Turning the Ignition Key

I’m going to just start typ­ing, and bear with me, because it feels a bit like start­ing up a car that’s been sit­ting in a garage for sev­er­al weeks. Not rusty, but a lit­tle creaky and not quite ready for the open road for a few min­utes, at least until it starts to warm up…

Speak­ing of tem­per­a­ture, today was chilly, and for the first time, it tru­ly felt like fall was in the air. Nev­er mind that sum­mer has offi­cial­ly been over for 3 weeks. Van­cou­ver does­n’t get the spec­tac­u­lar dis­play of autumn leaves that we used to see in New Eng­land, and it was part­ly what made it my favourite sea­son. Now, I’m not quite as fond of it as I used to be, but I still do like the sea­son­al dish­es and pro­duce: Rata­touille, roast­ed squash, pears and cran­ber­ries, and I also like the fact that it’s typ­i­cal­ly the time of year when I feel as if every­thing’s start­ing up, that the year is real­ly begin­ning. Jan­u­ary 1st may be the offi­cial kick-off of the cal­en­dar year, but as the son of two teach­ers and now some­times one myself, the aca­d­e­m­ic cal­en­dar always seems more appropriate.

Back to class­es here also means the return of the Fringe Fes­ti­val, and I’m a fan. That’s over and done with now, but I did make it to a few shows. It was grat­i­fy­ing to see that the annu­al fes­ti­val of inti­mate the­atre that takes place near­by us on Granville Island as well as through­out the city was more pop­u­lar this year than ever. I’m afraid that I did­n’t get to the Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, which usu­al­ly comes on the heels of the Fringe, but it also looked to be well attended.

So what’s com­ing up? I’m look­ing for­ward to Bar­Camp, the year­ly uncon­fer­ence where every­body gets to be an expert in some­thing. I think I have a sub­ject to talk about this year, and I’ll be putting some of that up before­hand, main­ly to tease those who might be inter­est­ed in it. I’m also antic­i­pat­ing the Cas­soulet fes­ti­val that Oya­ma Sausage Com­pa­ny cel­e­brates. I’ve writ­ten about it before, and per­haps I will again. After all, it’s not ever day that you get to eat what’s prob­a­bly the most sub­lime dish ever made with beans, herbs and meats.

I’m not look­ing for­ward to the elec­tion back in the US. Pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment in the US has reached the point of com­plete and utter absur­di­ty. The Amer­i­can elec­torate is now by and large so irra­tional and dri­ven by Pub­lic Rela­tions manip­u­la­tion that I don’t expect any sane out­come in Novem­ber. I’ve been lis­ten­ing to the audio ver­sion of the book The Age of Amer­i­can Unrea­son by Susan Jaco­by, and I’m becom­ing con­vinced that she is right on tar­get. Polit­i­cal cul­ture in the US is a reflec­tion of gen­er­al cul­ture, which has become less and less informed, knowl­edgable and rea­soned. Amer­i­cans have stopped talk­ing about any­thing impor­tant, except the lat­est scan­dal, goofy YouTube moment, or gaffe. Instead of call­ing the Tea Par­ty out on their igno­rance of what the Con­sti­tu­tion says (like for instance, the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers which makes it clear that a Pres­i­dent can’t send in sol­diers to anoth­er coun­try with­out the approval of Con­gress, which is exact­ly what George W. Bush did in Iraq), the TV net­works focus on enter­tain­ing peo­ple with sound-bites. Amer­i­cans don’t read news­pa­pers any more, much less books. With enter­tain­ment trump­ing real infor­ma­tion, it’s clear to me that the most pow­er­ful voice in US pol­i­tics is not any of the politi­cians, but Fox News. Dur­ing my US trip, at cer­tain motels, Fox News was the only cable news chan­nel avail­able on the tele­vi­sion. That would be like Prav­da being the only news­pa­per avail­able at a news stand (for those who aren’t famil­iar with the name ‘Pravi­da’, it was Russ­ian for ‘Truth’, and was the offi­cial news source of the USSR). With Fox the most wide­spread and pop­u­lar source of info-pablum, the US is now effec­tive­ly being led by Rupert Mur­doch’s News Corporation.

There, it looks like my motor is run­ning again.

Happy Canada Day 2010!

It’s that day of the  year again, when we all wear red and white T‑shirts with Cana­da on them, head down to Granville Island to get tem­po­rary maple leaf tat­toos and cel­e­brate Cana­da Day (or as it was orig­i­nal­ly called, Domin­ion Day).

Thanks to Heather for some pho­tos of us in our regalia (well, the T‑shirts any­way). The island was jammed, despite less-than-per­fect weath­er. It sprin­kled on and off all day, but that did­n’t damp­en the spir­its (and appetite) of peo­ple, who chowed down on all sorts of good­ies: we got some oh-so-tra­di­tion­al bar­be­cued squid and tofu and bub­ble tea; oth­ers had Chow Mein noo­dles and Pork Dumplings, Viet­namese cof­fee, hot dogs, shaved ice and But­ter Chick­en. I’m always thrilled at how so many peo­ple born in Cana­da and  immi­grants like us cel­e­brate and share in the good fel­low­ship of ‘Our Home and (near­ly) Native Land.’
Pam and I show off our Canada Day Tattoos

Pam and I show off our Cana­da Day Tattoos

Canada Day on Granville Island

Cana­da Day on Granville Island

The Seal pokes up his head

The Seal pokes up his head

Canada Day Cookies

Saw these cook­ies cool­ing off a few days before

A Bit of an Ode to Granville Island

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

I often tell peo­ple that liv­ing near and shop­ping reg­u­lar­ly for food at Granville Island has ‘changed my life’. It’s true, and I thought I’d spend a lit­tle time try­ing to explain how and why.

First of all, it’s changed the food that I buy. I rarely get food that comes in a box or is pre-processed, and get most­ly fresh meat and veg­eta­bles. The things I do buy that are cooked or pre­pared include sausages and oth­er meats and paté from Oya­ma Sausage com­pa­ny, soup from the Stock Mar­ket soup kitchen, the occa­sion­al pie (dessert or entree) from À la Mode, and bread from any of the 3 bak­eries (French — La Baguette & L’Echalote, Arti­sanal — Ter­ra Breads, or English/North Amer­i­can — Stew­arts). I try to buy what’s in sea­son (although that can be hard in Jan­u­ary or Feb­ru­ary), and look for­ward to cer­tain months when I know some­thing will be appear­ing and grad­u­al­ly (or swift­ly) going down in price. We are about to hit the sum­mer fruit sea­son, and I love see­ing the arrival of peach­es, apri­cots, plums and blue­ber­ries. Because of this, I’ve learned which ven­dors have the best of each vari­ety of fruit, veg­etable or meat. While I do get some organ­ic veg­eta­bles (onions and pota­toes), I also try to buy things that are grown local­ly. Again, this makes the win­ter months a time when I have to com­pro­mise a bit, but most of the year it’s quite possible.

We are very lucky in that we live a short walk from the mar­ket, and I quite frankly can’t imag­ine liv­ing far­ther away from it. The fact that we walk there and car­ry our gro­ceries back adds just a lit­tle bit of exer­cise (or at least the excuse to go out­side and get some air, even if the weath­er is rainy or sim­ply drea­ry.) For the vast major­i­ty of vis­i­tors to Granville Island, the mar­ket is a curios­i­ty, a kind of liv­ing muse­um of the way peo­ple used to shop for food (and still do in many oth­er coun­tries out­side of North Amer­i­ca). I’m always amused to see some­one tak­ing a pho­to­graph of a stack of cher­ries or straw­ber­ries (although they are pret­ty); They’re get­ting a snap­shot of my gro­cery store, and in a few cas­es where they flood the aisle and are obliv­i­ous to the rest of us, I wish they’d just get out of the way and let me get on my shop­ping. That does­n’t hap­pen too often, but some days, when a tourist bus lets off, the mar­ket has to walk the thin line between attrac­tion and gro­cery store.

I shop at the mar­ket often, and near­ly always bring a sack. Since I’m there so much, I’m rec­og­nized by near­ly all of the mer­chants, and am on a first name basis with sev­er­al of them. I’ve also learned about their fam­i­lies, heard some sto­ries, found out their likes and dis­likes, and think of them as peo­ple, not just some­one at a cash reg­is­ter. I’m impressed with the close-knit fam­i­lies who work in the Mar­ket, and am often been cheered up (or calmed down) by sim­ply enter­ing the mar­ket, espe­cial­ly when it’s not crowd­ed with tourists, which unlike a Super­mar­ket, is not lit sole­ly by flu­o­res­cents. (I should add that on Foursquare, the social media ‘game’, I’m the may­or of Granville Island Mar­ket, and have yet to be replaced by some­one who checks-in there more.)

Speak­ing of Super­mar­kets, I do go to Cost­co about once every 2 months or so for a few items (olive oil, paper goods, maple syrup), and also go to an organ­ic gro­cer on Broad­way (who used to be the Dan-De-Pak home office, or so it seemed) for rice, the odd box of break­fast cere­al or crack­ers, etc.) I always feel kind of dis­ap­point­ed and maybe even a lit­tle depressed when I walk into a cav­ernous Safe­way, IGA or Save-On Foods, all lit by those flu­o­res­cent lights, and very cold from the frozen aisles.

Back to the Granville Mar­ket: In addi­tion to the peo­ple, the food and the light, there are the smells. I can near­ly nav­i­gate the mar­ket by my nose. In the fish mar­ket, I can smell the brine of today’s catch. There’s fre­quent­ly the aro­ma of fresh­ly baked bread by the bak­eries (and La Baguette has that mar­velous yeasty smell of pain de mie near­ly all of the time). The food court (which I must con­fess, I some­times go to first, in order to eat before I shop, which helps stop larg­er pur­chas­es made when hun­gry), there are areas where you smell piz­za, cur­ry, or falafel. In sev­er­al spots in the build­ing, the smell of cof­fee and tea wafts out into the aisle, and you can under­stand why there’s such a line at J J Bean. 

In the sum­mer, there is the extra treat of Thurs­days, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the morn­ing, when local farm­ers truck in their pro­duce, and sell some of it out­side, next to the Mar­ket. In recent years, some farm­ers have spe­cial­ized in Heir­loom Toma­toes, and I’ve actu­al­ly tast­ed cel­ery (yes, cel­ery!) that is actu­al­ly mind-blow­ing­ly sweet and tasty. Some of the farm­ers stay all day, but most of them are there main­ly in the morn­ing, so Thurs­days are par­tic­u­lar­ly good to get ear­ly and get the best produce.

I’ve dis­cov­ered new fruits and veg­eta­bles at the mar­ket. We’ve tried Sting­ing Net­tles as a side dish, and boiled down elder­ber­ries into syrup. I’ve cooked sour cher­ry soup, and after our trip to South­east Asia, have made Ataulfo Man­goes (Mani­la Hon­ey Man­goes), Drag­on­fruit, Rambu­tans, Lon­gans, Lychees, Pom­leos and Pas­sion­fruits a treat for break­fast or dessert. Near­ly all are avail­able (although not cheap­ly most of the time) at the mar­ket. I’ve fre­quent­ed the Asian Food spe­cial­ty shop in the mar­ket, The South Chi­na Seas Trad­ing Com­pa­ny, where I’ve final­ly learned to appre­ci­ate the fin­er points of coconut milk, fresh tamarind, lit­tle red chiles, lemon­grass, galan­gal, and even fish sauce. I’m thrilled to have found great fish that is cheap (Rock­fish — big, red, and ugly, but they’ll filet it for you for free, so you have a love­ly, firm white flesh for cur­ry or soup), and am sur­prised at how good the turkey is. I’ve cheat­ed a lit­tle, and got­ten pre-mar­i­nat­ed Maui Ribs, as well as Cor­nish Game Hens, and one of these days this sum­mer we’ll make a Caribbean Goat stew with the fresh goat meat we some­times see them cart in. The spot prawns are in this week, and every year I look for fid­dle­head ferns (in the Spring) and Okana­gan pears (in the Autumn).

All in all, Granville Mar­ket has expand­ed my diet, made me more in tune with the pas­sage of the sea­sons, low­ered my blood pres­sure (at least when I’m vis­it­ing, I think), and pro­vid­ed me with a sense of con­nec­tion to my food with the peo­ple who grow it and sell it. It’s helped me learn to cook new and more com­pli­cat­ed dish­es, and also let me off the hook when I’m stumped and just get a home­made turkey pie or soup. I feel as if I’m rich­er and my life is health­i­er and fuller with the mar­ket in it, which is about the most one can say about any activ­i­ty, espe­cial­ly one as mun­dane as food shopping.

Heirloom Tomatoes at Granville Island Market

Heir­loom Toma­toes at Granville Island Market

On the Road

Years ago we decid­ed that we’d make room for some of the vis­i­tors to Van­cou­ver dur­ing the Olympics. So, on Mon­day evening, we set out, rolling our suit­cas­es down the hill to the Olympic street­car. Four min­utes lat­er, we got on the Canada­line Sky­train and got off at the Van­cou­ver air­port. It could­n’t be eas­i­er, and I’d rec­om­mend any­one who’s on the fence about the new mass tran­sit vs. a taxi to look seri­ous­ly at tak­ing the Canada­line, espe­cial­ly if you have lug­gage on wheels (which the vast major­i­ty of bags are these days). About the only down-side was the Olympic crowds, even at 8:45PM.

Our flight on Cathay Pacif­ic left at 2:00 AM, so we had a qui­et air­port and some time to use the Wi-fi to make some last tweets (and to chat with a friend in Hun­gary — what a small world this is becoming…but more about that in a lat­er post).

The flight was OK, but very, very cold. Hon­est­ly, it was like spend­ing 10 hours in a meat lock­er; You could almost see your breath. Pam and I had coats with hoods, which we kept up the whole time. There was one blan­ket per per­son, and no more. We got in to Hong Kong at their 7:30 AM or so (a day lat­er). After a short lay­over of about an hour, we board­ed anoth­er flight to Bangkok. A cou­ple of hours lat­er, we touched down and saw their new(ish) air­port, that had been built 3 years ago. It’s a very impres­sive struc­ture, with cater­pil­lar-like gates con­nect­ed to a steel, con­crete and glass main sec­tion. We were imme­di­ate­ly met by two young reps. for the tour com­pa­ny (Aber­crom­bie & Kent, who Pam used for her tour of Antarc­ti­ca). They whisked us through bag­gage and cus­toms, and we then were hand­ed off to one of the tour guides here, who goes by the nick­name Tukke (Took­ie). She, and a dri­ver, drove us through the enor­mous city of Bangkok, to the hotel where we are stay­ing here, the Man­darin Ori­en­tal. It’s a very fine hotel (offi­cial­ly 130 years old), albeit old enough that I saw echoes of my grand­moth­er’s taste through­out: the Eng­lish colo­nial fur­ni­ture, the palms and white palm tea­room, the pool with cabanas and teak walk­ways through­out. It’s well main­tained, how­ev­er, and the Inter­net in the room was good enough that I could phone my par­ents back in the states via Skype on my iPhone and it was good enough for them that my father thought it sound­ed like I was ‘next door’. The view, of the Chao Phraya riv­er (Riv­er of Kings) is pret­ty impres­sive too:

The View out our Hotel Win­dow — That’s the French Embassy’s Gar­den in the Low­er Right

We man­aged to stay awake (bare­ly) until about 7:30 PM before col­laps­ing and then wak­ing up at 3, and then 6 this morn­ing. After one of the best break­fast buf­fets I’ve ever eat­en (includ­ed with the room — I’ll try and take some pho­tos tomor­row), we returned to the room, and after a short rest, I write this update.
I’m going to try and update the Flickr set of our trip as we go, and it’s here: 2010 Trip to Thai­land, Cam­bo­dia and Viet­nam.

So, it’s off for a short boat trip across the riv­er to explore some of the city (after we change into shorts to adjust for the heat). Then, per­haps a ride on the Sky­train (Hah, Just like home!). I’m also plan­ning on a mas­sage for my aching shoul­der, back and neck, which may be from the plane ride, plus accu­mu­lat­ed stress from the past few weeks.

More to come…

Good-bye to the Oughts

While the past year has been good, I must admit that I’m in com­plete agree­ment with those like Time Mag­a­zine, who dubbed the first 10 years of 2000 as The Decade from Hell. It was a decade that belonged to Bush, whose ascen­dan­cy to the White House I have often said was the worst sin­gle event in US His­to­ry. It was for us, a great leap into the unknown, leav­ing the city of Boston and the coun­try of our births. It was def­i­nite­ly scary in the begin­ning, but we’ve slow­ly climbed back, at least in terms of our finances, to where we were when we left, more or less. We dodged much of the hous­ing bub­ble, and although Pam and I both saw time out of the work force, I sus­pect that would have been just as bad (or worse) if we had stayed.

After the elec­tion of Oba­ma, many peo­ple have asked us if we were con­sid­er­ing return­ing to the US. After all, we were ‘Bush Dodgers’, accord­ing to some. Well, the ridicu­lous debate on Health Care reform had us con­stant­ly shak­ing our heads in bewil­der­ment. The fact that the US still fails to acknowl­edge health care as a human right (like the ones of reli­gion and guns that they extoll so often), is some­thing we’ll nev­er under­stand. The lack of acknowl­edge­ment that the pro­lif­er­a­tion of guns is caus­ing more and more vio­lence and death through­out Amer­i­ca is also baf­fling to us. When­ev­er we see peo­ple being inter­viewed on the US evening news con­stant­ly refer to God, their belief in reli­gion and oth­er mag­i­cal think­ing also seems fur­ther and fur­ther from us. Nope, we’re not going back to all of that.

Good-bye to 2009, Then

Look­ing back on just this year, I do have some events that I’ll remem­ber fond­ly. Here’s a brief list:

  1. The Con­cert of works for and by Dutch com­pos­er Louis Andriessen for his 70th birth­day. Back in April, I got to see and hear him (and one of his works), as he rem­i­nisced about per­for­mances by air­port run­ways and mused that the bass line in Bach Chorale Pre­ludes is “like a cow moo­ing, inter­rupt­ing chirp­ing birds”.
  2. Rid­ing the brand spank­ing new Canada­Line all day on my Birth­day, and play­ing Foursquare (and ‘tourist in my own town’) as I went all the way from the south of Rich­mond to North Van­cou­ver with­out burn­ing any gaso­line (not count­ing the fuel on the Seabus).
  3. Actu­al­ly not one but sev­er­al fun and stim­u­lat­ing Mee­tups for blog­gers, graph­ic design­ers and Social Media folks. Sev­er­al were at Caeli’s Pub, which has become one of the most pop­u­lar social water­ing-holes in town.
  4. An after-hours tour of the new­ly-ren­o­vat­ed Arc­tic Ocean exhib­it of the Van­cou­ver Aquar­i­um as part of the local chap­ter of the Inter­ac­tion Design Asso­ci­a­tion (IXDA)
  5. Excel­lent meals at Provence at Mari­na­side, a tea (thanks to Tiny Bites) at the Fish House in Stan­ley Park and this past week, a warm­ing Hot Pot (Shabu Shabu) at a new Kore­an Restau­rant, Dae Bak Bon Ga, on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano.
  6. The Inau­gu­ra­tion of Barack Oba­ma (of course)
  7. Bar­Cam­p­Van­cou­ver, which was a blast this year at Dis­cov­ery Parks.
  8. Help­ing to run and par­tic­i­pate in UXCam­p­Van­cou­ver, the first User Expe­ri­ence ‘uncon­fer­ence’ in the Van­cou­ver area. Many thanks to Karen Park­er for pro­vid­ing the lead­er­ship and guid­ance. Next year, it will be even big­ger and bet­ter. This was, per­haps, the big high­light of the year for me.

And a few sad losses:

  1. The loss of Work­space, a mar­velous public/private space that host­ed many great techie get-togeth­ers. It was the clos­est thing to a ‘par­lor’ that the Geek Scene in Van­cou­ver had. I’m hop­ing that anoth­er will come, but some­times these things take time to replace.
  2. The clos­ing of a bunch of restau­rants: Chow (which I reviewed in this blog), O Thai (which was replaced by anoth­er Thai restau­rant in the same spot that is decid­ed­ly poor­er), The Fish Café (on 4th Avenue in Kit­si­lano), and a few oth­ers that I for­get at the moment (maybe for that rea­son, they should have closed).

When I look back on 2009, I know that I will sad­ly have to note that it was the year that Bec­ca Ham­mann died (see pre­vi­ous entry), and it will be some time before I am used to that fact.

I also note the birth of many babies by friends and rel­a­tives, and once again, our orchid is blooming.

My next post, will be about next year. Oh look: the clock says that it’s here already. Well, come in, 2010. Make your­self at home.