Life in Canada

"As cold as cold can be, during the coldest of times, in a land of coldness." 
- description of Ottawa in January, Lee Farrand.

Before coming to Canada, the only things I knew about this place I learned from the South Park song 'Blame Canada.'
I've since determined that song to be an oversimplified parody. During my short sojourn here thus far, I've developed a strong affinity for all things Canadian. I like the twinkling snowflakes in the morning. I like the Canadian flags on the local snowploughs. And sweeping generalisations aside, I like the intensity of French Canadians.

The only drawback is that when the wind blows, it's as cold as a witches' nipple buried in solid methane ice on the dark side of Pluto.

In the weeks up until my arrival, Professor Tsang was trying to find accommodation for me here. There aren't many options for a one-month stay. Luck arrived, in the form of Bao Kong, one of the PhD students in the OHRI lab. He has his own place, with his son and wife, as well as two other Chinese students. We all go shopping together on Saturdays. The house is nice, and I've got my own little basement and bathroom.

They've been very gracious hosts and Bao even came to the airport to pick me up at midnight.

This little fellow is Ethan, Bao and Wei Wei's three year old son. He's a good little boy and speaks English to me and Mandarin to his parents. Sometimes he offers me sweets covered in toddler goo ('You waaant?').
In the third photo here, he's watching over a large bowl of rice just outside the back door. We put it out there to harden it up to make fried rice, and he was making sure no neighbourhood squirrels got their paws into it. With such a fearsome Keeper of the Rice standing guard, the squirrels were reduced to shivering hesitation from unseen vantage points among snow-covered branches.

Being able to cook reasonably well is my third most important design feature. I haven't settled on what the first two are yet. Since Friday, I've cooked three times for the Kong family and it seems to have hastened my ready access to the kitchen and all manner of utensils.

Three essential ingredients to seal the deal, that I haven't been able to find here: unwhipped cream (carbonara), coconut milk (laksa) and Elephant Brand thick soy sauce (soft pork belly).

I'm based at the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus, a sprawling medical institute not far from downtown Ottawa.

It's good. Minds are active here.

This is what beeps me into the building every morning. On the black card is a list of colours that signify particular emergencies. A code red announced on the loudspeakers means fire/feu, a code orange means disaster/un désastre and a code white is a 'Violent Behavioural Situation/Comportement agressif ou violent.

An ice hockey game is therefore a code white situation.

After four years of the ubiquitous overpriced coffee-flavoured hot water they sell at cafes in Korea, I had quite forgotten that the same was not true for the rest of the world. Coffee here tastes like coffee. It's like drinking a hot cup filled with capitalized letters and exclamation marks.

And if the general rule of thumb were to be that coffee should be cheaper than sandwiches, the score would be 1:0 to Canada.

This is the farm belonging to the agricultural department, over the road from the hospital. Patrik gave me a cyber tour around here, long before my arrival. We had a look along this road using Google Earth street view and so when I actually arrived, the force of the deja vu led me to believe there was yet another glitch in the Matrix.

The graduate student culture here is similar to Australia and worryingly more vibrant than what we have in Korea. Open seminars are held frequently, with students and professors often interrupting powerpoint presentations with inquisitive questions. Student presentations in Korea are rare, and frequently consist of 30 minutes of overdescribed technical details, followed by a half-hearted applause and perhaps a single question from one of the professors. What goes on here is much more 2-way interaction, free from the hierarchical nature of Korean education and the need to save face. 

One of the reasons I'm over here is to bring ideas and experience back home. There are some restrictions to what we can do in Korea, but there's also a lot of excellent points and the time is ripe for change. The way I see it, change is necessary, and we'll definitely be testing the design specifications of the World Class Universities program at SNU.

For the time being though, I need to do a lot more and work harder. This little blogger has much to learn, and the Canadian education system has lots to teach.


It doesn't get much colder than Ottawa. I do not envy your stay there in winter.