On Expat Identity and The Tragically Hip

You may have heard the recent news that Gord Downie, the lead singer of iconic Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, has passed away. It was not unexpected, and Gord filled his last year with a tour that acted as a sad, triumphant thank you and goodbye to Hip fans across Canada and around the world.

Unexpectedly, his death got me thinking about a few things, the most salient of which are:

  1. Boy, did I make a mistake with my dismissal of their music back in the day, and
  2. My identity as an expat is based largely on the memory of “my Canada”…which is quickly fading, changing, and evolving. Without that, am I even an expat anymore…?

Point One: The Music

I was never a huge Hip fan. Although largely considered one of Canada’s ‘official bands’ (seriously, their music could be heard at nearly every event, party, and pub in Canada for as long as I can remember, and when you said “Gord” everyone knew who you were talking about), I never ‘got’ them. I used to say I hated Gord’s voice and that none of the songs were catchy enough for me to really enjoy. Fair enough, no wrong opinions when it comes to music appreciation.

Except, boy, was I wrong. Upon Gord’s death, I considered it my Hoser Duty to give them another ceremonial listen, so I fired up Apple Music and chose “Yer Favourites“, a best-of compilation that came out in 2005.

Holy. Shit.

It was fantastic. Maybe because I’m older and wiser more jaded, I appreciated every track on a level I’d not even known about in years past. Not only could I hum along with nearly every song on the album, but each one brought back memories of car rides, house parties, crushes, rejections, school events, and first-everythings in a fierce wave of nostalgia.

I was a Hip fan after all…I just never knew it.

A quick insight into who Gord was by Rick Mercer, another Canadian icon. God knows how I’ll feel when HE goes.

Point Two: My Canada

All of this also got me thinking – with the passing of Gord, another brick in my wall (so to speak) of what Canada meant/means to me disappeared. When you live overseas and don’t visit your home country on a regular basis (I get back about every 5 years or so), your impression of “home” is kind of frozen in time, an image created from the cultural touchstones you’re familiar with.

But I’ve been gone 16 years – I have no idea what Canadian bands are popular now, or what TV shows people are making and watching. Canadian politics is as alien to me now as it was when I was in high school, as are the satirical shows that poke fun at the politicians (last time I was a fan of this, This Hour Has 22 Minutes was a brand new show. Still on the air, though, and doing well by the looks of things). Very Canadian issues like Native rights, oilsands development, hockey, multiculturalism, patio culture, legalized weed, Quebec sovereignty, health care, and the like are mysteries to me. I have a strong feeling that if I went back and tried to drive in my home city of Calgary – which I used to know like the back of my hand – I’d get lost without a GPS.

As each one of these things changes, My Canada becomes an increasingly vague concept that – mathematically speaking – will eventually cease to exist, and then what? Can I even be an expat if the place I called home doesn’t exist anymore in an abstract way? At what point does Canada go from being my home to being a place I used to live?

It’s a question for the ages, so I believe I’ll sit here and ponder it a bit longer. Perhaps while listening to old Hip albums, catching up on all the Canada I took for granted when I lived there.

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2017-10-25T16:05:41+00:00 Asia, Bangkok, Culture, Current Events, Music|4 Comments


  1. Pylin January 6, 2018 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Interesting thoughts Greg. I’m the opposite of you: Thai person living in Canada for 15 years now, and can relate. Question: how come you call yourself an “expat” vs “immigrant” when it seems like you do intend to stay there forever? Thanks!

    • Greg January 7, 2018 at 3:23 am - Reply

      Hi Pylin, that’s cool! (literally, ha). I’ve had thoughts of moving back over the past year or so (especially since we’ve had a kid) but…don’t think I could take one of those winters again, and I really do love living in Thailand.
      Interesting question about expat vs. immigrant. I guess I prefer expat because I came here with no plan to stay, but ended up staying vs. moved away with a plan to stay away. I GUESS I’ll probably stay here forever, but not sure…although that’s what I said 10 years ago too.
      You may already know, but I also co-host the BangkokPodcast.com about life in Bangkok. Several Thais who live overseas have said they like listening because it gives them an interesting window into their old home – give it a listen if you have a chance. 🙂

  2. Rob May 31, 2018 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Interesting place to visit but could never live there. With an obvious bias, Canada is one of-if not the best places, to live in the world. Sure the winters can get cold and you get snow and ice and short days but it’s part of the Canadian experience of living somewhere where you see and feel all 4 seasons every year. With 39 degree humidity in Toronto today it comparable to many a day in Land of Smiles(increasingly less so as I’ve read in recent years-smiles not weather). It is also a place where one can immigrate to and become Canadian whereas in Thailand-and most every Asian country for that matter, you can only ever exist as an expat with their citizenship laws. We can also never look Thai but anyone can look Canadian. With Canada Day a month away I am reminded of the patriotism and pride of last years 150th celebrations. I will visit Thailand again some day and see my Wats and Buddhas in places I haven’t visited already but the Maple Leaf will forever fly on flagpoles in the place I call home:)

    • Greg June 4, 2018 at 7:08 am - Reply

      Agree, Rob, although I’m biased too. Multiculturalism is something that has never really caught on here – you’re either “Thai” or “other”, which is annoying. But like you said with Canada, it’s part of the Thailand experience.

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