Working towards cultural harmony in Richmond

A shot of the crowd at RCCS's recent Autumn Festival in Richmond

A shot of the crowd at RCCS’s recent Autumn Festival in Richmond. Photo courtesy of the Richmond Chinese Community Society.

Census data shows that 10.4 per cent of Richmond citizens cannot speak either of Canada’s official languages, up 2 per cent since 2006.

Some Richmond groups are initiating efforts to help the immigrant population transition into their new city.

Henry Beh, executive and founding director of the Richmond Chinese Community Society, said that the main objective for the organization’s upcoming year was to continue their efforts to help integrate new Chinese immigrants into Richmond society.

Stressing the importance of cultural understanding

“The most important thing we can do as a community is to foster understanding between the different cultures,” said Beh. “It’s not enough to just throw money at the problem.”

The RCCS offers educational resources to both immigrants and citizens on a variety of topics, but it does not receive funding from the government to offer these programs and rely heavily on donations to provide these services.

“A lot of these new immigrants face growing resentment from non-immigrant citizens,” said Beh. “This is why education of cultures on both sides is such a crucial issue.”

Beh added that the RCCS is limited in what it can do in terms of services such as ESL classes because of the lack of government funding, but believes that what it does do is important enough that people will donate money to the cause.

Other organizations, such as Richmond Multicultural Community Services, do receive government funding to offer similar outreach programs. This extra funding comes with strings, however, and RMCS is forced to operate under a strict set of rules.

Government funding changes the rules

“It used to be that we would serve anyone who came to our doors, but then the government changed the rules about who we can serve,” said RMCS Activities Coordinator Ashok Ratton. “Now we cannot serve temporary workers or international students.”

RMCS organizes events, such as their upcoming celebration for Diwali and Eid on Nov. 26, to help bring together people of all ages and cultures to promote cultural harmony.

RMCS also offers a weekly English conversation class where immigrants can learn basic English phrases to get by on a regular basis. Ratton said that it is not an ESL course, but that it teaches the important aspects of the language to foster continuing language development.

Isolation and loneliness are huge obstacles for any new immigrant

“Isolation is one big factor that immigrants face,” said Ratton. “If they come here as refugees or skilled workers they don’t have family or any real support system. Leaving the house becomes a big fear for them.”

Jiu Xing, a Chinese immigrant who came to Richmond 10 years ago, said that it was very difficult for her to become comfortable in her new home.

Not all immigrants who come to Canada stay in Canada

“I struggled with the language at first,” said Xing. “If it weren’t for [Richmond] being such an immigrant-friendly place I probably would have gone back [to China].”

Ratton said that this was not uncommon, and that 14-15% of new immigrants will leave Canada either to return to their home country, or to seek citizenship somewhere else.

Both Ratton and Beh stressed the importance of community harmony as a big part of Richmond’s future growth.

“Segregation of cultures is very dangerous as it just causes resentment and ignorance on both sides,” said Beh. “We need to come together as a people and learn to get along.”

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Cell phone thefts becoming a problem in Richmond

It’s not surprising that with cell phones being as expensive as they are nowadays, they are becoming a prime target for thieves. It’s the same as when I was back in school and certain “rare” collectables (such as Pokemon cards) were the targets of theft because they could be sold for more money. It’s sad that people like that exist, but it’s one of those facts of life we have to deal with. The important thing is to learn how to protect ourselves.

Since September 15th, there have been 16 reported cases of cell phone thefts in the city, the majority of which were allegedly committed by the same group of individuals. According to the victims, one of the thieves will ask to borrow a cell phone and will walk off to “make a call” while the other two distract the mark. They then run away before the victim can do anything.

The alleged thieves have been targeting the areas around Cambie Road south to Park Road and from No. 3 Road east to Garden City Road. They’ve preyed mostly on young Asian girls.

Thankfully only one of these thefts involved the phone being taken by force, and no one has been seriously injured…yet.

There’s an easy solution here: don’t let strangers borrow your phone. It sounds harsh, perhaps a bit extreme, but it’s just the logical thing to do. Many people, particularly younger people, have smartphones these days, and more often than not these phones aren’t cheap. More than that though, these phones are more than just simple devices anymore, and often people run large aspects of their daily lives from that handheld device. Need to send an email to your boss? There’s an app for that. Need to check Twitter? App. Want to listen to music? App. Forgot what you needed to pick up at the grocery store? App. Need to check your calendar to make sure you’re not forgetting any appointments or assignments? App. So again, not only are these phones crazy expensive, they are important pieces of many peoples’ lives.

Would you let a stranger borrow your car? What about your wallet? No, you would not. Why then are people letting complete strangers, a GROUP of strangers no less, borrow an expensive cell phone?

The sad part is, there are likely many cases where someone might need to borrow a cell phone. Maybe theirs ran out of juice, or they don’t have quarters for a payphone. Whatever the case, it’s bad apples like these current bandits in Richmond that destroy our ability to trust in our fellow man.

Thankfully due to the innovation known as GPS, there are now apps out there that can help you track your phone if it gets stolen. Apple for instance has an application called “Find My iPhone” that allows the user to track their phone’s location on the computer, send a message to the phone, lock the phone so the thief cannot use it, and even erase the phone entirely so their information doesn’t get leaked. The thing is though, the user needs to actually set up the application first. If your phone gets stolen first, the user is still out of luck. Even with the app though, return of the phone isn’t guaranteed.

Anyone with information on these current cell phone thefts in Richmond is asked to contact Richmond RCMP at 604-278-1212 or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

So keep a tight grip on your cell phone people. You may feel bad denying a seemingly innocent request from a stranger, but at least you will still have your phone at the end of the day.

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English language becoming a rarer commodity in Richmond

It’s no secret to anybody that Richmond is heavily populated by immigrants. In fact, Richmond has the highest immigrant population in Canada with 60%. Many of these immigrants are of Asian descent; Richmond has the highest proportion of Asians of any city in North America. None of this is news, and it is all very quickly apparent to anybody walking around in the city. Immigration has been a huge part of the development of our great nation, and we as a country pride ourselves on being inclusive to other cultures. I’m completely in favour of that ideal, but only to a point. When it gets to the point where Canadian culture is being replaced entirely, that’s not right.

In 2006, 8.8% of the Richmond population had no knowledge of either English or French, Canada’s official languages. Despite multiple resources being available for new immigrants to take ESL courses, that percentage has actually gone up in recent years, and now 10.4% of Richmond citizens cannot speak either official language.

That’s right. One in ten people cannot speak either English or French. Take a moment and let that sink in.

I sympathize with people coming to this country and having difficulty learning the customs and language. I moved to Vancouver from Ontario and that in itself was a difficult transition to make, I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to move to a new country. The difference there? If I ever DID move to new country, I would never expect them to accomodate my needs by posting signs only in my main language in place of the main language(s) of their country. Richmond does just this however, and there are many examples of signs that are printed without any English present whatsoever.

Some places, such as the Aberdeen Centre, have policies in place to print signs in both English and a foreign language, but English has to be the largest text on the sign. It’s a similar policy taken in Quebec where both English and French have to be on signs, but the French often has to be larger. By making the signs bilingual it ensures that everyone is comfortable, but it also maintains Canadian culture above all else.

I understand the temptation to put up unilingual signs in areas dominated by one nationality as many parts of Richmond are, but in the long run this provides a major disservice to the residents, particularly those that speak either very little or no English. Initially they may offer a sense of family and security, softening the impact of culture shock, but this does not last. There is a huge risk of these people not being able to fully integrate into mainstream Canada if they never receive the motivation to learn our language. They’ll do fine in their little enclaves, but how are they supposed to grow beyond that?

Again, I am fully in favour of immigration and I sympathize with the challenges that these people face upon arriving in our country, but that is no excuse. If you move to this country, make an effort to learn at least one of our official languages. Don’t rely on people in your neighbourhood speaking the same foreign language as you. Not only would this be a great step towards inter-cultural harmony, but it would show some appreciation for being a citizen (or resident) of our great country.


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Shark fin soup debate rages on

Conservative MP Alice Wong eats shark fin soup at Jade restaurant in Richmond Thursday.

Conservative MP Alice Wong eats shark fin soup at Jade restaurant in Richmond Thursday. Photo by Ming Pao.

The debate surrounding shark fin soup is not a new one, but it is one that continues to gain momentum. Perhaps the biggest and most important aspect of this debate involves the harvesting of fins from endangered species of sharks, and when an estimated 75 million sharks are being harvested each year for this single purpose, that issue becomes even more alarming.

Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Chinese culture, and has been part of that culture dating back to Ming Dynasty China. Treasured for its taste and and rarity, the dish has seen a sharp rise in popularity as living conditions both in China and where Chinese immigrants have settled have improved.

But, as mentioned above, the problem isn’t in the consumption of the soup, but rather in what sharks are being harvested and the manner in which this is being done. Despite regulations created specifically to control these problems, sharks are often caught, have their fins cut off, and are dumped back in the ocean to die. That’s not to say that all shark harvesters employ these methods as some fisheries, including Canada’s spiny dogfish shark fishery, are well-maintained and do abide by the rules laid out for them. But without DNA testing, it is impossible to determine which species of shark the fins came from.

A worker cuts off a fin from the frozen carcass of a shark at a fish processing plant in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan.   Read more:

A worker cuts off a fin from the frozen carcass of a shark at a fish processing plant in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. Photo by Pichi Chuang , Reuters.

The movement to create a province-wide ban on the dish is again not a new one, but it does seem to be creating a divide amongst the citizens. Richmond Conservative MP Alice Wong recently made a public spectacle out of enjoying a bowl of the soup at a local restaurant, making her stance on the issue quite clear, and that in itself has created a bit of a stir. Wong allegedly invited only Asian media to the “event”, leaving the rest of us to find out about what was going on after the fact.

Wong has since come out to defend her decision to eat the soup, stating that a ban on shark fin products was a federal responsibility, not one for the municipalities to consider. She further said that Canada’s regulations surrounding the import of shark fins are strong enough to keep illegally harvested products off the market here. But then, in a staggering show of what some may consider ignorance, both Wong and the owner of the restaurant admitted that they had no way of telling whether the fin used in her soup was from an endangered species, or if it had been harvested illegally and/or unethically.

That’s right. First she says that Canada’s regulations are enough to keep illegal goods from making it to our restaurants, then backtracks by stating that she is not sure where the fin in her soup came from. That doesn’t exactly sound like confidence to me.

Back to a point I made earlier however, by inviting only Asian media to this “event”, Wong effectively alienated a large portion of her constituency by catering to one specific demographic. As an elected official and public servant, is it not her duty to represent EVERYBODY in her area? Is she not supposed to remain transparent in terms of her duty to the public, and did she not violate that transparency by inviting ONLY Asian media?

The municipalities of Port Moody, North Vancouver and Coquitlam have already imposed a ban on the sale of shark fin products, and the Vancouver city council is working with Richmond and Burnaby to impose similar bans in those municipalities. Despite this, Wong maintains that imposing such bans is a responsibility of the federal government, not the municipal. The whole point of municipal government is to deal with local issues, and clearly this shark fin soup debate has become a local issue, evidenced by the already existing bans in BC cities. If the ban on shark fin products was to become a nation-wide ban, then it would become a federal responsibility. Right now, it’s a municipal issue.

If as a private citizen Alice Wong wishes to consume shark fin soup, that is her right. But by making a public spectacle out of it all as a representative of her community, she has crossed a line, especially by inviting only media that may be sympathetic to what she was doing.

Some are calling the proposed bans “culturally insensitive”, but I for one find that label offensive. The point of these proposed bans is not to be insensitive to the Chinese community. The point of these proposed bans is not to disrespect their culture and history. The point IS however to prevent the extinction of endangered species and to cut down on the illegal harvesting of the product. In an ideal world, everyone would abide by the laws and regulations, and this debate wouldn’t be necessary as all the imported shark fins would have been harvested ethically and legally. But because we don’t live in that fantasy land, perhaps drastic measures need to be taken. Shark fin soup may be a part of Chinese culture, but if the opinion of Canadian citizens is that it needs to be banned, that needs to be respected. Call me “culturally insensitive”, but if the city wants to ban the sale of shark fin products and they have the proper amount of public support, then perhaps it’s time for change.

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Justin Trudeau speaks to a packed Richmond crowd in bid for Liberal Party leadership

After speaking earlier in the day in Calgary, Liberal Party leader candidate Justin Trudeau made a stop in Richmond to speak in front of hundreds of eager listeners at the Radisson Airport Hotel.

Even though I showed up well over an hour in advance, every seat in the house was already occupied, and wall-space was quickly becoming a valuable commodity. I settled in to a nice spot behind a row of chairs and watched as people of all ages and ethnicities continued to file in and try to claim some real estate before the show started. As 7:00 drew closer, the energy in the room grew more and more electric until finally someone approached the podium and adjusted the microphone to speak, but it was not Monsieur Trudeau.

People continue to pile into the crowded room in Richmond, waiting for Justin Trudeau.

People continue to pile into the crowded room in Richmond, waiting for Justin Trudeau.

16 year old Linda Chang took the podium and delivered an impassioned speech about her personal interest in politics, and how she wished that more youth would take action and vote to help shape our country’s future. Despite being rather small in stature, her words had a noticeable impact on the people in the audience as you could have heard a pin drop. No one was talking, no one was glancing around, their eyes were glued on this little girl who seemed to have more knowledge of Canada’s political system than a lot of adults I know. As she wrapped up her speech, people began to applaud, but it wasn’t over yet. She started all over again, delivering the speech in French. Once again upon completion, she received a round of applause…only to silence the crowd once again by repeating the speech a THIRD time in Chinese. If I hadn’t already been impressed by this young woman, I would have been at that point. I know personally how hard it is to speak two languages, but three? That is impressive indeed.

Next up to the podium was one of Trudeau’s former professor’s from UBC. He humorously acknowledged the young lady that had spoken before him, saying that it would be next to impossible to follow that act. The good doctor kept it short and sweet, talking about Trudeau’s time at UBC and how hard he worked to expand his knowledge base. He called himself a scientist, and defined that word as “someone who never stops asking questions.” He went on to say that Trudeau not only acknowledges the importance of science, but actively encourages scientific development as an integral part of Canada’s growth. He said Trudeau may be a scientist by his own definition, but he had a better definition for the man: the next Prime Minister of Canada. At this point he introduced the man everyone had come to see, and had I not known better I would have assumed we were all waiting for some iconic rock band to take the stage.

Led by a team of security guards struggling to make a path through the crowded room, Trudeau finally made an appearance with K’Naan’s hit song “Waving Flag” playing in the background. As he slowly made his way to the podium, stopping to shake hands with people along the way, people kept on cheering the young politician. After managing to get the crowd to quiet down, Trudeau took a moment to soak in the scene around him. He looked genuinely humbled by the reaction he received. He began his speech by talking about how important Western Canada was to his development as both a person and a politician, touching briefly on the time he spent here at UBC. When he got to talking about his mother, who was sitting front and centre at the event, Trudeau started to get a bit emotional. With tears of pride welling up in his eyes, he talked about how he couldn’t have accomplished what he has without her. He applauded her strength for having dealt with 3 generations of politicians in their family, and the crowd gave her a loud round of applause as well.

But it was not until he began talking politics that Trudeau started to show that trademark Trudeau charisma. He began to rocket through some very important issues, focusing strongly on encouraging the youth of Canada through education and work opportunities. He also spoke on the need for Canada to continue growing as an ethnically diverse land, which naturally drew a rousing round of applause from the ethnically diverse crowd. He directly thanked Canada’s First Nations people for being an integral part of this country’s birth, and acknowledged that without their shoulders to stand on, we might not be where we are today.

“Diversity is not an obstacle to be overcome. It is part of what makes this country so great.”

Along that sentiment, Trudeau noted that he believed we are so free as a nation because we respect each other, and we deserve a government that will respect us. After saying that he respected both Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair as politicians, he launched into the only negatively-charged aspect of his entire speech. He criticized the NDP for creating regional resentment and blaming the successful for our country’s economical problems, while also attacking the Conservatives for privileging one sector over the other.

“Instead of inventing facts to support policies, we should create policies based on our facts.”

Not surprisingly, given his roots in Quebec, he did speak briefly on the province and the issues relating to them. He said that there are people in Quebec who want the province to be a separate nation because they don’t feel as though their needs are being addressed. Trudeau wants Canada to once again support Quebec, but as part of one great nation: Canada. Smartly he didn’t spend too much time talking about Quebec and went on to say that that privilege would not only be extended to Quebec. He says that one of the major issues facing Canadians today is that they feel too disconnected from their government, feeling as though their needs are not being addressed by the very people who are supposed to be their “voice”. Trudeau vowed to change that by working closely with the provinces. He vowed to unite Canada once again as the greatest nation on Earth, and with that he thanked everybody for coming out. “Waving Flag” once again came on, and Trudeau stepped down to hug his mother, whose eyes were filled with tears of pride and joy.

“My friends, this is a blessed place. Canada is a blessed country.” 

Even as he slowly made his way around and out of the room, the electricity was still buzzing in the room. People were jumping over one another just in the hopes of catching a brief handshake from the Liberal leadership hopeful. I was smart and had mapped out where he would be leaving the room, so I took up a post in that area and waited for the craziness to die down. As it turns out, I made the smart decision as I reached out for a handshake and exchanged a few words (in French, of course) with Trudeau. I thanked him for coming to Richmond and wished him luck, and he looked me square in the eyes and thanked me for coming out. Even after telling him I had never voted Liberal in my life, he laughed it off and told me that he hoped he could change that pattern, and you know what? He might be the one who can.

I’m sure much of my exchange with the man was standard fare for a politician, but there was also a very obvious and real sense of humility in the man. He was truly thankful for the people who took time out of their lives to come listen to him speak. He took the time to talk to me, however briefly it may have been, and that’s more than I can say for other politicians I have seen in the past.

Above all else, Justin Trudeau proved to everyone last night that he can “talk the talk”. The question on everybody’s mind now however, is can he “walk the walk?” Only time will tell, but the future looks very bright for the future of this young politician.

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Richmond School Board honors students and the City of Richmond for work on REaDY Summit

Last night at the Richmond School Board meeting, awards and commendations were given to a group of students, the City of Richmond and the David Suzuki Foundation for their work on this year’s Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit.

The REaDY summit is a joint effort of these groups designed to promote healthy living and sustainability, with a focus on getting today’s youth involved in the green movement.

Environmentally conscious students took part to make the event a success

Many of the students who got involved in the summit had already been involved with various environmental movements, including Ian Tom, 18, who graduated from Richmond Secondary School earlier this year and was a co-chair of the student committee responsible for helping organize the event.

“Prior to the REaDY summit, I had already been fairly experienced with environmental stewardship in the lower mainland,” said Tom. “As I entered high school, I joined Richmond Secondary School’s sustainability club called ‘The Green Team’.”

The student-led committee was an integral part of the organization of the summit as they would meet regularly with committees from the City of Richmond and the David Suzuki Foundation in joint steering committee meetings.

Student committee responsible for more than just speaking

Tom and his co-chair Carmen Chan were more than just student voices however, and were directly responsible for some bigger aspects of the event.

“Carmen and I worked to contact and organize the speakers and presenters for the event, as well as made sure that the sub-committees (such as food, promotion and registration) were meeting deadlines and running smoothly,” said Tom.

Winnie Hwo, public engagement and communications specialist for the David Suzuki Foundation, said that they chose Richmond to host the summit because of its cultural diversity and the prior green experience of the city’s students.

“It’s one of the fastest growing and healthiest cities in Canada,” said Hwo. “Richmond has the momentum already… as the teachers have already been teaching their students about sustainability for at least a decade.”

REaDY Summit bigger than previous events that were similar

Hwo added that Richmond schools have held Earth Day summits in the past, but with the help from the city and the David Suzuki Foundation this year, the size and public knowledge of the REaDY Summit were much larger.

Hwo accepted the award on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, but was also an integral part of the steering committee meetings.

“I felt lucky every day that the experience was so fantastic,” said Hwo. “The award is nice, but the relationships we forged is the real beauty of it all.”

Tom will also be receiving an award from the school board for his work as a co-chair of the student committee.

“I had expected this to simply be a heightened role as a volunteer of The Green Team,” said Tom. “Such recognition is incredibly flattering and I am very honoured.”

Tom added that he believed the summit had been largely successful and hopes to see it become an annual event not just in Richmond, but across the country.

The David Suzuki Foundation has already begun planning for a REaDY summit for 2013. Details will be made available after a press conference on Sunday October 7, 2012.

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