Photo: Singer-songwriter Wanting Qu believes in the right to a healthy environment

(Credit: Huang Chen-Chang)

By Winnie Hwo – David Suzuki Foundation Public Engagement Specialist

Wanting Qu came to Canada 14 years ago as a 16-year-old international student from Harbin, China. Today, she is an award-winning, platinum-selling singer-songwriter, managed by Nettwerk Music Group co-founder Terry McBride.

Even though she has a larger fan base in Asia than Canada, Wanting chose to make her home in Vancouver. She just completed international and cross-North America tours.. But she is not taking any rest. When she is not creating new music, in both English and Mandarin, she is doubling as Tourism Vancouver's first tourism ambassador to China. In promotional videos, Wanting travels Vancouver and the province, showcasing the region's natural beauty and seafood.

On Sunday, November 9, Wanting will embark on another mission, as a guest performer at the David Suzuki Foundation's Blue Dot Tour at the Orpheum. Wanting will perform her hit song, "You Exist in My Song", which has been viewed more than 27 million times on YouTube.

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WH: When it comes to your music career, you are more popular in China than in Canada. Yet you chose Canada to be your home. Why? What makes Canada tick for you as a songwriter?

WQ: Canada gives me a clear mind because it is more peaceful and much less chaotic. I find that I can think in Canada. I feel more peaceful in Canada. Not much noise, pollution... It makes you have a very clear mind. I write almost all of my songs, 99 percent of my music and songs, on the internet and my albums, here in Vancouver.

Canada gives me the sense of possibility to do what I love, which is music.

WH: Is your family supportive of your choice?

WQ: I was very lucky that my family supported me on this. They said you go, make your life; we will help you. But at the same time, they made sure I understood I will be on my own.

My mom told me when she was 19, her mother died. So she said to me when I was 16, "Imagine I am no longer alive. Go to a foreign land and make life on your own." So in my heart, I knew I could not rely on anybody. I needed to be strong and rely on myself.

WH: What kind of a city is your hometown, Harbin?

WQ: Harbin is beautiful all year round. Four seasons. Very nice in the summer, really warm. Above 28 degrees C.

In the winter, it is really cold, from minus 28 to minus 30 degrees C. We have an ice festival every year and we have ice sculpture competitions where contestants fly from all around the world to compete.

So there are lots of fun outdoor activities to do in the winter.

WH: Canadians are reminded often of China's poor air quality and environmental degradation. Is that something that worries you?

WQ: In China, it is very apparent; you can see it, smell it and taste it. People react to it. I had a reaction when I last stayed there for six months. But that is also something that all developing nations or cities have to go through.

I heard that Canada, even Vancouver, it was not like this before. I heard it used to be pretty bad. It was the city and people being educated on the issues and then doing their part. Now we probably have some of the best air in the world.

I feel strongly we should not give up on these cities and these problems. I'd hate to think that we would just coast along and do nothing. I'd hate to think that we feel we are powerless... vs. the mentality of how can one person can change the world! I think we just all have to see the problem and stop thinking we cannot change it.

We just have to be more educated. I think every day if we talk about it, see it in the media, if it is a priority to the citizens, it will eventually grow in their minds.

It is like planting a seed — we continue to water it and it will grow, and eventually people will believe that we can change it

WH: We have a big immigrant community in Canada. What role can Chinese-Canadians play in helping the environment?

WQ: Well for me, because I have lived in China, I have seen how bad it can be. To have an environment like this in Canada, where we are given a chance to live in a better place... I think it is easier for people like me who have seen the level of pollution, to appreciate what we have in Canada and not take it for granted, and to work on keeping it that way

WH: Why do you want to be a part of Blue Dot Tour and support the Right to a Healthy Environment?

WQ: I was one of many Canadians who did not know that in Canada, the right to a Healthy Environment is not in our Constitution.

But to me, this is a no-brainer! We have to put our citizens' right to healthy living first, and then to build upon this. We have to be able to live healthy and happy before we can do all the other things.

So, I did not even know then but now I know and I think, "What?" It only makes sense to put our health in the forefront. That should be our priority.

WH: Do you think new Canadians are slow in embracing the green movement?

WQ: I think anybody and everybody should fight for this.

I think what happened was, if you really compare the air quality in China and Canada, Canada is way better even when we do not have the right to a healthy environment. So many new Canadians would question why they should fuss about Canada's air quality when it is already better than other developing countries.

I thought about that.

But I still feel that just because it is better here, now, it doesn't mean it will remain that way.

If we want to continue to enjoy the fresh air, fresh water and healthy environment, we should have a law or constitution, to ensure everyone works to keep it that way.

I have been here for 14 years, so I see myself as half Canadian.

I love this place, this city, this country. So I want to protect it and make it better. But some newer immigrants, who have only been here for a few years, they might feel like this is already way better so we don't need to work at it. Maybe their minds will change. Maybe for me to speak out, they will change. Maybe with all of us and the whole Blue Dot movement, we can change how they think. Bring the awareness that they all have a voice and they can make it better.

Why Not?

Maybe they will see by standing up and making a statement, we can change things and make things better. Maybe other countries will see us doing this and they will stand up and do the same. Maybe other developing countries will get inspired and want to follow suit.

WH: What is the name of the song you will perform on Sunday?

WQ: I decided on "You Exist in My Song". It is a Mandarin song, and I hope the audience can feel the emotions of the song. I will explain the song and what is it about. But basically, the "You" in my song could be interpreted as the planet. If we don't take care of "You," our planet, "You" will disappear.

November 7, 2014

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