Friday, June 30, 2006


I traveled the world to meet Canadians

After my second year of university study, I took a year off to see the world. It's curious that by leaving the country I met many diverse Canadians and learned more about Canada. I visited more than 20 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific.

Each time I met with a Canadian there was an instant connection, which often led to trust and friendship. Even though it was more than 25 years ago, I still remember the Canadians I met. Here are a few.

Strolling along a main street in Zurich, Switzerland I noticed his jacket, emblazoned with the name of my university, McMaster. 'Hey McMaster' I called out on a staid Swiss street. The Swiss ignored me but he turned and brightened as much as I must have. We excitedly introduced ourselves and shook hands. We almost hugged - which would not have fit in with the Swiss way of behaviour. We had lunch and he poured out to me how he missed home and was spending his money quickly so he had an excuse to go home early. He had planned on a six-month journey but after a couple of months he wanted to go home.

A couple from Quebec traveled with me for a few days. Instead of Canadian flags on their pack they proudly displayed the fleur-de-lis. They explained to me about Quebec's desire to maintain its own identity. Having lived my life in Ontario, this was news to me. I was shocked to hear about this, but I came to appreciate their feeling.

In Stockholm, Sweden, I met two Canadians - a hockey player "hopeful" from Quebec and a hockey fan from Ontario. We pigged out at a breakfast buffet at the train station restaurant. We ate so much that it was the only meal I had all day. The Winnipeg Jets, who had recently recruited several European players, were practising in town. We watched the practice especially our hero, Bobby Hull. After the practice we lined up to meet him. I remember him smiling when we blocked his passage and I proudly announced, "Bobby. Hi we are Canadians, can I have your autograph?" Even though he was rushing to catch the team bus he stopped to shake each of our hands, and autograph a postcard for me. The man was friendly, had arms like an ox, and much to my surprise my hero was much shorter than I.

They were newlyweds from Alberta. Instead of a traditional wedding, they had asked for the money to allow them to travel the world for six to twelve months. Like me they were traveling on the cheap. Strange how we continued to bump into each other in faraway lands - Bombay, India; Katmandu, Nepal and Bangkok, Thailand. Each time we met it was like greating family.
He was retired, somewhere in his sixties. I met him in Bombay while staying at the Salvation Army hostel. He was spending part of his retirement seeing the world and had just suffered a major setback. He was going to be stranded for a couple of weeks because his passport and all his money had been stolen. Yet he remained calm. He was willing to wait for replacement passport and money to continue his world trek.

In every bushel there must be one rotten apple. We met in New Delhi. We shared a room in a cheap hotel. During one of our conversations I proudly showed him my Bobby Hull autograph. During the next few days I became extremely sick with dysentery, so I spent most of the time between the bed and the toilet. I recovered and we parted to follow our individual journeys. Days later I discovered that my treasured Bobby Hull autograph was gone. What hurt most was not losing the autograph, but realizing that someone I had trusted had cheated me - and that someone was a Canadian. That really hurt.

In the twelve months that I traveled around the world I met more Canadians than any other nationality. The second place went to Australians and a distant third to Americans.
By visiting distant lands I gained a wondrous appreciation for Canada. From the Canadians I met on trains, planes, beaches, and in museums, parks, and restaurants I found many friends and proud fellow Canadians.

George Torok
Business In Motion

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