I would never have been described as ‘worldly’ when I started my undergrad at seventeen. I did very little travelling as a boy: Kamloops, Edmonton, Seattle… oh, and Disneyland! Living the life of a student, and then a new teacher, exposed me only to BC soil until a Fort St. James Principal encouraged me to take advantage of initiatives born of Expo ’86. In the late 1980s, the government of BC devoted resources to support study tours and short-term travel in Asia for students and teachers. Visiting China had never occurred to me; however, it was just such a planned tour which had one last seat available… at a discount I could not pass up.


This is how I found myself in Beijing, at twenty-four, a few weeks before the Tiananmen Square protests and the subsequent violent response by China’s military.


Our travel group, gathered from several school districts in BC’s northwest, filled a charter bus with sixteen students, a dozen educators, and a few school trustees. Our itinerary covered ten days and hundreds of kilometres of road as we visited five cities, the largest being Shanghai with over 9 million people and the smallest being modest Suzhou with only 1 million residents. For the duration of our trip, a university student served as our friend and guide. He travelled on the bus with us and told us knock-knock jokes between his commentary on the sights and the history of his country.


I have never learned the fate of our young host, but he was my first thought when news of student protests in Beijing filled the airwaves. I will never know what became of him. Like his fellow students, did he long for democratic freedoms? Did he attend the protests? Did he suffer for his participation? Did he survive? Naïvely, I used to think this broiling unrest should have been evident to a traveller. But I cannot recall even a slight indication of what lay ahead. Every person I met and spoke to was gracious and welcoming and, once, tickled to point out we wore the same brand of running shoes. And, of course, it was obvious to them I was a visitor, and I likely saw their best faces.


To say this trip was a learning experience is a gross understatement. It was neither an all-inclusive nor a theme park, which made it a starting point for a worldly education and whetted my appetite for what comes from being a stranger in a strange land. In the four years which followed, I annually organized and chaperoned international travel for students and educators to many countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. In every location, we were met with their best faces, treated with kindness and patience. I can think of only one occasion when this ‘face’ slipped, baring a truth that should not have surprised me.


I was shopping in a night market late one evening in Chiang Mai. Lacoste and Rolex were the favoured souvenirs for family at home. Among the many tables and kiosks was a display with hundreds of popular cassette tapes, each selling at a discount only a pirate could offer. I happily bought several tapes, including Chris Isaak and Mariah Carey. The vendor was more than accommodating and helpful, very eager to please his customers. I gathered my purchases from him and moved on into the market. As I walked, I unpackaged Mariah and popped the tape into my Walkman. When I pressed play, it was not Mariah’s voice I heard. For a moment, I felt swindled; but I quickly let that go when I remembered the price tag.


As we made our way back to the hotel, we passed the cassette tape display once more. I stopped to chat again with the vendor. We had been friendly; I was sure he would remember me. His eyes relayed no recognition, despite the smile he gave me; and when I made a light-hearted comment (or so I thought), teasing about the defective tape he sold me, the smile vanished and with some choice words in English he dismissed me… completely. In a flash, I saw myself in the way he perhaps did: blessed with advantage but indignant over two Canadian dollars. His truthful face revealed my own.


I do not profess to know the countries I have visited, nor their people. I have touched down on their lands and glimpsed more of myself in this process than I have of them. It would take more than a lifetime in any one place to achieve knowing. I have spent nearly one lifetime in Canada and BC and continue to learn and unlearn each day, catching sight of the face beneath.


At forty-one, in New Denver, BC, I stood before a letter encased in plexiglass to preserve its integrity. The letter is on government letterhead and addressed to a Japanese family man. Its purpose is to inform the recipient that his car, which was held in storage during his internment, has been sold. The proceeds will be used to pay for the cost of its storage. The plexiglass held my reflection, too.


At fifty-seven, in Banff, I listened to a traveller paint an image with his words. He is Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation, and he spoke of two canoes travelling alongside each other on a journey. One canoe is mine. Chief Delorme tells the audience he is encouraged that land acknowledgements have become a common protocol at assemblies and gatherings, but he shares that he listens for more. Chief Delorme listens for action beyond the acknowledgment… how will we approach and achieve truth and reconciliation in our world? It has been one year since 215 pairs of shoes were placed as silent tribute in Vancouver and in Ottawa. More pairs have been uncovered since, hundreds more. Looking from the canoe to my reflection, I am called upon to paddle deliberately, with intent and humility.


I am no less a visitor to Canada than I have been to other parts of the world. And in my modest travels on this land, I have often been a tourist, seeing only its best face. There is a truth beneath which calls us to reconsider the reflection in the mirror. Mark Twain is credited for saying, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”  And like much of our most important learning, the lessons begin at home.

BCPVPA President: Spring 2022 Chapter Visits & Meetings

Darren Danyluk would be delighted to connect with your Chapter through a virtual meeting or, respecting all local health protocols and schedules permitting, Darren could book travel to your community for a visit. To discuss a booking, please contact Sharon North.

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