Journal 5

Final project: Experiencing Food in VR

Now that I’ve been back a few weeks and I’ve had time to reflect on my journey, here are my top learnings from a very personal perspective:

Try, try, try

When I was signing up for the course, I’ve had a lot of hoops to jump through. Especially, being a new employee, it was challenging to organize time-off for the course and have meetings with my team about the matter. I didn’t wanna be the new guy in the office who kept asking for stuff. Alongside, the visa processes was long and arduous. There were so many barriers. However, one by one, with the wonderful support of my colleagues, ACAM crew and Go Global, I was able to climb the barrier and go to the next step. Maybe it’s a parable of life. If you want something, you have to go step by step, ask for help, and persevere and it might come true. Even if it doesn't, you tried and that's what matters in the end. Not everything is in our control and all we can ever do is try.

Dots, dots, dots

When I was fighting to take this course many people including my parents asked me, “Sounds fun, but what’s the point of this course? Does it help you professionally?”. To answer simply, no it doesn't have any correlation with my professional career. However, through many ways in this course I got to make new connections, learn about new cultures, visit HK, Singapore and Malaysia, and make many new dots in my life; that I yet do not know how it will all connect.  As Steve Jobs famous said, and many successful people have implied:

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” - Steve Jobs

Maybe I’ll collaborate on a project with Professor Henry Yu that changes UBC

Maybe I’ll incorporate my learnings about Chinese culture and migration in a film that wins an award

Maybe Marcus and I will develop the next Facebook that brings communities together

Maybe Jenny and I will revolutionize the food scene in Vancouver

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Lots of maybes… maybes with Wei, Alexa, Coastal (aka Alston) or any other of the 20+ folks of our class who will be dispersed in many corners of the earth. I think ultimately that's my biggest take away from this course. Not the places I’ve visited, the facts I’ve learnt, or an A+ in my transcript. But many new dots in my life that are waiting to get connected. 

Thank you for enabling the dots Marcus and Jenny!

Love and prayers,

Farhan




Journal 4

Like everyone, I was mesmerized by Singapore. Landing at the small Penang airport was anticlimactic after the glamorous Changi Airport. Everything was less glittery, less efficient, and ATM’s tended to eat up cards. I could see from everyone’s faces that after travelling for two weeks, people weren’t excited for Penang. However, the initial impressions would change and Penang started to grow on us all!

Time changes perspectives and impressions. 

We stayed in Singapore for around 4 days and by the end of it all, I could argue that we had seen most of the major landmarks. With each passing day, and Professor Henry’s “drinking the kool-aid” lectures, we got more critical of Singapore. However, with Penang it was the other way around.

People were friendly. Random strangers struck up a conversation. There were “unplanned” surprises in many street corners. Like the elderly man making incense, a veteran journalist sharing stories. Penang didn’t feel as “touristic” and it felt like you could explore and uncover new experiences not in a travel brochure. Penang didn’t wow me with first impressions but with time I began to love Penang more and more!

Bangladeshis, Bangladeshis everywhere!

The first night in Penang I was shocked to hear one of our food vendors counting money in Bengali, my mother tongue! Striking up a conversation, I got to learn that he is a Bangladeshi like me and has been working in Penang for the last two years. He further told me that there were a lot more Bangladeshis in Penang. I didn't need to wait long to find more. Our hostel, restaurants, shops, Bangladeshis were everywhere. I was enthralled! I never knew so many Bangladeshis lived and worked in Penang. Speaking to a few of them gave me a unique perspective on migration and South East Asia’s immigration policies. Most of the Bangladeshi workers come through a work visa that is tied to a specific employer. Once here, they have limited options to change employment, they can only do so with the approval of their employer. Furthermore, they can stay a maximum of ten years without any opportunity for residency or citizenship. One of our hostel staff, who had been working in Penang last eight years is now concerned on what he should do after his permit expires. After, all he has lived a significant portion of his life here and soon he has to go back. 

Like them, I’m also currently a migrant worker in Canada. I can’t fathom the possibility of not getting a residency after ten years of living in my new home. Your new home becomes your one and true home and it must be very difficult for them. To be always on the bridge between two places. Migration can be lucrative for those with limited opportunities, but amongst the economic opportunities it presents, there are a lot of psychological and emotional costs that needs to be taken into account.

Journal 3

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Landing at Changi Airport in Singapore, one could mistakenly think the pilot has landed at a luxurious shopping mall. Great ambience, delightful food, five-star toilets… heck, they even have a park and a waterfall! As first impressions go, Singapore wow’d all of us. Overall I found Singapore to be a very inspiring city. If I ever land a job as an urban planner or meet some planners from my home city of Dhaka (one of the worst planned cities on the planet), here is an inspiration board to consider: 

Accessible crosswalks

In Singapore crosswalks have a card scanner which lets the elderly and the disabled scan a card, which allows them more time to cross the road. Why don't we have this everywhere in the world? Whereas, here in Penang and many other cities crosswalks don’t even exist.

Decentralisation 

Singapore has a population of close to 6 million and is a small island city. Even though the population density is high, it never felt crowded. I could not fathom why though. Hong Kong has a similar population density and it was probably one of the most crowded places I’ve been to outside Dhaka. Again, as explained by Professor Henry, this was due to the planning of the city and the transport system. There is no singular hub in Singapore, nor a clear separation between commercial and residential areas. Which means the population is much more widely dispersed, and less commuting for Singaporeans. Again, why aren’t more cities like this? Traffic kills, literally as you may get and figuratively by the working hours lost due to commuting. 

Create “Beauty”

Whenever I visit a new city, I can’t help but compare it with the cities I’ve lived in. Vancouver is blessed with abundant natural beauty. You do not have to choose between the mountains or the sea, you can have it all! Whereas, apart from being an island close to the sea, Singapore has no natural beauty. It has no historical landmarks or any of the wonders of the world like the Grand Canyon or the Pyramids. However, Singapore has been able to artificially create “beauty” for tourists through projects like the Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay. Tourists love it, I love it! More importantly, through these initiatives Singapore has been able to brand itself as a tourist hub and a model city which brings in a lot of tourist income. Which in turn generates more revenue for future infrastructure projects. I hope the planners from my hometown can take inspiration and can develop something like this that can bring some prosperity to our poor city.

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I know I sound like the kool aid that Professor Henry talks about. I’m sure Singapore has its share of issues. Civil rights are limited, to develop this new Singapore a lot had to be lost. However, from a personal perspective, Singapore seems to do a lot more things “right” than “wrong”. Or at least, they have brainwashed me enough to be part of their cult

Journal 2

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The first thing that hit me when I landed in HK was the thick humid air. Even though I grew up in a similar tropical climate in Bangladesh, my body has gotten adapted to the temperate climate of British Columbia. Human adaptability is a funny thing, it lets you survive in a new place halfway around the world, yet, you lose what you had for something new. 

If the physical sensation of the humid air didn’t remind me that I’m in a completely new place. The pace of life in Hong Kong was like a jolt to my system! Hong Kong is the liveliest place I’ve been to in my 26-year-old life so far, at least the HK metro is. It is like a living organism moving at breakneck speed, you have no choice but to move with it as one. The crowd of people rushing to catch the train, the crowd getting out of the train, all under a confined space underground is akin to an ant colony. Standing and witnessing the HK metro in its full cacophony, an alien visitor would not find any difference between the ant colony and us humans. I’m very fond of the principle of Biomimicry, which takes design inspiration from nature. I wonder if the architects and designers took cues from nature. Moving a vast number of people is no easy task and Hong Kong does this so fluidly and efficiently. You may wonder why I’m focusing so much on the movement of people and the HK MTR. After all, isn’t this the norm in most places? Like Hong Kong my hometown Dhaka is a megacity with a population density to match. The biggest frustration of us locals is the transport system. The traffic is so debilitating that people leave the city for it. There is no subway system and it is utter chaos on the roads. People die as ambulances are stuck, relationships are ruined by a small distance of 10km, different neighbourhoods are almost like different provinces. Geographical mobility is an integral part of our modern lives, I have seen life without it and with it, I would even go far as to argue that it should be a basic civilian right but that’s a conversation for a different journal.

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The next thing I found absolutely fascinating in the MTR was the crowd of Indonesian women. They were all wearing colourful dresses with matching headscarves and vividly stood out from the rest of the population. They were all young, dressed immaculately and seemed to be in a jolly mood. As first impressions go, I thought they were members of the Hong Kong upper-class population out on a weekend. However, professor Henry informed me that most of these women work as live in maids for Hong Kongers and Sunday was the only day off. So they were out-out doing what most humans do on their day off, going out and just having fun. I don’t really know how to unpack this observation intellectually or why this really stood out for me. Maybe because they were Muslim like me? Or maybe it's an interesting economic and phenomenon of globalization of labour. I really do not know. Not all things require explanations, nor a reason. Sometimes its a feeling or a visual that really stands out and for me, it was the Hong Kong Metro.

Journal 1

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This class has made me a student again! After more than 365 days, I’m relishing the opportunity to sit in a class, read papers, socialize with classmates and write this paper! The first week has been a lot of balancing. Balancing spirituality, work and academics. I guess this is what grown-ups are meant to do. Commuting from UBC to Chinatown has opened up new perspectives about Vancouver for me. Having lived in the UBC bubble for much of the last five years, I have rarely been to Chinatown. Markets selling open goods, colourful decor, and the pungent smell of dried fish and imported goods remind me of the markets of Dhaka where I grew up. At first glance, Chinatown may seem disorganized compared to the rest of Vancouver. Polluted streets, homeless people, rundown buildings - like one of the fellow students uttered as she was walking with me to class, “this is so not Vancouver”. Yet, Chinatown adds a unique character and colour to Metro Vancouver. It is a piece of history that holds stories of migration, family, discrimination and perseverance. 

One of the reasons I wanted to take this course was because I had no prior knowledge about the history of Chinese migration in North America. Hence in the first week, most of what I’m learning has been new. Reading and learning about the Chinese head tax, contributions of Chinese workers on building the railway, and the “gold mountain” impact on multiple generations in the migrant and hometown communities - all of it has given me a newfound lens on the Chinese community. On a more abstract level, the concept of bounded time and unbounded space by Professor Henry has been quite fascinating. E.g. Land grabbing by various colonial powers to bound land to a colonial owner to earn equity for unbounded time. On the other hand, Chinese migrants were not bounded by land and were fluid to move anywhere where they could earn a living. “Gold Mountain” was not a place but an idea and a dream. However, they were bounded by time as human life is not infinite. Decisions were made by time, not space. The current trend of globalization could be paralleled with the idea of “Gold Mountain”, where people in the developed world are not limited by geography and could live anywhere to pursue their dreams, they only need to invest the time and energy.

Another interesting dynamic that I’ve come to understand from the readings is the contemporary Chinese migration in Vancouver, especially migrants from Hong Kong. Like many, and being an economics student particularly, I’ve wondered why the Hong Kong migrants are more well off compared to the rest of the immigrant communities? This turns out is a result of Immigration policy by the Canadian government that incentivized immigration through investment during the handover of Hong Kong to China. It is practical that people want to save/investment their hard earned money somewhere safe, and during a time of uncertainty in Hong Kong, Canada willingly offered to be the “Swiss Bank” for this community. Only the richest could make that investment, hence the high ratio of economically well off Hongkongers in Metro Vancouver. Can this immigration policy be regarded as a modern version of the head-tax? I do not know, but the immigration policy, however liberal in Canada, does demand people to be of a particular demographic and socio-economic class, regardless of geography. Unless you are a potential benefit to Canada, you can’t migrate. Such is the case of our world-order, not just Canada.