Culture clash or unwarranted fears? Community leaders say residents wrong

GlobalTV reports on unhappy residents at UBC

UPDATE: Well, our commenters have told me I'm all wet on this item. The residents of the building are over-reacting say community leaders like Tung Chan and BC Lee. The "research centre" proposed beside the building is indeed a hospice, and whether that got lost in translation, it appears that UBC is putting this development on hold until a review of the project while they work through the controversy.

As for my attempt to see this from a different standpoint, well, it has not been well-received by the majority of readers who left a comment. I must admit seeing both Tung’s and BC’s reactions, as well as learning more about the struggles the facility have had getting constructed, have me reconsidering my position. Here’s the argument I put forward on Thursday.

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province-cover-20110113 I’ve read the story featured on the front cover of today’s Province newspaper, and watched the lead story on today’s GlobalTV Noon News (posted above). I do not represent myself as an expert on Chinese cultural matters, but I understand the point they are trying to make.

And unlike the vast majority of comments I’ve read on TheProvince.com, I support these residents in their concerns about a new development moving in next door.

Last month a national furor was set off by those who felt that Maclean‘s magazine were deliberately racist when they described the way some campuses are handling high numbers of Chinese university applicants. I read that piece and didn’t see how it could be interpreted as a racist message, but spoke to a couple of folks who saw it differently.

Today’s story by The Province is, in my opinion, is more heated rhetoric around race and status than the Maclean's story. Note the use of "swanky highrise" on the newspaper's cover, and the word "posh" and "upscale" to describe the building. There's a palpable contempt for the residents because they're well off, yet harbour suspicions about ghosts.

A detail reported only in Tanya Beja's GlobalTV story mentions is that residents buying into this building were mislead by sellers into thinking that the empty lot next door would have a research centre, not a hospice. One person suggested to me this is symptomatic of UBC's weak governance system – who do you take these complaints and concerns to on campus? In most cities you have systems in place to deal with such disputes.

The comments left on both the digital and web versions of TheProvince.com are rather disturbing, but unfortunately, predictable. Lots of anger directed at people who, many suggest, should pack up and leave because they don’t accept Canadian customs. Reading Damian Inwood’s story though, I’m not surprised that there is such an emotional reaction. If I didn’t know anything at all about Chinese customs and their deeply held views about luck and spirits, I might also react dismissively.

In my Fraser Street neighbourhood I live just a few blocks from the Mountain View Cemetery. I’m somewhat familiar with traditional angst about our symbols of death from living around here. It explained why when many parts of the eastside were being redeveloped two decades ago with Vancouver Specials popular with Chinese buyers, developers skipped the blocks beside the cemetery, preferring to build new homes elsewhere. Many older homes still stand around here as a result.

Vancouver is a place so steeped with history and connections to China and her people, we rightfully earn the designation as a true Pacific city. We’re not some outpost of European fur traders anymore. It absolutely amazes me that despite living together for 125 years, many here on the left coast don’t know much about the Chinese culture in their midst.

CTV’s new co-anchor Mike Killeen even has a fairly representative viewpoint, evidenced by this tweet from this afternoon:

Who ya gonna call – #Ghostbusters ? Some folks on the westside don’t want a #hospice in their ‘hood. Boo!? @ctvbc

Posh, westside, swanky, upscale. I guess it’s just a bunch of rich, superstitious people who can’t get with the program.

While media coverage might lead you to think that the people residing in that tower at UBC are wealthy, I have my doubts. One resident claimed that the family’s life savings are invested in their home purchase (pretty common these days). How many families are living cheek by jowl in condo apartments around town? It would appear they are in this building too.

While we shouldn’t bend over backwards to accommodate these kinds of concerns, UBC is doing a lot of greenfield development and presumably has options on where to locate the hospice. But the example of a community group in Richmond a few years ago, which shut down plans for a mental health and addictions facility, is a circumstance we shouldn’t tolerate.

From the comments made by UBC representatives, it appears that this concern caught them off guard, but they plan to do something about it. While most of us might not resent having a facility like this move nearby, it’s pretty clear that those living next door would be deeply affected by it. The right thing in this instance will be to find another location to build the hospice.

What do you think? Should the residents just work through their fears and keep plans to build the hospice as is, or should UBC find a way to be ‘culturally sensitive’ in this matter?

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UPDATE: This evening the Globe and Mail reports the project is "on hold" (thx, spartikus for the link) due to concerns over cultural sensitivities. A respectful and passionate discussion has broken out beneath this post, almost unanimously disagreeing with my position. Remarks by former city councillor BC Lee are most poignant:

I suggest new immigrants should learn how we Canadians respect the life and dignity of each individual and treat them as a member of a community with peace and love and caring. They should be careful not to judge us as if we are the the country and community from where they tried to leave.

Even Tung Chan reportedly described the position of the residents as "overstated".

I have to salute those who leave their comments here. It’s a breath of fresh air compared what I was reading elsewhere earlier. Thanks for your input.

- post by Mike

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