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Challenges await Chinese immigrants, but so do opportunities.

Calgary is the largest metropolis in the Calga...Image via Wikipedia
Wenying Wang hadn't seen her husband in 19 months.
The Chinese immigrant left her home outside Beijing last year and moved to Calgary to start a new life with her 14-year-old daughter.
On a cool winter day recently, she anxiously waited for her husband Yongbin Fan to join them.
Finally, the painful wait ended -- for a short time anyway -- as he landed in Calgary to reconnect with his family. Later this month, the mechanical engineer will return to China to support his wife and daughter, as well as care for his parents.
"When he isn't here with me, I was sad," Wenying says from her modest townhouse in southwest Calgary, husband at her side.
"We come to a strange country with no experience, almost know nothing about it. It is maybe a little difficult for us to adapt to this country," Yongbin adds.
The family's emotional reunion serves as a stark reminder of the struggles newcomers often experience when arriving in Alberta.
Yongbin wants the family to have a smooth transition into Canada, so he expects to work for another year in China until his wife can find a job in the health-care field.
For many newcomers, the joys of launching a new life are often tempered by social isolation, language barriers and a foreign culture. There are also severe financial pressures.
Wenying, 42, left behind everything she knows, including a job as a nurse. But she moved to a new city with growing ties to her homeland. The opportunities Alberta provides outweigh the struggles of starting over, she says.
"Our country (China) has some strong points," she explains. "But I like challenges. And I choose Canada."
Indeed, more Chinese are choosing Canada -- and Alberta -- as their home.
At least 1,000 new immigrants are expected to arrive in Calgary this year from China, making the country one of the largest sources of newcomers for the city.
In total, more than 75,000 Chinese people live in Calgary today, the city's largest visible minority group.
They are helping construct a social and cultural bridge to China that's changing the face of Calgary and Alberta.
People power may well trump energy, manufacturing and agriculture as the most important commodity in the Sino-Alberta trade relationship.
And as more Chinese nationals move to the province for work, an increasing number of Albertans are looking for jobs and a new life in the Asian country.
"China has a natural affinity for Canada," says Liu Yongfeng, China's consul general to Alberta.
"Nowadays, though our national conditions and social systems differ, there exists no conflict of fundamental interests between us -- and our common interests far outweigh our differences."
Canada holds a special place in the hearts of many Chinese.
On the streets of Beijing, residents almost instinctively cite the famous Norman Bethune, a gifted Canadian physician who took up the Chinese Communist cause in the late 1930s and treated soldiers on the front lines in years of war.
"Chinese people always remember -- forever," says Wenying. "They think Canadian people are friendly and like helping people."
Some 1.3 million Canadian residents are of Chinese origin and more than 50,000 Chinese students currently study at Canadian schools, says David Mulroney, Canada's ambassador in Beijing.
Chinese (primarily Mandarin) is also the most commonly spoken language in Canada, after English and French.
The two-way flow of people -- through business, immigration and tourism -- will "further strengthen our people-to-people ties, build understanding between our two countries and strengthen our commercial, cultural and political relations," the ambassador predicts.
People power flows in both directions.
Inside Mulroney's official residence, native Calgarian Rosalyn Ediger works as the embassy's chef. After graduating in 2005 from SAIT with a diploma in professional cooking, she travelled the globe and eventually stopped in China.
Intrigued by the distant country and culture, she jumped at the chance for a chef posting at the embassy. After two-and-a-half years, she doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon.
"I didn't know anything about China. It was just so mysterious," says the 25-yearold chef. "The more I know, the more I want to know."
Chinese residents take a little time to warm up to, she notes, but they are genuine people who have a deep respect for Canada.
Ediger, who grew up in Calgary's Huntington Hills community, believes hospitality is an integral part of diplomacy.
"If you give them a chance, they then give you a chance," she says.
"They're just as curious with me as I am with them. It's a good cross-cultural connection."
Alberta Immigration
Minister Thomas Lukaszuk wants to tap further into that connection.
China is a preferred partner for Alberta as it looks to attract newcomers, he says during a stop in Beijing.
Alberta is forecasting a severe shortage of workers over the next few decades and the province must look overseas to find people to sustain the economy.
China is particularly attractive because of its highly skilled workforce, Lukaszuk says.
He's hoping to streamline the process for approving immigration applications from China, which can take anywhere from nine months to four years.
"We know China has the capacity to partially satisfy our need," Lukaszuk says.
The number of permanent residents moving to Alberta from China has increased in the past couple of years, but still lags behind the boom times of 2006.
Last year, 2,034 immigrants arrived in Alberta from China -- up 13 per cent from 2007. The first half of this year saw 1,091 Chinese permanent residents land in the province.
The connections are profound on other fronts.
For example, the largest number of foreign students in the province originate from China.
In Calgary, Chinatown is marking its centenary in 2010 -- the Year of the Tiger -- with year-long festivities.
Jason Luan, a 47-year-old social planner with the City of Calgary, is actively involved in bridging the city's Chinese heritage with immigrants who will shape the future.
In 1988, he moved to the city from China to pursue a master of social work at the University of Calgary.
Today, he sees first-hand the challenges of integrating into a foreign society, serving as a member of the Immigrant Sector Council of Calgary.
Chinese newcomers often face social isolation and cultural shock, he says, and generally know less English than immigrants from many other countries.
"There is an immediate need. You need to find something that echoes your language, culture and sense of belonging," says Luan. "Never mind being successful, you're probably struggling for survival."
Luan is also a former president of the Chinese Professionals and Entrepreneurs Association of Calgary, an organization that helps immigrants succeed in the workforce.
Many group members hold dual post-secondary degrees in China and Canada, speak multiple languages and understand the sensibilities of both countries.
As China continues to flex its global economic muscles, more companies in Alberta are searching for employees familiar with the country's languages, customs and business climate.
"The bridge has become so strong," Luan says. "The relationship has developed."
In 1989, Glenn Wang arrived in Canada as a 26-yearold student with only $50 in his pocket and two suitcases in his hands.
Originally from Inner Mongolia and educated in Beijing, he earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering in Saskatchewan before moving to Calgary.
Today, he's a successful entrepreneur in the oil and gas sector and an immigration success story.
"I really see a lot of growth between the two countries with business and with people," Wang says. "I really find it's a two-way street."
The businessman believes Calgary is a "melting pot," but recognizes concerns exist among people about China's Communist regime, as well as its record on human rights and censorship.
While those worries can't be discounted, he cautions people about making misinformed judgments about the Asian powerhouse that don't tell the story of modern day China or its people.
"Like it or not, China is coming. So it's better for us to understand who's coming and why they're coming," he says.
Back at her home in southwest Calgary, Wenying Wang says she came to the city for many reasons, including opportunity, a clean environment and moderate weather.
Most importantly, she chose Calgary because she was looking for a place where her family would feel welcome.
As she waits for her family to reunite permanently, she has a message for other Albertans.
"Chinese people want to know the world -- and I think the world will want to know China," she says.
- - -
Jason Luan: Chinese immigrants face cultural shock.
Grant Black, Calgary Herald
-¦ At least 1,000 new Chinese immigrants expected to arrive in Calgary this year.
-¦ More than 75,000 people of Chinese ethnicity live in Calgary.
-¦ Approximately 137,000 Albertans are of Chinese descent.
-¦ Chinese is the largest visible minority group in the city and province.
-¦ 1.3 million Canadian residents are of Chinese origin.
-¦ More than 50,000
Chinese students currently study at Canadian schools.
-¦ Chinese (mostly Mandarin) is the most commonly spoken language in Canada after English and French.
-¦ China has been the largest source of Canadian immigrants over the past decade.
-¦ Processing times for Chinese newcomers can take anywhere from nine months to about four years.
Source: Alberta government
- - -
China Calling
Special Series
Thursday: Why China matters to Alberta, and where the future lies.
Friday: Alberta has much to offer travellers. The province's tourism sector expects to lure unprecedented numbers of Chinese here.
Saturday: Alberta is a big oil supplier; China is the world's largest energy consumer. More deals are inevitable.
today: People power is the most important part of Alberta's relationship with China, as new immigrants arrive in Calgary each year.

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