Saturday, 28 March 2015

Langley on 2 wheels to meet 2 hot chicks !

Sexist undertones in this Blog?  What is going on?  Forgive me, but a title like 'dinner with two wonderful women' would have just sounded too reserved. Credit where credit is due! 

I'm meeting Tanya and Zulema in Langley for Dinner.  They are the two wonderful women (and hot chicks ! ;-) whose wit and wisdom made my recent holiday in Puerto Vallarta so much nicer.  Both are really busy in their professional and private obligations in Coquitlam and 100 Mile House, so to be able to meet both of them on the same evening is a lucky chance that I must not miss!
How to get from top left to bottom right?

Even last year, my preferred method of getting to Langley would have been driving an automobile. But even since last year, the number of cars on Vancouver roads and consequently the ugliness of its traffic problem have increased, so it's time to put my money where my mouth is, namely in public transit and cycling.

A short ride to Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver
Somewhere in Stanley Park I realize that I have forgotten my camera in the hotel but decide not to go back for it.  Vancouver's sky is the usual pollution-white-washed haze, which is not conducive to nice pictures anyway (You know the pictures where the sky is simply white). I board the Skytrain at Burrard Station (probably the SLOWEST elevator in the mapped world).
Only a 1 zone short ride to Commercial Drive 

Since I haven't had breakfast yet, I only take the skytrain to Commercial Drive, where I will eat something at Zawa's, one of the few civilized establishment that serves wine with greasy food starting at 9 am ;-).  It is Friday, so Fish & Chips is the natural selection. I don't know precisely where the Eat Fish on Friday tradition comes from. I'm pretty sure it was initiated by the Catholic church on reason that Jesus died on a Friday, so one shouldn't eat meat on a Friday. But since there were indubitably some very bright people among church-folk, it is quite possible that some of them realized that fish is part of a healthy diet (all those Omega 3s) or that some of them owed favours to fishermen.  In the middle ages, apparently some gout-prone rich people herded deer or elk into rivers to kill them there. Because what comes out of a river must be fish, eh?
Not the Zawa fish, but without veggies as well.

Anywho, Fish & Chips is not bad at Zawa's but that's all you get.  The Cole Slaw that traditionally accompanies the dish is prominently absent.  But enough of this Late Roman Decadence whining; when one is really HUNGRY, it doesn't matter what the food consists of as long as it's food.  Here is an exercise for you:  When was the last time you were really HUNGRY? And I don't mean that you THOUGHT that you were hungry but in reality had last eaten only an hour earlier.  Can people in the first world even still tell when they are hungry and not just bored?  Now consider, that 805 Million people in this world today don't even have to think, because they are HUNGRY all the time.  

Hop on the Skytrain again and travel to the end of the line 
I get off at the end of the line, King George Station. 20 km to cycle from here.  I had expected a kind of leisurely ride through the country, but that is not what is in store for me.  

A bike lane (!) right next to HEAVY traffic, malls full of chain stores, car dealerships, tire stores, etc etc, you get the idea.  20 kms later I find the Travelodge Langley City, which makes a great impression from the outside.  However, I have to show my reservation to the reception staff on my laptop before she decides to contact to verify my claim that I have a room here tonight. Checking out my room confirms my good impression of the hotel. Then I decide to cycle around the block (4 kms !) but it's all the same, country roads that might be lovely if there wasn't that much traffic on them. On the way back to the hotel, I acquire a bottle of wine, which is half empty by the time there is the first knock on my door.  Zu arrives first, and when Tanya arrives a short while later, I mock-shout out of my door "I have TWO chicks in my room! ".  They both know me well enough so that this only causes more hilarity instead of embarrassment. 
The first Sushi place we arrive at asks us whether we have reservations.  Nope.  The allotted possible dining time of 1 hour seems too short, but Tanya spies another Sushi place across the street, so we go there (no limit on our dining time here ;-).  Because I am in the role of the semi-inebriated passenger in Tanya's car, I have no idea where we actually are and consequently would not ever find it again either, which is too bad, since the food is good here. By the time we walk through Willowbrook mall on the hunt for a Baskin Robbins, it is POURING outside and I am thinking about the 20 kms I have to cycle tomorrow.  We finally find the ice-cream place (it's actually NOT inside the mall) and even though I had been hoping for an old-fashioned Dairy Queen's Cherry Sundae (In 1980, these were divine, with vast quantities of REAL cherries), the Chocolate Overload hits the spot. Drinks are out of the question since the ladies still have to drive, so it's time to say Good Bye after that. 

I sleep well even though the hotel is right next to Fraser Highway.

At 9 am the next morning, the route to King George Station in Surrey is still as ugly, noisy and stinky from cars as yesterday, so I take a detour along 80th and 100th Avenues, which makes the trip a bit more pleasant.  Thanks to Google Maps on my phone, I find King George Station again and ride the SkyTrain to Patterson Station, to visit Chantal & Mika.

My battery has been charging while at Chantal's place and the weather is pleasant, so I refrain from re-boarding SkyTrain, but cycle the 20 kms back to North Vancouver.

The home stretch

Moral of the story?  I really don't need a car in this city when it's not raining.  Even Abbotsford which sounds far away when one has to drive a car there, is only 40 kms from King George Station, which translates to only 2 hours cycling.  And the new pair of shorts that I just bought at Superstore are a size 34 again ;-)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Inadequate clothing (or braving the deluge)

Recognize the sound? (not my pic)
It was that kind of weather again yesterday.  Heavy Rainfall Warning in the weather forecast. This YOUTUBE TUNE could have been written for this post ;-)

I was experiencing one of those depressingly bland moment of existence. It is darkish and pouring outside.  My hotel room is violently penetrated by noises of tires on wet roads, by honking, by car doors slamming, by other hotel doors slamming (this I can also feel in my behind through the shock-conducting wooden structure). Add to this the occasional but much too frequent emergency vehicle sirens and people shouting across large distances outside, and I am at the point where the the only thing on my mind is "There must be more to life" or "There must be some kind of way out of here" ;-)

Not my pic, but they look like my pants
So I grab my supposedly breathing-active and water-repellent jacket, the MEC outer pants with the same properties, leather shoes, the 4 Euro gloves that replaced my cycling gloves in Germany last December, and last but not least the bicycle.  Crazy you think? Not really; it's not freezing and the thing falling from the sky is really just WATER, so what's the worst that could happen?

Of course, the worst happens quickly.  I start noticing the inadequacies of my clothing.  Somewhere on Lions Gate Bridge I notice that the Zipper of my left over-pants leg is leaking. Somewhere downtown I notice that if I make my left hand shake hands with my right hand (both gloved), small waterfalls will be squeezed out of the gloves. Somewhere around 41 and Knight, I notice that with every pedal stroke of either foot, small quantities of water are emitted at the top of the respective shoe.  So why am I grinning passing cars on 49th Avenue that can't match my speed of 32 km/h with all the general traffic and lights they have to stop at?

not my pic but looks like my jacket 
When I reach the house of a friend of mine around Kingsway and Boundary, I am relieved that she has a working drier in her appartement into which I toss my gloves, jacket, and over-pants.  When she asks me why I am in such a good mood, I just say "Biking endorphins".  It's so much nicer to have one's Lithium in one's bike battery instead of having to have it by way of prescribed medication ;-)

One hour later, after having feasted on Tea and cookies (YUM), and having donned a dried jacket and dry gloves, I notice that the rain has subsided a bit and consequently decide not to take the SkyTrain back.  It's obvious how that's going to end, isn't it.  When I reach downtown, I am right in the middle of a monsoon again and my gloves and shoes are drenched again when I reach my motel room.

Still, my earlier moodiness is gone and I feel great about having travelled 42 kms without burning any oil ;-)  Points of weakness in my clothing have been exposed.  Two days later my shoes have dried, but not only has the sole worn through by frequent use, being drenched water has also caused them to emit an unpleasant odour (and I'm not a person prone to smelly feet or shoes!), so they go on the landfill (not even worth putting beside the dumpster for someone else to re-use). I am also again in the possession of some Gore-tex cycling gloves (Thanks Steed Cycles), which will hopefully be able to resist any future downpours ;-)

So there, got some exercise, got some endorphins, visited friends, avoided the worst of traffic, and didn't even have to give anything to the big bad oil companies !

Friday, 20 March 2015

Men in kilts (or following a pipe band into the sunset)

CLICK HERE; this is mandatory music for this post

A bagpipe. For some reason it looks vaguely animal-like

So I was returning from my dentist appointment to North Van last Tuesday, which happened to be St Patrick's Day.  I noticed the sounds of bag pipes emanating from the door of a pub along the way.  For some strange reasons I have always loved the sound of bag pipes.  And it's more than simply liking the sound.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, the music triggers a little switch and I envision a pipe band marching through gently rolling hills towards the horizon and I feel the overwhelming urge to follow them.

Wonder why there is that resemblance?

An instant later I have made up my mind that I will look up bag pipe music on YouTube as soon as I am re-united with my computer.  And one of the first things things I find is the video that is hopefully playing in the background while you're reading this.

Is it alive or has it been converted to an instrument?

I click through various other pipe and drum band videos and then find this one (Wait until the 1st one has stopped). It shows the winning entry of the 2008 World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.  At first I hesitate to believe what my eyes see, but then I get used to the idea.  I am watching the SFU Pipe Band. Yes, that is SFU in Burnaby. ENJOY THE VIDEO ;-)

Yes, the SFU Pipe Band won the Grade One Word Pipe Band Title six (6!) times  in the last 20 years !!!!. That's pretty darn impressive ;-)

This is pushing it a bit too far !

Then I can't believe my eyes; I have visited their WEB-SITE and find that they have a concert at SFU on March 28, 2015, just 9 days from now!  I will get to witness some world class live bag pipe music at SFU!  The downer hits me 2 minutes later when I realize that the concert is sold out ;-( 

Apparently some people don't like the sound of a bagpipe ;-(

But there is still hope !!  Air Transat now offers direct flights from Vancouver to Glasgow, where the World Championships will take place in August.  And there will also be bag pipes at various Highland Games, most notably because closest to me: the Victoria Highland Games in Victoria BC in May and the BC Highland Games in Coquitlam in June ;-)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?

Yes, that line should sound familiar, and CLICK here to see Harry it again.

That question in the title had to answer with a resounding YES, after visiting a dentist today for the first time in 15 years and finding out that the only cavity I have is in the wobbly wisdom tooth that should come out anyway. The dentist seemed somehow concerned about my general state of health and that I haven't had a medical check-up in like 30 years (they wanted one before my immigration to Canada!), so she suggested in grave tones that she measure my blood pressure.

She sounded like she didn't trust me to make it home without collapsing, so I consented.  She didn't trust  the first measurement, but after the 2nd measurement, she had to accept that I have excellent blood pressure values (don't ask me what they were; that was only the 2nd time in my life that someone measured my blood pressure and all the funny numbers are just gugleyemagic to me).

There are of course other reasons why I feel lucky, or at least more fortunate than others. Having my soul inserted into a newborn baby boy in Kusel, Germany instead of one in Mogadishu, Somalia is right at the very top of the list!  But there are many other reasons to appreciate one's good fortunes.

Taking the SkyTrain and the bus home to North Vancouver from the Denist, I can see some examples out of the bus window.  There are tents in Stanley Park. No, these people are not camping there. Neither are the people under bridges, under concrete overhangs or in raveen  along SkyTrain routes, or in other pieces of wooded parks all over the lower mainland.

I add not suffering from physical or mental ailments and not living in a present day war zone to the list. Not being a member of a visible minority in a culture where that can have unpleasant results also is a bonus. Hard to believe that this last one is still a problem in today's world.  What else?

Most of all, I think I feel lucky that I have a brain that works.  Otherwise I might be one of those retards who already won life's lottery by being born in a 1st world country and because of this considers himself superior to someone not so lucky.  
Yes, those people are mean and despicable, but also frighteningly pitiable.  Can you imagine what life must look like to them? 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Tooth Fairy Post (No answers, just many question)

I was 21 years old (that would have been 28 years ago) and just before leaving Germany I went to a dentist (Dentists were still covered by general health insurance then).  The dentist informed me that I should have my 4 wisdom teeth removed, otherwise they would give me never-ending agony for decades.  One of the wisdom teeth was slightly crooked, pointing out towards my check.

Can wisdom enter a person's head if the wisdom teeth are no longer there?

At that time I decided to keep my teeth.  The wisdom tooth that was pointing outward 28 years ago was able to move into the vacant spot of a molar pulled 10 years ago, giving me a decade of a better chew.  Today I have an appointment to have it pulled, because every 6 month it is giving me an episode of being inflamed for about a week.

What is wisdom?  Does old age  necessarily equal high wisdom levels?  Does the term Elder used in many cultures describe the old or the wise?  Is there any truth to the motto "so rich in years, so poor in wisdom"?  Does wisdom not come automatically with age?

Is wisdom stored in one's wisdom teeth?  Or do they only carry that name because they're associated with the old?  And why would they be associated so?  Will I loose wisdom in today's procedure or learn something new by exposing myself to a new dentist and to a new feeling (the feeling of having only two wisdom teeth left), thus increasing my wisdom level? Why are there so many old people who don't seem wise at all? Am I simply not wise enough to detect or appreciate their wisdom?   How can some people be wise at the age of 30 (pay attention to some Pink Floyd or Bob Dylan lyrics or talk to someone who has been living on the street for a year)?

Why do I have the feeling that my wisdom level had been hovering at a rather abysmal level until not too too long ago?  Let's just say my wisdom wasn't too great when I still had all 4 wisdom teeth ;-) What changed that?  What prevented it before? Why would one 'choose' any of the two states of being?

What does it take to accumulate wisdom?  Is simply living long enough sufficient?  Or is it necessary to expose oneself to a wide variety of situations (i.e.: can wisdom find us if we do the same boring thing every day for 50 years?).  Is exposure to life enough for wisdom to enter our heads or does it need some kind of processing, some kind of after-the-fact evaluating step?  Does this 'stepping outside one's comfort zone' thing have anything to do with it all?  Could there really be any wisdom  to be found outside our comfort zone?  And I don't just mean physical comfort zone.  The mental comfort zone seems more relevant here. Do the two coincide?

I don't really know, but I'm sure that any person who only sees questions in this post and no answers better kick themselves in the butt to do some serious life-living.

After all, procrastinating on living doesn't pay off. You'll miss the deadline!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Robbing the Poor (or YE CHEAP BASTARDS)

CLICK HERE for music that sets the proper tone.

Why is it so easy to steal from the poor?  Why do so few people have scruples about it?  And I'm not just talking the MoneyMarts of this world,  Why do we not hesitate to keep for ourselves what was destined for someone else?  Why can't we even look at the poor, or maybe even talk to them?  Are we afraid the condition is airborne and contagious?

The setting is Vancouver's Gas Town.  Gas Town =  Very close to the Downtown East Side, Canada's poorest postal code with about one begging person in front of every restaurant.  And yes, also the location of where Vancouverites covered themselves in Glory recently by having a homeless man light his hair on fire in exchange for one cigarette.

There is a little birthday get-together at the Old Spaghetti Factory.  A Woman, her Partner, her Female Friend, her Child, and her Male Friend (That's me, Darling).

When I go out for my first cigarette break there is a woman in her 50s sitting in a wheelchair on the curb facing the entrance to the restaurant hoping that someone will distribute superfluous cash her way. I didn't bring my wallet for smoking so I hand her 2 cigarettes, one of which she starts smoking after asking me for a light.

On my next cigarette break, an affluent person asks me whether she can buy a cigarette from me. She pays $1 for 1 cigarette, which on my way back into the restaurant, I hand to the woman in the wheelchair.  Easy come, Easy go.

Since I didn't bring a present to the birthday party (What to give a person that has everything already?), I move to pay for my friend's dinner, and then a cunning plan forms in my devious mind,
I decide to pay the entire bill of the party of 5.
When Female Friend makes moves to pay me back, I say "Give some of what you think you owe me to a homeless person on the street", indicating the outside of the restaurant with a swipe of my chin.
I tell the same to the Partner, after he asks "You are paying the ENTIRE bill?'

I'm hoping that one of Partner and Female Friend will take the opportunity to hand out some of their free money to the woman sitting at the curb. What I have in mind is somewhere between an educational experience for the potential donors and a desperate  attempt to prove my opinion of Vancouverites to be incorrect. I simply DO NOT want to believe that the entire population of Vancouver is cold-hearted and self-absorbed.
 I am the last to leave the restaurant, having to collect my bike seat etc, but even viewing the other members of the party from behind I recognize the body language of people that walk by a beggar and pretend not to see them.
If you can find images on Google, it is wide-spread !

And what do we call that kind of behaviour?

That's right!

The other members of the dinner party have walked by the woman in the wheel chair without even looking at her, without noticing another human being in need. I see the pained hopeful look in the woman's eyes and hand her a $10 bill. Hell, I already wasted $30 on an experiment that was supposed to benefit this woman but that backfired spectacularly, as I had expected it, to be entirely honest.

What I gave to the woman in the wheelchair apparently was enough to make her day  (she had 'earned' $1.50 in the hours before), because as I was releasing my bicycle from a nearby parking meter, I saw that she had left her post and was slowly wheeling towards me.

The first thing she said was that as of now she is doubting  her own ability to estimate the charity of passers-by. I tell her not to distrust her gut-feeling because I'm a statistical outlier. After hearing yet another account of how the poor fare with the Canadian medical system (NO, she was not left to die in an emergency hallway for 36 hours, but having  hernias operated on is apparently quite difficult in this country as a poor person, so George was not the only one encountering that issue),  I bid her good bye and start cycle off contemplating what is bugging me so much right now.

It's not that I just bought two people dinner, who didn't live up to their side of the bargain. It is not that they ignored my expressed wish (You can't buy people's actions).  It has something to do with realizing how screwed the poor in this city really are. And of course the pain that comes over me when I think about that George during his year of homelessness in this city was treated the same.

Another issue that troubles me greatly, is how easy it is for the human brain to categorize entire populations as something different, not entirely human.  I repel in horror after thinking for a second about how many people will spend any amount on pet treats, special foods, manicure, peticure, etc. etc, but will feign lack of means when confronted with a less fortunate human being. And the only way they can do that is classifying them as something else.  Try drug addicts or mentally unstable for the homeless.  Try migrants or foreigners for refugees in Europe.  There seems to be no limit on how the human brain can segregate other people in order to be able to violently ignore them.  

But it's also important to feel sorry for the people that commit this acts of unkindness.  Ever thought that those who classify themselves as 'better' than the homeless have nothing else in their lives to be proud of?   And we won't even go into any deeper discussion of Karma ;-)

Friday, 13 March 2015

Man makes plans; God laughs (or Gotta plan BIG in case s/he cuts them back!)

There is a place that draws me back again and again.  Saint Malo, first discovered by accident in June 2013, visited by bicycle again in July 2013 and October 2013, chosen place to visit after a German funeral in December 2014, is exerting its magic pull again, with enough strength to have me start planning a summer trip that will get me back there this summer.  

Since the trips in 2013 and 2014 mostly have been planned around concerts of Neil Young and various other artists, part of the planning to get to Saint Malo naturally had to be a check of scheduled Neil Young concerts this year.  Unfortunately, there are none. Well, almost none. At least none that helps me to get to Saint Malo ;-(

BUT, there was one concert with Neil Young in a place that one should visit once, and that I probably not would have visited without the concert incentive.  NOTE: I would have never discovered Saint Malo without the 2013 NY concerts.

Not my pic (yet)

Not that I expect Hollywood or its residents to rival Saint Malo in simple unadulterated beauty  But then seeing new things is good; one never ever knows whether the next place one visits isn't the one that puts one's soul at ease !

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Finally a reason to feel proudly Canadian? (or Spocking the Fives)

Leonard Nimoy died on February 27, 2015

A Bank of Canada governor pointed out that, while it is NOT illegal to 'spock' 5 dollar bills, it may be an insult to Canada's national pride.  Heck, I personally haven't found many reasons to be prouder of Canada than having Spock on the Canadian 5 dollar bill !
Live long and prosper !

Monday, 2 March 2015

A brief escape and a birthday party (Cycling to the Sunshine Coast)

When I have almost finished saddling the bike, I notice two women in the room below mine that have their door wide open and have their car parked with the exhaust pipe pointed at said door from a distance of about 2 meters. The car is idling. When I point out to them that the exhaust is filling their room and consequently the smell is penetrating my room above, they just remark that they are moving to a different room and leave the car running, while they are carrying open suitcases from their room. 

I am surprised anew on a daily basis to what levels ignorance and incivility have managed to increase in the last few years.

I stop at a grocery store in Dundarave to mitigate the fact that I haven't had breakfast yet, and am rewarded by this sight:  The driver of this vehicle still has a functioning brain:

Two smart drivers ;-)
For anyone who has never heard of the Messerschmidt Cabin scooter, and consequently would not know the origin of the electric contraption riding around West Vancouver, here is a picture of a Messerschmitt; very popular in Germany in the 1950s.
Messerschmitt Kabinenroller (not my pic)
The vehicle in West Vancouver seems to be a hybrid between the above Messerschmitt and the BMW Isetta pictured below.  Isn't it "The ultimate driving machine" ? ;-)

Isetta (not my pic)

When I ask the BC FERRIES employee that sells me my ticket when my ferry will start boarding, she gives me the departure time instead. I reply "It LEAVES at 12:40; what time does it BOARD?" (Reason: bicycles must enter the ferry BEFORE the cars).  She gives me an irritated look that lasts for over a second, then shakes her head and says "I don't know".  Good Show.  Compare that to the charming and extremely polite Jersey Ferry employee who in one instant noticed that I had booked for another day and had already half re-booked me for the current day.  But then maybe the BC FERRIES lady's consternation was simply the result of spotting the half-full bottle of Chardonnay in the side pocket of my backpack.  For a lot of Canadians this is as bad or worse than peeing into the sandbox of a playground while there are still children in it!

Despite her not very helpful reply I sense that I have enough time for Fish & Chips at Troller's Pub. 
I get to Roberts Creek around 2 pm in an exhausted state. I feel tired all afternoon, go to sleep at 6 pm, sweat and shiver from cold and a fever at night, but wake up refreshed after 14 hours of sleep at 8 am.

During a bike ride along the Sunshine Coast Highway to Wilson Creek I notice that traffic has noticeably increased here. Trucks and pick-ups throw road-dirt into my face.  Oh how I miss the bike trails of Europe!

Denise forces me to cheer up when she unrolls the two quilts she has made for Eike and Joerg.  Gorgeous details and gorgeous overall. Hail the magical seamstress ;-)

During the evening's birthday celebrations, everyone consumes fabulous pizza that was home-made by Eike (Don't say that they're not learning anything useful in BC schools!) and  both Eike (17) and Joerg (47) launch a Chinese Wishing Lantern.

Not my fault:  The chances of catching a slim person with food in their mouth are naturally slimmer ;-)

Winner of the Montgolfier Prize: Eike on the right (but only because he borrowed my lighter first)

Eike's lantern takes off

Still heating up

Eike's lantern gaining altitude

Joerg's lantern is almost ready to take off
The lanterns rise and rise and rise and rise.  Soon they are far enough for their tininess to rival that of the natural stars.