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Mary Grace Betsayda

MGrace

Canadian-Teacher-At-Large #6
MEGA MALL WISHES AND STRATFORD DREAMS...

I have been bad. Not bad in the traditional sense but bad in the sense that it has been ages since I have written anything. Some reporter I have been? To be honest, there have been tons of things to write about, but I have been so wrapped up with living abroad that I haven't been able to write. It's not an excuse. It is not. It has been sheer 'living' on my part that has put my journalistic instincts to document it on hold.

On September 29, it will be my birthday. Not my actual birthday but I am celebrating living in London for 2 years. The start of my 'junior year' in London, England will be the start of exciting things. When I came to London, it was a 3 month social experiment. Not only did I find a great school to work at, but I found a homebase away from Toronto (which will be Home #1 for me forever) and an amazing husband. His absence right now is giving me the mental space to write (he encourages me to write, of course! But it's hard when all I want to do is engage with him!)

Outside of my bubble, London changes, even more rapidly than when I first arrived. It's a different vibe now. Just a few hours ago, I went to the new Westfield Mall at Stratford, which is minutes away from my corner of London. I found that one of the best things about it was the easy entrance to the London Overground (for all you Torontonians and people familiar with Toronto, it reminds me of the connection of the Scarborough Rapid Transit to Scarborough Town Centre). It's definitely got the London stamp on it due to certain retailers (and of course, how can you miss the iconic London Tube marketing?) but big malls seem so, well, "North American" to me. Stores like "Forever 21" made their way into the Canadian imagination because of it's American roots. I recall taking numerous trips there when I visited Buffalo, NY and Chicago, Illinois, with loved ones in tow to buy new favourites at a fraction of the cost (oh, how I loved American shopping!). But I can't help but be reminded of home when I visit these mega malls. For me, it's the old buildings that I see that form a lot of my English imagination. With the spread of consumerism, it just reminds me of how small the world is becoming. I would not be surprised if in the future, something that was purchased at The Gap in the the U.K. can eventually be returned or exchanged in The Gap U.S.A. Commerce wise, our world is closing the gap between nations and brands that have gone international might have to take that step where cross border shopping goes global. I'm hardly an expert in global commerce (save the fact that every vacation for a few years I purchased something new so that some days, I would have a hat from New York, a Canadian jacket, jeans from the U.K. and shoes from Italy) but I think that businesses should start to develop that. I used to work for a major Canadian bank and there was a time when paying an American Macy's bill (Macy's is an American department store) needed a bank draft that used to cost about $10.00 Canadian, complete with an envelope and stamp. Nowadays, I am only assuming that these things can be paid online (see, now you know that I don't have a Macy's account!).

The presence of these American style mega malls actually make me feel better about living in London, but not in the ways you would think. Central London used to be the be all and end all of things trendy, but investing in East London certainly puts the Borough of Newham on the map! It actually makes me feel like I am home.

Canadian-Teacher-At-Large #5
THE BALANCE: AM I ON HOLIDAY?

I just came back from a 5-day holiday in Spain and my two girlfriends want to whisk me off to Turkey in a few days time. In this line of work as a cover teacher, it is tempting to run off on such short excursions, especially since London is such a launch point for travel. If work’s not so busy, what’s the problem? What else are you doing anyway? Lesson plans are not on the agenda – unless you are a long-term supply – which I am not at the moment. And am I ok with this? Perhaps…

My issue is that I wonder if I am working too hard on my Working Holiday Visa or if I am not working enough…Definitely a Hamlet “To-be-or-not-to-be” moment of self contemplation. Sure, the school year in England is technically longer than the ones I was conditioned through in Canada (it certainly stung me when I read that July 23rd was the last day in the English school term, no tears but definitely an eye-opener). My flatmate saw me through a period of long term supply and on a bad day, he said, “Why are you working so hard? You are on a Working Holiday Visa”. For some reason, this assuaged my fears at the time and pops up pretty frequently in memory).

On the rough cobblestone streets of Spain, I wandered around with friends on my weakened ankle and wondered what it would be like to travel when I am older. My pilgrimages won’t be of the same caliber, assuming that I will be in worse shape. Already I am feeling the effects of age, wondering if I should get noise cancelling headphones instead of using the free ones that came with the bus package from Barcelona to Valencia. I wonder if my sunglasses are protecting my eyes from UVA and UVB’s. I wonder if I shall do these things now since I have the “guarantee” of youth or if I should be conservative and think about those RRSP’s a lot more.

In either case, there is always a payoff. Life’s always going to be about choice and I think I am pretty lucky that I recognize that I have options. You have to remember these choices are for the privileged, and I don’t simply mean the affluent. Making a good choice is making the choice that you can live with and continuing to be mature enough to understand what you have to do to balance what you want and what you need. I am told to usually go with my gut. With this being said, I am still looking for a flight…and calling to see if there’s work in the morning!

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