We returned to Canada in August 1998. This was the second time we returned. Our first return was seven years earlier, in 1991. At that time, we landed in Toronto, and drove to Vancouver. We went from East to West.
This time we from West to East. We landed in Vancouver and drove to Ontario. We did the trip in reverse. Perhaps the reader will appreciate another reason why this tale is entitled, “Between East and West.”
It’s as if I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ideologically, I was also neither here nor there. I needed to find a place where I would put down real roots. And I needed to fine-tune my worldview to guide me. Would it work this time?
We first checked into a guesthouse in Vancouver. Bernie, Charlie’s friend had a second-hand car for sale.
“You can have it for three hundred bucks,” he said. I bought it. It was in decent condition, except for a broken grill in the front. I went to the credit union. When I told the clerk behind the counter that we were going to Ottawa, she said:
“Good luck, you’ll need it.” How right she was.
I rented a U-Haul and put the books from storage in Vancouver into it. Off we were to Ontario. The journey was long. The drive through the Rocky Mountains was spectacular. The prairies, as we would expect, were pretty flat.
It took about a day to traverse each province. Our daughter, then five years old, was with us. We stayed in different motels along the way. We finally arrived Canada’s capital.
Ottawa is a government town. Most of the jobs there are in the government sector. I did not sufficiently appreciate this fact. I guess I had to learn the hard way.
At first, we visited a relative for a few days. I telephoned Igor, my acquaintance from Koh Samui. He lived in a large apartment building on Springland Drive. I rented an apartment in the building where he stayed. It was a two-bedroom unit.
I bought furniture at the Salvation Army. I picked up my books from my sister’s house in Kanata, on the outskirts of Ottawa. I mailed them to her from Malaysia before we left.
I bought a desktop and placed an advertisement for writing resumes for people. Money was a problem. I charged thirty-five dollars per resume. I did the work from the apartment. It took about an hour to write one resume.
The ad in the paper was about three hundred dollars. Just to pay for the advertisement, I would have had to write eight resumes. I tried to put an advertisement in a supermarket but was told that I had to apply and get permission.
I had maybe two or three people per week to write resumes for. It was a dead end. This was a government town. Jobs in the private sector were scarce. I also looked in the ads in the newspaper for work. One school responded to my query then fell silent. I don’t know what happened.
Once I did a resume for a Lebanese businessman. He had an interesting story to tell. He had two daughters enrolled in a private school. He had a successful restaurant in Ottawa. But he had to share the space with another store. On top of that, he was obliged to buy equipment from the franchisee that he felt he did not really need.
When the store began to sell fish meals, the smell from the fish entered his restaurant. The ventilation was poor. Customers began to stay away from his restaurant, and eventually he could not maintain his business He had to close down. He had to look for a salaried job. It was a sad story.
Ottawa Independent writers
I became a member of the Ottawa Independent Writers. I attended some of their meetings. It was hard to remain engaged, however, as I still had no job. How can a person live like that?
A friend from the OIW gave the email of Jane Karchmar, who was a freelance writer and editor. She read my book and gave it thumbs up. She worked part-time for the General Store Publishing House.
After I spoke to the publisher, however, I abandoned the idea of working with this party as they were asking me to pay for printing the book. In exchange, they would deliver the books my door. I had to do the distributing.
I discovered later that the General Store Publishing was what is known as “vanity press,” where wannabe writers pay to for their books to be printed but distribute themselves. This was my introduction to the world of publishing in Canada.
I helped Igor once load a container with second-hand books. He bought a large number of them from the Salvation army. They were delivered in a mid-sized 2-ton truck.
I was surprised the management of the building did not object to a full container being dropped off near the entry to the underground parking lot. Anyway, we worked hard for several hours and all the books were loaded into the container.
Igor was going to send the container to a neighboring nation first – I think it was Myanmar – and from there to Thailand. He was hoping to avoid having to pay import taxes that way. I later heard from another bookseller in Samui that Igor was caught, charged with smuggling books, and eventually jailed.
It was not a cheerful time. My daughter brought Dolly to me once and said:
“Daddy let’s play.”
Dolly was a doll that we bought her. It was her favorite doll. In the past, we used to play regularly with Dolly. But I was not in a mood to play this time.
“Not now my dear,” I said.
I reminded myself of a character in the Terminator (the movie) who was supposed to be joining a fight, but just did not have it in him. A lady came along and said to:
“Come on soldier, get up.” I think he eventually did get up and re-join the struggle. So did I.
Light on the horizon
Things were not getting any better. At my wife’s suggestion, I emailed to John Futa. I asked if he had any work for me. Two days on, Zara asked me to go to the computer.
I went and saw an email from John. He had an economics position for me in the Canadian Program at the College. A feeling of relief came over me and I accepted the offer. As I had worked at Sunway before, I did not have to be interviewed a second time.
A few of my relatives gathered at sister’s house as she also stayed in a suburb of Ottawa. They would help move the furniture out of the unit where we lived.
I resolved that I would be a better person and to perform good deeds. I worried whether I would get enough opportunities to do so. My worries were unjustified.
Returning to Malaysia
We made arrangements to go back and by April 1999 we were on the plane back to Malaysia. I resumed my job at the College. This time we returned to Malaysia after staying in Canada for just one year.
A French writer wrote a book on “reverts” to Islam. He discovered that nearly all of them had a crisis of one kind or another, that somehow triggered the conversion. Well, it certainly turned out to be true in my case.