I live in a beautiful tree lined Toronto neighbourhood. In winter, it is a peaceful snow-covered white world, and in summer, it is surrounded by greenery canopies – a nature lovers’ paradise. But it seems to lack the vibrancy and sense of belonging provided by the close-knit community that I grew up in from my hometown China.
Like any immigrant, I faced barriers in adapting to life in this new country. Unable to form a bond with our neighbours could be one of the biggest cultural shocks I’ve experienced as an ethnic minority member. Years after I moved into this neighbourhood, I lived like an outsider, stuck in an isolated ethnic enclave. Despite living nearby, I had absolutely no idea of who my neighbours were and what their lives were about. The cultural difference made the mingling efforts seemingly tricky and awkward.
But things started to change after I got my first dog Fluffy, a golden retriever. Her friendly nature and natural bond with human beings – regardless of their race and cultural backgrounds, has provided me with a thread that eventually led me to break out from silence and to build a connection with those who lived a few doors away from me.
As Fluffy and I were strolling down the street, we met other dogs and their owners on the road. Dogs natural greetings – their loud barks and running towards each other -- had allowed me and my neighbours to start a small talk that went quickly beyond Hello and flatteries to the dogs. While it is very natural to greet my Chinese neighbours with food menus on the dinner table, privacy concerns prevented me from exploring that topic with my Canadian neighbours. Surprisingly, discussions about Fluffy’s diet smoothed the way:
“He wouldn’t eat the food on our table, such as salad and roast chicken we had for dinner tonight.”
“I like roast chicken, but Chinese generally don’t do a lot of cooking using oven. We use stoves instead.”
The small talk can quickly lead to conversations that brought us – who were born and raised in different countries -- before the ordinary world we share. As we talked about our daily concerns and life struggles, the appreciation of diverse culture and values bonded us.
Through the friendly gestures of Fluffy to a border collie – I made a friend with a couple who lived a few doors away from mine, who shared with me about their life challenges they were facing – from financial problems to relationship issues. While these obstacles wreak the lives of almost each and everyone of us, they were deemed dirty laundry and were the top secrets kept by many Chinese families.
Their courageous disclosure has earned my respect and admiration, leaving me to reflect on the Chinese cultural flaws.
The owner of Fluffy’s best friend is a retired college professor who lost his wife to breast cancer a few years ago. I was gripped by the power of calm and dignity revealed as he, a faithful Christian gave a vivid account of the most challenging time in their life.
Many years have passed and Fluffy passed away, and I got a new dog Baily who has continued his predecessor’s mission. As he growls and chases after other dogs from time to time, I shook hands and hugged with more neighbours, exchanging our joys and sorrows in our lives. Through the dog medium, deepening human connections and cultural acceptance has never ceased to pour out from this quiet, seemingly soulless street, allowing me to break out from ethnic enclaves and find a sense of belonging in this adopted community.
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