Cinema Swine

28 08 2010

I innocently allowed my charging, ecstatic son to choose the cinema seats so we could watch Toy Story 3.  Upon sitting down, my boy took the end chair and I was beside an expansive woman, decked out in Wal-Mart’s finest attire. I woke up to the fact that I was on the east side of town. She had the biggest bag of greasy popcorn available, and likely had bought it on a strung-out credit card. It was emphatically clear that my son had chosen a bad spot. After a few minutes, the repulsive and compulsive overeater had stuffed most of the bag into her gaping slack gob. I had put an earplug into my right ear, closest to the cacophony, but could still hear the dreadful ‘Krrrronkkkumphumphumph’ of her dripping open-mouthed chewing and the relentless rattling of her pallid chubby hand rooting about in the ultra megabag. I couldn’t take it for another second. “James, we are moving, NOW!” I stated, in an exasperated voice. We moved down a few rows. We were in front of three boys, mesmerized by the show and drinking large sodas. One slurped to the point where I turned and glared at him. He stopped. Next, he started to blow into the drink, making bubbling noises. I turned again. He clued in and quit. After he had finally gotten down to just ice cubes, he started to repeatedly crush his cup and then reinflate it with his straw. It was non-stop crackling and popping insanity! I put my hands on the rests and elevated myself before, again, turning and hoping that my body language would get through. I must have looked like the devil himself because he pulled the container away from his mouth with a clattering of slimy ice cubes. We got to enjoy most of the rest of the movie undisturbed. These sorts of morbidly obese cinema swine, popcorn pigs and prepubescent slurping plebeians really push my buttons. How can one enjoy a flick while neighbouring audience members have no idea that their gutter snipe habits are ruining other people’s movie experiences? It is patently disgusting! I used to wonder why my father used to actually leave his seat to berate these people, but now I know why he was so inclined. The trouble is, in this day and age, objecting to some ignorant working class hero’s gurglings and loud rattlings would likely lead to him/her having lasting psychological scars that would be grounds for a law suit. I don’t plan to go to an east-side cinema again.





I Love Fairmont!

18 08 2010

When I was a boy, holidays were in the blazing hot Okanagan. It was a great place, with lots of fun swimming and fishing. Later, the place changed — much for the worse. I despise the route of sin that is now Kelowna’s main road to the bridges that cross the lake. It is all mostly big chain stores and other tacky North American glitz. With the coming of the new bridge across the water, at least someone trying to bypass the popular culture nightmare is less likely to need an hour, or more, to pass through the shadows of death.

Next, Banff used to be a place to appreciate nature and recreation. We have a time share there, but have resorted to selling it off each summer. It is hard to appreciate the beauty of Johnston Canyon, and other famous nice spots, while fighting pedestrian traffic jams. Also, downtown Banff isn’t too far off Kelowna when it comes to marketplace madness. Why go to the pristine mountains to shop for crap?

I have come to really love visiting Fairmont, B.C. It has almost none of the crowding nor pathetic rat race shopping focus that places like Kelowna and Banff have. It has a lot of friendly people, unspoiled wilderness and lots of nice, relaxing spots to go to. A trip to the hoodoos by Dutch Creek is an enchanting walk, without crowds. A dip in Lake Windermere is a refreshing, clean experience. The trip to the hot springs near White Swan Lake is always kind and serene. I hope and pray that this area does not follow the insane route of cash-driven chain stores. We need some places to go, undisturbed.





Teaching in Taiwan

14 08 2010

I lost count of how many times I would try to hand out a balloon prize while teaching English to kindergarten students in Taiwan, only to have a little boy or girl beg to be allowed to blow it up. I would tell them they were too little to do it, to no avail. Inevitably, the child would not be able to blow it up, would hold out a drooping, sopping balloon, and they would ask me to do it. I finally resorted to simply washing them and then blowing them up. At times, there really were pools of spit on the floor near where a child gave it his/her damnedest to inflate the prize.

I have so many funny and warm stories from teaching kindergarten in Taiwan. One that always makes me laugh is while I was reading a story to my class one day, there was a sudden appalling green-cloud stench. It was so raunchy, we evacuated the room. I asked, half laughing and half outraged, who had fluffed. A smug little boy named Shaun, sporting a new brush cut, ran up to me, leaned back, and stabbed his thumb into his chest before proudly announcing, “I farted, Teacher! It was meeeeeeee!” I erupted into a fit of hysterical laughter and had to lean against a wall to stop from toppling over. It was so hilarious! Teaching kindergarten is something I am lucky to have done, and is super for anyone with a sense of humour and a big heart.





JOE the Scooter

12 08 2010

Some years ago, I was living in a large high-rise apartment complex in Taichung, Taiwan. I descended to the ground floor one day, to find that my beloved Honda scooter, JOE, had been torched, along with a number of others, by a fire bug. The maniac had already set fires at various locations around the complex, and never got caught. It is easy to hide in a crowd, and Taiwan is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Crime is rampant, and the police are a mere presence.

I was terribly sad that JOE (the machine was named after the letters on its licence plate) had met such an end. The scooter was one of a kind. There were so many great memories attached to it, and I can’t really mention all of them. I appreciated how the machine would backfire, with the loud crack of a small cannon. When someone cut me off in the rabid and frenetic motorcycle lanes, I would pass them and let off the gas so that the offender would endure the wrath of JOE’s ear-splitting backfire. Other fantastic memories related to riding on the scooter with my girlfriend, who later became my wife. JOE was a well-built machine that I rode to many lessons and destinations. The replacement, a brand new Yamaha, was nothing much but cheap metal and fiberglass. It was like riding a cheap beer can. I have never forgot JOE, nor the machine’s tacky colour combination of dark yellow and light blue. Farewell, my friend. . . .





Traffic Madness

9 08 2010

Somewhere in this sea of scooters and motorcycles my machine was parked, in a faceless crowded cluster of cheap metal and plastic. The image above was taken in Taiwan, in about 2003, under a thundering traffic overpass and near a gathering of grimy bus stations. When I returned for my Yamaha 125  cc a couple of days later, I was relieved that it had not been stolen nor damaged. Then, I had to brave the streets, after donning a dust mask, with the theme song for the James Bond flick Live and Let Die playing in my mind. Survival was a lucky privilege on the Republic of China’s roads.

I like to look at the picture from time to time, to help myself know that Canada’s traffic has not reached the near anarchy of Taiwan’s, nor other parts of the world. Still, I see and encounter many fools on Calgary’s roads. I love to see the police ghost car in the playground zone that goes by our house, and know that at least some impatient  idiots are going to get much-deserved tickets. I appreciate it that I can call the police here after encountering someone who has endangered others, and can know that there will be some actions taken. In Taiwan, the cops are extremely reluctant to do anything in these situations and simply do not. Recently, the Calgary Police Service’s chief, Rick Hanson, noted that the service needs more funding to keep abreast with fighting crime in the city. I, for one, am certainly in favour of paying more money for that. After spending a decade in Southeast Asia, and enduring the anarchy and absence of law and order, I have a fuller appreciation for how much more civilized Canada is. Allocating more funding will ensure that Calgary continues to be a reasonably safe place.





Dr. Seuss’s Brilliant Allegory

6 08 2010

After studying allegory in university, I became enthralled by these two pages, which come from One fish two fish red fish blue fish. I have, in fact, used these images to teach Grade 4 students the concept of allegory. The second page resembles the first, and is like a mirror image. It resembles the first page, but is not quite the same. For example, in the second picture the shoe is gone and there is a shocked-looking mouse staring at the protagonist. I love how this character’s story is short, and how this last line “And now my story is all told” sums up this brilliant piece of imagination. I have used a Gregory-Peck-like voice to leave messages on friends’ answering machines, reciting this short bit of poetry, and it is really quite surreal in a cool way. One fish two fish red fish blue fish is definitely one of Dr. Seuss’s best! It makes a super bedtime story for our children too!





Full-on Family Life

2 08 2010

Sometimes, being a parent can push mothers and fathers beyond the limits of patience and I occasionally have wondered what life would have been like if I had not married nor had three children.

Often, a road trip with the family starts with a heated argument about who should be allowed the favourite chair in the minivan, followed by bitter disputes about sharing food. Intermittently, a child will lean back his/her chair and the child behind will loudly object. Sometimes, I resort to pulling the van over to the side of the road and then going around to the right-side sliding door to have a ‘conversation’ with our darlings, and they often are in full denial of everything except what the other(s) have allegedly committed. This can really be an emphatic gut-twisting drag. I know many parents who are in the same situation. I do not want to be Joe Stalin in these situations, and when I am Joe it makes me feel bad.

I get the reality check, however, when I visit friends in my age group who are either single, or are divorced and single. I can’t really fit in with them like I did ‘back in the day’. I have quite a few friends who are on their own, drinking, smoking pot, and having no real direction in their lives. Their houses are quiet and their lives seem rather unfulfilled. I quickly realize how fortunate I am to have a wife and three vibrant children. I become grateful that I have a minivan to drive them around in, and I realize that despite the full-on time-draining commitments of parenting that it is very much worthwhile. I would much prefer to be in my situation than to be sitting alone, staring into the depths of a glass of beer. Being a parent makes a person have a well-rounded life, rather than a nebulous existence. To this date, the best day of my life was when our eldest daughter’s first word was “Daddy.” Nothing for me has ever been as powerful as that life moment, and I am blessed to have experienced it.