Country of Origin:
Asian Heritage, Adjusting to Life in Canada
Nelson remembers being a student in Canada, and the odd jobs he did to make sure he had money, like catching worms.
Nelson M. Tsui, Q.C., B.A., M.B.A., LL.B., was born in Shanghai, raised in Hong Kong, and educated in Canada. During his formative years, he traveled extensively throughout Canada, from coast to coast, while pursuing university and post-graduate studies. He attended the University of Waterloo, Carleton University, City College, University of Victoria, and the University of British Columbia. Upon graduation, he worked in case management for the Correctional Service of Canada. He then took a leave of absence to pursue a legal education. He was called to the British Columbia Bar in 1987, and has since been in private practice. He taught law at both the Vancouver Community College and the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and is a B.C. speaker with the national Historica Canada. He is also a media commentator on current affairs. An award-winning newspaper columnist, he is the author of many articles and books on Canadian law and politics. He has served on numerous boards and administrative tribunals, both provincial and federal, including the Board of Parole of British Columbia, the Board of the College of Opticians of British Columbia and, since 2002, as an Independent Chairperson presiding over the Serious Court in federal correctional institutions. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 in recognition of his service to his community. He was appointed the Queen’s Counsel in 2014.
Canada is indeed a big country. When I arrived in the winter of 1971, I did not know much about Canada, but I was quite willing to learn. I did a fair bit of traveling, and I am still doing so. I’ve either lived in or visited many big cities such as Toronto and Montreal, and small communities such as Rosthern, Saskatchewan, where I went for my last year of high school. Rosthern is a small… actually it’s a tiny Mennonite community. Although language was an issue, when I arrived I was a student, which affords an opportunity to learn the English language and the country. That doesn't mean that I didn't have to work. In fact, I always worked to support myself. I did many odd jobs that many other students have had the privilege of working, such as dish-washing, strawberry picking, and these sorts of things. One of my oddest jobs was catching worms. I guess it’s worth explaining what this is all about. We always started on a graveyard shift, and most of the workers were women who spoke only Portuguese. We usually went to a central location where we were picked up by a company van and driven to an unknown location. Now, in retrospect I suspect those were golf courses. And when we arrived, we put on our hat lights – just like a miner. We tied a packet to our left leg full of sand, and on our right leg we had an empty packet. So what we’d do was go around the field and catch worms. When we caught the worms, we’d put them in the right empty packet, and then we’d dry our hands on the left side, and then catch more worms… and back and forth. So, after a while, the right packet was full of worms and the left packet was empty, and by then you’d sort of go back to the van and empty the worms, and start all over again. And because we had to catch them and walk at the same time, you cannot sit – you have to stand up with your back bent, your back would be towards the sky.
So it was quite interesting. In fact, at the end of the shift I could hardly stand up. An experienced worm-catcher could probably make about twenty bucks a night. I made probably ten!
It was a difficult time, always short on money, being that I was not legally authorized to work. But I always told myself that it was a transition period in my life, and then I didn't feel so bad any more. When the summer was over, I went back to university. You’re certainly privileged to be at the university – to improve one’s self and to broaden one’s knowledge. I do feel sorry for many of my coworkers. For most of them there was no university to attend in September. They were stuck permanently in those jobs. Even today I still feel sorry for people who are stuck in low-paying, non-satisfying jobs, with no apparent opportunity to improve themselves.