The English-teaching dodge, over the past decade, has provided more employment for young, educated Canadians than has any industry in Canada. Who are these people that came from out of the darkness?
Let's call them Canada geese.
When teaching English in Korea was solely an American profession, most Americans teaching in Seoul had stumbled on the capital while doing a visa run from Japan or on a visit during a trip through "exotic" Asia. Warm bodies were in demand. But most of the teachers knew the demand was limited and didn't write home to kith and kin shouting "Eureka!" We kept it to ourselves. And I was relieved that Newsweek failed to include Korea in its 1986 cover story on the international English-teaching boom. Nor did the Seoul Olympic Games change the status quo appreciably.
Rather it took a government mandate ordering universities to start English Institutes -- whether they liked it or not -- and visa reciprocity between Canada and Korea before Seoul became a permanent nesting ground for Canada geese. And once the first errant goose returned to Vancouver from Korea with news that there were teaching jobs aplenty across the Pacific, the migration was on. The news quickly scaled the Rockies, spread like wildfire across the great Canadian plain, passed through the hallowed halls of McGill and the University of Toronto and got to Prince Edward Island before the causeway did. (I detected the lisp of a Prince Edward Islander in the speech of one former Dongguk instructor.)
Then one noonday the sky above Seoul darkened as a flock of Canada geese -- one mile wide and 240 miles long by one ornithologist's estimate -- circled until a honk from the errant goose signaled that this was the Promised Land. Indeed, no taxing Canadian socialism here to interfere with building one's nest egg. And they set down, handsome lads and comely lassies, Canada's best and brightest.
At first, Koreans were leery of these new birds. They looked American enough and sounded American enough, but they weren't. Over time, however, Canadians have made such a good impression that they are becoming preferred -- after all, they are Canada's best and brightest -- and have gotten Koreans to recognize Canada as the Un-Cola, too. Canadians are such ambassadors of goodwill that Canada is the country of first choice among Korean students studying English abroad, and the Maple Leaf on returning students' sweatshirts is at least as prestigious as an American university's emblem.
Though I haven't yet noticed those students affecting the "eh?" idiom, Canada's "national tic," in their speech nor the Canadian ou vowel in about that rhymes with boat. Those pronunciations are so definitively Canadian that the English Only movement and Canada Firsters are supporting legislation in Ottawa that, and I'm not making this up, will require all those seeking Canadian citizenship to pronounce "out and about in a boat" like a real Canadian or get the hell oat.
The homogeneous English (General Canadian) spoken by Canadians may just be the best standard for ESL students trying to master the North American tongue. It's certainly less riddled with regionalism than is the English spoken in the States. I would never, for example, think that someone from Seattle was a New Yorker. Yet I did mistake one of my Dongguk colleagues from Vancouver for being from Toronto -- about the same distance as New York is from Seattle -- because I thought I recognized Toronto in his speech.
A taste for Canada Dry ginger ale, the aristocrat of soft drinks and a un-cola, made me cognizant of Canada early in life. And when I entered school and learned about the 48 American States, plus the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, in Geography class, it was impossible not to notice this huge, mono-toned Canadian landmass that was divided into big rectangles, stretched all the way to the North Pole and separated our Alaska from the multi-colored 48 States on the classroom map.
Then we got to draw the Great Lakes and learned about Niagara Falls, a place that madmen went over in barrels or walked above on tightropes. It was reasonable that America had to share the Great Lakes, except for Lake Michigan, with Canada, but finding out that the Canadian side of Niagara Falls was the best side was a blow to this American schoolboy's ego. I do suggest a visit to the falls in winter to see the Niagara River surge form beneath its icy sheath onto the pinnacles of ice below.
America does take Canada for granted, viewing Canada, Canadian protestations notwithstanding, as part of a greater America, shared customs and values and a virtually unguarded 3,000-mile border is testimony to this un-paralleled relationship between neighboring nations. When there are disagreements, whether over fishing, tariffs or the frozen sea surrounding the North Pole, they are settled amicably. Moreover, the Bush administration is looking to Canada to supply America with natural gas rather than begin drilling in Alaska's Wilderness Preserve and incur the wrath of environmentalists.
Even when Canada provided asylum to American draft-dodgers during the Vietnam War, there was no acrimony toward Canada. Those guys were given a choice: "Love it or Leave it." Truth be told, I had a look at Canada myself in those days. What I would like to know is: How many Canadians enlisted in the U.S. Army specifically to fight in Vietnam? I met a former Vietnam veteran who had, and who told me "There ain't no atheist in a foxhole."
What used to be a constant refrain among Canadians -- "He's a Canadian!" -- when boasting that certain successful personages in America were in fact Canadians, has been made redundant by so many Canadians "making it" in America. Indeed, not all Canada geese migrate to Korea. The silly ones flock to Hollywood, including the mother of all silly geese, Jim Carey.
That zany Canadians are now permanent fixtures in the American comedy scene is baffling given that the Canadian manner had always been an understated reserve beside the robust neighbor across the border. Perhaps watching too much American TV during the interminable Canadian winter changed all that.
I was never quite sure what "He's a Canadian!" really implied. It sort of sounded like "One of us was actually good enough to make it in America." Nonetheless, it took a Canadian-born economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, to inform Americans, in "The Affluent Society," that they were living the good life, while a Canadian mass-communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan, told us "The media is the message." and that our great, big world was just "a global village." And who will replace the trustworthy visage of "Canadian Peter" Jennings, one of the most admired men in America, on the ABC Nightly News? Nor has the in-depth MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour been the same since MacNeil left, purportedly to write the definitive book about Canadians. Those two guys were the odd couple of news broadcasting, Robert MacNeil, a Canadian high scot, and Jim Lehrer, a Texan.
My Canadian role model par excellence was "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," a member of the fabled Northwest Mounted Police, the Mounties. Sergeant Preston, what with his red tunic and Smokey-the-bear hat, was unlike Hop-along Cassidy, Roy Rogers ("The King of the Cowboys"), the Lone Ranger and other cowboy heroes of my boyhood, and I marveled at how deftly he maneuvered his sled, and controlled his team of sled dogs, over a snowy expanse in the opening scene of the eponymous TV show.
Winston Churchill coined "special relationship" to describe the Anglo-American relationship that grew out of the Second World War. How to describe a relationship between neighboring nations that share a peaceful 3,000-mile border as well as customs and values? How about "North American relationship?" When an eminent Canadian, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was asked his opinion of the "North American relationship," he famously quipped, "It's like sleeping next to an elephant."
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