notes from the dorm

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am


At UBC, there are three ethnic groups: Chinese, white ... and everyone else. The university's nickname - University of a Billion Chinese - might be a slight exaggeration, but it gives you a good idea of the Chinese domination of its 'ethnic scene'.

But first, a little background information is needed. Vancouver was, for much of its life, a backwater city on Canada's west coast. It was dwarfed by Toronto, but this soon changed in the two decades leading up to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. Wealthy Hongkongers fled in droves to Western countries, fearing their hometown would fall under heavy-handed Communist administration.

One place that Hongkongers flocked to was Vancouver, located on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The city has a relatively mild climate and a reputation for being open towards immigrants. Today, nearly one in three Vancouverites are Chinese.

The proportion of Chinese at UBC might be even higher, with many overseas students from China adding to the already substantial number of second-generation Hong Kong immigrants studying there.

Chinese influences are deeply rooted at the university, which has 14 clubs dedicated to Chinese students and hobbies such as mahjong and wing chun. Names of buildings on campus include: the Chan Centre for Performing Arts, the Sing Tao Building, the CK Choi Building, and the Liu Institute for Global Issues.

These buildings are named after Chinese philanthropists who wanted to give something back to their adopted home. The university does not have an official holiday for Lunar New Year, but it hires a lion dance troupe to bring good luck to the businesses and cafes around campus.

Race is always a divisive issue, but Canada's tolerance and diversity minimise its effects. Although Asians can be (rightly) accused of sticking to their own race, the way UBC students have taken potential flashpoints in their stride, such as the university's nickname and an anti-Asian student rant on YouTube earlier this year, shows their disregard for such outdated ways of thinking.