By Mariama LeBlanc
The Pacific Mall was packed with people last Saturday afternoon. Families ate congee, Chinese soup with rice, in the food court. Teenage girls tried on clothes in one of the many bedroom-sized clothing stores and boys hungrily eyed video games.
And at the centre of everything, in Scarborough’s largest Chinese mall, Dicky Poon stood on a stage introducing speakers to discuss the dangers of drugs and smoking.
Poon, president of the Ryerson Chinese Students Association and many Chinese students are still talking about the dangers of drugs since the death of Ryerson student Allen Ho, 21, in an overdose last fall. The RCSA’s three-hour seminar included a short skit based on Ho’s death.
About 60 shoppers stopped to listen to Poon talk. He looked like a natural up there on the podium, smiling and making jokes. But he wasn’t always so bold.
When Poon came to Canada from Hong Kong 10 years ago to study aerospace engineering, he came alone. It was hard at first. He lived in a basement apartment without any family or friends nearby.
“I had to solve any problems myself,” he said. During his first few weeks here, he called home every night.
Soon Poon made friends at his Scarborough high school, where he was taking courses to qualify for Canadian universities. He said the experience of immigration taught him a lot.
“When I passed through the situation I learned that students need help. I wanted to help,” he said.
Poon, a Ryerson aerospace engineering student, has been the president of RCSA for the past four years. The majority of RCSA’s 150 members are from Hong Kong, but members also come from Canada, Taiwan and mainland China. Some of them, like Poon, immigrated without their families.
Poon said these new immigrants face many difficulties, including finding apartments, adjusting to the Canadian education system, and dealing with loneliness.
New students dealing with problems might keep to themselves, Poons aid, because his culture doesn’t emphasize getting help from strangers.
“In Chinese culture a very famous slogan is everyone just take care of their home and family, but the outside doesn’t matter,” he said.
Poon said this creates a situation where students coming to RCSA may need help but may not want to talk about it.
So the RCSA helps students find apartment, adjust classes, and help them make new friends.
“We try to make them feel at home,” he said.
This year, RCSA organized a ski trip and a movie night, a dance that drew 1,800 people, and a basketball tournament that included teams from a Chinese students’ associations at several Ontario universities.
Last Saturday’s anti-drug and tobacco seminar was organized by RCSA and other student groups from the Alliance of Ontario Universities Chinese Students Organization in collaboration with the York Region Chinese Anti-Tobacco Education Society.
Nina Wong, a nurse with the society, said organizers decided to hold the event at the Pacific Mall, near Kennedy Road and Steeles Avenue West, because they could reach the largest number of people there.
“This is almost like a gathering place for the Chinese community.”
Wong said it’s important to get her message out to Chinese people who don’t fully understand English.
“There aren’t many education materials in Chinese and we find there is a language barrier,” she said, looking up and noticing several teenagers crowding around the second-floor railing, listening to the event below. Poon was on stage again, introducing more speakers.
As Wong looked at the information table, she noticed a second batch of flyers and pamphlets was almost gone.