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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Flip Side of the Immigration Coin

Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, it was easy to get caught up in the "Asian Invasion" blame game. Even now, housing prices are sky rocketing, making it unaffordable for the actual residents of the city. For several decades, we've experienced an influx of emigrants coming from various Asian countries. (Not to mention countries all over the world.)
Vancouver city skyline
To be fair, the first Chinese immigrants to Canada built our railway system and the cost to them was dear. Thousands died trying to link our two distant coast lines. At one point, Vancouver had the largest Chinese population outside of the actual country. That was back in the day, when Asians were menial labourers, struggling to establish a life in their new country. Once they moved out of that role and became business people, real estate magnates and community builders the "real" Canadians started getting nervous and pointing fingers about housing prices, alterations to our "true" culture etc. I believe that there is some truth in this: I know there's money laundering going on, that real estate investment is an easy way to clean your ill gotten gains. I also know that we have problems with Triads and the drug trade, but can we blame the whole thing on one people? Hardly.

View from the North Van Squamish train run
So, here I am now, in Cuenca, Ecuador and I'm the evil foreigner that's ruining the country through increased costs, strain on the social support system and because I stand out like a sore thumb, it's easiest to point the finger at me. It's an uncomfortable position to be in, to say the least and it's really hard not to argue the point. I know full well that there are some people here who can't stand the "slowness" of service, the informality of contracts, the inability of the residents to speak English etc. The whole ugly "expat" thing. They don't realize that Ecuador operates under Napoleonic law, making litigation challenging. (I actually find that refreshing. If you're stupid enough to fall in a hole, you deal with it.)
Cuenca city skyline
There are, of course, mitigating factors. As soon as oil tanked, the former President increased import taxes by up to 43%. This affected building costs, food costs and other sundry things that all Ecuadorians use, but no one mentions that. Then there's the crisis in Venezuela that has thousands of people fleeing the country so they can eat regularly, or even semi-regularly. After the 2008 financial crash that affected the US and Europe, many Ecuadorians that had left the country returned, bringing European and North America expectations (as well as Euros and US$) with them. That is also rarely mentioned. Nor is the fact that the burgeoning middle class has an improved standard of living. This has happened over the last decade and would surely affect costs around the country.

Celebrating (and praying for more) plenty.
But, really, who am I to say whether my being here has impacted the country? I have no meter to measure it by. For now, I have to suck it up and be the scape goat (possibly the very real cause) for/of the cultural and financial changes that seem to be hurting the local populace. This is the price of being where we are and I'm either willing to pay it, or I'm not.


  1. I'm surprised they are allowed to put on that high of an import tax, its usually against trade agreements. That's the whole purpose of globalization.

    1. We're not really sure how they got away with it. There was some push back from other SA countries, but for the most part it just happened and prices of stuff shot up. (500mL of peanut butter start out at $5.68 and is now $10)

  2. Thank you for your blog. It is an interesting perspective being on the flip side! You are absolutely correct in that Vancouver is becoming not affordable....there is no middle class, just working class and the well off. If you are single like me (and I do make a good income), my rental accommodation now takes up 50% of my net take home pay. Add all the other day to day living expenses and it's paycheque to paycheque. I already know that when I retire in 18 months, I will not be able to live here anymore, a city I have lived in for 30 years. Sad....

    1. Hello and welcome, Kaayla! It's hard to leave a place you love and in Vancouver, we're quite spoiled for many things. There is a whole world out there and I keep surprising myself with how little I need to be happy. Good luck on your retirement! It's a big adjustment.