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.