Archive for the 'Vancouver' Category

Amazing Laughter

Are you smiling yet?  Coming upon this installation in Morton Park (Triangle) near English Bay Beach in the West End district of Vancouver is like, as visiting friend Smita Patel says, coming upon a laughter club in a Delhi park – you can’t help but be happy, if for a moment.

A-maze-ing Laughter” is part of the Vancouver Biennale 2009-2011, one of 28 sculptures based on the theme “in-TRANSIT-ion” installed along walking and biking routes, the new Canada Line and other mass transportation lines, and at the Vancouver International Airport.

Artist Yue Minjun uses his own face in a state of hysterical laughter as a signature trademark.  Additional photos by Dan Fairchild, the official photographer of the Vancouver Biennale, can be seen on the Biennale Blog, which also gives more information on the sculpture and the sculptor, including this historical context of the artist’s work in China:

Yue Minjun was a leading figure in what became to be known in the 1990’s as Cynical Realism, an artistic movement that emerged in China after the 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen and the suppression of artistic expression.  Humor, cynicism, repetition and an emphasis on the individual are common characteristics of this artistic movement.  Yue Minjun was one of the first artists to translate this new ironic view of contemporary life, one that is expressed in the nihilistic hilarity at a time when little was funny.

In Vancouver, the irony is not apparent.

Vancouver 2010 – A Community Affair

The "must have" gloves

Like most Vancouverites, Mark and I got swept up in Olympics fever late.  (Many were very angry at the cost British Columbians would have to bear for no anticipated benefits. Some left town for warmer climes, not wanting to deal with the crowds, noise, and traffic disruptions; others protested the opening and closing ceremonies; still others set up a tent city to highlight the additional homelessness caused by landlords evicting tenants in order to charge exorbitant rents to Olympics visitors. Most were disappointed at not being able to get tickets or were just apathetic.) I was unaware of the first two rounds of ticket lotteries, and never got out of the virtual “waiting room” on the third, largest, and final round.  We were far enough removed from the venues that we would not be affected.  After all, what did it matter if you were watching the Games on TV in the host city or a continent away?  Only… we didn’t have a TV…

It wasn’t until a friend, an Olympics veteran (Salt Lake City, Nagano, Los Angeles) from Southern California, rounded up another mutual friend from the SF Bay Area (also a Winter Olympics veteran – her brother and sister were on U.S. Alpine Ski teams) and landed in Vancouver with flags (Canadian and U.S.), a lanyard, pins, venue maps, a program of events, and a cowbell, that we were dragged into the spirit of the Games.  From the initial participation at the torch ceremony on 11 February at LiveCity Yaletown until the closing ceremony, our lives revolved around the Games.  By the second day, after our friends had gone, we figured out that CTV had live streaming of all the events, from start to finish, in French and English.  We hooked up a projector to Mark’s computer, and set up a couch and side tables in front of the projection wall.  This is where we lived and ate until the evening of 28 February. Like our Wall Street brethren, we even got attached to the Canadian curling teams. (Ok, ok, and the Norwegian men’s curling pants.)

It wasn’t until the Games were over that I got to read about some of the more interesting aspects of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  (Yes, I was trolling the Olympics sites in withdrawal.)  My favorites?  Just Beginnings Flowers, a non-profit organization working with marginalized women (ex-prisoners, sex workers, victims of abuse) was contracted, along with Margitta Flowers, to make the 1800 bouquets of flowers handed out to Olympic medalists.  The wood for the podiums was donated by different communities throughout British Columbia.  And, the Podiums and medal trays were assembled by at-risk youth and recent immigrants trained by Rona, a distributor and retailer of hardware, renovation and gardening products.

In fact, these Games were not just Vancouver’s, they were Canada’s Games.  Community participation started with the torch relay across Canada – the longest domestic torch relay in Olympics history, covering 45,000 km and involving 12,000 torchbearers over 106 days.  Starting in Victoria, Vancouver Island, where the final leg of the flame’s journey from Greece was carried in a First Nations canoe in a miner’s lantern, the torch touched over 1,000 communities from coast to coast to coast, including Alert, Nunavut, the northernmost permanently inhabited community in the world, carried by canoe, dragon boat, handrail, Skyride, on skates, skis, snowboard, skidoo, bobsled, snowshoe, snow plough, (you think there’s a lot of snow in Canada?) bicycle, motorcycle, horse, firetruck, …

Free Celebration sites were set up in every city.  In the Greater Vancouver area alone, there were Celebration sites in Richmond, West Vancouver (site of the freestyle skiing and snowboard events on Cypress Mountain), North Vancouver, Surrey, Port Coquitlam, and Whistler.  In Vancouver, there were two LiveCity sites, the Aboriginal Pavilion, as well as numerous pavilions representing every province and territory in Canada.  Of the other countries, Russky Dom, House of Switzerland, and Slovak House were the most popular. And, every community center in Vancouver was given a 50”plasma screen TVs so that they could host viewings of events in their “community living rooms.”

Most impressive of all, the Cultural Olympiad, with free and ticketed art, music, drama and dance performances throughout the Greater Vancouver area, showcased Canadian and international performers for night after night of festivities. This three-year initiative, which started in 2008, extends through the Paralympics.

So yes, Vancouverites finally got over themselves and had a great time.  Over 150,000 people gathered every night in Robson Square, in downtown Vancouver.  LiveCity sites were filled to capacity every night.   And through it all, people were friendly and celebrative.  Buses flashed “Go Canada Go” in alternate displays with their routes.  Bus drivers let visitors and revelers ride free.  People used mass transit. Cars sported a maple leaf flag, or two, or four.  Homes and businesses were decorated with lights, flags and posters.  And they are still.

Bike Valet

Bike Parking at Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Bike Parking at Vancouver Folk Music Festival

As preparations were underway for the Vancouver Folk Music Festival that took place this past weekend in nearby Jericho Beach Park, I wondered at the rows of metal barriers set up at the entrance to the Park on West 4th Avenue.  Were they meant to funnel festival goers through ticket lines?  On the afternoon of the 18th, it all became clear – the barriers were set up for supervised bicycle parking.  How wonderful!  If last year’s travel patterns are indicative of this year’s 10,000 daily festival attendees, 32% will have walked, ridden bikes, or been passengers in automobiles. (Last year, 17% took the bus, and 51% drove.)

Celebration of Light - Canada

Celebration of Light - Canada

Yesterday, I learned of Bike Valet, a secure bicycle parking service being offered free at several festivals and special events in Vancouver this summer by BEST (Better Environmentally Sound Transport).  This year, BEST is providing Bike Valet at a total of six events and festivals in Vancouver, including at two viewing locations for the Celebration of Light, a fireworks competition that takes place in Vancouver every year.

Celebration of Light - Canada

Celebration of Light - Canada

This year’s competitors for the Celebration of Light are Canada, the U.S. and China.  Yesterday, Canada started off with a spectacular display based on the theme:  Attack, with Godzilla featuring prominently in the beginning of the show.

Archaeological Dig Next Door

Archeological Site

Archaeological Site

Two weeks ago, I was wakened by voices that seemed to be coming from just outside my bedroom window.  Startled, and feeling a bit vulnerable, I got up to find a group of about 5-6 people in the front yard of the house next door.  I went out to investigate and the leader of the group came over to verify the boundaries of the property next door. (Our two properties are probably the only two in all of Vancouver that do not have a fence or hedge between our front lawns.) Robin, the leader, wearing a Simon Fraser University T-shirt, explained that he was heading up an archeological dig of the front lawn of the property, and introduced his crew, composed of members of several First Nations.  They had divided the lawn into quadrants and were setting up to take samples from each quadrant.

First Dig

First Dig

The house, which had been in the same family for 100 years, was sold last year to a woman named Dorothy.  Apparently, she wants to tear down the existing house and build something closer to the street, in the location of the existing front yard.  Because this area was inhabited by First Nations people of the Indian Arm – the Squamish and the Musqueam, the City of Vancouver requires an archaeological survey before any building applications are accepted.

Second Site

Second Site

Unfortunately for the new owner, the team, which grew to 9-10 by the end of the first week, found two sites of significance containing stone implements and other evidence of settlement. The team is now working on a report. Then comes the “long process” of negotiations with the First Nations and the City of Vancouver.

Happy Canada Day

Canada Day 2008
Canada Day Fireworks off West Vancouver

Lingering smoke from soy honey marinated barbeque

Haze from California fires abet the night as gray overwhelms blue

Glimpses of gold from an illegal fire shine through camouflage of bodies

Identical fireworks over Coal Harbor and West Vancouver from Spanish Banks beach

Summer Treat

Coffee Granita with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Coffee granita with vanilla bean ice cream

Summer has finally arrived in Vancouver. We have now had a week of sunshine, with weather in the 80’s (Fahrenheit). Radio weather announcers pinch themselves and utter un-jinxing spells before they say: “And the forecast for the weekend… do I dare say it… is sunny.” And the little weather icon, which shows the sun, partially covered by a cloud with raindrops falling from the cloud, keeps moving to the day after tomorrow every day.

After an afternoon walking around Gastown with two friends from the San Francisco Bay Area, I was inspired to make coffee granita based on this ‘wikiHow‘. The addition of a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream made for a perfect summer dessert.


Red Salmonberry

We have been (and are still) anxiously awaiting the blackberry harvest here in Vancouver.  We have some big plans for those blackberries – gobbling them up as we pick them, over ice cream, cobbler… can’t wait…

Then, two weeks ago, our friend Ellen Bermingham reported a mother and two kids picking berries in Pacific Spirit Regional Park during her afternoon run.  What were they doing?  It is way too early for blackberries.

Yellow Salmonberry

On Saturday, we saw what looked like yellow raspberries while hiking in Capilano River Regional Park with Tim Ryan and Rissa.  And yesterday, Mark saw several groups picking what turned out to be salmonberries on his mountain bike ride through Pacific Spirit Park.  Aha!  Salmonberries (rubus spectabilis).  Who knew?


Today, we grabbed what containers we had and hopped on my scooter to go berry picking.  A mother and two kids (perhaps the same ones that Ellen saw?) were already at one spot close to the road.  We forged on further ahead, wading into thorny thickets yet untouched.  We found both the yellow and red fruit – enough to fill the three containers that we had brought, hoping that we had at least 6 squashed cups worth.

Boiled with sugar and pectin

The flavors are very delicate – the yellow different from the red.  The juice runs clear.  There is no discernible smell.  (Mark describes the smell as “forest”.)

Salmonberry jam

We emptied out all the jam and mustard jars we had, sterilized them, decided on a fruit to sugar ratio, boiled the fruit with sugar and pectin, filled the jars, boiled them once more to create a vacuum seal and viola – our first attempt at jam.

Buck 65, Nuala O’Faolain, and the Color Pink

When I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, NPR and local radio programming provide most of my news and music and keep me updated on arts and culture. KQED and KALW are my two default stations for background ‘company’.

In Vancouver, it’s CBC Radio One for news and other chatter and CBC Radio 2 for late night musical company. I’d like to share a few of the programs that I particularly enjoyed over the last week:

1. Buck 65 with Symphony Nova Scotia, a concert recorded on April 18, 2008 in Halifax and available on Concerts On Demand on CBC Radio 2

“It was something that could only happen in Halifax” says Halifax Chronicle Herald critic Stephen Pedersen. That’s because Symphony Nova Scotia is an unusually versatile first class chamber symphony orchestra, Buck 65 is a truly imaginative and creative poet and hip hop artist, and conductor/composer Dinuk Wijeratne has the imagination and skill to pull it all together – a combination of talents and attitude that you don’t often find.

The night featured arrangements of Buck 65’s hits like “Way Back When” and “Cries a Girl”, but also a CBC commission of a brand new work by Dinuk Wijeratne – a triple concerto for Cellist (Norman Adams), turntable artist Buck 65 and percussionist Terry O’Mahoney.

2. An interview with Nuala O’Faolain, recorded in 2003 at the Literary Arts Festival in Victoria, Canada. Nuala O’Faolain died May 9 of cancer at the age of 68. She is best known for her literary debut Are You Somebody, written when she was 60. Eleanor Wachtel, host of Writers & Company, rebroadcasts her interview, which is engaging and funny, here:

Listen to Nuala O’Faolain – 18 May 2008 in RealAudio.

3. Re: Thinking Pink, an Outfront program by a breast cancer survivor upset that the breast cancer marketing machine has co-opted what used to be her favorite color. “Breast cancer is not pink … it is puke green… or shit brown…”

Re: Thinking Pink
by Roseanne Cohen

Pink ribbon fundraisers and pink ribbon merchandise are everywhere. Tonight, breast cancer survivor Roseanne Cohen asks us to reconsider the colour and the campaign.

Random Acts of (Climate Action) Rebate

On July 1, 2008, subject to approval by the legislature, British Columbia will begin to phase in a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

The purpose of the carbon tax is to encourage individuals and businesses to make more environmentally responsible choices, reducing their use of fossil fuels and related emissions. The tax has the advantage of providing an incentive without favouring one way to reduce emissions over another. Business and individuals can choose to avoid it by reducing usage, increasing efficiency, changing fuels, adopting new technology or any combination of these approaches. BC Climate Action Secretariat

In addition to and separate from the carbon tax, every resident of British Columbia will receive a Climate Action Dividend of CD$ 100 in June to facilitate their transition to a “greener” lifestyle.

It is the government’s hope that British Columbians will apply the funds toward purchases that can help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and, by doing so, also reduce the amount of carbon tax they would otherwise pay.

Polls indicate that most British Columbians will use their dividends for beer or gas. However, members gathered at a Victoria Sierra Club Cooling Party saw more potential in the hundred bucks. They have decided to pool their funds to perform “Random Acts of Rebate” for households that may not have the resources to reduce their carbon footprint. So, they are offering The Great Rebate Ecochallenge and inviting people to contribute their dividends to a Climate Action Fund that would go to the Random Acts of Rebate.

Here’s what they are planning with the pooled funds:

Install clotheslines for 5 families, buy and distribute light bulbs, buy Gordon [ Cambell – Premier of British Columbia ] a vermicomposting bin
All of the above + car share co-op membership for one family
All of the above + compost pick up service for a school for one year
All of the above + electric bike, bicycle, large appliance, compost pick up service for a household
All of the above + organic food delivery for one year for 2 families in need
All of the above + a brand new hybrid car for a family in need

British Columbia’s 2008 budget focuses heavily on environmental issues. In addition the the carbon tax and dividend, it includes CD$ 1 billion in funding over 4 years for climate change initiatives, including funding technology and provide incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy use.

Even with these initiatives, most Canadians do not believe that BC will be able to meet its emission reduction goal to reduce carbon emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020.

However, BC is the only province that gives individuals the choice and means to reduce their personal carbon footprint.

Goondagiri in Vancouver

Bollywood actor and producer Jagdarshan Samra was beaten up by five men at a soccer and kabaddi tournament at the Ross Street Sikh Temple in Vancouver. He was beaten so badly that he lost an eye.  The public beating was allegedly in retaliation for a lawsuit that Samra filed in this native state of Punjab against people who have illegally occupied a piece of land that Samra owns.  A few more details can be seen in this article in The Province.

Squatting is the most common form of land transfer in India – from urban slum dwellers taking over scraps of available land on sidewalks, by railway lines, or on marshland to relatives expropriating property put in their names by fathers, brothers, uncles, or cousins overseas.  All over India, you will see vacant lots with high fences – their sole occupant: the guard.  People would rather leave their property empty for 40 years than rent it out for fear that the renters would never relinquish the property.  After all, your only recourse is the courts, and that process, even if uncorrupted, can take decades to resolve and is rarely decided in the nonresident’s favor.  So, even “respectable” people resort to violence, or the threat of violence, to get a piece of property or to get it back.  The only surprise here is that that resolution process, accepted as the “norm” in India, has been transfered to Vancouver.  Why face the potential of time for a crime committed in Canada for a lawsuit whose jurisdiction is in India?  Does Samra not have any relatives left in Punjab to beat up?  Are the transgressor’s family members all in Vancouver too?  What is the price of a goonda in Vancouver?


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