Saturday, April 19, 2014

We ARE Canadians

No longer "would be".

After almost nine years from the very start of the process, this week we became Canadian citizens.

It was a stressful journey and, at times, maddening.

I am humbled.  As difficult as this was for us, what must it be like for people who are not native English (or French) speakers?  For people whose cultures are much more different?  For people who are fleeing imminent danger?  For people who are moving much further away from family and friends?

I want to pay it forward by helping others living here who are on the path to permanent residency and/or citizenship.  One way I am doing so is by volunteering at an organization that serves refugees.  I teach English (ESL) and I love my students.  I hope to do more.  I would really like to teach classes that prepare people to take the citizenship exam.

Was it worth it to move from the U.S. to Canada?  Yes; for me/us, yes.  I love where I live.  I feel more engaged in Canadian/BC/Vancouver life and less alienated here.

Is it perfect?  Oh, universe, no.  There was a person in our small blogging community that described it as "less worse" than the U.S.  Spot on, in my opinion.

I want to make it better -- and I feel like I can make more of a difference here.

Though it may seem like an odd statement to make after almost six years of silence, THANK YOU to all in our blogging community (with, I would say, Lgirl/Laura as our solid centre) for helping to make this possible.  This is not just a phrase, not something pithy to say: WE TRULY COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU.

I wish you all the best.

Daniel in BC

P.S.  As for my six years of silence: Life is life and I am me wherever I go.  I face the same personal challenges here as I would anywhere and I am not one to publicly air those (via blog, Facebook, twitter, whatever -- I am not comfortable with social media).  For me, my lack of communication over these years does not detract from the truth of what I said above.   I mean it all.

Although I don't know who will see this post. :-)

Peace

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Guidelines for Skilled Workers

So, after nearly a year, the Harper government has given the CIC instructions on how to process Skilled Worker applications received on or after February 27, 2008. The list of jobs is a lot shorter than it was when Alan and I applied. We would not have made it. So, it looks like we got here within about a three-year window when the point threshold was lowered to 67 from 75 and before the acceptable work experience list was decimated. We lucked out, I guess. I feel bad for those trying to follow us.

And the usual mea culpa, etc: I'm really behind in the blogging world, I need to catch up with y'all, and I need to write something about the past few months -- and I'm planning on doing so once this term is over, which will be soon. Basically, we're doing just fine and Vancouver has been good for us. Life marches on and the truth is I'm just not the most energetic person in the world. I put a lot into my work and once I get home, I don't have much left. Still trying to figure out how to balance it all and have my life reflect my values in terms of how I spend my time and resources.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA

Wow. Time flies by when you’re disoriented. I mean, I’m still gay … I just feel like I’m “neither here nor there.” The apartment feels like a messy crowded hotel room and I’m still a tourist in the city. I feel like I’m letting y’all down when I say this: my emotions are all over the place. I love Vancouver and I love Canada … and I’m also homesick for Seattle and the people I know and love there. (I’m not homesick for the U.S. And, by the way, I read with real tears the news of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the 2nd Amendment. Scalia is a hateful reactionary.) I’m riding the emotional roller-coaster and Alan, bless his heart, is along for the ride. “But only when you’re awake, dear,” he tells me.

Let’s start with where we’re at and then go back to the Big Move. Our cats have made the transition much faster and with much less anxiety than I thought they would. (Better than I …) Especially after what they went through (getting to that). The younger one was in shock for a few hours. They’re doing great now. (Finding wood to knock.) We’re getting them a new deluxe cat tree and putting it in the corner that has windows on both sides; it will be high up and they’ll have interior and exterior views that will allow them to survey their domain.

Our stuff is in the apartment and it’s not quite as small as we remembered, although it is a tight fit and there are some challenges we’ve yet to master. Some scuffs here and there, but so far, nothing found broken in our belongings. We’ve unpacked a lot and still have more to go. We’re doing a lot of things the same way we did in Seattle, but occasionally ask if it makes sense to do so. I think it will really feel like home when we start putting up our wall decorations (posters/art, photos, grandmother’s quilt, etc.). A lot of this is just normal move stuff, I guess.

Phone was hooked up when we moved in, as promised (although it took us a while to find a phone to plug in). Cable was on time with the installation appointment Thursday. Internet was confusing. We’re using ADSL with Telus. You’ll hear about it if it sucks; so far, it’s pretty good now that it’s up and running. (At one point, you might have heard me yelling at Telus’s automated call answering system – no matter where you were – but that’s behind us for now …) We’re getting more phone jacks installed tomorrow, as there is only one in the whole apartment. Wireless? you may inquire. Not big fans. (Never give out personal information on a cordless phone – and I’m not being paranoid. There are people who listen in for fun even though it’s illegal to do so and there are people who listen in for profit.)

I picked up our first Canadian credit cards yesterday that we applied for last week. (It’s a secured card through Vancity, where we do our banking.) We signed up for our BC IDs and they’ll arrive by mail in about four weeks. We were able to get library cards on the spot. I've enrolled with Air Miles. I still have to fill out our provincial health insurance forms. The bad news, apparently is that the clock doesn’t start from when one arrives in BC, but from when they receive the form. Had I known that, I would have had it ready ahead of time. Now the goal is to get it there well before the end of July.

We’re finding places to buy our necessities, preferred products or suitable substitutes. I was gleeful to find my regular beverage of choice, seltzer (although they don’t call it that here). (And club soda is not the same thing. And, yes, I guess I’m an old Jewish man.)

We had our first Timbits breakfast as residents. (There’s no Tim Hortons in the West End and maybe that’s a good thing.) This morning, we walked about the seawall and one of the trails in Stanley Park: glorious. It is so cool to be hiking through a forest with no signs of the city and yet still be in our backyard. We saw a bald eagle resting on a rock along the coast and the next thing we knew, it was joined by another! We also saw ducks, geese, and swans on the Lost Lagoon. Hey, we’re city-dwellers; this is a big deal to us!

That’s just it: I’m a mix of excitement and happiness at new discoveries and successes, but also frustration and sadness at losses of the regular company of loved ones and ridiculous challenges such as businesses that take MasterCard but not Visa – virtually unheard of in the States, but common here – and banks that won’t accept cash. (Read that one again. I was pulling my hair out.)

Back to the move. In the interest of the historical (hysterical) record, I report that on the Sunday before the Big Move I lost it. I would say in the top five lifetime anxiety attacks. The kind that people call 911 about and a friend almost did. But Alan and I knew better and decided that this was what the “emergency pills” are for and, after about an hour, I calmed down. I may seem to make light of it now, but I will say it was very painful. The magnitude of the change and loss hit me hard. I had said a lot of goodbyes in the past month, including an especially difficult one earlier that day.

The move was scheduled, as you may remember, for Wednesday, June 25. We were told to be ready at 11:00 AM and I thought that was kind of late but figured they knew better than I. The truck didn’t show up until after 3:30, the loading started at about 4:00 and I think we finished at about 7:30. There were just two men who were good guys and hard workers, but young. Alan, our friend V., and I worked our butts off to help get it done as quickly as possible. (To our surprise, the movers said we had more stuff than they had planned. When we moved from New Orleans to Seattle, the movers were struck by how little we had. We hadn’t acquired that much in the meantime.) Alan, the cats, and I plus computers and important papers/files went in V.'s car.

It was maybe 10:30 when we got to the border. The truck went through the commercial lane (which apparently wasn’t necessary and also served to cause suspicion) and was stuck in queue. After maybe an hour, the truck got to the front of the line and … the driver had an expired license. The other guy had no license. For reasons still not understood by me, the driver decided to tell the border agents that we were friends, trying to hide that they were hired workers. This made me very nervous and the agents smelled something funny. I decided to ignore whatever the driver said and made no reference to it and just answered all questions directly, pretending that I didn’t notice that what I said didn’t jibe with what the driver said. I won’t lie – and why would I? There’s nothing wrong with hiring movers to move your stuff. And we had our goods to follow list and everything was on the up and up.

Amazingly, the border agents were not hard-asses and they could have been. The driver was clearly lying to them and his license was expired. I feel sure that had we been dealing with the other side of the border, things would have been much worse. After 3 agents inspected the contents of the truck and looked over our list, they decided to let us (Alan, V., and me) move on. The guys and the truck had to wait for their supervisor to come get them. (By the way, the supervisor was making noises about charging us more because the move was going into two days! Like it was our fault! Or desire! It seems like a discount would have been more appropriate. I was gearing up for a fight, I tell you.

We couldn’t get in to our apartment because it was after midnight and the office was closed and we didn’t have keys. So we stayed at a not-first-choice hotel for a few hours, smuggling the cats in and letting them out of their carriers for the first time in many hours. (We put out water and an improvised litter box, but I don’t think they used either. They were somewhat traumatized.) Alan and I fell on the beds without showering or removing our clothes and managed a restless nap, getting up early to meet the movers at the new apartment building. (We had to schlep our stuff in and out of the car because there was only on-street parking and Vancouver is notorious for car break-ins.) We were exhausted in every way.

The move-in went pretty smoothly Thursday morning. (“drf” from “Moved to Vancouver” witnessed the semi-hysterical Daniel during move-in; I think I had had less than eight hours sleep total in three days.) The moving company charged only as we had agreed, so no fight. We put V. up in a (nice) hotel for another night and we used her room to shower and hang out, as we had no energy and our place was a messy warehouse. (The cats had their needs met. They made the place home quickly and maybe that was because they had been in those damn carriers and weird hotel room for so long. At least they recognized our/their stuff.)

So, here we are. I’m in a more regular routine, trying to sleep on schedule but still struggling with energy levels. I started up my usual exercise routine and that feels great. School starts Monday. I’ve encouraged Alan to take it slow. Please don’t ask about jobs. It will happen, just can’t think about it now. This is what we saved and did without for three years for, a gift from our past selves to our present selves. (Thanks, guys.)

I am happy to be in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Do I need to change the name of this blog?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Less than one week

Thank you all who left comments on the last post of my financial questions. I don't feel that I can put together something coherent now, so here are some jumbled thoughts with the move less than a week away. (Probably my last post as a Seattle resident.)

I've been saying goodbyes for about a month now; it's starting to get really emotional. I don't think I've ever had so many scheduled lunches with people. The really big goodbyes are coming up. There are also a couple of folks that just won't connect; it's weird that they just won't say whatever, they just avoid. I guess it's all part of the goodbye experience.

My department at work had the "official" goodbye lunch for me on Monday. My two closest coworkers are taking me to lunch tomorrow. Alan's been with his company for not quite 10 years, but because of the (not wanted) shuffle, he's been in his current department for less than a year and the folks he's known are scattered. I don't think anyone's doing anything for him tomorrow. (Tomorrow is the last day at work for both of us.) That makes me sad. (I did just find out that his former coworkers put together a card and gave it to him this morning.)

Stuff! Drowning in stuff! I feel like such a spoiled first-world consumer. I mean, I think we don't have much by typical U.S. standards, but still -- everywhere I look -- stuff! We've sold, donated, recycled, and gifted boxes and boxes of stuff and some larger items that just won't fit in our new place. But I wake up in the mornings and want to scream, "make it all go away!" On a day-to-day basis, I think I only use about 10% of it.

Alan and I are both starting to get that "deer in the headlights" look and feeling. We're both retreating to our stress behaviors. Unfortunately, it's hard to accomplish anything under those conditions. So I've asked a new friend, who is a friend of a more established friend, to come by on Monday and give us some dispassionate direction. She teaches during the academic year, but is off now for the summer and she offered help the last time I saw her. We need someone who's not emotionally involved in the move to push us to focus on what needs to get done.

The cats had their last vet appointment (annual check-up a bit early and usual shots) in Seattle and we have what we need to cross the border. [The very first stop we made after arriving at the airport in Seattle years ago was at the (same) vet to have them checked out and boarded while we looked for a place to live.] They're in good shape, thank goodness. (I'm so afraid of the jinx!) They know something's up because the apartment is upside-down. Many of their favorite hangouts are missing. We've spent an embarrassing amount of time figuring out how we will make the new place "work" for them. They drive us crazy, but we do want them to be happy. We are planning on a ritzy deluxe new cat tree. (Shhh! It's a surprise.)

I'm still a dither about credit cards and such. I think it will all work out, but I have this fear that we'll get "cut off." (It's not that we need credit, just the method of payment is useful and often necessary.)

We're having trouble getting DSL installed in our new apartment. The company says they've been waiting (for a month now) for a "port" to open up. (If anyone understands this, please feel free to educate the less technical among us.) I'm not sure what to do. We do so much personal business over the internet. I could more easily go without a home phone than without internet.

Drinking! Margaritas with my closest guy friend in Seattle after work tomorrow. We started this once-a-month happy hour tradition a while back and this will be the last in the series, but hopefully not the last forever. Saturday will be more drinking with another it will be hard to say goodbye to. I probably should not be doing this. I also think that I would be pulling my hair out Monday-Wednesday next week anyway, so why not relax a bit first (albeit under the influence, which I'm sorry to say is needed at this point). [btw, haven't been on meds for months now, if you were wondering -- that's a good thing]

Looks like we'll be the last of the 7 couples/families to settle. I'm glad y'all have made it there safe and sound. Now, I just have to believe that it will be us, too ... (and you're probably rolling your eyes because I think we have the shortest distance to go). Thanks, folks -- really and truly -- for your support and friendship. Can we meet up for margaritas sometime?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Questions about finances for other U.S. to Canada folks

OK, we're at that details stage and I have questions. If you don't feel comfortable answering in the comments, please e-mail me.

I know that some of you kept U.S. credit cards. Do you use a mailing address in the U.S. or Canada? If you use an address in the U.S., how do you deal with the phone number issue (because Capital One, for example, calls periodically from their fraud department to check to see that charges are legitimate)? I've heard (I think it was from Nick) that Amex will give you a Canadian account if you have a U.S. account in good standing; do I just call them up and ask for it? Are there other cards that will do this?

Did you keep bank accounts open in the U.S.? How do you transfer money back and forth?

We're thinking we'll just leave our retirement (401k) accounts alone, giving them the new contact info, of course.

What good/bad experiences have you had in transferring and coordinating finances between the U.S. and Canada?

Any suggestions, comments, words of experience and wisdom (with details) are welcome.

Thanks!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Signed

On Thursday (May 15), after almost missing the train (!) to Vancouver in the morning, [oh, and yes, FOB = Fresh Off the Boat, which is an expression, and FOT = Fresh Off the Train, which I made up for Alan and me], MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (and for real, not like that lying S.O.S.): We signed a lease on an apartment!

It's in the building where I had contacted management over the phone and she said that they would have no problem getting our U.S. credit report. Here's the funny thing: I came "armed" with copies of our U.S. credit reports, printed information on contacting our current apartment management, printed information on verifying our current employment, bank statements, personal references ... you get the idea ... and she barely looked at any of it. I think that because I had everything so prepared and was eager to share it, she had a good impression. And rather than our coming from outside counting against us, I think it helped. She seemed to know that we couldn't have been accepted as P.R.s unless we were financially prepared and ready to get employment. And I think that our being from the States impressed her, which I felt a little guilty about.

The down-sides: signed for June 1 so paying rent on two places for the same month, smaller apartment, no washer/dryer in unit, rent 20% more, high-rise building

The up-sides: cats can come with! management is way cool! corner apartment = more light and cross-breeze! and .... location, location, location!

When we had scouted around in the past to see where we might want to live, we picked a neighborhood. We even centered on an intersection that we would measure distance from in looking at prospective places. OUR NEW BUILDING IS STEPS AWAY FROM THAT INTERSECTION.

If you live the carless lifestyle, you understand that blocks matter. I can and do walk miles every day; I like it and it helps keep my weight (and psyche) under control. But schlepping groceries and pet supplies is another story; each block adds a point to the misery index when repeated day in and day out. We will be living next to a supermarket, London Drugs, and pet supply store. Our post office and bank branch are only a few blocks away. In terms of recreation, we're just blocks away from water/beach, Stanley Park, and tons of shops, bars and eateries.

The West End is a diverse (lots of young people, lots of old people, lots of Asians, South Asians, gays) neighborhood on the downtown peninsula. It's full of life and we're very excited to be living there.

And, of course, we'll be neighbours (I'm getting used to the "U"s; give me time) of "West End Bob" and "drf."

We're going with a local Vancouver mover who is willing to haul out to Seattle and back (same-day move). It won't be cheap, but it is in the range we expected. We're looking at June 20 as the last day at our jobs in Seattle and June 25 as moving day.

Can you believe this?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tangible

I feel a little childish being so excited about this: We have our Permanent Resident cards in hand! They actually arrived in Vancouver two or three weeks ago, but last night we could touch and stare at them (which I have done a lot). I know that in the official process, this isn't really a milestone, but emotionally it really feels like one. It's hard evidence that we've achieved what we've been working on for almost three years.

The cards are amazing technologically; I've never seen so many and so high-tech features. There are engravings, holograms, micro-writing, overlapping text/design, redundancies and a mag strip that seems very different from the ones on our credit cards. The photo (oddly, in black and white ??) is copied on the back of the card twice -- once on the mag strip itself. The name and date of birth appear in multiple locations. Many items can only be seen when held at a certain angle. There's so much going on, like images of the flags of all 13 provinces/territories are on the mag strip! Anyway, the cards are way cool. Woo hoo!

We're running up to Vancouver for the day on Thursday to look at apartments and maybe even sign a lease. One building in particular is in a perfect location and it will allow our cats. It will be a whirlwind tour as we're both still working and just taking the day off. We'll spend more time on the train than in the city. If we make progress in finding housing, it will be well worth it.

I was very anxious about who would rent to us, given that we have no history in Canada. After speaking with the management of one of the buildings, I was relieved. She is able to run a U.S. credit check and our being F.O.B. (or F.O.T. in our case) didn't seem to phase her at all. I had gotten it into my head that somehow we'd really have to fight and plead; it seems more like they want to rent to good tenants than they're looking to reject people capriciously.

Still, we're going in prepared: copies of our U.S. credit reports, bank statements, information on how to verify our current employment and reference from our rental management company of the past ten years in Seattle. (We even dug up a letter from our last landlord in New Orleans, but I think that's a bit much -- and we're not really sure how to reach him any more or even if he's still kicking.) While it's difficult juggling between two cities, I feel so much more confident and secure looking at rentals while we still have jobs and a place to live.

One of the units we're hoping to look at is available July 1; that would work great. Still, if it looks like the right thing to do, we will sign a lease starting June 1 and live with the overlap. I'm not thrilled at paying rent on two places for the same month, but knowing we have a fixed home in Vancouver is worth it. (Repeat to self ten times.)

A week ago Saturday, I mailed the application for the (post B.A.) college program that will get me my Canadian teaching credentials; it starts July 7.

I spent a day calling movers. There are four categories: local company Seattle or Vancouver (1 & 2) and national affiliate U.S. or Canada (3 & 4). Even though I tried to weed them out before calling, some movers didn't want the job. (They hate crossing the border. One didn't say they wouldn't do it, they just gave me a really high quote to make me go away.) Also, there are three different approaches: same-day, next-day, and consolidated (multi-household) it-will-take-weeks. Cost estimates vary wildly, from what we expected to twice what we expected and maybe we should just ditch everything and start over.

As of now, the local Vancouver company wins hands down. Their quote was reasonable (what we expected, although he thought it would give me a heart attack), same-day move, and willing to meet us at the border for customs (in fact, very pleased that we're willing). Plus, I really do prefer to work with a locally-based operation as opposed to national affiliate and with a company whose home is where we're going (not where we're from -- in case there are any problems, it seems like it would be better). Once we have a destination address, we can book a move date and give a deposit. I was worried at giving the movers less than three months' notice -- but he was thrilled at the prospect of getting three weeks. (I guess a lot of folks are last minute?)

I don't know if you can read between the lines, but there's a lot of, um, freaking out you're not seeing (reading). I really had built things up in my mind and I think this can be an "I told you so" moment for L-girl: I think part of it was reading negative stories on the immigration lists. Once I got started (breathe, breathe) making calls and such, I realized the (Canadian) world was not out to get me. This move can happen and maybe without the trials of Hercules. (I think I'm mixing my metaphors and mythology). So, I'm calmer. That's a relative term. I still have the occasional panic attack in the wee AM hours.

Right now, I can't believe how fortunate we are. Horrible, terrible things are going on in the world, some (most?) human-caused, some not -- and we're healthy, educated U.S. citizens moving to Canada. I feel spoiled. And I want to work, albeit in some very small way, to help makes things better. I've been thinking about where I'd like to put my energy in that regard once we're settled Vancouverites. That's another post.

Thanks for reading.