Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hostel III - November 2008

At the end of October I moved out of my apartment and back into the hostel - the same one I stayed at when I visited Vancouver in June, and also when I first arrived in the summer. It was thus my third stay there, but fortunately it only lasted a month. I began apartment-hunting again, and was fortunate enough to find one right away, but I couldn't move in till the beginning of December. So I was at the hostel for all of November.

Hostel life is inconvenient in many ways. You have no privacy, you can't unpack your stuff, and you have to share the kitchen (and fridge) with dozens of other people. But in other respects it's very nice. The hostel was full of people from all over the world: lots of people from Japan and Mexico, as well as some from Australia, Europe, and, of course, various parts of Canada. The environment of the hostel itself was warm and friendly, and so were the people who stayed there. While I was there, I was never lonely, and I had opportunities to learn about different countries and to practice my speaking skills in languages like French and Japanese.

The Japanese is especially important to my goal of joining the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. This programme takes young people from different parts of the world and places them for a year as English teachers in Japanese schools. This is similar to my last job, where I spent nine months teaching English in Hong Kong, and, indeed, the reason I got into ESL in the first place was with the aim of joining the JET Programme. The application process is lengthy and competitive. I spent a month and a half preparing the necessary documents in time for the November deadline. Now I have to wait for at least two months to find out if I get accepted or not. Your prayers are appreciated.

Back in October I was at a used book sale and picked up a beginner Japanese textbook. I've been using it ever since to try and teach myself Japanese. It's been going pretty slowly, but it's good to have a hobby. I have another hobby, too. For the past couple of months I've been learning the guitar. We have one at work, and one day I picked it up and began asking my co-workers to teach me chords. Now I can play several chords and a couple of songs, and I'm working on my strumming.

I didn't do much exciting in November. The highlight of an otherwise uneventful month was the U.S. election. It seemed to sneak up on me unexpectedly. The campaign had been gradually building up for two years - so long that it had almost become a fixture of day to day life. I was momentarily distracted by elections up on this side of the border, and next thing I knew, November 4th was upon us! I watched the results with as much enthusiasm as anyone else around here - and more than I'd expected to feel. I hadn't been rooting for anyone in particular. Both of the finalists were strong contenders with serious shortcomings, and I'd always been skeptical of the hype surrounding Barak Obama. Hype, after all, cannot fix the world's problems. But when it was all over, I had to marvel at what had just happened. A lot of the people who supported Obama did so because he was black - not a terribly good reason to vote for someone. Yet I couldn't help being impressed when the results came in. Because I really didn't think it would happen. If you'd told me six years ago that the next president of the United States would be a black man, I wouldn't have believed it could happen. In my lifetime, sure, but not before the end of the decade. And whatever else the Obama administration does (or does not) bring to the world, it is at least historic in one respect.

At work I talked about the election with my students, and explained its significance to them. Most of my co-workers were thrilled with the results. On Wednesday, one of them brought in doughnuts for everyone; the next day, there was chocolate cake. Hey, if I'd known a vote for Obama was a vote for free goodies, I would have become a fan of his a long time ago!

Weather-wise, November was a miserable month. Not that I can recall ever having a good November, but this one proved that all the stories about Vancouver are true. A few days before Hallowe'en it started to rain, and it didn't clear up for the next two weeks. We got a week of brilliant sunshine, and then more rain. After a couple more weeks of that, I looked out my window, to see something I barely recognised: clear sky! (Turns out that when the clouds are gone, the sky is actually blue underneath! Who knew!) One thing I will say for Vancouver weather: when it decides to be nice, it really goes all out. You can have non-stop rain one day, and cloud-free sunshine the next. The problem was that in November, the cloudy days far outnumbered the sunny ones, and half of them were rainy, too.

There's something worse than cold and rainy, though, and that's cold, rainy, and dark! Last year in Hong Kong I was spared Canada's long winter nights; now I remember how much I hate them. This is the time of year when dawn is at 8:00 and sunset is at 4:00. When it's dark on your way to work, and dark when you get out of work. When the sun never rises above 18º, and even at noon your shadow is taller than you are! I can deal with the rest of Canada's weather, but the eight-hour days really get to me, and having the few available hours of sunlight obscured by constant rain only makes them even more soul-killing.

On November 11 I got something I'd never had before: a holiday! I don't know if it's a work holiday in Ontario or not, but I distinctly remember that I never got a day off school for it. Indeed, the whole idea of taking a holiday for Remembrance Day seems strange to me; most holidays are for happy occasions. This year it fell on a Tuesday, and I really didn't know what to do with myself. I considered going down to the war memorial and observing the Remembrance Day ceremonies, but it was raining (as usual), so I ended up just sitting around doing nothing. I think that's one holiday I can probably live without.

I mostly went to the Anglican Church this month, because I thought it was high time I settled on one. I'll probably make it my home church for the duration of my stay in Vancouver.

In closing, I'd like to do a bit of un-solicited advertising on behalf of the C&N Backpackers Hostel in Vancouver. I stayed there for a cumulative total of more than three months, and found very little to complain about (well, except for the flaky wireless service, but hey, it was free!) The staff are friendly, the environment is warm and homey, and the location is convenient. Beds go for $20/night or $120/week - which in Vancouver is cheaper than a lot of apartments! If you're ever in this city looking for a nice, clean, cheap place to stay, this is the place I recommend.

Movies I've seen this month:

The Laramie Project - They did a screening of this movie at church. It tells the true story of a small town where a young gay man was beaten to death, and the town's reaction to the killing. I liked the script, but I wasn't big on the execution. Every other character was played by somebody famous, and I think that distracted from the story. It's based on a play, and I think sometime I'd like to see a theatrical version of it; I might like that better.

Books I've read this month:

The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley - Somewhat opaque family melodrama about a group of people who are all either crazy or suffering from some form of emotional problem.

The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes - Teen science-fiction novel. I read it back when I was in elementary school, and loved it. A decade and a half later, I found it just as meaningful as I remembered it, if not more so.

Howard's End by E. M. Forster - Forster's a difficult author, but I think I like him. Maybe. Sometime's I think I understand what he's trying to say, but his writing style is so meandering that it's hard to tell. I did like the book better than I remember liking the movie, although I saw it a very long time ago. I should watch it again now, to compare.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker - Pretty good story about a poor black woman dealing with racism and sexism in the first half of the twentieth century. I should see the movie some time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Met David Jay!!! - October 2008

I may as well begin this post with a piece of good-bad news. At the end of September I found a place to live, and moved in. I was in a one-bedroom apartment with a couple of other girls. It was downtown near Stanley Park, which is a really good location, and was close to my work, too. Unfortunately, I had some problems there, and had to move out at the end of the month. So the good news is that I had a place to live in October, and the bad news is that I'm back to being homeless and living in a hostel. It's a bit frustrating, but with a little luck I'll be able to find another place.

Early in the month I saw an exhibit that MSF (Doctors Without Borders) was doing at the library. I thought it was pretty interesting and worth talking about. It was an interactive display on their work with refugees in different parts of the world. They took us around what was supposed to be a model refugee camp. It looked like life there would be hard, but bearable. I'm guessing that in a real life refugee camp life would be a lot harder and not so bearable at times. What's really amazing is that there are people who spend years, all their lives sometimes, in places like that. Seems like a depressing way to live, but at least there are aid organisations to help them. Sometimes.

For Canadian Thanksgiving I went down to Victoria again. I didn't do much while I was there, but we did go down to see the University of Victoria and the famous UVic bunnies. It's true; the campus really is overrun with rabbits. I'm not used to seeing so many rabbits close up. They were kind of pretty.

The day after the long weekend was the election. I watched it dutifully on T.V., waiting to see if anything interesting would happen, but the only thing that seems to have decisively come out of it is that Stéphane Dion will be stepping down as leader of the Liberal Party. Poor Stéphane Dion. I feel sorry for him. He was so darned earnest in the debates. It almost made you want to vote for him out of sympathy! Plus, he made the environment the centrepiece of his campaign - a pressing issue if ever there was one. I wonder what the future of climate change will look like under the new government...

I'd been told when I first came here that I needed to climb Grouse Mountain, and one weekend I woke up, looked out the window, and decided to do just that. It was a chilly day for a climb, and quite misty around the mountain, but of course I kept warm with exercise. The climb was quite difficult, as hard as climbing up to see the Big Buddha on Lantau, if not more so. The average time is one and a half hours. I did it in one hour and fifty-five minutes. It was quite steep, and a bit slippery from the recent rain, and a couple of times I worried that I might slip. In the end I managed to get to the top in one piece, very tired, but glad I'd done it. I feel like I accomplished something. Unfortunately, one of the cable cars was broken that day, so there was an hour-and-a-half lineup for the ride down. Since it was already mid-afternoon, and since I'd been warned against walking down, I pretty much lined up right away, and didn't have much of a chance to see the top of the mountain. That's too bad, because it looks like there are some interesting things to see up there, including wood carvings and grizzly bears. I'll have to go back there sometime, probably in the spring. Now that I've done it once, I know I can do it again! At least I got to see the view, though. I couldn't at first, because of the fog, but once that cleared, the sight was spectacular! I could see all of Vancouver stretched out before me like an upside-down map: Stanley Park, downtown, south Vancouver, Richmond, all the way to Tsawwassen and beyond to the U.S. border - 50 km away! That alone made the climb worth it.

The highlight of the month was the monthly AVEN meet-up - which this month was extra-special. One of the Vancouver members gave a short seminar on asexuality at UBC, and David Jay came up from San Francisco to help out. Now, there's a better than even chance that you've never heard of David Jay, but he's the founder of AVEN, and, consequently totally awesome! And in case I haven't made it clear already, I got to meet him! This is a big deal for me. I've been a fan of his for years. He started the first major online asexual community; he's been all over the United States promoting his cause; he's appeared on loads of talk shows and news specials and in countless articles. Without him, there would be no AVEN. He's a minor celebrity, the poster boy of the asexual community, and I met him. Scratch what I said before. This was one of the highlights of the year.

The talk was okay, though of course little was said that I hadn't heard before. The more interesting part was afterwards when we had an informal group discussion. Then we went to someone's house and had an AVEN party with AVEN cake - my first ever! It was good fun, and I got David to take a picture with me - just for proof!

The month ended, as Octobers do, with Hallowe'en. We had a big party at work. Since most of the students had never celebrated Hallowe'en before, we encouraged them to dress up and enjoy themselves while they could. Many of them came with really good costumes. Some of my favourites were Hannibal Lecter, a samurai, Zorro, Wednesday Adams, some playboy bunnies, and the invisible man (a guy in dark glasses, a baseball cap, and bandages wrapped around his hands and head). Most of the teachers dressed up too. One man came as a woman; other costumes included a panda, Wonder Woman, an alien, a wood nymph, and a toasted western (a cowboy with toast hanging on pieces of string around his neck). I went as Sweeney Todd, something I'd been wanting to do for the last eight months, ever since I saw Tim Burton's/Johnny Depp's marvelous reinterpretation of the character. I think I did a pretty good job, although I didn't scowl at everyone nearly as much as I probably should have!

This month I found myself going back to a lot of churches, including one of the United churches, the Presbyterian church, and an Anglican church. I still haven't chosen one, though.

Books I've read this month:

Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry - Novel set in India by the same author who wrote A Fine Balance. I liked A Fine Balance better, but I still thought this was a fairly good book, with interesting characters and a good message. Now I'd like to see the movie some time.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman - Impressively believable teen fiction about an adolescent girl living in thirteenth-century England.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

So Far So Good - September 2008

The first thing I'll talk about is the Vancouver Zombie Walk. If you've never heard of it, that makes two of us; I'd never heard of it either until I ran into it by accident one Saturday afternoon. I was walking by the Art Museum when I was surprised to see all these people in various grisly costumes congregating on the front lawn. Naturally, I had to stop and look. Apparently, the zombie walk is an event held once a year when people dress up as zombies and march through downtown Vancouver. It seems like a rather gruesome activity, but good fun in its own way. There were all different kinds of costumes - the only common link was that everyone was dead. Some wore tattered clothing and white makeup; others had bits of brain stuck to their faces and were carrying extra limbs around. And, of course, there was fake blood - lots of it. The best part was when a tour bus stopped outside the museum and the zombies all started "attacking" it. Those lucky tourists got more than they bargained for that day! I wish I could have taken pictures, but since I didn't know about it before hand, I didn't bother to bring my camera.

In honour of my new job, I treated myself at the beginning of September to two plays by Shakespeare. I saw them as part of the Bard on the Beach festival, which is run every year in Vancouver. The plays I saw were King Lear and Twelfth Night. They were also doing The Tempest and Titus Andronicus, but I'd seen The Tempest a few years earlier, and I'm not familiar with Titus. Lear was okay, but of the two I enjoyed Twelfth Night more, especially the performance of Viola.

In the middle of the month I celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival. It's a Chinese festival, somewhat similar to Thanksgiving. I was introduced to it for the first time when I was in Hong Kong, and I thought it would be fun to celebrate it again in Vancouver. So I went out and bought some moon cakes, the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival food. I bought one with red bean paste inside and shared it with my class. I also got myself a tin of the so-called "icy moon cakes". I'd tried them only once before, and always wanted to try them again. They were all nice - especially the chocolate one! On Mid-Autumn Festival Day (Sunday, September 14) I went to the Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden, where they were holding celebrations. They had free moon cake samples, a musician playing a Chinese flute, and a storyteller telling traditional Chinese stories. I finally got to hear the story of the Jade Rabbit and of Chang'er, the lady in the moon. The strangest sights at the garden were the guy dressed in a Jade (i.e. green) Rabbit costume, and the Jade (i.e. green) Rabbit balloon animals they were handing out.

In September I attended my first ever AVEN meet-up. I've been a member of AVEN (the Asexual Visibility and Education Network) for a few years now, but this was my first time actually going to a gathering. We went out to dinner at an organic restaurant. The meal was good, and everyone seemed quite nice, so I'm glad I went.
I went to several more churches this month: two Anglican churches, a Baptist church, and another United Church. I still haven't decided on one, though. I've also continued to live at the hostel, although it's beginning to pall. I've spent a lot of time looking for a place, but it's difficult to find rooms in Vancouver that are a) comfortable, b) conveniently located, and c) affordable. I hope to find something soon, though. I miss having my own room.

Plays I've seen this month:

King Lear - A rather peculiar modernisation, but still relatively powerful and interesting.

Twelfth Night - Silly '20's-style screwball comedy. I thought a lot of the humour was way over the top, but the performance of Viola was strong enough to keep me emotionally invested, even though most of the other performances were fairly light.

Books I've read this month:

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien - The History of Middle Earth. Not great literature, but definitely worth reading if you happen to be a Middle Earth fan. The book explains a lot of the history behind The Lord of the Rings, and provides some background on several of its characters.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - Teen sci-fi of the kind I used to enjoy in late elementary school. I thought it was very good, with interesting ideas, engaging characters, and a strong storyline.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

First Month in Vancouver - August 2008

Well, I tried keeping a blog of my time in Hong Kong. That didn't end up happening. But I'm going to try again. I came back from Hong Kong in the middle of June, spent a few weeks in Ottawa, and then flew out to Vancouver with plans to move here and get a job teaching English. Admittedly, living in Vancouver isn't as interesting as living in Hong Kong, but I thought it might still be worth it to keep a journal of my time here. And if I'm successful this time around, maybe I'll be able to keep doing it when (and if) I next travel abroad.

So, I came out here in the middle of July. At five hours, the flight was short (at least compared to the Hong Kong flight), and I spent most of it reading. Fortunately I'd visited Vancouver on my way back from Hong Kong, so I knew what to do when I arrived. I caught the airport shuttle to downtown Vancouver, and then got the SkyTrain to the East Side, where my hostel was. Carting around a heavy suitcase and several bags was a little tricky, but not as bad as grappling with my Hong Kong luggage would have been.

I spent my first few weeks here in a combination of exploring and job-hunting. Since my hostel is within walking-distance of downtown, I would walk into town almost every day, either to run errands or just for exercise. I started sending out résumés at once, hoping to find a job as soon as possible. After a couple of interviews, I was successful - at least partly. I got a position at a language school downtown, teaching English to small classes of international students. Unfortunately it's only a temporary job, and when enrolment drops off I will have to look for another job. Still, it's nice to be working again, and so far the job seems to be going well. The classes each have about twelve people, which is a nice size for working with. The students come from various places, including Korea, Japan, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. There are even French Canadians and a couple of Taiwanese students. I'm enjoying the chance to meet people from so many different countries, and I feel like every week I'm at the school I get a little bit better at my job.

Shortly after I arrived here I took a trip to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. The ferry trip was nice; it was a beautiful day and I went up on deck to look at the gulf islands. The total commute was rather aggravatingly long, though. Beside the one-and-a-half hour ferry ride, there was also an hour-long bus trip at either end. Factor in waiting time and it took a good four to five hours each way. Victoria itself is a nice little city, rather like London, Ontario in terms of size, but much prettier. I was only there for a few days, but I did get to see the downtown area and climb a small hill.

At the beginning of August I went to the beach to watch a fireworks competition between Canada, the United States, and China. We had a really good view, right down on the beach next to the water. I'd seen fireworks before, but I'd rarely seen a fireworks show set to music, and I'd never seen one from that close. Canada won the competition, which was good, because I think we had the best show.
The same weekend also happened to be Pride Weekend in Vancouver. On Saturday I went out to one of the parks to see a lesbian live music show. On Sunday morning I had a charity pancake breakfast and the went to see the parade on Robson St. It was my first time attending a Pride parade, and I found it a little peculiar, but I'm still glad I went. Oh, and the pancakes were really good. That was probably the best breakfast I've ever had for $5.00!

I was pretty excited about the Beijing Olympics in August. It was a really hot topic when I was in Hong Kong. In the event, I didn't get to see as much of the games I hoped to, because I started work at the same. I missed most of the opening ceremonies, and a lot of the first week. I watched more in the second week, and I got to see some of the swimming, the diving, the volleyball, the running, and the gymnastics, which is one of my favourites. I also made a point of watching all of the closing ceremonies. The best part was when the Chinese stars all got together to sing "Wo Ai Bei Jing" ("I Love Beijing"). I actually recognised some of the singers!

As when I went to Hong Kong, I've been experimenting with different churches in the city. So far I've been to a Chinese church, a United church, and a Presbyterian church. I haven't settled on one yet, though.

I'm still working, and still staying at a hostel. I'm also still enjoying my time here. The weather's been lovely so far, and I still do a lot of walking every day. My only regret is that I haven't gotten out of the city more. Vancouver is surrounded by hills and forest, and is a great location for hiking, but so far I haven't done any. I will try to get out more, though, before the good weather goes.

Movies I've seen this month:

The Dark Knight - Very impressive movie. Exciting action sequences, solid storyline, and a surprisingly dark tone. I especially enjoyed the Hong Kong scenes, which featured familiar landmarks like Victoria Harbour, the International Finance Centre, and the Wan Chai bridge. I want to see it again! (Four stars)

Books I've read this month:

Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke - Interesting and somewhat entertaining science fiction about astronauts investigating an abandoned alien spacecraft.

Tolkien's Ring by David Day - Survey of the myths and legends that influenced the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. Interesting both for its analysis of Tolkien and its recounting of various folk-tales.