Bitching Brew

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A newsletter, not a blog post.

How to report on the last few weeks? They’ve brought their share of rough and tumble. I’ve enjoyed a clutch of new experiences, new emotions, new tastes, and new troubles. If learning consists of dealing with unforeseen challenges and stepping across your own boundaries, then I’ve had a year of schooling in July. Never mind the last few weeks – for how much can I write publicly?! Just let me ramble.

I stare across the ocean with a mix of disbelief, schadenfreude, and sympathy. Unbroken weeks of rain have plagued my native islands. Although not a catastrophe, millions of spirits must be as sodden and bleached as the ruined homes. The Canadian winter is forbidding; heart and soul tire and succumb to frostbite by mid-February. Yet I’d take a bleak winter over a miserable summer in any trade. Who doesn’t taste misery in mid-winter? What choice – between a mildewed spirit and a frozen one! Don’t tell me a winter free of rain – it’s too frigid – doesn’t tempt you. That’s not to mention a steamy, sticky summer where the sun sears at twice the intensity you’ll ever find in Dublin. OK – sticky isn’t much fun. But this sun is a wonder! I ought to strip off my shirt of sweat and prostrate myself to Ra on the baking concrete: to Ra, bringer of my first true summer.

Chances are I’ll be stopping by Dublin in early November. I don’t know yet whether my stay will be two weeks or several months. At the moment, the probabilities lean toward the latter. Immigration is a stringent, demanding process. For a time, it appeared that my employer might sponsor me for an extended work permit, but that hope has crumbled. The management were enthusiastic about retaining me; however HR and media considerations have vetoed the idea. One of the reasons cited was a fear of media fallout from sponsoring a non-national to my position. It’s mildly understandable, but also intensely frustrating. If they were willing to employ a non-national (me) until now, then why not in three months’ time? I find it hard to imagine myself as a prize exhibit in a tabloid witch-hunt against (legal) immigrant workers. I suspect the core reasons for the rebuff are bureaucratic hiring practices and powerful union interests. Quelle surprise; such pleasures are hardly unique to Canada.

Bottom line: barring a change of corporate heart, or me finding a more willing sponsor, I’ll be kicking around Dublin until the end of next summer. Further study can be postponed no later; I intend to apply for Master’s programmes in both Britain and Canada.

I’ll have to work hard to make my next stay in Dublin a rewarding and enjoyable one. Absurd rents must be absorbed to secure a home in – or close to – the city centre. The suburban lifestyle is thoroughly unacceptable. I refuse to resign myself to lengthy commutes, and I refuse to distance myself for a second time from the friends and amenities I crave. Suburbia breaks the back of spontaneity. Culture shock will only be managed if I can sustain a lifestyle resembling the one I revel in here.

The most difficult adjustment will be alimentary. I enjoy very little of the standard Irish diet; even before my travels, it failed miserably to satisfy me. Finding samosas in Dublin will be a challenge; buying take-out samosas on impulse will be impossible. Lamentably, the city is starved of quality (or affordable) Asian cuisine. The “Chinese food” is an abomination. The sushi is marginally better, but not even on a par with the hole-in-the-wall seven doors down. Maybe there’s one good Indian restaurant? Is there even a single Korean barbecue? Good European food is available, but only at a painful premium. You can forget authentic Mexican. The bagels are horrendous. Dublin’s new-found wealth and influx of immigrants can only improve its culinary landscape, but, as it stands, the food is one of the biggest black marks against the city. Its mid-priced restaurants offer very poor value. I just hope I can find enough avocados in the supermarkets…

Yes, Toronto has spoiled me. How could it not have? I live in one of North America’s top food cities. For Asian food especially, it’s world-class. A city with six Chinatowns knows what it’s cooking! I can’t apply the same standards to Dublin, but still…

In leaving Ireland, I had to answer certain questions. How would I adapt to a foreign culture? How would I build an entirely new social network? How would I cope in my darkest days and weeks, alienated from my closest, most trusted friends and family? How would I live in the absence of the familiar? I've been delighted and impressed by the answers so far. But one can never rest on past glories.

Should I return to the Not-So-Fair City, I'll face a new set of challenges. How will I acclimatise to a city and culture I’m jaded with, and at best ambiguous about? How many old friendships will still flourish? How will I deal with being dragged back into the age-old, same old circles and dramas of family life? Can Dublin come to feel like home, in a way that it never truly did before? How will I manage my own resentment and discontent at being forced to leave a place I felt at home in? I wonder how I’ll react to being separated from some people here. Young friendships are the most delightful of all, and the most delicate.

The coming fortnight should be quiet enough. My final five weeks, by contrast, will be intensely busy. I’m expecting two visitors: my brother and a good friend from college. When not entertaining my guests, I hope to take two fun trips. The contenders are: Montreal, the Shakespeare-centred Stratford Festival, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and an adventure into the wilds of Algonquin Park (which would cover more than half of Northern Ireland). The last ten days of my visa shall be spent in the company of friends, attending to affairs, and enjoying the film festival.

On September 17, my visa expires; I leave that day for the United States. Two to three leisurely weeks there shall precede my return to Canada, this time on a tourist visa. I’ve allowed four to six weeks to travel across the country, from the Pacific Rim to the eastern tip of Newfoundland. Vancouver will be my starting point; I have a number of friends there right now. After a short side trip to Victoria, the natural wonders of the Canadian Rockies await. Banff National Park and Lake Louise promise genuine spectacle, and my first skydive promises to thrill. En route to Quebec and the east coast, I’ll then glide across the vast expanse of the prairie provinces. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland are being drafted into the final chapter of this Canadian adventure.

Some time in November, my feet will once again touch damp Irish soil, after fourteen months away. If I’m lucky in my visa efforts, it will only be a visit – the prelude to a new, long-lasting relationship with Canada. If not, well, I’ll make the best of Dublin for nine months. I’d love to introduce regular brunches to my Irish friends; now that would be a treat…

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  • I'm sorry for your rough-and-tumble weeks. But if you're headed for the U.S., come and stay with me a few days in Philly. I'd be happy to have you.

    By Blogger dpineapple, at Wed Aug 08, 02:39:00 a.m.  

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