Cultural Chats

Multicultural Winter Stories

The following stories were submitted by the Culture Chats Writing Group.
The Times of Canada collaborated with Culture Chats BC Association for this project in 2019 to support the participating community writers.

Magic – Krishna Veni

Last winter 2018, I set out on an exciting, adventurous journey to Vancouver, Canada from South India to start a new life. As soon as I set foot in BC, I felt like I had time travelled to a different era. It was a complete scene change as a switch was turned on – from a tropical backdrop to a frosty wonderland, from Coconut trees to Christmas trees, spices to sweets, rough and tough people to warm and smiling faces, a plain routine mode to a festive holiday one. For a second, I thought, isVancouver all decked up, specially to welcome me?

I took a deep breath taking in all the colors and flavors of Vancouver. I thought, this is my place now and I will find new friends here.Months just rolled byand I was roaming around the cold and dazzling streets of the city all alone, soaking in the shining lights, festivity and merry decors, missing my family!

But as the saying goes, the story is never complete until it has a happy ending. Then came the better days in my life – warmer weather, long-term rental, good job, wonderful people and whole lot of fun. 😊 I started feeling much more at home in Vancouver than back in India. Life started turning around with a fresh dimension and a new meaning to living with all the warm, caring and loving people around me.

Last winter, I just curled up with a good book and dreamt away the cold. The whole city was celebrating and rejoicing out there and I was sitting in my room with nobody to reach out to. It was all colorful, fun and festive outside but inside my house it was dark, lonely and gloomy.But winter 2019 feels not like a season but a celebration to me and Christmas isn’t a season, it’s a feeling now. In just one year, I’ve grown through a complete perspective change.

We all know that winter is a lingering season of the year.

It is the time when we gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey and enjoy idle hours with sweet, warm and awesome hot chocolate.

It is the time for comfort, warmth and touch of friendly people around.

It is the time which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.

Unlike the last year when I was out in the parks and lakes enjoying the lights, this year I have had fun decorating and lighting up many trees at work, community centers and friend’s homes finding myself not having a single weekend to go out to just experience it. This made me start tobelieve in the silent Christmas magic of loving all! That’s correct, you heard me right. This Christmas magic is silent. We don’t hear it – we feel it. I’ve realized that it is much more than just the festive décor and gifts under the tree. It’s about celebrating family, friends and everything else that brings us joy and giving the light of love to those who need it most. Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of the holiday season.

I takethis festive season as an opportunity to pause and reflect on important things around us. It is not only a season of rejoicing but also of reflection. Like snowflakes everyyear, memories gather and dance – each beautiful, unique and gone too soon. It is like a candy, it slowly melts in our mouth sweetening every taste bud, making us wish it could last forever.

Though I come from a land and family where Christmas is not celebrated, when I bought, decorated and lit up my own tree at home this year, it dawned on me that Christmas is not just a date, it is a state of mind. It is not all the lights outside that make us come alive but what is inside us that light us up and that the joy of brightening other lives becomes the magic of the holiday!

We act a little nicer, smile a little easier and cheer a little more only one night of the year. ButI wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month of the year.

May we never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve,

May we never be too grown up to write a letter to Santa and

May we never stop doing a little something extra for someone always……
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Letter to a Friend – by Nabila Huq

My Dear Asha,

I saw your graduation picture today on your sister’s timeline. You have changed a lot in ten years – we all have. But you are still the calm beauty you always have been with a measured smile…your spectacles nerdier. I so wanted to send you a personalized congratulations note but your sister wouldn’t give me your address! All I know that you are in Adelaide.

Who would have thought all four of us would one day scatter around the world? Umama is in Toronto, and I in New Westminster…only Chhaya remains in Dhaka. Umama is the one who reached out to me on Facebook after moving to Canada. Then, last year, we both decided to go see Chhaya on our visit to Dhaka. I was so shocked to learn that you three parted ways from one another, that you did not even say ‘goodbye’ before leaving for Australia. Both of them claimed not to know why. How would they? They did not even know why they had drifted away from each other after having lived in the same dorm for six years! But Umama did not demand any answer from Chhaya, neither she from her. And we all know how I caste myself out from all three of you all those years ago…

Chhaya and I did not exactly catch up where we left of; Umama and I kind of did, because both she and I are now on the same boat on the same tumultuous river – not sure whether to turn back defeated – or drown moving forward. We are not rhizomes; we are uprooted trees trying to reroot ourselves in soils that may not be meant for us in the first place…

Do you feel the same way about your new country?

Asha, I will not ask you how you are. Do you remember Professor Nazmeen, our Eng-302 and 401 instructor? She used to sneer at the old school Grammar-Translation method of English language teaching. She called it the “How are you? Fine, thank you” method because she was so convinced that learners in this method do not go beyond these two lines in conversation, when the answer to “how are you?” could be so many possibilities that only a learner in Direct Method can know. If I ever meet Professor Nazmeen again in my life, I would tell her, “You know ma’am, “fine, thank you” is the only answer to “how are you” in a country where English is really spoken, because no body cares how anybody is. No. Body. Cares.”

But I do care how you are, Asha. How do I reach you when you have decided to wall yourself from your old friends? I have only one option left now – I will put my letter in a bottle and release it across the Pacific, praying for a miracle…

Yours ever,

Nabila

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December Birthday – by A Lawrence

My Christmas season’s celebrations begin with my beautiful baby’s birthday. Rucha was born on December 14th. She turned five this year but she is still my baby

“Mummy, I want a unicorn birthday party this time” chirped little Rucha right after she got out of her bed a few weeks ago.

“Who would you like to invite?” I asked

“Umm I don’t know.”

“What about Erica, Ishika, Emma?”

“Not Emma, I don’t like her.”

Ok then who else?

Umm I don’t want Jason because he is always teasing me. Actually, no boys.

That was settled then. No boys at the party. Soon no adults will be invited either. But for now I could still get away with mixing in a few of my friends and planning a big bash. With a Unicorn theme

We got unicorn balloons with beautiful long lashes and thin long party cones to decorate the community room. We planned a photo booth with some unicorn masks. For the cake…well the cake with a fondant unicorn on top had to be ordered. It cost 80 dollars,but it was done. Tick. For the birthday dress we had to do nothing. Because the most beautiful princess gown ever had just arrived in the post for Rucha from India courtesy her grandma. It wouldn’t be an Indian party without plenty of food and plenty of people. So, the next few days included a cookathon and daddy the DJ was tasked with finding some Christmas songs and some Bollywood music to match the theme.

Unicorns stared at us through the paper plates we bought and the paper napkins and the tableclothsand the coloring books we bought as return gifts. Oh, the sparkles and magic and rainbows! It was going to be perfect!

Except…it wasn’t. On the day of everything went spectacularly wrong.

Rucha’s younger brother Arjun got over excited. He basically grabbed few of the juice boxes and drank a lot of juice. Then it was a case of too much sugar. The juice squirted out like a fountain whenever he squeezed the box and three-year-old Arjun squealed in wicked delight.

“Arjun! My dress is all wet! “screamed Rucha. Her dress was all wet.

We had arrived at the party.

“Mummy! My unicorn cake looks smashed” Ruchawas the first to notice that her cake had got smashed in transit. I still do not know how this could happen and daddy is definitely to blame for it.He was trying to fix it.

In the meantime,Rucha’s friends started arriving.We had just finished putting up some decorations and the children rushed to the balloons.Unfortunately, several balloons popped with a scary loud bang.

The masks at the photo booth were quite popular. Too popular. All the children wanted them at once and it led to a few fights. That set the trend for the rest of the games. How could a benign ‘passing the parcel’ turn into a vicious game of vengeance with every child shoving the pillow in their neighbours’ face violently? The mood needed to be changed urgently so I suggested musical chairs.

For this game the accompanying music was supposed to be Christmas songs but instead the player accidently playeda heavy metal track. “How did that get in there”? Rucha’s daddy queried in a puzzled tone but really, he was in charge of the music, so no body had the answer. The deep purple strings startled the little children as they stopped and started in jerks grabbing the nearest seat. Everyone was glad to be eliminated.Parents also lured their children away in relief showing them the array of brightly coloured foods. Next on the agenda was the snacks.

I did not expect the food to let me down. The box of samosas did look a bit greasy, but they would still taste delicious. I had cooked the chutney at home. It had a tangy mango flavour. Some cumin seeds, some secret Indian ingredients and viola! Although it really  shouldn’t have been packed in that container! What was I thinking? The chutney had leaked out and the container looked somewhat empty. I did not want to check the state of the car after this. Sandwiches had gone a bit soggy because of the leaked chutney.

My chickpea curry was admittedly a tad too spicy. Everyone drank gallons of juiceand that explained the queue outside the washroom, I guess.

Snacks were done. The party had been a bit of a disaster so far.Families looked like they were ready to leave already!Ruchalooked bewildered, dismayed. Her pretty white dress had dried off but it had also turned orange. Arjun was still up to his antics all over the room. My energy was spent and he was just taking advantage. Rucha’s dad was still busy trying to fix the cake. We had saved the cake cutting for the last half hour because a special guest was awaited

Then the special guests arrived! Rucha’s older cousin brother Ajay and her aunty. They were driving up from Seattle for the party and the border crossing had thrown up some unexpected challenges of its own. When they showed up at the door, Rucha’s eyes lit up. She danced across the room and hugged her cousin squealing as he tickled her. Aunty plonked one giant kiss on her cheek and produced something unexpected. A big chocolate cake she had picked up after my frantic phone call. It looked great and it quickly replaced our smashed up original.

Everyone gathered round the cake cameras on the ready. Big cheers, claps, singing and cake cutting. Blow the candles and simultaneously smile for aphoto. Cut the cake and look up to smile for a photo. Feed some cake to each other and smile for a photo. Rucha’s aunty had one more surprise up her sleeve. She had brought some Christmas chocolate hampers for all the kids in the party. Hurrah! Something had changed in the room. There was a new energy and a new buzz. Kids were opening each other’s hampers peering in full of curiosity. Rucha was singing and jumping. Arjun was also jumping. Arjun is always jumping. And then Ajay took over as DJ from daddy. He played some fantastic Bollywood numbers and Rucha paired up with her aunty to show off all her cool moves. I partnered with Arjun just to save what was left intact in the room whilst I locked him in my arms. Daddy generally floated around the room and all the kids and all the adults joined danced as well. Rucha looked so happy and transported as if she had glanced out through the glass window to see something magical and rainbow coloured.

(PS: Arjun escaped from my arms and opened the gift box sitting next to DJ Ajay. It contained a beautiful blue Elsa dress. Rucha saw it and ran towards it. I ran after her and when she turned in glee, she said to me, “mummy next time lets do an Elsa party”!)

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My Mom – By OsnahCa

“Bang!” I hit the window.

I heard my ping pong partner repeating, “Don’t rush, Don’t rush, I told you don’t rush …”.

The window broke and I became worried.

My friends quickly cleaned up a chair and let me sit on it. Jenny passed me a cold beer, I applied it on my forehead as a cold pack.

More friends surrounded me and asked, “How did you feel? Do you feel concussion?” I removed the cold beer, asked back: “What does it look like?”

“Not bad. But it was really loud.”

When I got back home, I tried to tell the story to my mom. Not did I even reach the “Bang!” when my mom said, “Remember to buy a bag of flour in the afternoon.”

I stopped there and walked back to my bedroom. I was feeling a little frustrated. No wonder my mom doesn’t have many “girl friends”. I would not be surprised.

Laying down on my bed, one of my childhood scenes appeared again:

“Osnah, how do you like your pants to be?” My grandmother was asking me. At the same time, she showed me her plan. “See, this is the cloth for the green pants”. Then she put it down, picked up some red cloth and asked, “Do you want to have this at the side?” She tried to fold the red cloth for more demos. I didn’t understand what she tried to show me. But I just learned green and red could not be together. That’s an awful combination. I quickly responded “No.” No more questions. My grandma discontinued her demo and turned back to her sewing machine. After a while, I was notified that my pants were ready. I forgot my decision already, but the message of new clothes always thrilled me.

I got my pants. All green. I didn’t know what to say, it didn’t look like a pants in my definition. “When and Where should I wear it? It is so ugly.” I talked to myself. At the same time, my cousin, who was a little younger and shorter than me, was trying on his.

“Wow, that looks gorgeous. It has a strip at the side in red and white. He is definite handsome in it. The size matches him super well too.” My Aunt even got him an army cap. From head to toe, he got a full set of army uniform. They posed and took a photo with the suite. In the picture, he was the most handsome and happy kid.

Upset and lost, I said to myself, “Next year, I gonna make a careful decision.”

I haven’t worn that pant once. Whenever I recalled the scene, I hated my decision at that time very badly. But now when I recall it, I have one more question: “Where was my mom during that time? What was she doing? What was my aunt doing instead? How come my mom doesn’t look like my aunt at all?”

I used to ask my mom, “How come you are so different from my aunts? Let’s just say this one big difference for now: each of them knows to dress themselves super well. But you, shopping the longest hours than anyone of them, could end up buying a green jacket with ugly flowers on it. Why?” My mom said as a kid she didn’t notice the differences. She even failed to notice that she was the tallest in the whole family, her feet were so much bigger that no one could take over her shoes.

But why? I still don’t get much regarding that. It is not easy to touch the deeper heart of my mom, neither my Dad. Their generation grew up in a quiet reserved way. My dad has a light scar on his face around his upper cheek under the eye. Though not that much visible anymore among the wrinkles he is wearing now. But I still remember when I was a kid, I asked him how he got it. My dad casually replied that he scratched himself. I was surprised and kept asking, “Really, Really?” No more details were forthcoming.

A new year’s gathering with the big family, while playing poker with my uncles from my dad’s side. I casually mentioned my dad’s scar. No one responded. My youngest uncle, taking his time picking up his next card, not aware of my other uncles’ agreed silence, corrected me, “No nono, It was from a kick by a donkey.” Everyone burst into a big laugh.

I wonder how they found each other and came to be a couple. Do each of them know that she was not sensitive at all and he was a sensitive one. Probably not, probably more by appearance. They were both tall and ok-looking. So, a matching couple. There were times I tried to persuade my mom to be more sensitive and failed. I failed even more badly when I persuaded my dad to be less sensitive. Because he didn’t admit the fact that he was sensitive at all! I stopped and sometimes I could recall the donkey. I could even feel empathy for the donkey. I wonder if the donkey was annoyed by his stubbornness too.

 

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New Year Resolutions – By Tanya Kan

It is common for people to write new year resolutions. Here are five new year resolutions that came to my mind through different episodes from life.

Episode #1

Today is Sunday. I am on the way to the church. The church serving starts at 11:45 a.m. I am rushing to the bus and coming to the church at 12 p.m. I can still sing a couple of songs before the Pastor starts a sermon. The woman behind is passionate in her singing. She is completely out of tune but she is singing so devotedly that this minor disadvantage can be forgiven to her. She is glorifying Jesus, and the rest does not matter for her.

My New Year Resolution #1: If you decide to do something, do it with all your passion, and do not pay attention to what other people think.

Episode #2

Wholefoods store

I am standing in the line to the cashier. I am busy with my thoughts of what I need to do when I get back home paying not much attention at people around. Suddenly something turns me, and I see a woman on the wheelchair after me. She does not have a basket but has quite a lot of items, so she put them on her laps, into her bag, her pockets, everywhere where she could find a place.

I ask her, “Excuse me, would you like to go first?” The woman answers, “No, no, I am fine.” Our turn is closer, and the woman starts putting her items on the cashier stand and has a hard time because the stand is a little higher. She doesn’t ask to help her, and courageously overcoming challenges tries to put the stuff on the stand.I even thought to myself that as if her life was this stand. I am glad to help her,and finally, all items are on the cashier stand. The woman says gladly, “Thank you very much!” and the cashier says several times, “Thank you very much, I really appreciate it!”. Three happy people!

My New Year Resolution #2:Follow what Mother Teresa said, “Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

Episode #3

A married couple moved to a new apartment. The couple likes everything starting from a new neighborhood, neighbors, and ending with the apartment itself. It is exactly what they were looking for. Just above them, there is a friendly and pleasant family with one daughter. Everything is fine, and only one thing the couple findsinconvenient. The neighbor’s daughter takes piano lessons and often practices her piano skills till late at night. The girl plays very well sometimes they even enjoy her playing. Today again the girl is practicing for almost 3 hours. It is becoming annoying. The next day, accidentally, the wife meets the mother of the girl on the stairs.

The following dialogue is happening between the women:

Wife:Hello, we areyour new neighbors’ downstairs.

The mother of the girl:Oh, yes, I recognized you.

Wife: We noticed that your daughter likes playing the piano very much. Your daughter is talented. She is playing so well that when we hear her playing, we enjoy it. Also, your daughter is hardworking, she is practicing every day till late at night. However, she is so young, and perhaps,she should not practice such long hours and have more time to rest in the evening.

The mother of the girl understood everything.  Since that day the girl stopped practicing the piano late at night.

I have read this story in the book found in the bookstore in Japan. The book was about how to deal with difficult situations without offending anybody.

My New Year Resolution #3: Politeness pleases even a cat. Be polite and be a human under any circumstances.

Episode #4

A group of women gathered in the food court to make a rehearsal and editing of readings. Everyone is reading the story and listening to feedbacks from others after. Suddenly a boy in the electric wheelchair enters the women’s circle hitting one of them. Something is wrong with his panel of control. The boy does not understand what the problem is, blushing, and immediately asking the woman, “Are you ok?” The women are all trying to help him manually move the wheelchair, but it does not move. The boy is feeling inconvenient and apologizing several times. He is very kind.Then his friend who is also on the electric wheelchair coming and helping to fix the problem.

My New Year Resolution #4: Make the space comfortable for everyone, be empathetic and patient because you never know what people’s intentions are.

Episode #5

The woman had a relationship with a man and got pregnant. But she was alone in a delivery room, there was nobody to support her. She was scared and nervous. The doctor and nurses could not start medical procedures because the woman could not calm down. The doctor became irritated and even scolded the woman, “Calm down!” But it did not make a situation even better. Suddenly another doctor came into the room. He approached the woman, took her hand and said, “Everything will be fine! Just focus on me!” After these words the woman calmed down and successfully delivered a baby. When everything was over the doctor who has scolded the woman earlier said to her, “It’s good that you could calm down!” The woman said, “It’s good that another doctor came and took my hand.” The doctor looked at her surprisingly and said, “There was no another doctor in the room!”.

It is a real story told by the Pastor during last Sunday’s sermon dedicated to the gift of miracles which performs powerful acts in our life.

My New Year Resolution #5: Believe in miracles, believe that everything is possible, and believe that everything happens for better.

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First Winter – By Shijing Xiao

The nights are so long, and the daylight is as precious as pearl. That’s my thought of Canada’s winter.

I firstly noticed that it’s getting dark as early as four o’clock in the afternoon when I was on the bus back home one day in the late November. It was raining outside, and I could see raindrops on the window. The driver didn’t turn on the lights in the bus, and it was warm enough for me to fall asleep at the back row. I tried to keep my eyes open and I saw passengers kept getting on board at an exchange port, with umbrellas in their hand and raindrops falling onto the ground. The bus was getting crowded and the air was becoming stale. But when the bus stopped at the destination, I still said “thank you” to the driver – it’s something I never did when I was in China. It’s also like a magic word that can make my journey less uncomfortable.

I must admit I hate winter days in northern areas. My memories about cold winter aren’t very delightful. I remember when I was studying in the Netherlands, the sky in winter was almost as gloomy as it was here. It also got dark at about four o’clock, right after I finished my last class at 3:30. One sign of winter coming is that I realized I should turn on the lights on the bike, otherwise I might get fined by the policeman. I also remember how hard I rode forward on bicycle routes. My hands, although with gloves on, were frozen. Sometimes there was sudden rain, so my glasses would be blurred, and I needed to wipe down the raindrops. But in Amsterdam, everyone rides like this regardless of the coldness, rain or even snow.

When I sit on the couch at home, writing this down, I feel that I see two of my ‘selves’ in cold winter. One is sitting on the bus in darkness, looking outside of the window. The other is riding her bike from school, hoping that the rain would not come before she arrives home.

First Summer – By Shijing Xiao

I arrived in Vancouver on a cool summer night. Days are long during summertime so it still sunny and bright

From the balcony, I could see the view of the Holland park, some trees hidden behind the Skytrain rail and the faraway mountains. “Vancouver is a city in a forest.” That’s what came across my mind at that time.

From that day on, I would take a picture at my balcony every day during sunset when the sky is covered with clouds in orange, yellow and pink. I think these pictures can really calm me down and expel the anxiety of a newcomer.

I’m a person who’s particularly sensitive to weather – when I was studying in the Netherlands, my grades in summer semester were always better than those in winter. So the nice weather, along with fresh air and gentle breeze, has rendered me some confidence to look for new opportunities in this alien city.