Monday, May 11, 2009

April Flowers - April 2009

My first winter in Vancouver has finally come to an end! In truth, Vancouver doesn't really get much of a winter, at least not in the traditional sense of snow and sub-zero temperatures. Instead, the year began with three months of what you might think of as a long, early spring: no snow, no freezing, but still cold, dark, and wet enough to be unpleasant. But the end of March brought longer days, increased sunshine, and – the real herald of springtime – flowers! Maybe it's because I missed out on the experience in Hong Kong, but I'd forgotten what a thrill it is to see things growing again. Best of all were the cherry blossoms. At least, I assume they were cherry blossoms. They're pink, they grow on trees, and they were all over the place, making the air smell sweet and covering the ground like pink snowflakes! Do we have this many cherry trees in Ottawa? I don't remember them, but there are quite a few in Vancouver and Victoria.

In my fourth week of work, there was a party for the students. All the teachers were required to go, and to dress up according to the theme, which was "celebrities". I reprised my role from Hallowe'en, since I still had most of my costume, although I had to improvise the make-up a bit. (Here's a tip: unless you're really desperate, white-out is not a good substitute for hair paint!) As it turned out, I wasn't the only Johnny Depp there; someone else came as the character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Now I know what it's like to come to a party wearing the same dress as someone else! Costume mishaps aside, I had a lot of fun. I danced a lot, hung out with the students, and got hit on by a drunk Saudi Arabian.

Unfortunately, that was also my last week of work. They'd originally hired me for four weeks, and decided not to keep me on for longer. So as of the middle of April I was once again unemployed.

Around that time I also got a letter from the JET Programme telling me that I'd been selected as one of their "alternates". That means that I didn't make it onto their list of people they decided to hire, but I might still be offered a position if someone else drops out of the programme. I have pretty mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I'm glad that I still have a chance of getting in. On the other hand, I doubt many people would turn down an opportunity to go to Japan, so I don't expect many spots to open up. Also, if I do get offered a position, it might not happen for several weeks, or even months, and in the mean time, my future is still uncertain. Compared to that, I'd almost prefer a straight "no" from them. But I'm still trying to be optimistic. In the mean time, I've decided to stay in Vancouver for the summer. If I do get into the programme, it will still be my point of departure, and I think my chances of getting a summer job are better here than in Ottawa.

On the bright side, I've discovered something neat: did you know that if you're unemployed you can actually get free money from the government? Okay, it's called Employment Insurance, and I'm sure you did know that, but prior to this year it's something I've never thought about, let alone applied for. Fortunately, someone suggested I apply, and I'm glad I did, because I have actually gotten a little money out of it. I don't know how long it will last, but it's certainly better than getting no money at all. This experience makes me feel much more grown up than I did before. Perhaps it's because in the past I always relied on my parents to support me, whereas applying for E.I. really makes me feel like part of the working population.

I went to Victoria for the Easter weekend. The weather was finicky, but there was enough sunshine to get out of the house and enjoy a nature walk or two. I found an Anglican church in the city and went there for Easter Sunday. Then I celebrated the end of Lent with chocolate and non-vegetarian sushi.

For the second half of April I was back to having free time, and since I'd earned a little bit of money, I decided it was time to treat myself by doing some of that sight-seeing I'd never gotten around to. First, I went to the Vancouver Aquarium to see the belugas and other attractions. The baby beluga was cute, and they also had a bird show, dolphins, frogs, sharks, and – my personal favourite – jellyfish!

The Vancouver Art Gallery was pretty much a waste of money. They didn't have any special exhibits on when I went, and the permanent exhibit consisted of modern art and Canadian landscapes. The former included attractions such as a large purple plank, a pile of earth, and three throw-cushions stuck to an orange background. As for the latter, I've never been a fan of Canadian landscape painting, which always strikes me as flat and joyless – in contrast to actual Canadian landscapes, which are often quite lovely!

Science World was a lot more fun. It's mostly geared towards children, but hey, put me near anything science-y, and I can become very child-like. There was an entire room full of interactive science activities. It reminded me a lot of the Children's Museum in London, Ontario, where I used to go as a child. They were also running a special exhibit on Lego, with Lego models of different things.

If my old job doesn't take me back, I will have to start looking for work again in May. In the mean time, I'm heading back to Ottawa for a couple of weeks. I'm glad to be going home again, even if it's only for a short time. I've missed Ottawa a lot, and I'm looking forward to seeing people again.

In the news, Obama's first hundred days are over, and he still seems to be relatively popular. Recently he's been doing things like overturning the ban on photographing war dead, relaxing the U.S. position on Cuba, and calling for nuclear disarmament – the last of which seems like an especially laudable, if idealistic, goal. I also heard that Vermont has legalised same-sex marriage. I'm especially pleased about this because it's the first state to do so through and act of legislation, rather than a court ruling. I've always felt that courts who asserted same-sex marriage rights were acting outside of their jurisdiction, so I see this as a positive step both for gay rights and for democracy!

Movies I've seen this month:

Slumdog Millionaire – Entertaining film, but definitely not what I would have expected from a Best Picture Oscar-winner. It sort of combines the romanticism of a Bollywood musical with the harsh realism of a movie like Salaam Bombay. That made it different from any other film I'd seen about India, but still wasn't enough to really engage me. (Three stars)

Goodfellas – Pretty good mob film. The story could be the precursor to The Sopranos, and you can see how the show was influenced by the movie. However, it has neither the character depth of The Sopranos nor the emotional resonance of The Godfather, and as a result I wasn't quite as keen on it as other mob films. (Three and a half stars)

Doubt – Quite a good little movie, though obviously small in scope and based on a play. I was really impressed by how ambiguous the story was. Unlike most films, this one never gives away the answers, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions. We had quite a lively discussion about it – which, of course, is usually the best part of watching a movie! (Three and a half stars)

T.V. shows I've seen this month:

Torchwood (Season 2) – Once upon a time there were some T.V. fans who loved Buffy and really loved Angel. They loved it so much they wrote fan-fic about it – specifically, slash. One day they decided to take their Angel Slash and turn it into its own T.V. series. So they wouldn't get sued, they moved the setting from California to Wales, recast most of the characters (but not all), and renamed it Torchwood. Seriously. How else do you explain this show?

Anyway… Season 2 starts off a lot better than Season 1: better stories, sharper dialogue, and more well-rounded characters. It gets worse as it goes along, but thanks to a more cohesive cast it's still the better season over all. Highlights include James Marsters, who basically reprises his role as Spike from Buffy and Angel. It may be unoriginal, but hey, I like Spike! Rhys finally finds out Gwen's secret, and gets to prove he can be just as big a man as Jack Harkness. And then there's Owen, who was already the strongest character – even before he died! My biggest complaint is that Tosh doesn't get the development I thought she deserved. I'm also sad about the end of the season. I doubt that the next one will be as good, but I'm still looking forward to seeing it. Hope it airs soon!

Books I've read this month:

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende – One of those really fast-paced and engrossing novels that are hard to put down. I didn't care too much for the story at first, but I got really into it in the second half. Although I thought the book ended a bit suddenly, I still liked it over all.