Often referred to as the world’s most multicultural city, this is certainly apparent after spending just one day in Toronto.
We caught the Greyhound at 10:30 in the morning, and set off on highway 401 to the capital city of Ontario. On the bus, we met a Torontonian called Austin. He also studies at Western University and made the decision to study abroad last year, but in Seoul, South Korea. We, as a group of international students, had a great deal in common: we take huge interest in the world around us; are curious about others’ experiences whilst at home and abroad and the events that have led us to cross paths; and we are significantly open-minded individuals – tolerant of other cultures, unfamiliar environments and challenging situations. So naturally, our conversation was enduring.
As we disembark the bus, we realise the weather is not working in our favour today, but that was okay. We still made it. We were dwarfed by every building that stood beside us, and it was quite the impressive skyline.
Austin offered to take us around briefly, to allow us to orient ourselves, a sort of personal tour if you will. Despite this being another Canadian serendipity, I unfortunately had to break free of the tour prematurely as I had arranged to meet for lunch with my good friend from Southampton, Patrick. I had only discovered he was in Toronto the day before we arrived, but we managed to find time for each other nonetheless. Having been recommended Bah Mi Boys multiple times (by Torontonians), I decided to choose this as the venue for our lunch. And we were NOT disappointed!
As Patrick and I went our separate ways, I decided to take a stroll [stroll = my usual pace] through the rest of the Toronto to get a sense of what the city’s true colours were. As I walked around, I noticed the inherent polarity. The same inherent polarity that exists in every city that I have visited over the past year or so. Varying often by context and cause, but nearly always represented by homelessness. Individuals the state has failed; those often (but not always) forced to live life street by street. Moved on because they make the place look ‘untidy’. They are subtle examples of the ‘unfortunate life’ no one wants to live.
I think of how these people came to be. Granted, some make foolish choices in life, yet others are left with no choice but to make do with what little possessions they have. The latter, for whom life is an eternal struggle, have just a few coppers tossed into their (once treasured yet now) ragged baseball cap over the course of a day; and must brave all elements, with just a blanket to decide their fate when winter’s wrath falls upon the city. Meanwhile, the majority of us pass by with mixed emotions and reactions – often the easiest of which is to ignore or avoid. Yet does this have to be the case?
I read a quote just this Friday that asserts: the way in which we conduct ourselves matters, always. To some extent, it does not matter ‘what’ we do, but how we do it – that is what distinguishes us from one another. The quote spoke of how societies need a little more love. Instinctively the man inside me shrugged this off, but it dwelt in my mind as I passed the homeless in Toronto. A man begging with nothing but a solo cup in hand, on his knees in the shadows of a Deloitte skyscraper; a man singing with his acoustic guitar on Front Street East; and a couple cowering from the busy and ignorant urban life near St. James Park – juxtaposed by the upmarket restaurants that surround them as they cradle each other. I noted that all of these people had different strategies for coping. Those acting out of desperation are incidentally those we ‘avoid’ or even ‘fear’ most; and those who have given up, who take comfort in what little familiarity they have with a previous life. Be it a companion, a pet, or a material possession such as a guitar or a childhood baseball cap.
To return to the quote, perhaps taking the time to talk to someone that seems ‘different’, would help alleviate some of the harmful perceptions we have in society – perceptions that are clearly, and so disappointingly, dividing societies across the world today [issues I will return to in my later blog posts]. But this post is just to serve as a little food for thought. A little more ‘think before you speak’ and a little appreciation of the other point of view, would certainly be a step in a better direction.