Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: April, 2006

The Thursday Threesome: Packing for a Trip

Onesome: Packing– What type of packing do you do when you travel? Are you one of those who carefully does the “traveler’s roll” with each peace of clothing and tucks it carefully away? …or does everything more or less just find its way into the car somehow?

I can fit everything I need in one suitcase and one bookbag if I’m traveling for longer periods. If I’m just staying in a place for two or three days, the bookbag is sufficient.

Twosome: for a– change of pace how about a guided tour of any building or place you’d like to visit: where would you go if you had that opportunity?

I heard about an architectural tour for Vancouver where you’d get to walk around and get regaled about the history of each building. Too bad I won’t be going on one while I’m here. On the other hand, I heard about this one building that went around the height restrictions by buying up the airspace above the nearby church…

Threesome: Trip– Where are you off to on your next trip? …or if you’re stuck in place for a while, where would you like to go? …and yes, “Anywhere!!!” is an okay answer!

To a place I haven’t been to before.

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Sidetracking:

I just discovered a new favorite film composer: Harry Gregson-Williams. This is probably due to the fact that I have never watched any of the movies that went with his scores.

And here’s an interesting and hilarious book I came across recently: The Cat Owner’s Manual which treats your cat like a new computer. It’s part of a series that includes similar manuals for dogs, babies, and houses.

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Eating with the Belugas

BelugaWhat better way to celebrate Earth Day than to visit the Vancouver Aquarium? I got to eat lunch while sitting by the beluga tank, watching these graceful aquatic animals of the arctic lazily coming up for air and occasionally raising their tails to the human watchers without any prompting from trainers. (But was this a trick to impress the audience or merely the whale equivalent of the finger? We’ll never know.)

Stanley Park shoreThe rest of the day, I walked around Stanley Park, the place where the Aquarium was located, taking in the views of English Bay and the scent of sea air. I overheard someone say that the park was peaceful and tranquil, but I beg to differ. The place was crowded with pedestrians, bicyclists, and roller bladers–not to mention the roads going into the park that were clogged with cars in blatant defiance of the one day in the year where people are supposed to be thinking of the environment for a change.

Salmon Crossing

No Place for a Reformed Shopaholic

Gastown Steam ClockFor shopping fiends, this place is a paradise. Just in Vancouver, city proper, there are stores everywhere. And if you get tired, there’s always a coffee shop or cafe the next steps over. The place is crowded, even on a weekday, although there are certain spots where you can find yourself on your own.

I recently went to three of the shopping “districts”. One of them is Gastown, located on Cordova–a street running parallel to Burrard Strait. Aside from a constantly smoking clock, this place is less of a quaint street at the waterfront and more of a total tourist trap. Every other store sells the usual postcards, pens, and shot glasses. There are a few more upscale shops selling everything from colored rooks to nesting dolls.

Chinatown gateAbout two blocks east on Pender and Main is the city’s Chinatown. There are plenty of open markets and restaurants, and the entire place (like every other Chinatown I’ve been to) has this certain smell that is an amalgam of oil, fish, vegetables past their prime, and herbs. If you’re on a limited budget, this is the place to get souvenirs for your friends because compared to a lot of other places, this is cheap. (But be aware that some things are marked up as well–like books.)

Robson StreetRobson Street, several blocks southwest of Pender, is basically the commercial district. All the shops on this street can also be found in the nearby malls, or for that matter, at a mall near you. It was quite amusing when I noticed two Starbucks facing each other at an intersection. And both of them were at capacity, too.

Jimmy Spa BirdsI did some browsing in shops and discovered an illustrator and author I’ve never heard of before. Jimmy Spa is an illustrator of some whimsy. His art has a sense of both innocence and crispness that I find refreshing. Will Gmehling is the author of a German children’s book called Der Yeti in Berlin. So far, I haven’t discovered an English translation.

Eventually, I got tired from all this walking so I was able to find a coffee shop (not Starbucks), order a hot chocolate, and just sit back and watch the mass of humanity flow by. So the main question for the insatiably curious–did I buy anything in this land of endless retail? Well, besides food and a dollar’s worth of postcards, no. I’m a terrible shopper–most things I view as junk or stuff I can easily obtain at home as well.

As Usual, The Meme

The Thursday Threesome: “Hey, Good Lookin’, whatcha got cookin’ How’s about cookin’ something up with me.”

Onesome- Hey, good lookin’: Makeover time! What’s the one thing about yourself you would change if you could? From your hair style to your nose to your weight, you name it.

If I were more secure with myself, I wouldn’t change anything.

Twosome- whatcha got cookin’?: Do you like to cook? What’s your favorite meal that you cook yourself? Care to share the recipe?

I like baking pies. The trick is, the more flakier the crust, the more butter content. I’m still trying to figure out how little butter I can put in and still get away with it. And for the love of all that’s good, do not put in shortening or lard unless you want to keel over of a heart attack. As for the filling, fresh fruit is best. Do not add any sugar, but add some corn starch to keep the juice from running.

Threesome- How’s about cookin’ something up with me?: If you like to cook, do you like to share the kitchen/grill? If you share, do you direct the goings on, or just let the other person do their thing? Or do you prefer to solo it, subscribing to the “too many cooks spoil the broth,” theory?

I prefer the latter. Going solo, that is. Otherwise, if the other people in the kitchen are doing their own thing and not bothering me, it’s okay.

Playing Tourist

Sometimes, I feel like the stupid tourist. But how else can one experience a new place without taking pictures? There’s too much for me to do while I’m here, but I am trying very hard not to visit more than two or three places a day. Ideally, I should just stick to one place and just soak up the location. It’s not the same if you play coach bus tourist, rushing here and there, staying in a place no more than an hour and a rest room break. Otherwise, you might as well just type in “Paris” in the Google Image Search and hit the button.

Brian Jungen's ShapeshifterCameras weren’t allowed into the Vancouver Art Gallery so I was forced to dredge up a photo from Google of Brian Jungen‘s Shapeshifter, one of a series of three sculptures of whale skeletons. The majority of Brian Jungan’s work comprises of organic depictions made of man-made products. Hence the whale skeletons of lawn chairs, masks of Nike shoes, and a living bird sculpture of IKEA furniture. There is also an interesting anecdote. The artist made a survey of the Canadian people, asking them what they thought of when one mentions the Native Americans. They replied: totem poles, tepees, beer, and the symbol being used for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The negative association with beer isn’t the only problem–not all Native Americans use totem poles or tepees. And the Olympic symbol isn’t Native American at all.

This is a theme cropping out throughout the VAG. Do people, specifically artists, not of Native American descent understand Native American culture or do they appropriate Native American icons for their own use? Many of the works shown of the gallery’s collection were made by Emily Carr, a popular Canadian artist who painted in the style of the Group of Seven. Her most common motifs were totem poles and other Native American objects. I am not particularly enamored with her work–it seems to me that she’s only famous because she happened to be a woman artist in a time period where there were few female Canadian artists. The bigger question then remains, what does a white, European woman know of native culture outside of a few trips to Indian villages? She might as well be the early twentieth-century equivalent of a tourist snapping a picture of a totem pole simply because of the nice design and not because of any deeper understanding of its meaning.

the view from the sky trainThe rest of the day, I caught the sky train to Burnaby, a suburb just east of Vancouver. The sky train is fast–it takes only twenty minutes to get to your destination compared to an hour and a half by bus. The scene is terrific as well. Because the rail rises above the city, you get to watch the urban sprawl whiz by with the snow-covered mountains as a backdrop. When I went, it was Easter Sunday and most of the shops were closed, but I was quite surprised at the number of people milling around the immensely huge Metrotown (a mall) despite the fact that there was nowhere to shop besides the Canadian Superstore (a giant supermarket), Chapters (a Canadian bookstore chain), and a Chinese restaurant. I was told that the place would be even more packed when the stores actually opened. That boggles the mind. Metrotown was already stuffed like a can of beans. If they fit any more people into there, they’d have to start stacking.

I’m Driftwood In Both Nature And City

driftwoodMy favorite part of the day was visiting Spanish Bank during low tide–the only time where I was actually in nature. I suppose I have a better affinity with just being in a natural place. It’s just totally different when you’re in a city filled with people. Much of the time, I feel very odd and not in synch with everyone else. Going against the flow, slightly out of step. Out in the clean, open air, I’m more settled and centered. It sounds zen, but it’s true. There’s no one else trying to fight for my attention and time.

Some people think that the only good weather is sunny weather. That isn’t true. There’s something mystical about a gray-silver sky overhead and a bit of drizzle. On Spanish Bank, a beach not too far from the University of British Columbia, the skyline is dominated by the snow-covered mountains cloaked in a veil of clouds. At low tide, I walked out onto the exposed seabed. Vancouver city is only a distant block of man-made steel, merely a strange blot on the mountainscape. Under my feet were broken shells dropped from the air by hungry seagulls wanting to get at the nutritious soft mollusk inside. Driftwood scattered on the sand stripped oddly by the retreating waves and dotted by the airholes of clams and mussels lucky enough to have buried themselves before the tide went out.

Closer to shore were rocks encrusted with purple barnacle and avian scavengers. Dogs and their owners played fetch–an innocent, carefree game. When the tide started coming in, the waters glided an inch over my worn hiking boots and I felt my socks dampening. The only mar were the obvious tourists cowering under umbrellas, afraid of the spitting sky. They tramped along a man-made path, their eyes ahead, away from the water.

paradeToday was also the day of an Indian (South Asian) harvest festival, Vaisakhi Day. From 49th, Main, and Marine–Vancouver’s Indian district–white tent booths were set up and food (as well as other things) were handed out free for all. One of the local papers estimated that 80,000 would be attending the festival and the accompanying parade. Smells of fragrant Indian cuisine–spicy, pungent–tinged the air, whetting the palate. Floats and participants trudged up Main in a terrific, almost stifling crowd. I was a piece of debris caught up in a pleasant cacophony of brilliant colors and energetic Indian music. Part of the parade stopped for a bit and I was able to observe a ritualized fighting dance performed to the background of rhythmic drumming.

I ended the day by visiting Granville Island. So I’ll also end this post with a few pictures from its very crowded and colorful marketplace.

Bunny Girl

Beads

Pasta

Wrapping Paper

Better Off Alone

bone carvingsWhen going city exploring, don’t go with people who offer rides and tag along but in the end refuse to go with you into the museum and insist on staying in the car. This is no fun for all involved. If you want to go somewhere, go with someone who has similar strategies on sightseeing.

So today, it was basically a bit of poking around at the Vancouver Museum. I was most interested with the rotating exhibits, No Place for a Lady (fascinating accounts and artifacts of “adventurous women travellers”) and Persian Steel (a collection of beautiful Middle Eastern metal objects). I was less impressed with the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s exhibits which basically looked like someone had cleaned out their garage and donated their junk to the museum.

Also, I visited a supermarket which specifically catered to the Chinese population in Vancouver. There was a lot of fresh and yummy food and the place was packed like a can of sardines. And of course all the customers were, at least, Asian. North American-living Asians at any rate, so I totally blended in. If I had been in Hong Kong (or Nashville for that matter), I would have stuck out like a blue thumb.

Thwarted!

Is there something about the number 13? My initial plans to visit the coast of English Bay were dashed with the weather report of 80% chance of rain and a look out the window that indeed, there was rain. My alternate plans were to visit a strip of street across from the Richmond Library filled with many shops and to get a book of bus tickets.

Instead, I ended up only roaming the Richmond Centre (which is basically a mall of relatively unimaginative architecture–but then what mall is imaginative?) and running around in the rain to different places asking for bus tickets that were all sold out. And my umbrella broke. This was not how I planned to spend my day. The only redeeming thing about the mall was a Chinese bakery called Maxim’s (I’m told it’s very famous in Hong Kong) with very delicious, abet fattening, pastries.

I can never go anywhere without looking up where the libraries and bookstores are. The Richmond Library (intriguing because a significant proportion of the books were in Chinese) is located in a large building called the Cultural Centre. Next to the library is a tiny museum titled aptly, the Richmond Museum which primarily archives documents of cultural and historical significance to the city. I found the old street plans and the industrial exhibits particularly interesting. It’s a very little visited cranny–in fact, I was the only one in the museum the entire time I was looking at the exhibits. And when I looked in the guestbook, the only visitors who had signed in where Richmond natives. (Although technically now, there’s also me with an address in the States.)

For/TowardIn the evening, I attended the opening to For/Toward, an art show at the International Village in Chinatown which was sponsored by the University of British Columbia. It was…interesting. I’m not so much one for art theory and trying to decipher what sort of meaning someone wanted to convey with a pile of knitted yarn unraveling, or even worse, baby paraphernalia lined up on a table and strung up on a clothes line with no discernible order or intent. I’m more comfortable contemplating more traditional forms like painting, photography, sculpture.

Since it was the opening, there was also a bit of one-time performance art which involved young women wearing white t-shirts playing in a pile of ice as if it were a sandbox, occasionally reciting random poetry from books, and throwing said books into the pile of ice. To say the least, I did not get it.







At least, after the art show, I discovered that the nearby 7-11 had bus tickets on stock.

What Bumper Sticker?

It’s quite weird. Practically every car I saw in Washington State didn’t have bumper stickers or any other kind of decoration in the rear of the car. And I saw quite a few of these cars since I was in Seattle at rush hour. This means no Bush/Cheney stickers. Or Kerry/Edwards. Or “Support the Troop” ribbons, American flags, Confederate flags, fish, fish with a cross, fish with legs, Jesus, honor students of Anywho Middle Schools, the AAA, parking stickers, jokes, puns, or anything else for that matter.

Anyways, I wasn’t in Seattle long enough to have seen much else. There were more pine trees than I had expected. The downtown seems to look properly posh for a west coast metropolitan area–with the addition of Starbucks on every corner. There was a car wash with a pink elephant. The space needle appeared shorter than I had imagined.

Other odd things observed: Skies the color of melancholy blotting paper, George Washington’s head (or at least I think it’s him) used as background for highway numbers, and a rest area with free coffee.

But why, you might ask, was I in Seattle when I was in the Vancouver airport as well? That was where I was dropped at the end of the day. I took the bus across the border. The check point was quick, for me at any rate, although the entire bus was held up at the border for an extra half hour because a lady was questioned by the customs officials. She had brought a kazillion bags with her. Which was rather impractical, isn’t it? Don’t get sidetracked by the duty free stores. If you’re traveling, you don’t need much with you besides the necessities.

At first, I was fooled by the gas prices in Canada. $1.06? Holy smokes, maybe I should have gone across the border by car instead. But then I realized that this was per liter, not per gallon. And if you do the math, it’s actually quite expensive.

So thus begins my travelogue for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be around Vancouver and its surrounding areas (and maybe a little of Seattle if I get around to it). And photos! I’ll get some up once I’ve subdued the digital camera I’ve borrowed. Oh, and if you have any suggestions for where I should go, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

A Meme From Cranada

Why Cranada? Good question. When I was in the Vancouver International Airport this last evening, I discovered that the brand name for the automatic sinks in the restrooms was “Cranada”.

And yeah, this means I’m actually in Canada right now. But I’m really tired…so I’ll spill more tomorrow.

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The Thursday Threesome: “I am the King of Wishful Thinking”

Onesome: I am– When you state “I am”, what do you state that you are?

I am…who I am. I usually don’t think about this question.

Twosome: the King– Are you the king (or queen) of something? The remote? The household? Or is there something else you master?

Not really.

Threesome: of Wishful Thinking– What have you been wishful for lately?

I have lots of wishful thinking.