Category Archives: Inside the Migrant’s Mind – Poetry and Love

Let Me Tell This a Different Way…….. Their Eyes (A Response to Op-Ed/Increasing Hate)

Their eyes.  Seen through a lot of things – more vividly when closed.

From villages where they would eat through garbage on the streets.

To now – being asked to go out by their wealthier friend to eat, but trying to find excuses. Running out.

The reality is what’s left of the fast food they served, is now dinner today. Plus whatever was on sale at Superstore – you know those ones with the special stickers.

They were sitting on the bus, eating traditional breaky at the back.

By the way people were looking at them, this would be the 60’s, they’d be black.

They would eat on a table if they had one in their room.

Man starting to look at them like they an animal from a zoo.

As they ate each bite, you can tell his anger grew.

Clutching a book by Peterson in one hand, the other reading the Op-Eds as if they were news. Holding these ancient views as if they it was shone light on an unwanted Son.

Under his white gaze, it was as if Slumdog Millionaire had come back on first run.

They goes into class late, cause the bus was running slow.

Like they usually do, they sit sit at back, trying to lay low.

Instructor talks about that ‘assimilation’ is what newcomers need to know.

Makes an offhand remark – you ain’t come here to play in snow.

They think: “Hell if it was snowing, they wouldn’t have proper shoes to wear.”

The last time at the store, they checked, nobody seem to care.

Looked at them as if they should have went next door to Payless shoes

It’s true, they barely had enough to pay their tuition dues.

Even at the temple, barefoot, they all looked as if they knew.

They were here with no mother, father, no ties – nothing to lose?

But they were slowly losing their mind, paying that cultural fine, struggling with differences across space and time, realizing this immigrant life is a grind.

Agent back there said in a ‘few years’ they’d be fine.

Turns out both him and their homestay were together on the lie.

Yet they still put on a brave smile, serving up them subs.

Have these blazed guys gaze them like they been sent to give them rubs.

They had an MBA and three years working in IT.

Nobody in the world seems to care who they might be.

Yet, they spend their weekends giving back through service and their volunteer.

They spend their nights talking to mom and dad who be in fear.

During the days they struggle thinking about a potential career.

They closes their door, regrets being a poor, thinks about that man who called them a coloured whore.

As they were trying to buy a snack, they got asked if they worked at the store.

Asked by a customer if they could help, a kid spilled, please sweep the floor.

They start thinking about that childhood – even through trash they at least had friends.

Whats the use of all this hustle – if no means also know no ends.

“Don’t worry – learn some English, in a minute you will blend.”

“Just learn to order a proper Canadiana next time you at Blenz.”

“Go back home to your country.” comes a booming voice from a Blue Benz.

They had accidentally jaywalked in their thoughts of things to mend.

Ties, Lies, Tries, Trial, Tribulations, Loser, Lost. Triggered. Time and Time Again. Determined. Do it. Don’t. Disintegrate. Dream. Dream. Dream.

The alarm clock rings. They are late for school again. Hopefully today is going to be different.


21 Day Anthology – Day 5 – Storytelling Training Session

I did training today with a group of Chinese-Canadian leaders for a workshop on storytelling.

There are some really good things – which I don’t want to spoil for those eventually attend the workshop, but I will share the story that I came up with. Perhaps you could draw the key concepts we were asked to include from my actual piece. Ps. the last paragraph doesn’t reflect reality.

On a side note, I am very excited to get to go to Calgary this Friday for The Action, Chinese Canadians Together Foundation Summit in Calgary.

Without further ado, here’s my short piece. I know I’m one day behind, so hopefully this is a good excuse.

I was born to an immigrant father who has 60 dollars in his pocket. Both himself and my mother were doctor’s in China. They had to restart their education from scratch in Canada. They lived in basements, cooked food for their landlords in exchange for rent. They had to endure prejudice from colleagues at work and financial struggle. I was born in Victoria, immune to the struggle around me.


As a 2nd-generation Canadian, I reaped the benefits of the economic success they had built for our family but blamed them for the cultural tensions they created within the household and the relationships I failed to establish with others – mostly white colleagues and white teachers.


I moved away from the Chinese culture viewing it as a crutch, a weakness, to be shed along with my integration into white society. In my childhood, going to ethnic enclaves such as a Chinatown began as a weekly obligation, a necessary requirement to be avoided. Sure, I enjoyed the barbeque buns but my father often harassed us back in the car to go home as soon as possible – the streets were apparently ‘not safe.’ As soon as I had another place to go – nicer, brighter, cleaner supermarkets in Richmond (similar to the way Toronto has Richmond Hill). I left. I pursued whiteness as a solution.


I was never told the stories of our struggles, the violence, to obtain equality that begun on these streets, the constant harassing of our businesses by bylaw enforcement officials, the exclusion of our women, the taking way of our basic rights to vote. I became a lawyer fighting for justice without knowing the story of our own community’s injustice. I owe it Dr. Henry Yu, at UBC, for teaching me and asking me to rethink my own story but also the role of Chinese-Canadians in building Canada.


I learned railroad wasn’t built us just buy us by hired help that we were here and built it for our own subjugation. This story gave me meaning.


I know many individuals feel the same as me. We’ve spent time in Chinatown but forgotten our roots to this space, and the roots to our identities. To me reclaiming Chinatown is reclaiming our history and showing Canadians there is more that unites us and divides us. It is a story of humility, of resilience, crossing ethnic communities. It is of grandparents, of kindness and generosity, of vendors feeding us and sacrifice on the street corners. Yet, I still see the same tensions that affected the relationship between me and my parent’s generation today.


Now, we need to ensure that Chinatown does not become a forgotten asterix, a planning. try but fail – or even that we failed. We need to support actions that allow us to apply for UNESCO Designation. We need to encourage efforts to support local businesses to ensure they are not subsumed by unhealthy gentrification. I urge you to come out to our next meeting as a guest to the Chinatown Legacy working group in a week next week and to support our event. We will provide our food to fill your stomachs from our local bakery, we just kindly ask that you make a small donation of $20. This donation will go a long way to supporting our initiatives and supporting our efforts to write a comprehensive report to council on the need for further funding for our next steps.

21 Day Anthology – Day 4 – Decolonize (one day behind)

I’m one day behind. No excuses. Weekend ball drop. Paul George not playing up on Dame.


I want to decolonize.

I am trapped in colonial work.

It is like I forgot the colour of my own skin.

What is the content of my character?

Am I too content with these spoils at my door.

Why does it burn one out more to help the poor.

But why do I even refer to them as poor.

Their richer in culture than you and me.

They organize, and put feets on the streets.

They speak up and when they drum you best believe your heart is touched your head starts throbbing. You naturally start bobbing.

But don’t forget that very beat was once banned.

And I just pass on laws to clients they can barely understand.

Because sometimes, it wasn’t made to understand rather to reprimand.

We need to decolonize man and there’s a reason I said it.

Instead of caring what they be saying about my work on Reddit.

End it.

21 Day Anthology – Day 3 – Rays of an Immigrant’s Sun

These quickly flipped pages, the work of our modern day sages, trapped in our below-average wages, creating pitfalls so cancerous they got stages, they say we’re just going through economic phases, you know the pendulum swings – yeah they actually say this, got most of us ignoring what the actual time of day is, we’ve been in dark so long, can God save us?

The grass is greener than ever but the cash cow still grazes, forgetting it’s this land not the sands that truly made us. Yet they keep calling it a displacement of their cultural make-up. Yet these conversations behind our backs isn’t why at night we stay up. It’s because we’re sweeping your floors at night after your kids layup. Going home in the mornings after your bosses berate us.

Got a kid at home who wants to be like Russ, but can’t make it to practice from the outskirts – no bus, so now he stuck on the bench as a barely-called sub, straight rust, got his teammates telling him both him and his dad suck, that he should be going back to Pakistan where they supposedly came from, that he should stick to the math books and chilling with Dim Sum, that’s the name they gave his best friend Brandon to remind him where he from, even though he was born just a block from all of them. Half the time they wish they could run. The other half they wish they could pull out a gun. The reality is these bricks weigh a ton. Back breaking sticks and stones under rays of an immigrant’s sun.

21 Day Anthology – Day 1 – Beginning to Wonder and Wander

Whether it not it takes 21 days to truly make a habit, it is clear that in my life and practice, writing needs to play a more prominent role – for healing, coping, and as a bastion of creativity. Over the next 21 days I will force myself to write various creative pieces that purposely take me out of the usual context of being an immigration and refugee lawyer and into the realm of writing. If you are looking for professional writing, this is not the right place. I have never been formally trained. I’ve been told my writing is too ranty, too wordy, nauseating to read. Perhaps our words reflect our busy minds. What you will get is raw, truth-seeking, words on paper without fear or reservation of consequence.

Today’s piece titled “Beginning to Wonder and Wander” is a short poem that digs into some deep content and thoughts. I used to be a rapper/emcee for many years. Writing in lyric form comes naturally. Hopefully I will over the next 21 days engage in other forms.:

We live in this present state of too many beginnings.

Our ideas flow so frequently from our oversaturated minds. I believe the experts would call this a ‘synapses problem.’

Anyways, I couldn’t explain it to you. You see, I never was one good at Sciences and yes, it was considered a seminal failure when I wrote to the registry of the University stating boldly – physics will be the death of me and chemistry never worked out for me both in the books and in my limited relationships I had failed to begin or maintain properly. I guess sometimes there weren’t even certain beginnings to start with.

Instead  I spent years between states of wonder and wander, wondering what the differences were between the ‘o’ and the ‘a.’ I guess I was always more of a wanna-be-wonder boy, not that anyone ever dared to called me ‘wonderful,’ but that word had no A’s just like my transcript that I was made to believe defined my life worth – below average and boring.

I also liked the circular idea of the ‘o’ that I would going in circles dealing with one thing or another. I was really good at repeating and copying and pasting but when it came to exploring I fell short of climbing the fence that all the kids navigated with ease. I was scared of the fall. Still am today – the object of many nightmares and occasional realities.

I’m beginning to wonder if I had it all backwards. Whether I should have spent more time wandering the streets of my City aimlessly and freely, observing the intricate nooks and crannies and exposing myself to more truth. Giving my heart a little harder armour. Whether that would have addressed that fear I have when I clench the hands of my amour tightly to navigate around threats perceived only… I realize…  in my… oversaturated mind.

Today, I both wonder and wander through the mazes of this life – telling that often too vocal voice inside that he won’t steal my courage, that 30 years of occupation was more than enough. That my inability to gaze into your eye directly when speaking to you isn’t just a cultural bandage for fear, as I have finally stopped bleeding. I wish I could walk out of yesterday but indeed when I look at the scars from surgeries past or those glasses pressed against a too-flat face that used to cause me so much torment – I am still very much yesterday’s child.

I don’t ask for any special accomodation – but I ask you occasionally to listen and let me speak or ask me if I have some thoughts before rushing to conclusions on stories that have too many beginnings for you to even begin to contemplate.

I wonder when I will let go. I wander the dark corridors of my soul seeking for that enlightenment.



I Want What Timmy Has – A Short Narrative

I haven’t wrote a fictional, lighter piece in a while so I thought I’d put together this short narrative. Like many stories there are elements of my own life embedded into it. I am also sure many of you can relate to some of the streams of written thought I go on. I’ve made a commitment to myself to do more non-fiction writing in 2019 so here’s a quick one!


I stared at him across the room. Timmy. My part time friend and part time enemy “frienemy.”

Like always he was the centre of attention. Table packed with the most attractive girls from our class, the guys from the hockey team, and today a few young admirers I recognized from last night’s big game.

I did not have the luxury of such a fan base.

Like every other noon o’clock it was my daily period of solitude.

Today my friend Chen was sick – that or his parents took him back to China again. The rumour going around was that all us had the Asian flu. Including me, who I note never ever had stepped a single foot in the motherland, Asia.

It usually would just be us two – talking about, well mostly it was a silent Buddhistic ritual. His mom was a good cook – I would ask him what he was having. It usually looked and smelled better than mine. That and he had the triple layer thermos that neatly separated his rice, meat, and vegetable dishes. My own dented thermos carried a mystery mix or yesterday’s leftovers and some hidden surprises my pops whipped up at 7am. He was up early every day to make our lunches.

It wasn’t that I hated Timmy. If this was PE (Phys Ed) class we’d still share occasional laughs but half the time he may have been laughing at me. See I wasn’t the fittest boy in class. While rap fashion was in and I was of above average weight, the extra large hoodies and pants didn’t help. They were off the discount rank and I didn’t know better. The colours usually a mix of vibrant yellow, orange, and white accentuating how out of shape I was. The gym was a foreign place of growth stinting potential – one of the many places and spaces, the rules dictated I was forbidden to visit.

Timmy went into his brown paper bag and pulled out his sandwich. It looked like Black Forest Ham. I never much liked sandwiches but I was jealous of the neat tinfoil wrapping. His lunch was a series of hidden surprises. Sometimes he would gift a piece to his favourite admirer, who would woo and give him a peck on the check or one of those deep hugs that I desired – the hugs the members of the hockey team would give to each other after a nice goal, or when greeted by their fans after the game. All I had were the handshakes of a good game after a tennis match – usually one I would also be excluded from, riding the pine (or the place behind the chained fence, as it usually was in our tennis games).

Exclusion was a natural concept for me in these years. Excluded from my culture, from Timmy’s culture, from the school culture. I took refuge in my own little world of written words and verses, of Tupac and Em, much to the chagrin of my deeply conservative-music classical music listening family.

Today Timmy took out a cylindrical round thing out of his bag. I could tell by it’s colour – green that it was gold to me. The bane of my existence. Everything I wanted. I had tried asking for it before. Mom’s would tell me – ‘why the heck would you eat that when you eat the actual thing itself?’ and ‘do you think we’re a white family? – it’s too expensive’

I craved the sweetness, the granular, smooth texture. To me it was finer than the fanciest cake (not that we had any options but the over dry, fake peach fruit cake of every birthday ever). Timmy opened it up, licking the lid, blissfully unaware that the three girls surrounding were watching the tip of his tongue with eyes wide of excitement as they were already engaged in second base. Whatever, second base was – for me it was just Roberto Alomar.

A white plastic spoon came out of his brown paper bag. I stared down at my own chopsticks, which in my lack of attention paid had turned into one chopstick and one game of pick-up sticks waiting on the floor.

Timmy was smiling, he blue at his bleached blonde hair – spoon caressing carefully the corners of the plastic cup.

This is a memory I always carry with me. I carried it years later when I was in a foreign land (where what Timmy was having was entirely foreign). One of my classmates at the time had her family from Mid-West USA deliver some packages of the stuff. It was so damn good, I went for thirds and skipped dessert.

But, more than that, it represented a jar of memories, a cup of perfection of a culture that I never could fit in but damn right wanted to. An object of affection to a soul that at material times both crave it and lacked it.

I want what Timmy has. To be honest I still want it today.

I want that damn Apple Sauce.

Letter to My Sister (in Law): A Reflection on Male Toxicity and Male Privilege in the Profession

The below piece was inspired by a recent experience in an Inland Spousal Sponsorship interview. In a moment of empowerment, I decided to step in for the Officer and question my clients, in a manner that went beyond my ‘courtesy’ role as counsel. I reflected on the power/historical dynamics that led me to believe that I could do this, and believe that part of it was because the officer was a Filipina-Canadian woman and in the back of my mind, as a lawyer, I could speak for her or over her. I connected it to other experience in front of white decision-makers of power and recognized my parallel silence. It is a position I could not reconcile with myself and therefore I have written the below letter.

The first version I wrote (but was accidentally deleted in a WordPress saving issue) was arguably better. I think I went more in detail and hit harder. Perhaps, it was to personal and would have drawn criticism from those individuals who may have recognized themselves in the parables. I hope that in this version, I still capture that essence. I will continue trying to find back the words I wrote but in the meantime please take these words.


Dear Sister (in Law):

While we are not bound by blood, we are bound as siblings by our mutual decision to enter this profession. You, like me, entered to be able to pursue a profession where you would be valued for your contribution, where you could fight to promote justice, and where you could secure a better future for you and your clients.

I am writing today to apologize to you and to share a few accounts both of my privilege and the ways in which we (as a Male Bar, writ large) have not given you the space or opportunity you deserve, as our gender equals.

To those of you of colour, we have even further made difficult a journey that is already made difficult by the trauma of practicing areas that hit often too close to home or too distinct from experience.

We have created environments that have further make you feel without a place and/or we have used our own space to take away yours, our voice to silence yours. For that, we need to acknowledge that we’ve fallen far short. We need to take immediate remedial action to empower you and humble ourselves in the process.

I take personal responsibility for my own role. Looking back on the past years, I have made so many mistakes. I have participated in speaking over women colleagues in male-dominated meetings, all-consumed in the toxic male ego. I have engaged in the backroom small talk of discussing visceral appearances, and generally not being a-tuned enough to how much I was contributing to the denigration of my own sister. I cast gazes that were inappropriate, had conversations that re-enforced my own alluster. I was selfish and wrong.

Inexplicably, I have at the same time showed deference to white men in a manner where I would not have showed deference to you – and it is something I cannot explain but damn-right want to fight in myself and in others. It makes me sick to my stomach that I would allow the historical colonial role of white men in Canada, to not only silence me but then turn around, as a silenced person of colour and not take away your voice.

Meanwhile I have listened but not acted when you told me about that partner who made you do 90% of the work and would take 100% of the credit. When you have told me of clients who would email them to complain about you and who treated you as a disposable assistant rather than the capable lawyer you are. I should have knocked on the doors of patriarchy or helped you fight back. My ‘it will be okay’ simple wasn’t an okay response and was reflective of my silence and misuse of privilege.

When you told me that you received a position on a Board and that the Partner thought you were filling a ‘diversity quota’ I should have made clearer that I was on your side. Instead, I tried to justify his response.

I regret not telling the lawyers who told me that I was at an advantage because I was male and would not have babies and go on mat leave that this was not fair to my sisters who often do not choose to abandon profession but often have the decision imposed on them by the external forces of child-rearing, with little more than a “that’s your natural responsibility.” I want a child but know full well that this decision will change my partner’s life and career choices in a way it does not affect me. I can show up the next day to accolades without having to feel an announce of the pain or the prejudiced judgment of bottom-line driven employers.

I regret the times I participated with the white man in casting that wicked gaze over you – commenting on your appearance and not your last appearance in Court.  The times I saw your high heels as symbols of sex but not the band aids behind the heels as symbols of pain of needing to please in a profession with it’s priorities all wrong.

I regret not telling the powers that be that maybe they need to speak to you first before speaking to me and that my rubber stamping of their authority added to simple majority but paid lip service to you, who was truly affected by the choices they were making.  We allowed our cultures to develop into mini fraternities and boys clubs, where we feigned listening to your monologues one second, and immediately after closed the doors and laughed at you the next.

I regret not trying harder to convince media that they do not need another male talking head or that they should assume that ‘he knows’ when ‘she knows better’ and has the credentials to back it up. I should have deferred or set ultimatums where simply I was happy taking the limelight, myself. It has made you question why you have to work twice harder to get half the accolades, at a portion of the pay – something your client may never know.

How do I fix this? How do I be a true ally to you?

For one, I should no longer contribute to ‘mansplaining’ your situation or always wanting to be the head of the table, especially in your conversations.

For second, I should ask you as my sister what you want – and not assume it is protection, a father figure, a direction seeker, and that maybe I am actually the one needs all three.

For third, maybe it’s time I stop enabling the powerholders and brokers by kow-towing and pumping their tires.

I should challenge their authority, that they are no King and maybe it is time for a Queen to be given her chance to reign. In my personal life, when I see situations of inequality affecting women and women of colour, I need to raise my voice rather than sit there content in silently being served by a woman, like the experience is normal. It isn’t.

I have a lot of historical wrongs to right. My response to feeling dispossessed as an ethnic male during my high school years was to try and join the popular forces of ‘whiteness’ and ‘maleness.’ I had encounters and moments where I crossed lines I had set for myself. In law school and my early practice, I felt male dominance was just part of a normalized environment. Little did I know that it was a environment built specifically to keep women out of power  – while simultaneously undervaluing/underappreciating their work. Next year they would always say – you would get what we have, but the goalposts would always shift.

What a difference time makes. I am now in a place where I work for badass women. They are now (currently) my office manager, two out three of my Firm owner’s, my mentor, my spouse, and my mother. I have cut from my life those elements of male toxicity. I am stepping (although it is a process) outside of my perpetrator role. The events of recent show I still have a long way to go.

Sister – I hope this next generation of lawyers is your generation. I hope you take seats on our highest bench where you hold decision-making power over us, molding law with your genius and maturity.

If I ever, talk for you, walk over you, gaze at you, in a manner in which you are uncomfortable I want you to tell me. I want you to tell me when another one of my brothers does it to you as well. I want you to share with us (when you are ready) how we have failed you. Any Firm that takes such a piece as an offense or tries and dissuade you from doing so, is no home for you.

It is with sincerest apologies and hope that we can do better, as men and allies.



Your Brother (in Law)




Christmas from behind a Cup of *Starbucks* Coffee

The gruff beard counterpoints the cheerful Santa Hat.

Perhaps a cover to the balding hair – alas another year gone – it certainly has been a long one.

Two men – brothers, lovers – who knows and frankly it’s not my place to judge.

Human love is human love – and I can see in their tenderness with each other that it is love by very definition of the word.

A pink haired goddess. Rapunzel of today’s generation. She leaves but acknowledges her presence or maybe I have acknowledged hers.

A stunning beauty.

I said I would stay local but I find myself again in Starbucks. Work is the agenda but people watching is the reality show.

“I’ll pick you up tonight” kissed to the head and check from one man to another. He leaves. He stays. Sniffles either from a persistent cold but more likely from an insistent love.

I can imagine he’s texting him as he leaves the door. I remember all too well those days as well. Phone a lifeline and whatever the maker decided to do with battery life, the heart beat.

Christmas does different things to different people. Those with stories of loss are all to conscious of what they have lost. For others, the ability to take a much needed deep breath. To spend a little of the hard-earned money on loved ones. To reconnect with those we have spent too little time with.

Friends from fargone places send messages wishing you happy holidays. The warm moments that remind you that the stocking isn’t always full of coal.

In all this global uncertainty, caravans and controversy – the universal truth that we are all human spirits and souls on the same sleigh ride of life is an important one.  Taking time aside to love one another, interact with one another, smile at one another – a raison d’etre for living.

Wishing you and your loved ones endless love and happiness over a cup of Starbucks coffee (no sugar – my weight is becoming problem).

(p.s. the guy with the Santa hat actually works here!).

(p.p.s I will be putting up more blogs in 2019 – it is my resolution every year but this year I’m committed).