19 January 2010

Olympic Brouha....ha?

So, I'll admit it. Seven years ago I marched down to the local polling station and voted in the Vancouver plebiscite to decide whether we wanted to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. And I voted No.

Not that it ended up mattering, mind you - but I felt very strongly at the time that my city - my wonderful, weird city - was not ready to host such a huge event. Not with our endemic poverty, our sub-Saharan Africa rates of HIV and tuberculosis and the slashing of our social programs in order to pay for this thing. I still kind of do.

Basically, for Expo 86 Vancouver's the poor of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were marginalized further and crammed into a smaller area than ever before, making this historical neighbourhood the Western world's most impoverished postal code.

Visitors always ask me why we have so many intravenous drug users and homeless folks to begin with and there are a lot of reasons, but I think that the main one is that we are the only city in Canada where it is kind of warm enough all year round to spend large chunks of time outside. You can't exactly sleep on the street in Winnipeg in February - a lot of people from across Canada who have drug addictions and mental disorders - and often both (the dual diagnosis) make their way here, a bustling port town on the Pacific Rim with a sordid opiate trade history and lenient policies (even safe injection sites.)

What myself and the other left leaning people of Vancouver were worried about in hosting the Olympics was that Expo 86 would repeat itself and we'd have an even larger problem in the city. And in a way that has happened - millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure while the most vulnerable people in my city languish on the cold, wet streets - unable to get into a treatment bed even if they want to.

The homeless are not the only ones affected- even social programs like books for the blind have been cut (how evil and heartless does that seem to you?). Festivals and events are being cancelled due to lack of funding. My provincial government no longer gives grants to students. This isn't even mentioning the destruction of stolen Native land to build roads (and commodification of Native images used to sell mascots and products.) The list is endless and appalling.

It's clear who is going to benefit - the foreign companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds (you try eating that crap and being athletic - not gonna happen) and Samsung will all rake in millions while we locals spend 2 hours - yes, you heard me, 2 hours to get transit to get to work.

BUT - and here it is - it's happening. Whether I am saddened and scared for the state my city will be in when it is over, it is happening whether I think it's moral or not and I am actually really excited. People will be here from all over the globe! Estonians! Argentinians! Belorussians! South Africans! So many more!

It truly is a once in a lifetime event, and I will be telling my grandchildren (oh lord - someone who will be raised by someone who will be raised by me.... may god have mercy on their souls) about this in 50 years. I only wish that my Grandpa, a huge Olympics fan, was here to see his city host them.

And while transit will be terrible and traffic horrendous, despite my political angst I cannot wait to put some wine in a travel mug, bundle up and walk downtown on February twelfth to just soak up the energy and the craziness during the Opening Ceremonies. Violet Dear does love a party...

I am deeply ashamed of the poverty left unchecked in Vancouver and I think that we should focus on fixing our problems before inviting the world in to see them - but I am also proud of my outrageously beautiful city. Like, extremely proud. It's a pretty great place to be from(and as a born and raised local I am as rare as a unicorn.)

So gang, tune in in the coming weeks. I'll let you know how it's going. And it just might be a travel mug full o' wine doing the talking.....

12 January 2010

Shelved - Part 1 of 2

Tchotchke heaven.

I am the knick-knack
queen. I have 2 shelves like this in my new apartment, between the kitchen and the living room and when I saw them I rubbed my hands together with glee and thought "yes. YES!" I have resisted the urge to load them with the contents of my boxes and boxes of random pop culture memorabilia and have instead left them - mostly - to things I have collected during my travels. Each odd and end tells its own story and together they are basically a time capsule so I thought y'all might like to hear about them.

I am always sad I am not a cute Japanese girl.

1) Blythe Stewardess Doll – Toronto

Little known fact: S moved to Vancouver for me. He was here on a few month business trip, visiting from Toronto, when he and met through my roommate at the time, Amy – who happens to be his BFF. The months came to an end and S realized that he simply could not leave Vancouver – so he trundled back to Toronto to sort and collect his belongings and the selfish brat I am – I was like "bring me a present! No, something besides moving here and disrupting your life and career goals!"

Knowing my penchant for weird stuff that only young Asian girls like, S was familiar with my creepy obsession with Blythe – the strange and wonderful doll made for just one year by Kenner in the 70's. In the 90's they became a hot collector's item and crafty ladies started taking photos of their Blythes in costumes and posting them online, creating a huge trend in Japan. Millions clamoured for the dolls but with so few ever manufactured there were not enough to satisfy the demand, and so in stepped myriad Japanese companies to start producing new ones. Originals can fetch thousands of dollars, and even the reproductions are really dear, with literally hundreds to choose from.

I love them. Until a few years ago, my wallet was Blythe. I have a Blythe beach bag. A t shirt. Earrings, address book, figurines. And at long last, S completed my collection with this: my Stewardess Blythe. At the time I was a travel agent, and this little gem sat on my desk for folks to admire. Makes me want a desk job again. But actually not.

Oh, that Gandhi.

2)Little Round Box – Male, The Maldives

The Maldives' small population does not sit around handcrafting lovely souvenirs for their wealthy European tourists to take home. Nope, everything we could find in the shops of Male was made in China – that generic ethnic-y Asian-y stuff that I have literally seen in shops from Nepal to Bali and even in Mexico and Fiji. Faux woodcarvings that buffet-fattened assholes can bring home, gaze at and wax poetic about the resort they didn't leave and how the people are "so friendly" without having any clue whatsoever about the culture of the land they visted. ( Geez, bitter much, Dear?) This was the only thing that we could find that seemed in some way special and not from a huge belching factory in Shenyang.

3)"Brother From Another" – Gift from Brandon Muir

My regular readers will recognize Brandy – that tow-headed imp who traveled throughout Borneo and Indonesia with S and I. Really astute readers will know that he is an accomplished mixed media artist and musician as well as just being an awesome friend. This photo of Gandhi playing baseball with Johnny Five caused quite a stir on Brandon's website – but in reality it's all about love. And robots. Isn't everything?

4)Tiny church – Oaxaca, Mexico

It is a wee little church, and inside is a rosary. See, I was raised atheist but I have a long standing fascination with Catholocism and it's archaic symbols and iconography and I love nothing more than Mexican religious icons – my favourite kind. Right in front of this shelf on the windowsill are a bunch of those big Mexican rolly-eyed Jesus candles - you know the kind, where his sacred heart is especially gruesome and Mary is looking all pious and virgin-y? Maybe it's the lingering ghosts of all of the Mayan human sacrifices, but Mexicans like their religion bloody and macabre. I do too.

Viewing the kitty from the side, my Grandma thought it was a camel with a big, ermm, member waving at her.

5)My Grandfather's pipe

My grandpa passed away 14 years ago, and this still smells a bit like his tabaccy. I would love to be that girl who sits and lights a pipe while drinking tea and reading with a monocle in one eye – I really would.

6)Waving Kitty – Seoul, South Korea

I have been through Incheon Airport 7 freakin' times in the last 5 years. The last time I said "Eff this" and bought myself the damn good luck cat. (If you put batteries in him, he waves!)

Screw the DSM-IV . This bunny is all you need.

7)Little Wind-Up Bunny Toy

My Grandma loved to give gifts on occasions like Valentine's Day and Easter – even as an adult she bought me little trinkets for like, St Patrick's Day. I think that she gave me this bunny when I was a teenager and the look on his wittle bunny face still melts my heart. If it doesn't melt yours you are probably a psychopath.

A friend once wrote this haiku: Violet from the block/born in the year of the cock/but where are the rocks?

8) Small Chinese Astrological Balls – Singapore

The first time I visted Singapore it was after a week in magical Vietnam – a week that my colleagues and I did NOT want to end. We were NOT impressed with Singapore – I had reverse culture shock. Everything was clean! Bright! Shiny! Expensive! Soul-less!

I finally felt a bit more at home when we discovered the winding roads and chaos of Chinatown – it was there that I found these neat little good luck charms. Perched on a ball of golden marble (or maybe it's some kind of jade?) are tiny little gold figures of the Chinese Horoscope. Mine is the rooster and S' is the pig, and while it strikes me as strange that everyone in the entire year is though to have the same characteristics, I got the cock so I am not complaining.

It's really a shame. He bought a cake and everything.

9) "Nobody ever comes to Ice T's theme parties" – Gift from Brandon Muir

Yep – that's Ice T by himself at his militant Power Rangers birthday party.

10)Small Ganesha – Gift from Mum

I wish I could say that this was from a small, smoke filled merchant's shop in a market near the caves of Ellora, but my Mum put this in my stocking like, this year. That does not diminish Ganesha's greatness – this god is the son of Shiva, has survived decapitation and re-capitation (with an elephant's head) and wrote the epic Maharabhata with his broken tusk. And he rides a rat. To quote Charlie in "It's Always Sunny"- "That is baaaaadassssss"

Oh come all ye faithful - to the nearest Mahayana Buddhist temple!

11) Small silver Jesus – found in my house

As I said earlier – I have quite the collection of Catholic iconography, but I think that someone must brought this over to my house and left it behind at a party or something because otherwise I have no idea where it came from. Maybe it magically appeared, like some really lame Lourdes-style miracle? Hang on, my palms are itching......

12) Marble Buddha – China Beach, Vietnam

This guy comes from the legendary Marble Mountain near Da Nang in Vietnam. The fact that he is raising his dish above his head signifies wealth and prosperity and I really like the fact that he is made of the tackiest marble ever and that he is so heavy you could kill someone with him.

Who wears short shorts? Oh. My Mum.

13)Photo of Mum – Florence, Italy

My Mum had me really young – teenager young – and as a result she missed out on a lot of experiences other young women get to have. But not when it came to traveling – when an opportunity came up for my Mum to tour Europe for a month with her then boyfriend my Grandparents insisted she leave 4 year old me behind with them and take off. This is a photo of her eating gelato in front of the Duomo in Florence - I love her perm (she insists it was stylish at the time) and just how ridiculously short her short shorts are.When she came home from this trip I would thumb eagerly through her photo albums and I think it gave me a sense of the wonder and mystery of travel and a fascination with Europe (and all of those statues and their big copper genitalia!) Viva Italia.

14) Small copper Sacred Heart – Los Angeles

S bought this for me this year for Christmas and I think I'm gonna loop a chain through it and wear it as a necklace.

Sit and Spin, Buddhist style.

15) Tibetan Prayer Wheel – Pokhara, Nepal

So, I have some pretty strong opinons on Tibet. And China. And China and Tibet. Which is why I was excited to visit a Tibetan Refugee Camp in Nepal and spend some Rupees there. I chose the goshdurned prettiest prayer wheel that I could find, handmade by the resident monks. In case you are unfamiliar with them, a prayer wheel is an ornately decorated spindle filled with a scroll inscribed with Buddhist prayers. It sits atop a handle, and when you shake it the motion propels a chained weight that keeps the wheel gently spinning around and around. The idea is that you are doubling up your prayers this way - sneaky.

Luh dese guys.

16) Papier Mache Owls – Rangoon, Burma

Oh Burma – just thinking about you makes me smile. Burmese people practice Buddhism, erm, differently... to say the least. Alongside Buddha they worship 32 "nats" – human/animal hybrids that are a remnant of pre-Buddhist animist traditions. These owl nats are a good luck symbol seen everywhere in the country – I had a few more different types but they broke, which is probably really bad luck. *adjusts collar*

17) Black Clay Pot – Huatulco, Mexico

Oaxaca state is known for its black volcanic clay – this pot is not glazed or painted – it is black through and through. Like your heart is if you don't like the wind-up bunny.

18)Sake Set – Gift from Mum

I wish wholeheartedly that this was from Japan, but it is from that neat dish store in Metrotown. Every time I can't think of something neat for a gift game or Secret Santa thing I trundle over to this shop and always find neat things. I let my Mum in on the secret a few years ago so that she would buy me these neat things. Now I have 6 sake sets and I probably need to put some back in storage. And do you wanna hear the bizarre part (although, aren't they all, Dear?)

Despite my devotion and near fanatic love for sushi and all of its accoutrements I have never tried sake, with the exception of a sake bomb from the Eatery here and there. It smells like nail polish remover to me, and I occasionally try a sip of X's plum wine (which I know is a whole different animal) and I hate that, so...yeah. I promise to try it. Maybe served in one of my 6 sets....

If one more person says "tatties," "tatts" or "inked" to me I will stab them with this.

19)Burmese Tattoo Kit – Mingun, Burma

I love tattoos. I mean, obvs. But I am decidedly NOT one of those people who wants to travel to Borneo or Fiji or Tonga and get poked and pounded with sticks and mud to create a traditional 'tribal' tattoo. There are a few reasons for this: I am still trying to remove and/or cover some of my own ill-advised "sick tribe" that I got done when I was a teenager; it actually does offend some of the locals who use those ritual tattoo processes for spiritual purposes (and haven't we co-opted enough "Native" culture around the world?) and I think it looks disastrously ugly.

That said, I really love this little kit. It consists of a looooong 2 piece needle with a Buddha head topper, a little ink well and a leather bound book that contains 22 traditional Buddhist/animist (they always mix in Burma) designs.

And though Burma and Thailand are like apples and oranges I am reminded of a cute story. When I was visiting Chatuchak floating market with my Thai friend Sam, one of the small shop's proprietors looked at my tattoos (humongous for Asia, and very uncommon on women) and said "Do you speak Thai?" When I shook my head no, he looked at my friend and spoke animatedly in Thai for a few moments, laughing. When I asked Sam what the man had said, he responded "In Thailand, we use tattoos to protect us and make us powerful. This man, he said that you must be VERY strong. No ghosts will come after you!" He was right. They haven't.

It's probably lead based. I am wary of using it on my face. But I could decorate the hell out of a cow with it!

20) Tikka powders – Varanasi, India

Oh, India. In a class on mass media I am studying the concept of 'pester power' – a term for the pleading, begging behaviour children exhibit in grocery stores and shopping malls after they have been bombarded with flashy commercials aimed at selling products to them. The whole time I have been reading and thinking about this phrase, I just keep thinking of an unrelated phenomena: the street vendors in India. In a different way, they have 'pester power' down to a science - even though I wanted one of these sets I ended up buying three – good thing they were only 20 rupees.

The chubby little vials are filled with the brightly coloured tikka powder used to give religious marks on people's third eye (between yo'brows) and also to draw designs on temple and foyer floors.

22) An ugly mask - The Maldives

Yep. Made in China.

05 January 2010

Violet on the Block....

It always amazes me that there are still coffee shops that do not have wifi. I mean, a Timmy Ho's I can understand, I am talking about your socially conscious, free trade organic coffee shop where the baristas have ironic haircuts and berets. Don't they need the internets to download the latest Devendra Banheart album?

I digress. My point is that when you are enjoying a green tea and a piece of icing-heavy carrot cake (yoga will cancel this out – right? RIGHT?) while you wait for yoga to start and you realize that your writer's block may indeed be over you should have access to your blog. I mean, I had more free wifi in Cambodia. The Olympics are coming, Vancouver – and people want their wifi.

What's that bit I just said about writer's block? It's more of a 'blogger's block.' I am churning out fiction and poetry like a Bronte sister on meth, but the moment I stare at the happy orange and blue Blogger interface it all goes to hell. I have a dozen blogs half written – a particularly nice one about Jaisalmer, the top ten reasons I love LA and a piece about Vancouver's opium den history to name a few. Do you think I could finish them? Or, at the very least, stop thinking about finishing them and then beating myself up as I open another folder instead?

I like you guys. I really do. I don't want to lose you. You, ermm, complete me? Had me at hello? Take a piece of my heart? Shine on you crazy diamond (oh wait....)

Another confession – and I make this one with a grimaced face – I am back in school. University. Taking four courses, each with insane work loads. And tut tut tut- before you congratulate me and give me air high five - you do know what that means, right? It means that my every waking moment for the next 4 months will be consumed with reading, writing, panicking, drinking tea, panicking, drinking beer to forget the panic and reading. And more writing. And probably at least two (oh let's be honest – 4) fits of complete Klaus Kinski style hysteria. Will I have the time and the heart to blog for you?

(As an aside, the two week break that I get during the Olympics (yes, even the Universities here in my fair city are closing) is going to be filled up by another amazing opportunity – I am going to be leading the Vancouver Police Museum's "Sins of the City" walking tours, taking tourists through the seedy underbelly of Vancouver's not-too-distant past. Come and visit! Take a tour with me! Apparently the whole world is coming - you should too!)

Part of the problem is that my blog is about - and should continue to be about - my travels (being a tourist in your own city counts) and not just my random thoughts. Random thoughts are easy. That I can do every day or so and let you all know the weird and random pop culture and film crap that is flooding my brain at any given moment – but it's no 'majestic sweeping rice paddy' description. But then what happens to my archives? My hard work at crafting a travel website that I would read goes down the squat toilet and I end up just being another random musings blog. Do y'all like me enough for that?

Do I like me enough for that? Sigh.

So here's the rub – I promise to write about my past travels (and finish the Jaisalmer entry – I started it in the Philippines during a typhoon, for Shiva's sake) and my new travels and like, actual interesting activities but for the sake of my grades and (in)sanity I may also just spew out random thoughts as well. Is that okay? Are we all okay with this?

I hope so. And let's all just hope a girl can get some wifi up in here.

And just to blow all y'alls minds - this is what S and I look like when we are NOT disgusting backpackers.