Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: memoir (page 3 of 15)

The business of art

family_lines_artThe Department of Canadian Heritage is looking to hear from you about Canadian culture. What are your views on our arts scene? What’s important to you about our culture – is there even a Canadian culture? How do we support Canada’s artists, content creators and cultural entrepreneurs in order to create a cultural ecosystem in which they thrive… Here’s my answer: http://bit.ly/2flj74E

The Forgotten War

Korean War photos.

Korean War photos. Photo Credit: By All photographs are works of the United States federal government. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nicknamed the Forgotten War, the Canadian participation in the Korean War is overshadowed by our efforts in the First and Second World Wars. I barely knew about the Korean War when I was in secondary school. My only connection to it was the names of the men who fought in that conflict being called out at every Remembrance Day ceremony in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. When I moved to South Korea after graduating university in 1997, this all changed.

I was an English teacher for half a year in South Korea. My first post was in Puyo (Bueyo), a rural town about three hours south of Seoul. When I wanted a taste of the big city, I took a bus to Taejon (Daejong), about an hour northeast of my Korean home. In the middle of the trip, the bus passed a war memorial. Huge bronze soldiers hoisted guns into the air on a gravel patch beside the highway. No one on the bus or in Puyo could ever tell me what the monument was for but it brought the Korean War to the forefront of my mind.

Twenty years ago it wasn’t hard to remember a war had been fought all over the peninsula. Sure, South Korea was a bustling place with lots of trade and tourism and great food. But there were signs that it was still on alert, ready for action in case the North decided to attack. There were armed soldiers at train stations, bus stations and sentry points on beaches.

The war between South Korea (Republic of Korea, or ROK) and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) started on June, 25 1950 when the DPRK invaded South Korea. In February of the next year, Canada, as part of a United Nations (UN) force, entered the war. Around 26,791 Canadian military personnel took part in combat as well as observer roles after an armistice was signed in July, 27 1953. The two Korean countries have been in an uneasy ceasefire ever since.

During my teaching stint, I hopped on a bus and took it to Inchon (now Incheon) to visit a fellow English teacher, Niki. In 1997 Inchon was a growing city. In 1950, it was an important port for Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and within striking distance of North Korea. It was also the scene of the Inchon Landings in September 1950 where the UN forces recaptured Seoul and delivered a tremendous wallop to the North Korean Peoples Army (KPA). It was a strategic and crucial victory for South Korea. (UN forces began hitting the KPA from the sea. The Royal Canadian Navy was a part of this attack.)

When this Canadian got off the bus in Inchon forty years later, I didn’t have to contend with shells going off or bullets whizzing by me. There were ROK military all over the place, an obvious sign of lingering tension, but I left that all behind once I left the station. I met up with my friend and we went for a hike in the hills of Inchon. It was New Year’s Day and sunny and bright. The temperature hovered just around zero and it was perfect for a jaunt outside. We walked up and up through a patch of fir trees tree and then waded through tall golden grass. We could see the ocean, the blue Yellow Sea, as we ascended higher into the hills. Soon we were walking along a ridge strewn with broken barbed wire. Along the way were worn concrete bunkers and broken down sentry posts. Were these remnants from the Korean War? Had we stumbled upon history? I’ll never know.

That’s the problem with being a traveller sometimes. With no one around to tell us what we were looking at or signs to guide us, we had no idea if these ramparts were from the war or just part of everyday life on the south side of Korea. I later asked my Korean friends about the military ruins but they didn’t have any answers. Neither did the internet, then and today.

Modern-day Incheon (the spelling was changed in 2000) is the site of an international airport. My husband and I landed there when we went to Korea this past May. The city has exploded in size, both population and square footage, and is the third most populated place in South Korea. I wonder if the remnants of what I had seen so many years ago still exist. The war certainly does although you wouldn’t know it. Seoul is a cosmopolitan city and no different from any other city in the world even though it’s just over 56 km (35 miles) from its enemy. There are no longer soldiers patrolling the train and bus stations because technology (CCTV) can be everywhere at once. That all changed when I went to the DMZ.

View of downtown Seoul, May 2016.

View of downtown Seoul, May 2016.

North and South Korea are separated by the demilitarized zone (the DMZ), that’s only about an hour’s drive from Seoul. The DMZ acts as a buffer between South and North Korea and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. My husband Jason and I signed up for a DMZ tour and left on a bus one morning to get a glimpse of the other side.

As we headed out to the demilitarized zone, we began to see the markings of a country on guard. The highway skirting the river leading to the Yellow Sea had barbed wire wrapped around the guardrails and every few metres there were covered platforms with soldiers stationed in them. In some of these little houses, I saw the soldiers hunched over their guns pointed out to the water, ready to fire at any moment.

Guard post.

At the DMZ, the tension is high. We’re told when to take photos and not to make any gestures or faces towards the North Korean side. In one of the buildings on the South Korea side, there’s a plaque honouring the Canadians who fought in the Korean War. The bronze marker is one among 15 other United Nations countries that fought alongside South Korea and Canada. Five hundred and sixteen Canadians died in the Korea War, far less than the First and Second Wars. But they still sacrificed their lives for peace.

Plaque at the DMZ.

Plaque at the DMZ.

It’s only writing this blog piece that I learned that the first Canadian infantry unit to take part in the Korean War, the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), was trained in Calgary. Another connection to the Forgotten War, this one in Canada. Lest we forget, the Forgotten War.

A Wilde ghost writer

family_lines_ink

What do ghost writers have in common?

They all use invisible ink.

Happy Halloween!

The ghost above is Oscar Wilde. He was an Irish writer who wrote in the 1880s. You probably know The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest: these are just two of his works.

Ode to my Rad Pants

Rad pants.

Look at how Rad those pants are…

I’ve had my Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) Rad pants for many, many years. I got them from my roommate in Toronto in 1995. Mo liked my Guess jeans. I liked her Rad pants. We made a trade. I think I got the best part of the deal. The jeans would have been out of style a long time ago. The Rad pants, however, just met their end last week.

Ode to my Rad Pants

You once sheltered me from the sun

and kept me warm when there was none.

You protected me from rain, snow and sleet

and went with me to the mountains where my friends meet.

Your blue-sky colour always made my day

and we’ve been to many places, even Lutsel K’e.

Through thick and thin you’ve been the trousers of my heart

I’m thankful for your years of service but we have to part.

I’m so sorry to say goodbye and put you in the bin

but you’ll go to MEC heaven with a grin.

May you frolic in green meadows and sing and tap dance

Because you’re Rad… Pants.

Pants in bin.

Farewell…

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.

Healing history

Sir Frederick Stanley Maude leads the Indian Army into Baghdad, 11 March 1917.

Sir Frederick Stanley Maude leads the Indian Army into Baghdad, 11 March 1917.
Photo credit: Mrs. Stuart Menzies (1920). Sir Stanley Maude and Other Memories. p. 48., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11766648

I’m writing a blurb on the history of the Iraqi Royal Medical College for a client. From what I’ve heard and read so far, it’s fascinating. However, there’s not a lot of material written in English and there are holes in the story that need to be filled.

In 1958 there was a coup d’état and the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown and imperialism denounced. The Royal Medical College’s name was changed to the College of Medicine University of Baghdad. I’ve e-mailed three people at the college to get some additional information but haven’t heard back. Anyone out there know of a source to contact or a book I’ve missed? I specifically want to know how many M.D.’s went through the college from 1927 up until the 1958 coup. Thanks!

Off the beaten track

 

Moko, city street.

Mokpo, a southern port city in South Korea. Twenty years ago, I was supposed to teach English here. Instead, I went to Puyo and Taejon.

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. 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’m doing that again except this time, the columns are for my own blog.

South Korea

Part IV of Singapore ‘16

Revisiting Taejon put a part of me at rest. I had left bits and pieces of my DNA there 20 years ago, remnants that had been twisted in uncertainty and pain. Back then, I was either looking into the past or at the future, I hadn’t really been present. This time I was in Taejon in the here and now.

I saw what I needed to see there and did what I needed to do and it was time to move on. After less than 24 hours in Taejon, Jason and I got on a train heading south. We were going to Jindo, South Korea’s third largest island. I had never been there but had seen it on the news. It was close to where the MV Sewol sank in 2014, killing more than 300 passengers, many students. Before the tragedy, Jindo was full of tourists enjoying the ocean air and seafood restaurants. Today, there are still some visitors but not like before.

Train to Mokpo.

Train to Mokpo.

We were going to Jindo because it was off the beaten path for international travellers. Lots of people like to go to Chejudo, another island. (“Do” means island in Korean.) Cheju is a party place and Jason and I wanted to avoid that. I had read that Jindo had some of the highest tides in the world, just like where I grew up near the Bay of Fundy. Our plans were further solidified when we found a place on Airbnb offering a traditional Korean home, a hanok, for the evening. Why not spend a night the old-fashioned way?

Getting to Jindo was going to take some time. We would spend more hours going to and from the island then actually being there. (I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out until we got there.) Edward, our Airbnb host, gave us directions but they were a bit off. After arriving by train from Taejon to Mokpo, a southern port city, we had to transfer to a city bus to get to the regional bus station. We didn’t know how to get there but a few friendly Koreans showed us how to get from Point A to Point B.  One man asked where we were from, and when we said we were Canadian, he proudly exclaimed to us, “Montreal!” I guess he had been there several years ago.

Mokpo train.

All aboard!

We got the first bus and then transferred to a second bus and rode it for an hour to Jindo. At the bus station on the island, we were supposed to take a third bus to our accommodation for the night. Edward’s directions said take the green bus to the village of Oh-il-see.

All the buses were green.

Green buses were coming and going. Going and coming. One pulled in. One pulled out. Which one did we take? We asked the bus drivers but it seemed no bus was going where we wanted to go. A senior waiting on a sunny bench outside the station said something and motioned for us to sit beside her. But without knowing Korean, I didn’t know what she was getting at. There was a man taking tickets and he looked at our tickets and then pointed to the bench the woman was on. That was where the bus would pull up. Ah. We got it.

We were sure we wouldn’t have to wait long for our green bus since there were many green buses buzzing around. But an hour and a half later we boarded our green bus. A 10 minute jaunt and we were dropped off in the middle of Oh-Il-See. Our next move was based on Edward’s description on how to find his house: when you arrive Oh-il-see, there are two super markets, and my place is about 10 min from there on foot.

The village was a maze of narrow quiet streets. Surely someone would know where Edward lived in this tiny place. We asked a shopkeeper and she pointed down the road. That way.

We had told our host we would be at his place between noon and 2 p.m. It was now 2:30. Jason and I started walking in the hazy afternoon and moved off the street when a man with a toddler strapped to the back of his bicycle rode towards us.

“Lea? Jason?” he asked.

It was Edward, concerned his guests were lost since they hadn’t shown up yet. He introduced himself and his daughter Danbi. It was the start of a new friendship and a great time in Jindo.

Jindo dog: a type of dog from Jindo.

Jindo dog: a type of dog from Jindo. For more information on dog breeds see: https://www.jenreviews.com/dog-breeds/

At Edward’s home, he showed us into the hanok. It was basic, rustic, but that was fine. It was all we needed for one night. The small wooden home had enough room for a mat on the floor for sleeping, two pillows filled with hay and our two backpacks. There was a pit toilet outside. Jason and I had wanted to do something different while we were in Korea. We didn’t just want to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. We had wanted to meet people and experience some of the culture. Here was our chance.

Edward and Danbi on the porch.

Edward and Danbi.

While we were getting our stuff organized, Edward brought us out some lunch. We sat at his outdoor kitchen table and ate kimchi and rice. Danbi brought out books and then musical toys and so we had an impromptu concert with our meal. Then we went for a hike into the surrounding hills where we passed rice fields and a lake. While Danbi played in a trickling stream, Edward told us some of the history of the island and why he and his wife Han were on Jindo.

Hanok bed - complete with hay pillows.

Hanok bed – complete with hay pillows.

Edward’s a musician as well as a fairy tale writer and philosopher. He liked the slower pace of life on the island, an island where a lot of artists live too. He asked why we were spending only one night in Jindo and we told him it was all the time we had. He asked why we had chosen Jindo and I told him the tides were a main drawn. That was when he decided to put us in his car and take us to the beach.

Dani peeking over her dad's shoulder.

So cute. Danbi peeks at me while we walk down the mountain and into the village.

The sun had stayed in Taejon. Rain started to fall in big heavy drops while we drove to the water. Edward let us out of the car with an umbrella and he went to visit a friend with Danbi. The tide was out and there was a familiarity with the scene: the mud flats stretching into the horizon, rope strewn on the beach and the smell of the sea. If I looked hard enough into the fog, maybe I’d see Parrsboro.

Jindo tide.

Jindo tide.

I shivered. The rain was cooling. This was the first time in a couple of weeks that I was cold outside. About 20 minutes into our beach foray, Edward pulled up. It was suppertime and so we tried out a few restaurants. The first one was for kimbap (Korean sushi) and mando (Korean dumplings). The second for duk bo gi (spicy rice cakes) and the third for sweet fried chicken. Everything was delicious and the way I remembered it.

IMG_1747

After supper, Edward was going to take us back to the hanok before picking up his wife at a potluck. Jason and I knew this would add hours onto his evening so we said we could all squeeze into the car. That was how we ended up being invited into the party when we arrived to pick up Han — and being serenaded by a talented musician. It was a completely random moment that made Jason and I feel like we had friends in Jindo.

A party in Jindo.

Party time.

Back at our hanok, we had no trouble drifting off to sleep on the floor. I did wake up a few times because the hay pillow was hard as a rock. Who knew straw could be molded into a brick? We woke up to the sounds of birds and the Jindo dogs barking instead of chugging motors and busy people starting their hectic day. It was a good break for my spirit. Seoul was the next and final stop on our journey and it would be filled to the brim with activities.

Hanok ceiling.

Hanok ceiling.

Breakfast was served to us: an apple and a piece of chocolate cake, and then Edward and Danbi dropped us off at the bus station. They stuck around while we boarded the bus and then waved goodbye as we drove away.

Edward and Danbi wave goodbye at the bus station in Jindo.

Edward and Danbi wave goodbye at the bus station in Jindo.

We had left Jindo too soon but we had certainly felt its magic. It has a different kind of energy: the type that’s used to being in the shadows of other, more popular places, but knows it’s special. The people are genuine and that doesn’t mean they’re all friendly. They can be grouchy too but they’ll be grouchy to everyone, not just the tourists. In Jindo, people came up to us and asked us where we were from. Then they would ask why we came to Jindo. We would tell them because we wanted to go somewhere different. Because we wanted fuller memories and stories rather than just photos taken in museums or conversations had only with other travellers.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

In the news

Just like everyone can sing, I believe everyone can write. I’ve been teaching writing courses at Kerby Centre, a senior’s centre in downtown Calgary, for a few years now. This is the first time I’ve been interviewed for the Kerby Centre News. Here’s a story from Shelley Den Haan that talks about my memoir writing course. I also do a Life Writing class at Chinook Learning Services and offer private instruction too. I can help you shape your memories into stories.

Kerby Centre article.

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.

Don’t be ashamed of indie publishing

Peter Rabbit in the garden.

Beatrix Potter published her bunny tales herself. Credit: Beatrix Potter – Wikisource ebook of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

I read an article by author Ros Barber on the virtues of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Barber said she would rather be poor than publish one of her novels independently. She went on to make a lot of absurd generalizations against indie-published writers. (Such as: the only thing self-published writers talk/tweet/post about are their books.) Her judgment of indie publishing boils down to snobbery.

Self-publishing is a dirty word to many people. Perhaps that’s because indie publishing is an offshoot of vanity press. Vanity press is where authors pay printers to publish their books. It’s been around for a long time and looked down upon by authors who have books published via publishing houses. But why?

What I’ve never understood is you can busk on the street corner and make money. You can put your song up on YouTube and get a million likes and a recording deal. You can display your artwork in cafes and have people buy it right off the wall. You can post your photos online and have them go viral all over the internet, with people clamouring for prints. But once you publish your own story, it’s considered garbage.

If someone has taken the time to write a book, why shouldn’t they be able to publish it themselves? It doesn’t mean you have to read it. Not to mention, there’s a lot of crap out there that’s been published by traditional means. The editors making the choices to publish or not publish are no more discerning than you or me. They’re just being paid for their opinion.

Being published by a publishing house just means someone liked your book enough that he or she decided it’s good fare for other readers. Sure, it’s validating but being self-published does not mean you’re not a real writer. It means you’re not looking for validation.

I’ve done both: self-publishing and going the conventional route of working with a publisher. In both cases, I still had to do a lot of my own marketing. Just because your story was picked up by traditional publisher doesn’t mean you sit back and watch the profits roll in. You have to promote your book, just as you would if it had been self-published. The difference is, people respond differently to me when they find out I’ve had a story printed by someone other than me. To them, my writing becomes a little more important. (This is their perception and not one I necessarily agree with.)

Barber wrote that only amateurs self-publish, that if you want your prose full of plot holes and mistakes, do it yourself. However, I’ve read a few novels that have been professionally published and found a mistake or two. In fact, one book changed the name of the main character halfway through. (No, this wasn’t a plot device.) I can’t remember the name of the author nor the title but it was a big-name writer.

Some people don’t have the time or the patience to send out query letter after query letter only to receive rejection letter after rejection letter. There’s a long list of well-known authors who were repeatedly told “No,” before they were finally published. (Check out the list here. It includes my favourite novel, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which was rejected 38 times. Beatrix Potter published her bunny tales herself.) Imagine all the great books that haven’t been published. Then consider all the great books that are being published: indie or not.

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