Yesterday, Tom and I had to go get photos taken for our new Canada visas, since our first were only good for three years, and we’re approaching their “expiry date,” as Canadians say.
Oddly, while there is a plethora of shops downtown for getting photos, there aren’t many out our way, so we ended up going across the river into Northeast Calgary, aka the Land of Immigrants.
Just across the river from Inglewood, the Blackfoot Trail turns into 17 Ave., where a short drive will expose you to food from numerous far-flung parts of the world: Brazil, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea, Eritrea, Nepal, Sudan, Mexico, and so many more. This is Northeast Calgary–the common first stop for new settlers into the city. Within Northeast Calgary, you find neighborhoods like you’d find in New York City or Chicago, where birds of a feather flock together: Indian, Asian, African, Arab, Latin, etc.
This is especially apparent at the Marlborough Mall. Marlborough Mall is a leftover from the 1970s, and looks pretty lifeless from the outside. But inside, it is a hive of commerce activity at its many lower-end mall stores. Unlike Chinook Centre just south of downtown, with its Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, Nordstroms, and other super-high-end offerings, at Marlborough Mall, you find Sears (now closed), Dollarama, and other affordable options for those without a lot of disposable income.
But for people newly arrived in this nation, it might seem like consumer heaven.
We went first to get our photos taken at Fast Foto, where we waited behind two African men (with delightful accents) who wanted their music CDs transferred to flash drives (I caught only a glance of the covers, which featured colorful African-garbed bands) and a local white lady with long silver hair and sunglasses who carried a white cane and wanted to discuss with the owner framing options for her photos.
After having our photos taken by the Arab owner (“Don’t smile, lady.” “Don’t smile even a little, lady.”–Yes, it was basically a mug shot), we went to lunch at the mall food court while we waited for the photos to be developed.
There, we encountered a mini-cosmos of the real world, with people from diverse countries and cultures grabbing a bite to eat, either from one of the standard fast food court offerings or from one of the “ethnic” food offerings from around the world.
But, it was the people rather than the food that made us realize that Marlborough is indeed the melting pot of Calgary. At one table, a group of ten or twelve Chinese men sat and chatted and laughed. At another, a group of African men (not sure what nations) also sat and chatted. Here, Korean women adored the little children among them. There, an Arab woman pretended to get mad at her man-cub grandson with the eyelashes that extended past his eyebrows over his expressive and mischievous eyes as he teased her and took great delight in her frowns and guffaws.
At another table, other denizens of Africa and the Middle East sat and chatted, or amused themselves on their phones, while drifting just beyond the tables was a colorful stream of skin color and clothing from around the world. The army of people who swept the floors and wiped the tables was as diverse as the customers they served.
At one point, Tom looked at me and asked, “WHERE ARE WE?” My answer, “The real world.” Indeed. In this global world that we all encounter today, this is reality. And the wonderful thing is, everyone seemed to accept one another, eating and relaxing side by side.
Of course, that could just be on the surface, as we admitted when friends expressed shock that we had gone to that mall, and even stayed to eat there. Apparently, the mall is a known hotbed of violence and theft.
Well, ignorance was bliss (though Tom was meerkatting a bit while we ate, aware that we didn’t exactly blend into the surroundings), and we were content to be among those courageous folks who had opted for a new life in a strange country.
Given its myriad population of immigrants, the northeast quadrant of Calgary must claim the greatest density of pluckiness and intrepidity in of all Calgary.