The fastest trip to Japan from Vancouver

I spent most of this past weekend at the Powell Street Festival which has got to be one of the best entertainment deals in Vancouver taking place at Oppenheimer Park and the streets around it with events at the Firehall Arts Centre, the Japanese Language School, and the Vancouver Buddhist Temple.

This area was home to the largest concentration of Japanese people in Vancouver prior to WWII before they were banished from the West Coast in Canada and the U.S. as a result of Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour and a build up, prior to that, of racism and fear-mongering.

I had to get my little fix of Takoyaki (Osaka Balls),  those tasty street vendor treats that instead of the traditional style which are filled with octopus, these are filled with shrimp and scallops, a creamy middle with a crunchy deep-fried outer and with fish shavings on top. I stayed traditional but you can get the wasabi version or with mayo. 

So many interesting offerings  at The Firehall Arts Centre. We were introduced to a HAPA comic from L.A., Katie Malia and her Almost Asian vignettes which are being picked up by Netflix in the near future.

Listened to Dr. Asato Ikeda from Japan talk about a Third Gender in early modern Japan, a spin off from an exhibit at the ROM in 2016 A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese prints. Descriptions of wakashu or boys between the ages of 12-18 who fulfilled the pleasures of men and women and how to hear about that part of cultural history in Japan without imposing contemporary North American values on that part of Japanese history which has been kept under wraps mostly because, if I understood the speaker correctly, of how it fits into the Kabuki theatre in the Edo period. Since Kabuki has been designated the official theatre of Japan, there’s a reluctance to acknowledge the roots of it in this expression of sexuality. Super interesting!

Introduced to two men (both Gaijin or caucasian) Jay Rubin and Ted Goossen, Americans who are elders in the translation of Japanese literature. They spoke about the novelist Haruki Murakami and mostly that stood out for me because it’s always amazing to me how some people just fall into their professions without any effort on their part and that becomes their entire life.

Admired that Joy Kogawa who is looking very fit and in her eighties was open to participating in an experimental performance that included her poetry, a young Hapa poet Soramaru Takayama and a wonderful mime (whose name I can’t find, unfortunately)  as part of a 20 minute performance.

 

Also took in two interesting short films called Born with it and Blasian Narratives about Black-Asian kids’ experiences. I’d never heard the word “Blasian” before.

Listened to a wonderful shakuhachi player who resides on the Sunshine Coast.  Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos, is one of the leading teachers and performers of the shakuhachi in North America who teaches at the Bamboo-In Retreat Centre.  His performance was exquisite and a rare treat. I love the breathy, haunting sounds of the shakuhachi, an instrument that may be the hardest instrument to learn taking years of mentorship and practice.

And of course George and Noriko, a crowd favourite. He’s known as the Japanese cowboy and she’s the Tsugaru shamisen player. Together they have a fun and unique sound. 

Taiko. Walking tours. Ikebana. Martial Arts. My god. It’s a veritable trip to Japan without the hell of the long flight.

Must do a shout out to Leanne Dunic (seated in photo) who led the curation in her first year as the new artistic director.  It’s been a busy year for her. She’s a writer, singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays with the band The Deep Cove. Her book To Love the Coming End published by Chin Music Press was released this year as well.  The weekend was awesome and it didn’t cost a dime. The only thing wrong with it was that I didn’t win the trip to Japan for two or dinner for six put on by Hapa Izakaya restaurant chefs.

Travel blogging the humanity of connection

Miniature felted yurts

For quite a few years now, I’ve been following the blog of this wonderful young artist and writer named Candace Rose Rardon. She is an all-round creative entrepreneur who travels the world sketching and writing. By birth, she is an American and by choice she is a citizen of the world.

Some time in 2012 or later, she lived in a yurt on Salt Spring Island for a while and I too love yurts arising from the first time I experienced a yurt in Northern New Mexico. I was out with two other women who were staying at Ghost Ranch at the same time as I was. We were driving around sightseeing and we stumbled upon this yurt on the side of the road. Intrigued, we hopped out and descended upon it only to be met at the door by a guy who was inside.  I don’t actually recall much about him but you can see him in the photo below.

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A yurt in Northern New Mexico near the Chama River.

Following her experience of living in a yurt on Salt Spring, Candace wrote a fantastic post about yurts the world over.

Her dreams have unfolded as she’s utilized her double whammy talents of writing and sketching to make connections in very organic, free flowing and serendipitous ways.

Recently she was doing a giveaway on her blog that got an overwhelming response from readers who shared their travel tales with her as a way to entice her into picking them as the recipient of a newly published anthology.

Here’s her original post for that giveaway of the Lonely Planet Travel Anthology.

She was overwhelmed by responses. In a follow up post, she decided to draw a map and put the names of all who contributed onto the map that she sketched so inspired she was by readers’ responses.

It’s such a great idea. You can see the map in her follow up post, The Geography of Connection. Readers’ comments were associated with 36 countries across five continents.

I submitted something related to my half day cycling trip to the Silk Islands off Phnom Penh.

Congratulations on your exciting news of being published in Lonely Planet’s literary edition for 2016. In 2013, on a trip through Thailand and Cambodia, I ended it in Phnom Penh and decided to go on a 1/2 day cycling excursion with Grasshopper Adventures. It meant arriving at the bike shop and gathering with a small group, getting a designated bike and helmet before heading off on a busy street right in the middle of the city which, at first, seemed very dangerous. Our guide was a young Cambodian woman who was really enthusiastic and we took off, traffic all around, which was a little scary and quite exhilarating. Luckily the ride to the ferry was very short (no more than 15 minutes) and once on the ferry we made our way across the Mekong to what are known as the Silk Islands.

It was so great to be on a bike, and to learn that a very rural existence was a mere ferry ride (10-15 minutes) away from the bustle of Phnom Penh. I loved the feeling of riding down an empty dirt lane way and as I passed by, little children would run out from their huts and yell “Hi” or “Hello” to us in English and we’d yell back. It was such a happy experience. Afterwards, we went to a silk farm, had a delicious fruit feast, and then on to another place with a temple and really unique wooden carvings that were quite ancient.

I felt like it was the S.E. Asian version of cycling a Southern Gulf Island in B.C., a place near and dear to my heart. We rounded it off with a feast at a local spot that, of course, our Cambodian guide knew would be really decent. A great day. A lasting memory.

Candace ends the blog post by saying, “There’s a lot happening in the world right now that would lead us to believe how disconnected we are from each other—but if this map says anything, I believe it’s that connection is real, alive, and important to us all.”

And that’s how you actually make blogs interactive. Something that I’m sorry to admit I’ve failed at miserably.

Monday, however, is a good day for dreaming about the next getaway, and for me, that’s as close as a visit to Candace’s blog. Check it out!

Point Roberts day tripping leads to tiny adventure

On a somewhat regular basis I get an almost bubbling up of a need to get out and about. I want to go somewhere different, see new things or go back to places I’ve seen but I haven’t seen for quite some time.  More often than not, a whim hits me and I find myself headed out, alone, to seize the day, just wander, my camera in tow.

Now I know many people would find this unappealing. They wouldn’t have any desire to do such a thing on their own.

I’d been thinking about Point Roberts for a while. It’s a place I used to go many years ago with a friend on a semi-regular basis, especially on beautiful weekends in August. We’d drive across the border, unload our bikes and ride a regular route past the golf course, to the lighthouse park on the ocean, then on to the marina, and farther along to that great little South Beach enclave down Crystal Beach Road. There’s a bench there with two flags painted across the back — a maple leaf and the stars and strips. Or there used to be.

We’d linger a while on a beautiful summer day under the reach of a lone Arbutus growing almost horizontally out from the cliff and we’d eat our snacks. We’d jump back on the bikes and head down the big hill to Boundary Bay, meandering along the beach and then finally head back up the ginormous hill, weaving across the road back and forth, all our effort required to not have to push our bikes up the hill, jubilant if we reached the top intact.

We’d usually stop at the end of the day for a drink at the little place with the great patio called Brewsters.

Now, perhaps the idea of a middle aged woman just wandering and not having a specific reason to be going anywhere, especially in this day and age where every minute of the day is prescribed with deadlines and activities and usefulness extraordinaire is just too strange for border guards. Maybe it was the fact that I was alone and when they peeked into my passport it showed that I’d been to Thailand and Cambodia a few years back. Maybe it was just completely random. I got handed a gold sheet that had the letters NNS written on it and was told to report inside. I got asked a few questions, the border guard typing madly as I answered. I’d love to know what he was putting in there. “Needs to dress better.” “Looks like a hippy”. “Crazy chic on a walkabout?” Whatever.

He wanted to know when I had last been to the U.S. He wanted to know what I did for a living. Good question, I thought. “Was I picking up a package?”  I answered them all with appropriate humbleness all the while wondering, if I was up to no good, why couldn’t I just pick a package up in Canada? I’m so innocent in matters of criminality that I can’t even figure out how it works.  Would I stand on the shoreline while someone in a boat threw me a package? Crazy! Least likely person to be up to no good. Put that in your computer.

colddayAnyway, with my passport handed back, I wandered a bit down at the beach. It was cold. I decided to check out Brewsters. I was seated beside a couple and the wife immediately started to talk to me.

Turns out they’d been high school sweethearts in Whittier California (they’d met at a youth center and he had to dump his girlfriend at the time AND he still felt bad about that). Imagine. He still felt bad. Fifty years later. That part was the most amazing to me.

They now reside in Bellevue,Washington. They are selling the place they’ve owned in Point Roberts for 10 years. He has a heart condition and at some point had to be airlifted back to Bellingham. I learned there is such a thing called helicopter insurance in case you’re in need of a helicopter to airlift you quickly to a hospital. I wonder if they have that in Canada.bluedoor

We chatted throughout lunch and she invited me back to see her garden. Of course, I took her up on the offer and got the full tour, including of the house. I learned they make garden ornaments from old china they collect and that they sell those in the summer at the Point Roberts Market, vendors totaling about five. I learned she’s a thrift store, garage sale aficionado.beeplate

Because they are selling their place – two bathrooms, three bedrooms – for $169,000 (US) she has begun putting prices on all the stuff she wants to unload in preparation for a big garage sale.  And as we toured the house, I came across this beautiful little oak dresser with a swivel mirror and instantly fell in love. She has put my name on it. dresserIn the meantime, does anyone want to buy  a pre-fab house in Point Roberts that’s in great shape? If not, perhaps you have $899,000 Canadian to purchase the waterfront property of their neighbors, Canadians who live in Tsawwassen, but who are selling their 10 acres on Pender Island.

It was the kind of day I love. I ventured out on my own feeling a little melancholy and in the venturing, I managed to find myself a little close-to-home adventure and that was exactly what I was hoping for.

PS: I didn’t feel like I wanted to ask them for a photo, so that’s why there isn’t one.

Revisiting Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It must have been about 20 years ago now that I started to read the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Enquiry into Values and then, like a lot of people, I got a little overwhelmed by the density of the content in spots and put it down.

I love reading about road trips. I have fantasies about being a motorcycle owner and riding off into the sunset. Who hasn’t?  Robert Pirsig’s descriptions along the way kept me engaged even though I was increasingly frustrated by not really understanding what the philosophy behind the book was really about. I didn’t get it.

A few months ago, I heard a really engaging radio documentary about the book which brought it back to life, and as you might have noticed in your own life, the universe conspired to put the content right in front of me, albeit in a bit of a round about way.

I stumbled across, Zen and Now, a book written by Mark Richardson, the editor of the Wheels section of the Toronto Star newspaper. Richardson published his book in 2008 after doing the Pirsig Pilgrimage, following the route that Robert Pirsig took with his young son, Chris, back in 1968. Pirsig’s book was published in 1974.

Richardson had an inkling about writing a book before he took off on his copycat journey in 2008 but really wasn’t sure he would follow through on it.

What I enjoyed most about Richardson’s book was the background information on Robert Pirsig’s life, written with the advantage of history on Richardson’s side.

Robert Pirsig is still alive. His son, Chris, was robbed and murdered outside a Zen monastery in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco when Chris was 22-years-old.

Pirsig is now 86-years-old according to Google and his whole life (at least to the public) has been defined (for better or worse) by taking that motorcycle journey from Minneapolis to San Francisco and his compulsion to write about it, and then follow the first book up with a second book, Lila: An Enquiry into Morals.

If you’re interested, here’s Mark Richardson’s website, Zen and Now.

Here’s a timeline of Robert Pirsig’s life: http://www.psybertron.org/timeline.html

Watch an 8 minute video and hear Robert Pirsig speak and hear how the title of the book came to him.

Here’s a discussion group on the Metaphysics of Quality. http://moq.org/

I now have the little pink paperback, the original Pirsig book. I purchased it at a used bookstore near UBC and I’m feeling a little more ready to commit to getting through it this time, now that I’m a little more clued in to what he was trying to communicate.

Let new doors open

light

So long ago, I heard the call of the journey. It beckoned to me in a dream. With all the courage I could muster, I answered the call. Now I close the door forever on the past of myself. I walk into the future. Here, new knowing waits for me; new doors open to me.

It seemed like a good thought to greet the new year with. From a wonderful little book written by Joseph Dispenza, The Way of the Traveler. Making every Trip a Journey of Self-Discovery.

I walked by it yesterday in the library. It was not an accident.

May this be our experience in the new year, inside and out, wherever we wander.

Staycation II: Revisiting close to home

breakfast

I’ve relocated back to the float home for July. For the second year, it’s Staycation Central thanks to owners Pat and Janna who have made their annual migration back to their ocean-side home near Bonavista, Newfoundland.

As with every place we inhabit,  I have found my favorite place inside their home. It’s not, as you might expect, on the top deck, although that is especially nice on a sunny afternoon when the wind is minimal and the bees dip and settle.

For me, there is nothing better than Sunday mornings on the second level where, with coffee and fresh raspberries and yogurt, I can settle into the corner of the comfy velveteen couch, The Globe & Mail and The New York Times plucked from the old tin mailbox outside and now resting on the side table. This perfect cocoon on the comfy couch, offers a comfortable positioning to write longhand which, itself, such a rarity, feels deliciously decadent.

Couch

I can write my morning papers by hand with my favourite pen. My hand moves across the page of the large, hard covered Writer’s Way book I found for a steal ($2.50) at a recent flea market at the Westminster Quay. I can let go of all weekday worries of shoulds, musts, and ever-present wondering about redesigning my life and just relax into the moment, to feel gratitude, to just be.

From that little corner, I can scope out the entire room with all its marine-themed artifacts and allow daydreams to hover.  The olive-green river on an overcast day, like today, flows continuously past, movement as reminder of the fleeting realities we all face. The reflections of the trees off the far bank and the texture from smooth to linear, circles of tidal movement, seem like the varying thickness of paint on a canvas of abstract imagery. A fantastic creative retreat this does make. I feel a renewal of inspiration here the way you’re supposed to when you leave your familiar for viva la difference.

shells

A tugboat chugged by yesterday. I love tugboats. No matter how large, I imagine plucking them from the river and floating them in the tub.  The blue heron squawked by its legs outstretched behind it prehistoric. The eagle, I can’t see, calls out to me with that tell-tale, identifying high-pitched staccato piping.  The swan, alone this time, floated by the other morning. I wonder like last year if I’ll see them just once? I hope not.

beachglass

My return was christened yesterday. I dropped my keys into the river as I went to lock the door. I watched with horror as they succumbed to the green liquid just for a few seconds and were gone. Sucked under. As far as accidents go, a minor mishap. A walk, a bus ride, a Skytrain trip back to my apartment where, uncharacteristically,  I had copies of all of them. They were easily replaced, although I will miss my Roots lanyard key chain.

The familiarity of return. The anticipation of new finds. It’s good to be back even if it’s close to home.

Germany: Where Publishing Dreams can come true

This is a tale of publishing success far and beyond what most writers will ever come close to accomplishing, and yet few North Americans know this author’s name.

He was born in Germany, as a child he barely survived WWII. He emigrated to Canada at 10, grew up in Kitimat, went to university, gained an M.A. and became a college instructor in the humanities. He is a husband, father, and educator, who, in the 1980s, traded academia for the creation of a life carved from his own talents as compelling as the stories carved into the iconic poles of the First Nations artists in his adopted home.

ulrichHis name is Ulrich G. Schaffer. He lives in Gibsons, BC, in a house with an unobstructed sightline out into the Strait of Georgia where, perhaps the water helps waves of inspiration wash over him as regularly as the waves that lick the beach.

After initial success in the 1970s, with eight books published by U.S. publisher Harper & Row (Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Canada), he’s continued to write and to try and get the attention of publishers in North America to no avail. He still receives small royalties from these early, previously published works.

When he turned from North America as a place to market his books, and headed to Germany, his birthplace, he found his niche. Ulrich has written over 150 different books, poetry, novels, large format coffee-table photography books, illustrated texts and calendars.

To date, he has sold more than 5 million copies of his books, (yes, 5 million!), published and sold in Europe. They have been translated into 10 languages. His poetry, some traditional, most what he refers to as spiritual texts, is often accompanied by his stunning nature photography, a few of his reflection images here.

Ulrich-Reflections

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I think of his story as a tale of what happens when you’re a round peg trying to fit into a square hole and in a time of ever-shrinking traditional book publishing real-estate. But that would diminish his accomplishments.

For me, he offers an inspiring glimpse of what’s possible when you believe in your work, stay true to yourself and your dreams, and find a way to be entrepreneurial; to think differently about what’s possible.

It’s a story about how much a faithful audience matters, how loyal readers can take the soul of your books to their own hearts and remain keen to explore what you have to say, book after book, year after year. Perhaps it’s an extreme example of what happens when you find your audience, no matter where that might be in the world.

“Many people tell me they’ve lived with my books for 30 years. They write to me. They tell me stories about what the book has meant to them. They eagerly await the next one,” he says.

He is a man at the beginning of his eighth decade, married for 50 years to Waltraud Gursche. He’s especially intrigued by the complexities, the mysteries, and the possibilities in the connection between human beings. Fascinated by all types of love -deep, real, complex -not the idealized and bastardized version most of us have been raised on via television romantic comedies.

Ulrich first came to my attention in a conversation with Cathy MacLean, a classmate from SFU’s Writer’s Studio (2012). She met Ulrich when she was a student in one of his humanities classes at Douglas College in New Westminster in the 1970’s. It just so happens, they both now live in Gibsons.

In spite of more than a few anecdotes at frustrated attempts to get any publisher’s attention in Canada, he’s still hopeful he might find one again.

This year marks his 53rd trip to Europe in 33 years. On book tours, he typically visits 25 European cities and sells approximately $2000 worth of books a night. Without coming across as boasting, just matter of fact, he says, per book, he makes five times what he would make from a royalty off a book published by a trade publisher, which is how, in Germany, he’s made most of his income. He’s only switched to self-publishing in the past few years. He is currently working on a book about the relationship between Francis of Assisi and Clare.

I want to know why he even wants to bother with Canadian publishing given his success in Europe? Why does it matter to him? Is he still labouring under the stigma that only a book published by another is more valuable? Not really. After all, he has worked with those publishers in Germany. He says it’s this:  At 71 years of age, he would like to focus solely on what he’s most passionate about: writing and photography, not publishing his own work.

Ulrich Schaffer’s desk

Desk of Ulrich

The view from his deck
Ulrich-Viewfromdeck

***

This is how I decided to write this blog post. One morning I woke up, perused my Twitterfeed, and read a link that detailed the potential that exists for English writers via self-publishing in Germany. I immediately thought about a friend, Cathy MacLean, and Ulrich, a friend of hers that she’d mention in passing. I sent her an e-mail, got his number, and picked up the phone to enter into a delightful conversation. He’s sent me the PDF of a short novel called Izzabelle and Erich that, after his compelling description, I can’t wait to read.

So what do you think? Has your way of thinking about self-publishing changed in the last couple of years? Or are you staying steadfastly committed to the idea that landing a traditional publisher to push your story out into the world is the highest form of success when it comes to writing? If so, why?