tasks, like how to use fabric softener or vinegar with warm water to loosen old wall paper and residue.

We are all happy that everybody even including our kids helps modernize some plain-looking rooms with pleasant colours we discussed about, matched and decided together. One by one, we enjoy the comfort and convenience of every completed project, be it a bathroom, the kitchen, or simply a floor changed from carpet to laminate. It is also our pride and delight to show off our improving house whenever friends visit us.

Believe it or not, tasks like painting also provide me with a relaxing break from a long day of office work and house chores. I’ve learned to understand technical terminology, such as framing, taping, gluing, sanding, staining, drywall, primer and paint thinner, etc. Learning a lot in the process is one thing, witnessing a project proceed from launching to completion with refreshing new look and functions brings great feelings of accomplishment. We are so contented to see our kids growing happily in a home we are revitalizing with care and strength.

A friend of mine in China wouldn’t believe that we do so many things on our own. To her, renovation or maintenance should be done by labour workers. She thought, we were depriving ourselves of ‘leisure time” such as playing cards with friends in a bar, or watching lots of TV at night. Yet I told her that she missed the joy of having a hand in beautifying her own home. The satisfaction from the ‘before and after’ effect is tremendously rewarding. DIY provides us the freedom to shape or colour our own home the way we want. Sometimes, we do get tired and frustrated from doing so much work which seems endless, but the down-time is usually minimized by the hearty excitement that follows when each room is completed.

DIY also changed my sub-conscious view of the terms “white-collar” and “blue-collar”. I came to believe that anybody who earns an honest living deserves full respect in spite of the colour of their “collar”, be they an office manager in business attire or a construction worker in soiled work wear. When my mom came to visit us a few years ago, she was so amused to see how my husband presented himself as a “different” person at home, because she remembered him as a scholarly-looking person back in China!

Of course, DIY extends to other aspects of living in Canada: washing cars; doing yard-work; looking after the kids without any extra help; preparing dishes instead of dining out often, and more. There are many other home-making DIY skills I want to acquire and improve, such as sewing and cooking with recipes and ingredients I’ve never tried before, and more.

Living in Canada offers us with many different kinds of fun to participate in thanks to DIY! We are so much more attached to our lovely home because of DIY!

Have you ever attempted DIY? If not, give it a try!

Corn
Bitter or Sweet

Having resided in Canada long enough to be entitled to Canadian citizenship, one thing I really like about this society is the friendly atmosphere in which self-discipline, politeness and trust are highly valued. It feels great to be in a trusting relationship. It makes getting along with others easier when we can believe in the integrity of each other. However, I was recently prompted to reconsider my thoughts when my morality and honesty, which I always take pride in, were hastily doubted quite publicly.

It’s the season when fresh corn is available again at 4 for a dollar! While shopping with my two children, I selected some ears of sweet corn as we always enjoy them. My 19-month-old daughter is curious but naïve about everything. She immediately recognized the corn and became very excited. Pointing with her little hand, she babbled her eagerness to eat, since she had tasted corn’s sweetness not long ago. My numerous “No’s” could not stop her tearful crying, by now heard throughout the store.

Many parents must have experienced the dilemma of not being able to reason with a toddler. Feeling embarrassed by the inquisitive looks from people around, I gave in and put one of the ears of corn I intended to buy into her hand. Her mouthful of kernels was quickly followed by a delightful smile. Now she was quiet and happy and I continued with my shopping.

With the cart full of groceries, we took our turn in the checkout line. Baby was in my arms, savouring the fresh corn still in her mouth. Her face was covered by gooey pieces and her hands couldn’t have been stickier, yet she seemed very contented. Meanwhile, I was distraught and bothered by the mess on my nice top and pretty skirt. Two gentlemen in another line were very amused by the baby’s cute looks and gave me understanding smiles. We started chatting about how different babies were from adults when it comes to food. Babies consider anything to be edible, whether it’s cooked or not, while adults know when cooking is a necessity or an option. I guess people around us heard our conversation.

Before I could grab it, the ear of corn suddenly slipped from baby’s hand. She sighed “Uh-oh!” with a pitiful and puzzled look on her innocent face. I was secretly happy that the corn had dropped, but I knew very well that she wanted me to pick it up. I told her “Dirty! Garbage!” which she had learned to understand. She knew that it was time to end the enjoyable eating process.

I asked my older daughter to remain in line while I sought out a garbage pail. I needed to dispose of the partially eaten corn which had been in contact with the floor, yet I fully intended to pay for it with no doubt. I I’m sure most people with babies would understand what I did in that situation.

When I returned to my spot in line, I was startled by an out- of- the-blue remark from a cashier, not the one about to serve me, but one nearby. A frighteningly loud voice let out a “WHERE DID YOU PUT IT?!” What I heard didn’t immediately register, but the menacing look did.

“What do you mean? You mean the corn? It’s over there in the garbage.” I said. “I think you were HIDING it!” was the response.

The word “hiding” has a serious implication. My anger was stirred up. Even if she had suspicion, she could have approached me more respectfully. I couldn’t accept her considering me a thief. How could she rashly assume that it was my intention to not pay for the ear of corn the baby had dropped? Would a shoplifter be so dumb as to arouse attention by chatting about an ear of corn with a value of 25 cents? With a fully-loaded cart, how many items did the cashier think a person could possibly “hide”? In any event, nobody serving the public has the right to presume criminal intent.

Being a sensitive, caring adult, I felt quite disturbed. I attempted to reason with the cashier, but her continued arrogance and rude comments increased my outrage. I spoke with the manager on duty but her apology on behalf of the store did little to ease my sense of humiliation. Did the offending cashier base her judgment of me on my “foreign” appearance? Did she feel superior because she assumed I might not speak English? Was this an example of so-called discrimination, prejudice or even hatred against immigrants which is out there? Had I been pigeon-holed due to the fact I’m a visible immigrant, or was I merely the recipient of poor behaviour?

The next day, I got in touch with the store owner. He listened to me patiently and expressed his sincere regret for what I had been subjected to. As well, he went on to say how appreciative he was for business from customers of international origins. No doubt these shoppers comprise a notable portion of his clientele. He assured me that his staff would get more training in customer relations… I felt satisfied.

Never have I experienced such an uncomfortable incident in my life. It seemed most unusual to me, yet it likely happens daily. When it comes to newcomers, particularly those with limited English, the experience would be more difficult to handle. Even well-adapted immigrants like me with adequate language skills become frustrated in instances of confrontation with native speakers. Imagine how difficult it would be to justify oneself with limited English. So, I figured that my story is worth telling.

I encourage anybody, especially newcomers to Canada, to not endure any undeserved indignity. It’s a matter of self esteem and the mutual respect I spoke about earlier. Speak up when you are misunderstood or ill-treated. If you need help making your voice heard, reach out for that assistance, be it from ordinary folks or professionals who advocate for the support and fairness to newcomers. Remember not to be silent in time of adversity. Be firm but dignified. Be vigorously self-reliant. Anybody with sound virtues, including respect for themselves and for others, is not about to be insulted at the checkout line or anywhere else.

Note: Ling Wang works as a Settlement Counsellor and Chinese Language Instructor with Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre in St. Catharines. You may reach out to the author at lwang@folk-arts.ca or 905-685-6589 ext. 227

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