Family Lines

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Tag: memoir workshop (page 1 of 6)

Hollywood Hong Kong

Re-tail therapy - shopcat.

Re-tail therapy – shopcat.

Looking out across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, I see lightening split the sky. It’s only noon but it’s as dark as a Calgary winter evening. I had hoped to be shopping right now but my friend, Digger, just texted and told me to stay in.

“Don’t go out in the storm,” she said. “Wan Chai can wait.”

I’m glad I listened to her because minutes later, the wind is easily plucking palm branches off trunks and the rain is as thick as a velvet curtain. It’s hard to see through it to the other side. Thunder is loud and shakes the floor of the apartment. I sit in front of the open patio door and watch as the storm takes over the city.

Nothing slows down in the tempest. Buses keep going. People keep walking. Vehicles splash through the new streams snaking down the street. Nothing is keeping this energetic city down. (Digger said when there is a typhoon warning, Hong Kong does stop. A tropical cyclone is comparable to a major snowstorm in Canada.)

Well, if the locals are out, I can go out too.

Digger had already taken me to Hollywood Road. Hollywood in North America connotes celebrities and movie stars. In Hong Kong, it’s a great place to find trinkets and antiques. It’s also dotted with art galleries and is home to a Man Mo Temple. The shrine is used to worship two gods, a civil/literature god and a martial god, by students. We visited the Sheung Wan area temple that was built as a place of worship in 1847. It’s now a monument and a popular tourist attraction.

After viewing the wonders of the shrine, Digger and I headed straight into the heart of Hollywood. Shops and vendors are lined up along both sides of the street. There’s so much to look at that I couldn’t stop from swivelling my head this way and that. There are pretty blue-and-white porcelain bracelets, animals intricately carved from mammoth bone, posters with Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, and other communist leaders saluting each other (to my horror), and so many other interesting bits and pieces and odds and ends of shelf life.

I didn’t buy anything the first time I went to Hollywood Road because I was waiting for Wan Chai. Wan Chai is a shopper’s paradise. It has anything and everything. It’s only a hop, skip and a bus ride away from where Digger and her husband live. My friend said I could get colourful china bowls and lovely iron dragon locks for cheap. (Well, cheaper than Hollywood Road.)

One Hong Kong dollar (HKD) is .17 to the Canadian dollar. Goods, like a decorative comb, start at 9 HKD (about $1.50 CAD). I get my cash ready for Wan Chai, got an umbrella and head out in the warm rain to the trusty Bus #15 stop. I don’t have to wait long before I’m hopping aboard and on my way to Wan Chai.

Oops.

I get off at the wrong stop and have to backtrack about ten minutes in the rain to the main shopping area. But even though the rain’s steady, it’s not cold.

I wander through the crowds, lifting up my umbrella to avoid hitting people in the face. My first stop is at the Wan Chai wet market. I had been warned about some of the smells. Digger said it could get rank at the wet market and the odours would hit me right in the face –  just like the umbrella of a passerby. However, it isn’t too bad. I’ve been other places overseas that were worse. Saying that, the air is pretty pungent, steeped in a ripe produce, ripe meat and wet spice smell, but it’s all part of the charm.

From the wet market, I head out onto the street. There are tiny shops as well as booths set up along the sidewalks. I saunter from stall to stall, looking for the best bargains and deals. There’s a lot of outlet clothing for sale from names such as Adidas and Ann Taylor. There are also a few no-name shops that have the most delightful skirts screen-printed with shimmering butterflies and flowers. However, when I stand in front of a mirror to see if a skirt fits, it’s yanked out of my hands by a shop clerk.

“No fit,” she says.

Then no buy.

I’m not really interested in clothing anyway. I’m interested in dishes. When I lived in South Korea in 1998, I used to buy delicate green ceramic bowls from women who would set up alongside a residential street. In Wan Chai in 2017, I have dreams about finding some of these beautiful treasures.

Alas, I never do — although I do find some brightly-decorated porcelain bowls and soup spoons to buy and send home as presents to my family. I start collecting a pile and add and subtract to it. There are many lovey patterns and colours and I’m finding it hard to choose. At last, I’m done. Now I have to pay up.

I had heard that I was supposed to barter in Wan Chai and I did. However, I guess I look desperate to keep my stash of pretty plates so I don’t get too much of a bargain…only ten HKD are dropped.

Strolling around in the rain, I go up and down and down and up and all around the Wan Chai market. I look at thing and touch things and buy a few things. The rain has tapered off and I decide to go downtown and try and find some beer to bring back for my husband. He’s a beer writer (on his down time) and I want to get him some local HK brew. Easier said than done.

I had googled beer stores before I left the apartment and found most places are delivery services instead of walk-in stores. I get that. HK is busy and traffic is constant and so it’s hard to jump into your car to grab a case of beer. It’s much better to have someone bring it to you. Well, I wished I had gone that route too.

I have the address of HK Brewcraft and I know (sort-of) where it is. I walk here and there and up stairs and then when I’m tired of climbing stairs, I go left and I’m in a school playground somehow. Dead end. (A lot of HK’s famous escalators were being repaired.) I continue up the stairs and then back down and over there and under that and.. is it in this apartment building?

I open the door to what I think is the small lobby of a family condo building. Hit the button for the elevator and get it. There’s the sign for the shop. Phew. I talk to the knowledgeable beer guy and get three beers for my man. Then, with my aching feet and bag filled with goodies, I go home.

A few days later, Digger and I head to Temple Market, a night market in Kowloon. I’ve been to a night market in Richmond, just outside of Vancouver, but the Temple Street Night Market is a different kind of experience. The Canadian night market is full of offerings of food while the Temple Street Night Market is full of electronics and counterfeit designer handbags: good quality counterfeits.

To get to the HK night market, Digger and I take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway – subway) to Kowloon, an area across the harbour from Hong Kong Island. (The MTR actually goes underneath Victoria Harbour.) The night market is more than purses and wallets, it’s fortune tellers and cards that when opened, show you worlds you’ve only seen in your dreams.

Don’t expect the vendors to be light and fluffy about their prices. Here, they bargain and bargain hard. I want to get six cards and Digger turns into my middle-woman. She barters with the seller to gets them down in cost. She also helps me secure a handbag. Thanks to her, I now tote a nice floral handbag all over Calgary. And it’s not a knock-off: it’s Kowloon original.

 

Shared stories

ebook cover.

Cover by Eveline Kolijn.

Stories bind us. Words tie society together with strands of familiar narratives and shared experiences. Not all stories are happy ones but there’s value in listening to how people are dealing with tough times. You may also learn others are more like you and me than you know.

I heard a lot of these types of stories when I was a volunteer artist facilitator for This is My City Calgary Art Society (TMC). TMC is a not-for-profit organization that brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status.

The following is a story I wrote a couple of years ago after a memoir writing session at the Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre.

Shared stories

Today only two participants showed up for my last life writing workshop at the Drop-In Centre. Two regulars. Four other people were in the same space painting and drawing and playing the piano.

I was disappointed one man hadn’t made it to my class. He had been to the three other sessions and was an active learner. He asked a lot of questions and even wanted homework, which he always completed. I asked the other writers where the man was.

“Cheques are out,” one participant told me. “He usually disappears for a while after he gets his money.”

At first, it was a let-down that the man was missing the class. I liked him and having more than two people in my workshop made the low numbers easier to handle. Nevertheless, I gave my lecture like I have the other times. The two men were just as interested in what I had to say and asked questions. They took part in the writing exercises and wrote interesting and compelling memoirs. It was a lesson to me about numbers and participation. Even though there weren’t many people, two people wanted to learn. Wanted to write. And now have stories to share.

A collection of stories by the authors above as well as Alpha House and the Women’s Centre is now available for sale: http://bit.ly/2jHfyvu Profits from Voices in the Wind fund TMC artistic workshops: http://bit.ly/2k4Wymv

Lost Andy

Andy talks and talks and talks. Talks and talks. Then talks some more.

“At school we painted pictures,” he says.

“I can make super-sonic laser beams come out of my eyes.”

“Can I take Jasper out for a walk?”

Andy is annoying me with all his talking. I want to tell him to shut up but I won’t. He’s only seven years old.

Andy is my foster brother. He stays with my family on weekends. Mom and Dad decided to become foster parents since all their kids have grown up and moved away for university. I admire the fact that my parents are doing something for children who need help and love but it’s Christmas. I don’t want Andy around. I want my Mom and Dad all to myself because I’ve been away for four months and have a lot to tell them.

Andy never stops chattering. He follows me around telling me about his latest ninja adventure.

“Me and the ninjas hang out a lot. We just went and beat up some bad guys real bad. They’ve got blood coming out of their noses,” he says.

Andy’s mum doesn’t like him. In fact, she hates him. She never asks how school was or looks at him or kisses him goodnight.

He likes coming to our house because we don’t hit. He said that once. He likes coming to our house because we don’t ignore him. He said that too.

A friend and I were catching up during that same holiday Andy was part of my family. After Katherine and after our coffees, we found a kitten behind the café. It was a freezing cold Saturday and it took a long time to capture the baby. Every time Katherine and I got close she would dart into the brambles.

I managed to catch her when she climbed a tree and was too weak to get very far.

I put the kitten in the car and she howled all the way home. She was starving and wild and scared. At my house I gave her some warm milk and mush to eat. I cleaned her up and she’s beautiful. She tried to snuggle into my collarbone. She looked up at me asking for love with her enormous eyes. She made me cry. She made me put Andy into perspective.

Andy is like the kitten, abandoned and scared. He wants attention and love, except he’s not cute and cuddly. He’s a skinny little boy. He can’t fit into the nook of my shoulder. So he talks constantly to get people to notice him, even if all they’re going to say is be quiet.

After this revelation I try to be nicer to Andy. We walk through the woods together. I show him how to play the piano and how to build a house out of Lego. But he still keeps talking.

Reflections

Memoirs are written reflections.

Headless on Halloween

Boy dressed as Headless Horseman.

My nephew in 2013 as the Headless Horseman.

Halloween is in a few days and while I won’t be dressing up, I do remember some costumes from when I was in elementary school in Nova Scotia. I always wanted to be dignified and pretty while my mother always wanted me to be something funny.

One Halloween, I asked to be a “Lady.” I’m not sure what I meant by that. I was six. My lady was a real life lady, a woman, an adult. She wore high heels and blouses and lipstick. I didn’t get the heels but I got the make-up, a black beret and a skirt. I also disappointed my mother, who wanted me to be a clown or an old fat man created by shoving a pillow down my shirt and drawing wrinkles on my face with black eyeliner.

In Grade 6, I got a little more daring. I wanted to be the Headless Horseman. For years I’d been fascinated with the story of Ichabod Crane and Sleepy Hollow and the man who rode his horse without his noggin. Some of this had to do with the fact that I lived a couple of kilometres away from Hollow Bridge. I thought the similarities between the two names were uncanny. Sleepy Hollow – Hollow Bridge: almost the same, right?

Hollow Bridge Power Plant, Nova Scotia.

Hollow Bridge Power Plant, Nova Scotia.

Hollow Bridge has a population of maybe nine people spread over three houses. There’s a Nova Scotia power plant on the right that sits high on the hill and has a huge water tower standing straight out of the landscape. Taller than any of the trees. It’s a steel feature in an otherwise bucolic setting. As for the hollow bridge, there are two bridges along the road that could be the hollow bridge. I’m not sure which one the area is named after. Anyway, I felt it was a place the headless horseman could roam. That’s how I chose my costume for my classroom party.

My father made my outfit out of things around our house. He cut shoulders for me out of a discarded piece of wood and he attached it to the top of my head by a shoelace tied under my chin. He cut eyes holes in an old dress shirt of his so I could peek out. In my day, knickers were popular for girls. These weren’t underwear but trousers cinched at the knee with elastic. I wore a royal blue corduroy pair. My mother lent me her nursing cape from 20 years earlier; it was a heavy wool black cape with red lining. It was perfect.

I topped off my outfit with a papier mâché head I made and painted to look like a face. I even added brown yarn for hair.

I was excited about wearing my costume to school. We were having the party in the tiny Gaspereau Elementary School gymnasium. I was going to rock it.

At school, I put on my spectacularly spooky outfit on at noon and thought everyone was going to love it. But no one knew who or what I was. Disappointing. How could these kids not know who the Headless Horseman was when Hollow Bridge was close by? I was astounded and hurt that my outfit went to waste. Oh well, it was cool to me.

In 2013, my 10 year-old nephew decided to dress up in a great costume – the Headless Horseman. People knew who he was supposed to be and he doesn’t live anywhere near a Hollow or Sleepy community. Pop culture finally caught up.

The dammed fish

Creek with snow.

The creek in winter.

My sisters and I spent a lot of our free time playing in the Nova Scotia woods with the neighbourhood kids. Since there were only a six houses in the area there wasn’t a lot of children but there was a lot of things to do. Sometimes we liked to go to the creek behind our family’s home and build dams.

The creek is what’s left of a mighty river that used to power a mill up the road. In 1950, the Nova Scotia government stopped up the river and made a lake by constructing a dam for hydroelectricity. And that was the end of the mill and the river and the beginning of the creek.

The dam.

The dam.

The creek was full of nimble water spiders and pretty florescent green dragonflies and beautifully freckled speckled trout. You had to stand still and stare at one spot in the dark brown tea coloured water before you could spot a fish. We think there were some gaspereau fish, also known as alewife, under a rock where the creek pooled. But never caught one so was never sure.

I always dreamed of reeling in a big fish in the creek. The trout dad taught us to catch were tasty but small. I wanted some that had heft, that would fight, that would make a good story.

One summer day my siblings and our friends cooled off by heading to the creek. We waded over to the other side to explore that part of the waterway. There were a couple of small streams branching off and we decided to dam a section.

We worked hard. Gathering rocks and large sticks and then moss to use as mortar. A wall took shape, resembling the inside of Nick’s log house. It reminded him he had to go home and he headed off, scaring his parents by getting lost for a couple of hours in the forest. We stayed and finished our project. Wouldn’t you know, the dam held the water back. Success.

A couple of months later and it was autumn. Nick and I were hanging out and needed something to do. What about checking out the dam? Off we went into the woods. Ducking under branches, jumping over rocks and leaping across the creek in our rubber boots and sweaters to find our handiwork.

It was still doing a good job but being kids we decided it needed to come down. So we started to pull at the sticks and loosen the rocks and grab at the moss.

What was that? I could see the top of something large and dark near the surface of the water. On the creek side that was dammed.

Stepping into the water I leaned down and peered into the churned up murky creek. It was a fish. A very big fish.

I shouted to Nick and he had a good look at it too.

“That’s a big fish!”

Here was the fish of my dreams. I needed to catch it. Since I didn’t have a rod or a net I would use my hands. Nick helped.

We wrestled with the several pound fish for a good five minutes. It was slippery and floppy and strong and didn’t want to leave home. Then, with one heave I threw it onto the land. It didn’t just lay it. It went wild with fury and scared me.

I had caught the fish. Now what? I didn’t want the fish to die. Besides, it wasn’t fishing season and I didn’t want to break the law. So I pick it up and slipped it back into the creek. The undammed part. And watched it swim away.

Entrepreneurial balance

Calgary, Alberta skyline at sunset.

Calgary, Alberta skyline at sunset.

Capital Ideas Calgary is a community that links business owners to an important resource: other business owners. Each week, Capital Ideas puts out a question that’s answered by entrepreneurs based on their experiences.

In June, Capital Ideas Calgary asked businesses: How do you maintain life balance as an entrepreneur?

Here’s my answer published in the Calgary Herald on June 16, 2016: http://capitalideascalgary.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/CH-0616-final.pdf

Another question Capital Ideas Calgary asked was: Is it time to launch your business?

Here’s my answer published in the Calgary Herald on January 21, 2016:

Is it time to launch your business?

One and a half days in KL

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea this past May. It was my first time landing in Malaysia and Singapore but not South Korea. I had been an English teacher in Korea almost 20 years ago. When I was there, I wrote a bi-weekly column for a Nova Scotia newspaper about my experiences. I’ve decided to share my experiences this time around — only this time, on my own blog.

One and a half days in KL

Part I of Singapore ’16

Batu_Caves_oneStepping off the train in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia, the heat grabbed me in a bear hug. It was only 7 a.m. but the warmth of the early morning wasn’t going to let me go. It was only going to squeeze me tighter and tighter until my clothes were saturated with sweat and I was dizzy. There was too much to see, too much to do though, and I tried to settle into the May temperatures of a place several thousand kilometres — and several degrees — removed from home.

I had thought maybe KL might spark some kind of recognition in my veins. Some sort of ancient feeling deep in my bones. Ancestors used to live in Malaysia. I talked to my grandmother about it before coming here. She told me she used to get letters with the return address stamped Kuala Lumpur. Our relatives either owned or ran rubber and tea plantations outside of the city and in Singapore as well. The resistance to the heat that had been built up in their blood had dissipated by the time it trickled down to me.

Since there were no traces of old memories or ghosts to chase, KL was mine to explore. After arriving at from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at 1 a.m. and trying to find out why my husband’s backpack had missed the plane, we laid down on a long bench in the arrival’s lounge and tried to find sleep amongst the other tired travellers. When rest refused to come, we boarded a train to visit Batumalai Sri Muruga Perumal Kovil, otherwise known as the Batu Caves. The caves are massive limestone hollows that were once used as shelter and now are part of a Hindu shrine. They also open at 6 a.m.

A stormed had rolled through about half an hour earlier and did nothing to lower the temperature. It just made the grounds of the religious site wet and the air sticky with humidity. Grey clouds still languished in the sky creating a perfect backdrop for giant golden statues. I had never seen such things before. Seven or eight skinny dogs stretched out amongst the puddles in the parking lot. They looked hungry but never wandered over to us looking for food.

At odds with the poor dogs, was the smell of rich incense in the air. Everywhere I went in KL, there was the smell of spices, a warm aroma of seasonings that I’ve never learned the names of since I don’t know how to cook. The spices coloured the scenes around me, making everything that much more exotic, even a stair climb in the damp heat.

My husband and I went up 272 concrete steps with the other tourists, chickens and monkeys to the largest of the caves, the Temple Cave. Once at the top, music from two musicians blessed a ritual being performed by a man who washed a pure white sheet in clear water flowing from a hidden tap. The darkness of the cave held in the warmth. Sweat made my grasp on the camera slippery. I took a few photos of the beige walls marbled with black and then went back down the stairs, stopping on every one. I was being hypnotized by each step and felt I was going to fall if I went at any other speed other than slow. At the bottom, my husband and I got back on the train and headed into the central train station and breakfast.

After our meal of laksa, a spicy noodle soup, and a milk tea (it came with a lot of milk, duh, and tons of sugar already added) we tried to walk around KL. Not the best idea. Sidewalks ended abruptly in the middle of intersections and crosswalks are almost non-existent. Cars and trucks and motorcycles whiz and scream and buzz by so closely that their side mirrors almost touch me. Oh yes, the sun had come out.

If I had thought it was hot before, now it was excruciating. It smothered me with its softness and overtook my brain. All I could think of was escaping the brightness. The brilliance of the heat that bored into my pores. We had to stop but found a cool drink of water near shaded botanical gardens and listened to crickets sing and watched butterflies and giant moths fly overhead.

On the other side of KL are the Petronas Twin Towers,

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

buildings that were once the tallest buildings in the world until 2004. (Now it’s Taipei 101.) We took the subway to the office towers and looked up, way up. There are 88 floors and the Skybridge, a walkway connecting the towers, is supposed to be incredible. We really wanted to go on a tour and one left in 15 minutes. We were almost at the front of the line with a couple ahead of us.

The lanky stringbean Westerners used up the whole 15 minutes to ask the tour clerk questions. We missed that tour and had to move on. Our Airbnb host was meeting us at 3 p.m. and we didn’t want to be late. We were anyway.

Navigating the train and metro system wasn’t the problem. Finding the tall apartment building where we were staying for the night wasn’t either. We could see the white concrete structure sticking out amongst the other skyscraper residences from the train. We were late because we couldn’t find the front door. Then someone told us we had to go down some crumbling stairs cut into the side of a steep but short hill, and then round a corner. There it was. Home for the night.

There was a pool in the building and so I went for a swim. That’s when the heat loosened its hot grip on me, slid off my sweat-slicked arms and withered away. It wouldn’t be gone for good on this trip. It would find me again. For now, it was banished by the apartment’s air conditioning.

Traffic.

View from the apartment. Too bad my camera phone is terrible.

The view from the 15th floor apartment was amazing: traffic,

traffic, traffic. The one-room place had floor to ceiling windows that suspended me over the busy roads. I couldn’t stop watching the trucks and cars push and shove each other looking for free space. In-between them, motorcycles zipped along, lane-splitting in a way that’s illegal in Canada, but a highly effective way to get downtown quickly in KL.

It was only early evening, 7 p.m., but the travel, the 14-hour time difference with Calgary and the battle with the stifling heat invaded my brain. It shut down my body and I closed my eyes. Waking up 12 hours later.

The Maritime homing beacon

Scott's Bay, Nova Scotia.

Me being silly at Scott’s Bay, Nova Scotia. (the bay is actually the Minas Basin but it’s still salt water.)

“What is it with you Maritimers?” asked a friend born and raised in Calgary. “You always want to go home.”

Home.

Home, to Maritimers, can be Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island. Three provinces with proud distinctions on their own, but together, together they are a tight-knit community unfurled on the Atlantic ocean. When we were born, somehow, a bit of that ocean must have leaked into our veins. Made us salt brothers and sisters with the sea: a life-long bond.

Today I live in Calgary. The city has grown on me like a callous forming on the palms of my hands after hard work. Life is fast-paced and the way of the West comes with cowboy boots and big trucks. I love how the land lies flat before rising into gargantuan mountains. The Rockies are a spiked forest, an insurmountable ridge that wraps its protective arms around the Calgary.

The Rockies are brown in the summer. In the fall, while leaves are changing colour, I can see the tips of the mountains slowly turn white. It’s still winter up there today while the city gets a peek at warm weather.

Other than summer and winter, the mountains never seem to change. Unlike the ocean. Which changes with our every breath and sigh. Oh to be on the water on a calm, clear morning. Flat, motionless and still. Look down and what might you see? Fish perhaps. Seaweed for sure. And you. Your reflection staring back from the depths.

When the wind finally stirs the Atlantic in the afternoon, it will smear your image on the waves. The water will bounce you on its knee and send messages to lap up against your boat. It will also rock you to sleep if you let it.

Mount Yamnuska.

View from Mount Yamnuska.

Sometimes the waves thrash instead of dance and the sea boils and froths into a fierce monster. That’s when the ocean makes you forget that it loves you. It makes you frightened and scared and fearful. Because this sea has great power — tremendous power. Enough force to take you prisoner and smother you with its affection. You are angry and it is angry and you’d better leave it alone lest you get caught up in the bitter blue. Just for now. You can return later.

Alberta is being rocked right now by tough economic times. Maritimers know all about this. That’s why we headed west in the first place, when Calgary was the land of opportunity. A lot of us are still here today despite the change in fortune. We’re staying and mucking in while the goings aren’t so good. My Maritime roots will always be tugging me eastward, towards the ocean. But for now, my home is Alberta.

Festival Time

It’s April and the month full of festival events for This is My City Calgary (TMC). TMC has music, theatre, visual arts and stories for you to experience.

TMC is a volunteer-run, non-profit society that brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status. The festival is made up of different events taking place around the city. It’s a great opportunity for Calgarians to take a look and have listen at some of the projects from citizens we usually don’t hear or see. Click on the image below for the schedule. Come join us! This is our city.

2016_home_page_festival_marquee

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