Postcard from Tokyo

Tsukiji

It’s become very fashionable for people to describe Tokyo as a hectic, crowded place absolutely teeming with people and positioned squarely in the future. The host / author / blogger / yelper goes to dinner at the fighting robot cafe and then to a pachinko parlour and then maybe eats some fugu before passing through Shibuya crossing at rush hour on the way to Kabuki-cho, the frenetic pleasure district. This kind of thing. No one ever shows Meiji-Jingu shrine, with its 100,000 trees. Or the wide, empty streets of the Ginza on a late weekday morning. Naturally I was underwhelmed. It took me two entire days to get to Tokyo, during which time I passed through the rice paddies of Incheon, Korea, the industrial areas, vacant lots of Narita and then along the partially closed expressway to arrive at Tokyo station. Later I would have a near panic attack at the amount of people pushing through the station and the utter lack of coherency of the train schedule but arriving by bus in the middle of the day and walking to my hotel I marvelled at the quiet emptiness. When I had settled into my hotel I sat down with a cold beer and wrote this:

“I am simultaneously over and underwhelmed by Tokyo. It’s a big city, yes, but there are plenty of green spaces and doesn’t even feel that busy. The expressways are impressive but there are homeless people sleeping under them, like in any city. And there are expensive hotels and restaurants to be sure, but there are plenty of cheap ones too. It feels kind of like Manhattan to me and I think the only way I could have been awed by its size or density would have been to parachute straight into Shinjuku at rush hour. But maybe the things that make it feel almost recognizable are the same things that make it impenetrable. The department stored are like museums where you are not supposed to take photos and where you’re wasting everyone’s time if you don’t know what you want. The place is immaculate but there are no trash cans. Everything is in Japanese, except for some English words that catch the eye then end up being entirely random. The city is not built on a grid, the address scheme is almost nonsensical and street signs are rare. If you do find what you’re looking for, there is another level of impenetrability inherent in the manners and etiquette. Every man is wearing the same outfit; white undershirt, short-sleeved dress shirt, black slacks and shoes, black laptop shoulder bag – the uniform for some kind of capitalist army”

How true that would turn out to be, and Victoria Abbott Riccardi sums it up nicely in Untangling My Chopsticks, “things seem so easy until you try to understand them. An American acquaintance now living in Tokyo said that after his first week, he felt he could write a book about the country; a year later, only a magazine article; after fifteen year, only one sentence.”

Ramen

For dinner my first evening I went back to Tokyo station for ramen at “Ramen Street” – a collection of ramen shops where you order from a machine and have the option of paying with your metro card. I had some trouble with the order of operations (as well as my first realization that things were not going to be as simple as they seemed) but the ramen was delicious and deeply comforting – and I decided to be satisfied with the sheer fact that I had arrived in Japan and fed myself. At one point during my trip a friend had emailed and said she thought I was brave for travelling in Japan by myself. I hadn’t given it much thought because when I travelled often, it was frequently by myself and I like the freedom to spend as long as I like in a museum or occasionally eating lunch twice without forcing anyone onto my schedule. But if I had thought about it, about the fact that it was my first time in Asia or in a place where I knew only a few words of the language and none of the alphabet, my first time travelling alone in quite a while and after a hard year of set-backs that knocked big holes in my confidence, I’m not sure if I would have been so cavalier about it. I wrote in my journal, ” this is hard. Other times when I travelled I used beauty or money or knowledge (language, geography, etiquette) without even realizing it but now I have only the internet and the kindness of strangers.” The kindness of strangers started well before my trip, with people offering all kinds of suggestions for things to see and do and eat. Friends reached out to friends and my landlady introduced me to someone she knew in Tokyo and people everywhere were offering to help. Part of this is the Japanese culture – the importance of being polite and a gracious host is evident everywhere but as I sat eating my ramen in a crowded station bar, it was good to be reminded that people are kind and the world is a beautiful and interesting place.

Tsukiji

The next morning I had an early morning wake up call to check out Tsukiji Market, followed by the requisite sushi breakfast at Sushi Dai. Because it was such a food-focused outing, I’ve written a lot about it on my food blog.

I wrote:

I thought I would cry at the auction. I was actually prepared for the possibility that I might have to give up fish, so anxious am I already at the dire strait of the oceans. The sight of so many tuna lined up on the floor didn’t unhinge me, but the understanding that this was the second series of auctions that day and this happened almost every day of the year made me feel faint. But as much as I am passionate about ocean conservation and sustainable fisheries, it was hard to be angry here.

I hate that we are fishing tuna out of the water. I hate that Japan is still whaling, I hate that there was a mountain of Styrofoam and I all this is juxtaposed against the love I have of diving and undersea life. But instead what I felt was intense respect for these workers, readying their shops every day at 4 in the morning and doing their best to move food through the market in spite of the tourists who come to gawk at them, awe at the sheer diversity (of not only fish but produce) and beauty in the market as well as the frantic pace of bikes, pedestrians, cars, vans and scooter carts trying to get the fish delivered as quickly as possible.

In short, I thought it was pretty neat, even before I had the best sushi of my life.

Sushi

Matthew Amster Burton writes in Pretty Good Number One that ‘Tokyo is not beautiful but is full of beautiful things’ and I felt that too. I had no desire to climb the Skytree and even the wide commercial avenues of the Ginza were hard to take in but every side street I looked down had a shop or restaurant or that I wanted to check out, paper lanterns moving about softly in the breeze and bells tinkling invitingly, or a display of something so specialized you could hardly believe the shop stayed in business. The beauty here is in the details; a pair of hand-carved cedar chopsticks, made with love and incredible attention to detail and then wrapped in such beautiful packaging you would think it was a gem. Or a the wagashi, Japanese confectionary so detailed and beautiful that they really are edible gems, handled by glove-wearing attendants in the glamorous depachika department stores. Matt asked me in an email what I had seen that was beautiful and I replied that everything was beautiful. From the police motorcycles to the tengui handkerchiefs, everything has been made thoughtfully and well and when that sunk in my world broke a little bit. I watched a door man at a shop changing the position of the doors at closing time to lead outwards instead of inwards and I was ashamed for every mall in America.

Asakusa

But I only had a few days in the city so I took my metro card and ranged far and wide. I went to the Asakusa Buddhist temple complex, wandered around and snacked. I had the best sushi of my life again and I walked from the serenity of the Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine through Harajuku down into to the insanity of Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku. Kabuki-cho is the pleasure district – in any other city it would be called the red light district and there are a couple of strip bars here but there are also Maid Cafes, video arcades, pachinko parlours, photo studios where you can be digitally glammed up and who knows what else was missed in translation. Arriving here after work and getting caught up in the sea of commuters spilling out of Shinjuku station was the craziest version of Tokyo I ever saw. I got to take the photo below, a close-crop of one street but a pleasure district without much alcohol and no dancing isn’t really my thing so I continued back up under the station where I found the warren of yakitori joints and izakayas.

Shinjuku

There must have been 30 different places, all specializing in something different and most so small that the proprietor was grilling on the windowsill facing the street and passing meat down to patrons. The smell of smoke – from the grills and from all the men off work smoking and drinking – united the area called Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley). My guidebook warns that some entire places are reserved for locals and I thought this was just code for “not friendly to foreigners” but then I saw a reserved sign hanging across the doorway of one shop.

Some shops were for noodles and several were dedicated to yakitori. I also saw some mushrooms and something cut in a half-circle. Zucchini? Then a guy turning a sausage to get it charred on all sides. I like walking down one alley and looking in the front of the restaurants then turning a corner and being able to see in the back. Finally I decided on a place and ordered the set menu which really meant that I had no idea what I was eating. My best guess is pork heart, chicken skin, chicken thigh, wing tip, negi (similar to a fat green onion) and some other kind of pork. I thought how funny it is that many people are scared to eat here and don’t worry about the etiquette because they don’t know a thing about it but for me it’s the opposite – I chewed happily on my mystery meat and blushed deeply when my neighbour passed me a tissue.

Drunkard Alley

Later I met up with a friend of a friend, a fellow lover of travel and decidedly awesome person, and we went to a grill-it-yourself izakaya in the area. Yoshiko ordered for us but at least here I could identify the giant scallops – as big as my hand, huge turban snails, sashimi and crab with quails eggs in them ready to be cooked. We sampled sake and shochu and chatted about all the amazing places in the world. Then suddenly it was late and we ran to catch the last train, smelling of smoke and grease and smiling broadly. Then in the morning I left for Kamakura.

Snacks

Here are all the photos from my trip: https://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157647124951877/

Blue Period

Blue

“Work seemed fundamental for man, something which enabled him to endure the aimless flight of time.” – The Woman in the Dunes, Kōbō Abe

I have written on a post-it note, “You have to have some faith. Your moment is coming” from this excellent post on Medium. But it’s getting old. The other day I spent the entire day painting and took Riley to the dog park where she played in the water and I met a girl from France. Then I went to my graphic design class and came home and read my travel book until 1 in the morning. A few days later I went to my first SAMbassador volunteer shift at the Seattle Art Museum and it turned out to be the opening of Pop! Departures (the pop culture exhibit we have on with Warhol and Lichtenstein) as well as the monthly jazz concert and several tours. So it was packed and party-like and I had a blast chatting with people and looking at art. I am also working my way through a self-study course on Japanese poetry and literature and will be taking a class in Japanese language in a few weeks. I’m updating my resume and checking out grad schools, I took a photography class. I’ve joined close to 30 meetups and four professional organizations. I’m systematically checking out different cafes to write in and I’m exploring Washington State. I just got back from Japan and an exploratory trip around the Olympic Peninsula. This week I am going to Vancouver, then my sister is coming to visit and then Matt and Riley and I are going to go on a road trip around the Western United States. I’ve read over 100 books this year, some started and finished in the same day.

My life is pretty freaking great – on paper anyways. In actuality, I am going out of my freaking mind. So much of it just feels like filling time.

When we first embarked on this move to Seattle, we were ready to drop everything and leave immediately. Truly, I thought we would have to send Matt down and I would follow because things were happening so quickly. But then things changed and there was a bit of a wait so I picked up some projects and settled in and waited. But then there was another setback and another until it seemed like the rug was being pulled out from under me every two or three months. It’s hard to keep up the momentum and the hope that your moment is coming when you’re constantly being told to wait. It’s exhausting.

The latest is that the USCIS Service Center in Nebraska is reviewing my application for Employment Authorization and that will take them three months – until November 15th. But instead of having faith I’m steeling myself for another delay. I came home from Japan thinking that I would be able to work at the end of September only to be told I’d have to wait some more. It’s different from being unemployed but employable – that’s a hard place to be in but at least you can apply yourself to finding a job. And retirement…well, a fellow volunteer at the art gallery told me happily that he spends a lot of time just sitting and thinking about things and that when I was old enough for retirement I would be ok with sitting and thinking too. Maybe. Maybe it’s true that life catches up with you or that if you have the rest of time to plan our your retirement it’s easier, but I don’t think so. I think I’m more like this taxi driver I heard interviewed on a podcast recently:

Host: Do you look forward to retirement?

Taxi Driver: No, I’m scared of it. I don’t feel that retirement is exactly the best of things for me. When you retire you sort of go into a shell and you’re like the forgotten person. You get bogged down in nothing and you do nothing and you wind up nothing.

Host: That’s interesting, so here you put in a minimum 12 hours a day, 7 days a week but you feel more tired…

Taxi Driver: …if I didn’t. Because when I’m not busy I get very weary.

-Radio Diaries #19 Working Then And Now

I like being busy. In truth I always imagined that my retirement would look much the same as my days do now; walking the dog, going to yoga, meeting up with people for various activities, travelling, cooking, reading… I’m grateful for the time I’ve had to spend doing these things and for Matt working so hard, but I want to contribute. I want to be able to get into the rhythm of working on something for longer than a quarter, to stop filling time.

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada today. I’m going up to see some friends and have dinner with my family. I’m grateful to be able to do that, on what is a weekday in Seattle. It’s a beautiful fall day, my favourite time of year. I love wearing sweaters and going for walks in the leaves with my dog and a mug of tea. I love the rain. I love the feeling of back to school and settling down to work. And so I feel that if my moment is coming, it will come in the fall. I’m so ready.

Adventure Time!

Grins

Most of July was spent on unpacking and setting up our place in Seattle and hanging art and preserving fruit because the farmers market is only a block away and I can’t seem to help myself. But I have picked up the Washington State Visitors guide and made all kinds of notes in it in preparation for visitors and exploring on my own in August. So it was kind of funny that my sister came down and right off the bat suggested we go to Oregon to ride dune buggies.

Oregon Coast

I was thinking that we would tour around the Woodinville wineries, maybe go for a bike ride and check out a new neighbourhood but I am always down for both a road trip and an adventure and both together is just not something that I need to be convinced of.

My friends, knowing that I love adventure, took me snowmobiling for my staggette and I’d been ATVing before (and of course I ride my motorcycle on a regular basis) but neither of us had been in a dune buggy or on a sand dune and Ally hadn’t even been to Oregon!

Oregon Coast

We took Highway 101 for maximum coastal scenery, through such funny little towns as Centralia, Pe Ell and Lebam, past a hundred antique shops and drive-through espresso booths, and stopping at every third pull out so that I could take a photo.

Cannon Beach

Of course we stopped at Cannon Beach for a photo as well as a walk and I was agog at the size of it. I had visited about 10 years ago – long enough ago that I was not surprised to see how much the town had grown – but I was surprised that I had so drastically mis-remembered the size of the beach. It’s the kind of beach that makes you want to play; do giant leaps across the sand or twirl or fly a kite just to try and consume a little bit of it. When I was last there it was winter and no one was on the beach but my boyfriend and I bough toy airplanes anyways and ran around throwing them until they were destroyed and we were freezing.

Cannon Beach

The other thing that surprised me is that it’s not even close to the most beautiful part of the coastline. I guess the last time I was there we just got back on the I-5 and didn’t think of it but there is a Long Beach in each province and state on the Pacific Coast and with few exceptions, it’s really just one long beach from Canada to Mexico, twisting and rolling through amazing pockets of scenery that can only be described as spectacular. I am definitely going to have to go back and do it again on my motorcycle.

Newport

We crashed in a beachside hotel in Newport and woke up in a cloud – there were people on the beach but I could barely see them. Even so, it was wonderfully peaceful and the kind of thing I used to dream about when we lived in the city. Sitting outside drinking my coffee and listening to the waves would have made the trip amazing for me all on its own but we were only an hour away from the dunes so the day just kept getting better!

Oregon Coast

Oregon Sand Dunes

I probably don’t have to tell you that the Oregon Sand Dunes are ridiculously fun. We were a little dismayed that they wouldn’t rent us a dune buggy (too expensive for them to maintain as rentals) so we hired a professional driver who took us out on the dunes for an awesome ride and then we rented an ATV and went back and did the whole thing over again ourselves. I’m glad we did both and I’m also glad that they didn’t rent us a dune buggy. We told them we wanted to go fast and so they let us take their sole high-powered machine (and I suddenly had flashbacks of the high-powered snowmobile ending up in a ditch) and we still managed to almost fly over a sand cliff AND got it stuck. I think when the operators give their fast machine to two women they assume it’s going to be babied. Not in this family!

Ready to rock

More photos from the trip here.

Diving

We were barely back in town when it was time to go on the next adventure – a combination camping, diving and crabbing trip. I have been bugging Matt to go camping with me and Riley for a year now and I’ve been trying to go crab diving for way longer than that.

Shine Tidelands 1

We drove down to a place outside of Sheldon in Hood Canal – about 2.5 hours south of here and camped in a state park and it was pretty fun – Riley LOVED the tent – but we were literally closer to our neighbours than if we had camped in our backyard. I thought that was pretty funny. And then we drove up the peninsula to Shine Tidelands State park to meet some divers and get some crab.

Crab

I managed to catch some females and too small crabs but came back empty handed for the barbecue. Luckily others had better luck and we had a wonderful feast of crab, clams, mussels, foraged blackberries and cold beer. Ah, summertime!

Crab

Up next: Mount St. Helen’s, a loop around Olympic park, some more visitors, sailing, then Japan.

The Month of June Trembled Like a Butterfly

Hammock

“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”

~Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Sometime in June while I was living in my car, I saw that piece of poem written on a sign. I sighed happily (as I often do when I encounter unexpected poetry) and then wondered if June was trembling because of anticipation, or fear or just speed…and then it was gone and I forgot all about it.

Maceo
I don’t remember the first time I saw the city of Vancouver. I was probably too young. I was born there, in Grace hospital (that burnt down and was rebuilt as Women & Children’s) but grew up in the suburb of Langley. The first few visits to the city that I do remember felt like a long journey – over the big orange Port Mann Bridge and then a seemingly endless stretch of nothingness until we were off the freeway. But even when I was asleep (probably most of the time), I always knew we had reached the city because I woke up when we stopped at 1st and Commercial and I would marvel at the gritty urbanness of the gun shop at that intersection, fiercely gated and barred up. Much later I lived right across the street from where it had been and felt completely safe, always wondering if I had just made it up. Our trips into town seemed to revolve around something my dad had forgotten at his office on Hastings Street or a Chinese food dinner at either Wok With Yan or the Beijing House. I remember trying so hard to get my hands around the chopsticks and playing next to the koi pond in the floor but I am suspicious of memory. Even though I can picture Wok With Yan’s restaurant where the White Spot is now on Georgia Street, I know I was very young. I feel like I must be getting something wrong – not least because I haven’t seen either of my parents eat Chinese food in maybe 25 years. To think of them making such a long drive into town with small children to eat it boggles the mind.

Vancouver
The last time I saw Vancouver was at Crab Park early in the morning. I took a photo because it was gorgeous out and it felt poignant but truly I have many photos of our dog park, a place that I have been to almost daily this past year. This time though, we were in a rush. We had cleaners to deal with, cars to pack, and then a whole lot of paperwork to fill out at the border because finally, after a long wait, we were moving to Seattle.

Riley
I went to university in Victoria but I’ve always thought of Vancouver as my home. I read a poem once in which ‘home’ was defined by wherever you had your heart broken. In a way, I think that’s true…it’s where you had your formative experiences. I lived in the West End, East Van, Cambie Village, Commercial Drive, Main Street, Oak Street and Gastown. I ate at SO many restaurants (sometimes even consecutive businesses in the same storefront), hiked in the forests, dove all over the coast, got married, worked for several different companies as well as started my own, and made lots of friends…for all of these reasons Vancouver will be home but also for all of those reasons it was also time to leave.

Moving van
It’s always been a dream of mine to live abroad and I’ve dabbled in it (multiple home-stays in France an Germany and a lot of travel) and prepared for it (I’m a certified TESL instructor and a dive master and I have a filing cabinet worth of books and maps) but there has always been something holding me back, usually a boy or a girl, sometimes debt, at times common sense.

Lake City
But we are finally here, just barely abroad, and that’s ok. It’s a step. From here we can go elsewhere and even this border hop has had its share of paperwork and problems. Had we moved to say, Poland or Japan, we would currently be standing in a drug store hoping we were buying toothpaste and not hemorrhoid cream, walking everywhere for fear of driving or taking transit and ending up in another city, and eating all kinds of interesting new food. Instead we are driving around in our same cars (minus one motorcycle and one truck), speaking English, eating sushi and burgers at the two decent restaurants in our neighbourhood and when we get lost, we pull up google maps to tell us where to go. Easy Peasy.

We are glad of the adventure, in any case, and ready for all the next ones.

Seattle

A better quote for this month might be this famous one:

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

~Anais Nin

Home
Wish us luck. And come visit.

 

 

Summertime Rolls

Chief

It has been a languid, lazy spring. The weather has been nice so I’ve been hanging at the dog park, reading some dense books* that I have always meant to get through and riding my bike a lot. But we have found a home in Seattle for July 1st – two weeks from now – and suddenly things are happening fast. Luckily we have handlers who are dealing with almost every detail for us so instead of freaking out, I am calmly just taking pictures down off the walls and unplugging appliances we’re not using. The movers are coming today to do an inventory and then they will come and pack everything up in 2 weeks and then we will have a few days of camping out with our animals and without our stuff and then we will be living in AMERICA!

There are many other details that need to happen in between all of that and of course a looooooong list of stuff to do after we have arrived but that doesn’t matter. At the point when we are sitting in our home in Seattle, we will have literally crossed the line and all of the waiting and dragging this process out will be at least mostly over – sort of. The career piece, which I will write about later, is still going to be dragged out until the end of summer because once I get my visa I STILL will not be able to work for 3 months – a detail that was not mentioned when we started this process. I’m not sure what kind of bureaucratic red tape that is about but it seems that there are still many more days ahead of riding my bike and reading and hanging out at the dog park. Or alternately, I may run away to Japan for a couple of weeks. We’ll see.

*Moby Dick really isn’t worth the trouble. 

Chief

In the meantime, there are people to see in Vancouver, things to do and especially places to eat. I decided this week that I am not going to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer for a handful of reasons, the primary being that it is just too busy right now but also it is going to rain and I don’t want to go out and buy a bunch more gear just so I can ride by myself for 2 days. It would have been different if I had had more of a team or if I had trained harder but I’m not going to get anything out of it other than stress at this point.

Instead, I have finally climbed the Stawamus Chief, something that has been on my “must do” list every summer since I moved back to Vancouver in 1999. How embarrassing, but also what a great hike. I’m sorry I waited so long to do it.

Heirloom

In a similar vein, I have also been eating at a ton of “new” restaurants this past month in a desperate attempt to get through them before we move. Almost none of these are actually new restaurants, but rather places that I’ve been meaning to check out over the years. A couple of these I have been roller coasters of emotions – delight and astonishment (something that hasn’t happened in while with me and food) at how good they are and then utter despair that I didn’t go earlier. For example, Via Tevere, Hog Shack Cook House, Laksa King and Octopus’ Garden. But others have been just ok and every time that happens, I just want to get up in the middle of the meal and go for laksa.

As of today’s count, I have 33 places left and 19 days to do it in so I’d better get going. Gulp!

Kilby

Between my food blog and my constant quest to check out new and interesting things, I think I am a pretty good ambassador for Vancouver. I go to art galleries fairly regularly and am at the Museum of Anthropology and the Vancouver Aquarium pretty frequently but as part of my volunteer work at the Museum of Vancouver, I got to take part in the Vancouver Tourism Challenge last month.

Aquarium

I went so many places! Of course I I went back to all of my favourites but Matt and Riley and I also took a trip up to Hell’s Gate Air Tram (so underwhelming) and I went to all of the gardens (Van Dusan and Nitobe are gorgeous) and up to the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre.  I made a point of going to everything I hadn’t already been to (except for the BC Sports Hall of Fame which I just cannot get excited about) and I also tried to ride my bike to as many places as possible, so that kept me busy.

Aquarium

It’s a great program and I learned a lot. As well, it has primed me for checking out all of the Seattle galleries, museums and such. I already have been to many of them and actually have already applied to volunteer at SAM but I’m looking forward to exploring.  Starting with – Ride the Ducks!

Victoria

Somehow we managed to sneak in a trip to Victoria too.

Victoria

Although I’ve been on the island a lot in the last couple of years, I haven’t been able to make it into town. I have found memories of Victoria from going to university there and I really wanted to go and check some things out, see some people and do some diving on the Breakwater. Rushed and moved around as it was (originally we had planned to go on Easter) we didn’t end up doing much other than eating and drinking and walking around but that suited us just fine.

Riley

Riley had a great time too. 🙂

Riley

What I’m reading and listening to:

April does what it wants

April 5

Around this time of year people around here say April showers bring May flowers. In Germany they say April does what it wants.  But in my house there is scarcely time to notice the weather because April is busy. It’s my sister’s birthday and then my birthday and then my dad’s birthday and then my grandmothers – and somewhere in there is usually Easter – and then when we’re through all that it’s our wedding anniversary. This year we upped the busyness by throwing in a trip to Salmon Arm to see Matt’s parents too. Today I had a nap.

English Bay

In keeping with the showers part of the proverb, it has been pretty spectacularly grey and wet in Vancouver. I took a break from riding my bike while it was wet because while there are many activities that I don’t mind doing in the rain, riding my bike is not one of them. Yuckity yuck. Except then I remembered that if it rains on the ride to Seattle, I will be riding in the rain for the first time and that sorted me out pretty fast. So I went for a long-ass ride in the rain and got soaking wet and cranky but it was still so much better than it was at the beginning because earlier in the month I got some new SPD pedals and toe clips, padded cycling shorts and a jersey that makes me look so fast – at least when I’m stopped at Starbucks. I also got my bike fitted by the fine experts at MEC and it turns out that it is way too small for me. So that would explain the pain in my sacrum and the way my hip clicks on long rides. I’m glad to have it sorted now.

Cherry blossoms

I’m also glad to have had some days of non-rain too. In between all the grey, it is suddenly summer. The flowers are out (tulips and cherry blossoms everywhere!) and all the patios are open and then that too comes to pass and we go back to the grey. Ah, springtime in Vancouver. April always does what it wants.

April 3

I’m still doing trash clean-up dives pretty regularly with my group (Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans) and along with about 3000 lbs of garbage to date, we’re also raising awareness. Earlier this year the Coquitlam paper came to check us out and this month we were interviewed by a news crew and then for GreenPeace’s Mobilisation Lab blog. That feels pretty good, although it doesn’t quite compare to diving in Socorro.

Tulips

Another bit of awesomeness that happened in April is that I had a career coaching session with Penelope Trunk. I’ve been following her blog for ages and then took a couple of her classes including “How to Get Your Dream Job”, but my problem is not getting the job. I am pretty confident that I can sort out the resume / networking / interviewing pieces even in a new country and industry, as long as I know what direction I’m going in. It’s a blessing and a curse, being interested in everything and capable enough to consider it for a career so I got stuck several times with my last coach. With Penelope we  distilled down the things that were important to me and determined that corporate education / HR development training is a good direction. It is big and challenging enough to last me until retirement, provides the possibility of working for myself again (after I learn the ins and outs), and scratches my two itches of being creative and wanting to help people. So I’m excited about that. I have been doing lots of research on Seattle and training and education and re-writing my resume on a near weekly basis.

Spring

It’s pretty perfect timing because now that we’ve done all the travelling we had planned for this year, it’s time for the next adventure – our move to Seattle, slated July 1st. We’ve dusted off our visa application from last year and re-engaged the immigration people so now I’m looking for a place to live and a place to work and people to connect with and diving / hiking / climbing / motorcycling groups to join…and of course planning our going away party. Stay tuned.

Flowers

What I’m reading and listening to:

Socorro

fish

A long time ago I saw an IMAX movie about diving in Mexico where the diver came face to face with a giant manta. It glided around him effortlessly – even though it was more than 20 feet across – and fearlessly. That experience lodged itself deeply in my subconscious and my life list plan and after a scouting trip to Cabo San Lucas, much planning and saving and waiting, we were off to the Revillagigedo Islands (better known as Socorro after the largest island) with Big Fish Expeditions this past March.

wave

We had packed and re-packed our bags, trying to find the balance between bringing everything we might need and keeping the bags under the weight limit, and we had practiced saying Revillagigedo over and over again but nothing could have prepared us for flying into Cabo on Spring break *and* St. Patrick’s day. “Plane’s late, we’re doing shots!” and “Has anyone seen my passport?” were both things we heard even before boarding (a guy vomiting off of a second floor balcony at our hotel was something we heard much later).

I despised Cabo the last time we were there but we were only in town for one day before setting off on the next leg of our journey – almost 400 km out to an island chain that we wouldn’t even be able to set foot on. Adventure time!

Sharks

As we approached the island, boobies and other sea birds started to appear and then humpback whales with their calves – teaching them how to breach and tail slap – and then a manta ray and then a silky shark. This is from the BOAT, mind you. Amazing animal sightings and we hadn’t even gotten wet yet.

We came for the giant mantas but after a couple of checkout dives at the Canyon (on San Benedicto) we headed over to Roca Partida – “Split Rock” aka Disneyland for Divers, aka Heaven Under Water – and over the next 2 days found whitetip reef sharks (with some obviously pregnant females) crammed onto the ledges carved out of the rock , Galapagos sharks, silvertip sharks, hundreds of scalloped hammerhead sharks, some tuna and THEN a whale shark (a couple of months earlier than expected for the area) and then finally, yes, there was a manta. There were also lots and lots of fish. Through it all we could the humpback whales singing their hearts out. Like I said, The Happiest Place on Earth (or at least Underwater).

Whale shark

The first manta we saw was flat black, like a Stealth Bomber, with silvery remoras stuck to the top side. Then a larger black and white one came in and checked us out but it was a bit like being in a three ring circus with the sharks and the whale shark and the mantas so it wasn’t until the next day at Cabo Pearce (on Socorro Island) that we had our first proper encounter with them.

Dolphins

But first there were dolphins. I thought the crew was joking when he said the dolphins showed up at 8 AM sharp, like greeters at Walmart but when we arrived at the shark cleaning station, hanging onto rocks in the strong current, they suddenly appeared behind us, clicking and chirping. There were probably about 20 of them and unlike when we dove with them in Cabo Pulmo a few years ago, these guys came close and stuck around. Over the next few days we dove with dolphins 4 or 5 times and each time they were curious and unafraid, playing with each other and cruising around to see what we were all about. What an unexpected treat!

Giant manta

Like the dolphins, the mantas were also curious about us and came in close to check us out at Cabo Pearce (on Socorro Island) and The Boiler on San Benedicto. The Boiler is a beautiful site even without any pelagic creatures in it but when the mantas started showing up they were between 12 – 20 feet across, gliding majestically and hovering near the divers in order to look at us. Several times I had my camera in front of me to take a photo and the manta would hang out until I had lowered it, recognizing that it wasn’t my eye. Incredible! And then they would swim through the bubbles, coming close enough that I was eye to eye with the remora fish stuck to their bellies more than once. The mantas come to the area for cleaning stations where Clarion Angel fish clean them of the parasites that they pick up (and the fish do such a good job of this that they nibbled at my hair a couple of times too!) but they largely ignored the fish in favour of bubbles and a sometimes the individuals would even follow us up to our safety stop and then to the surface. At one point, it seemed like a large female was trying to follow us out of the water – she had a wing out of the water as we climbed into the Zodiac and then continued to follow us. It’s pretty hard not to anthropomorphize that kind of behaviour and we were just in awe…grinning for days.

Manta ray

In between manta encounters we watched the sea birds play in the wind and humpback whales teaching their calves to breach (as well as other whale behaviour) in the bays around the boat. So cute as they tried to emulate their mothers and only sometimes got it right! At one point the wind was up and the swim grid of our boat was slapping the water pretty hard. In response, a humpback calf started slapping its tail against the water – a form of non-vocal communication in the whales – and did about 20 slaps before diving back into the water. We took the Zodiacs out a couple of times to free dive with whales and got to see a mother and a calf up close a couple of times. They are absolutely stunning creatures, and also staggeringly large – with one twitch of a tail they were out of sight almost instantly.

Dolphins

As the week went on, the dives kept getting better and better and the trip more and more unbelievable. I caught myself saying greedy things like, “it would be cool to see a hammerhead today since we haven’t seen one in a couple of days,” and then laughing into my regulator when my wish came true every time. Matt and I agreed several times that we were going to have to find a way to come back every year – until we realized that we had had an exceptionally good time of it and probably wouldn’t be so lucky on every trip.

But still, I can’t wait to go back. It was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. The crew was excellent, the food was amazing, ship was great, our group of new friends were just awesome, the animals were absolutely incredible…even the weather was perfect. A trip of a lifetime, to be sure. ¡Hasta luego, Socorro! See you again real soon.

Manta ray

Here are the rest of the photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157644447318893/

And here is the official trip report from Big Fish: http://bigfishexpeditions.com/Socorro_2014.html

Desert

 

Winter

Blackie Spit

“The winters were cold and bitter now, like the brothers of kings.” – Anne Fleming

This has been the coldest winter in a while, certainly in my lifetime and in fact in the last 66 years. Our friends from anywhere else in Canada laugh at us but we have no winter coats, we have no snow tires, we leave the house without gloves or boots and even though I once got the Hardiest Camper award in Girl Guides, I have been complaining a bit.

Trout lake

My grandfather used to send me letters occasionally, almost until he died at 97. He lived most of his life in remote parts of BC and for as long as I’ve been alive he lived alone in a log cabin on a huge acreage in Crawford Bay. So when he sat down to write a letter, they were like little paintings of a world he knew very well; the deer have come down to graze on the driveway, the hummingbirds are active now, it should be snowing soon. I think of his letters often when I look out our window onto the tree on Water Street and notice that the crows are nesting or that the leaves are budding. It seems amazing that we can take notice of such small details when we have all of this information and input flying at us, but I am glad we do and I make a point of doing it often.

My friend just posted this status on Facebook: “The sunset is amazing! The sky looks like it’s on fire. Standing in a crowded bus so cannot take a photo. Look now if you can.” That’s the spirit!

Whistler

We had a bit of snow on the weekend but it’s warmed up enough now that we are sure to expect grey and rain the rest of the week – much more typical for a Vancouver winter but it means that we have come inside. It turns out that as long as the sky is not dishwater grey and just as wet, I am happy to be outside. I decided to take a photo every day of 2014 in an attempt to have a visual record of what I’ve been up to and also to improve my photography skills. But even looking back on two months’ worth, the vast majority of them are outside. I’ve been up to Whistler boarding a few times,  diving pretty regularly (even cleaning out trash from lakes!), and hiking (or at least walking or dog-parking) with Riley. My drysuit decided that the dead of winter was the best time to fall apart so there were a couple of really short dives before I got a sexy new suit but even that was ok. I like being outside.

Crab park

This is old news. When I was a kid I was always playing outdoors –  first in the driveway, then the yard, then the creek behind our house and then the mountains and ocean behind the city. And this year I’ve had lots of time to play outside. My career coaches / books / websites keep asking ‘what would you do if you didn’t have to work?’ and I have determined that I do absolutely have to work. I don’t like have endless amounts of time on my hands but when I do, I fill it with reading and writing and playing outside.

Crab park

I’ve been reading a lot about the change cycle and finding your dream job and I think I will write a separate post about that but after months and months of thinking about it, I feel like I am finally getting close. It’s been an interesting journey (and I will write a post about that too) – almost interesting enough that I considered being a career coach myself but in the end I am back at digital communications and media. It’s the only thing that makes sense and I am enjoying digging in to it, but I am glad of the process that has led me to volunteer at the David Suzuki Foundation and the Museum of Vancouver, taking a Cabinet of Curiosities museum class at UBC and a whole whack of other classes online, going to Seattle for the IN-NW social media conference, putting on a whisky tasting and all the things I’ve learned along the way. And it’s been fun but I am anxious to get going.

Sea

Last month I attended an award’s dinner where my dad received a lifetime achievement award with his business partner. I am so proud! And so envious. He has worked hard all his life and loved every minute of it and is an absolute inspiration to me in my search. We are still moving to Seattle in the summer and I am focusing forward, checking out companies and careers as well as diving, hiking and networking groups. I’m really looking forward to the refresh but first I have a whisky tasting to put on and Riley’s first birthday to celebrate and then we are off to go diving in the Revillagigedo Islands (Socorro) off the coast of Mexico.  This is a life dream of mine and has been in the works for quite a while but it will all be worth it to dive with giant mantas, humpback whales and their calves, dolphins, eels, tuna and sharks (hammerheads, Galapagos, silky, white tip, silver tip and maybe even whale sharks)! Check this out: https://vimeo.com/64876316.

Trains

What I’m Reading and Listening to this month:

The Reluctant Cyclist

bike

In December I got my bike out of storage (which I consider an important first step) and bought some fancy cycling pants. But then it was snowing and there were holidays and I was beginning to think that I would never actually get to the point of riding it, which is a problem because in December I also signed up to ride my bike 220 km from Vancouver to Seattle for the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

I’m not really sure what I was thinking. This year I am putting some time into self-discovery and I’ve learned a lot about myself. Mostly as it pertains to careers and etc. but I was also made aware that I am not very good at sticking with my exercise plans. I mean, I knew that before, but as I get older I have less time and less patience with new ideas. I thought I could push myself through CrossFit by sheer determination and the fact that it’s less than a block away from my house, but I don’t have determination when it comes to exercising. I love to be active and especially outside, but there are few sports that can get me out in the rain regularly training for something and there are many lofty goals in a mucky trail behind me that can testify to that fact.

I didn’t always use to be that way. I used to run a lot and I did a couple of half marathons in amongst many, many shorter runs, but then I thought I would level up and do a full marathon. That’s only double the longest distance I had ever run! No big deal, and while I was making lofty goals, I may as well do one in Greece, along the original path of the marathon from the Marathon battle ground to the Olympic stadium in Athens. It was part of the Joints in Motion fundraising program for the Arthritis Society and so all of the travel and etc. was covered in exchange for raising thousands of dollars for charity. Piece of cake!

I’m not being very fair to my past self. At the time I had a lot of energy and I hadn’t had all the injuries I’ve had since. Besides, it was an organization that my birth mother had worked for and supported heartily and some of the participants were much, much older than me and also had arthritis. I really didn’t think it would be difficult, especially after my sister said she would join me.  And thank goodness she did. Honestly, I owe that girl beers for life. I wouldn’t have made it without her and in fact, I almost didn’t. I ran and ran and ran and when I wasn’t running, we were raising money. We did a fundraiser night at a couple of different pubs and invited all of our friends – all of whom had already given us money – and  we stood outside liquor stores. Everything short of having a bake sale. It was tough. The running part was going swimmingly in comparison, until I got a sharp pain in my hip at precisely the farthest point from a road in Stanley Park.

I will spare you the details of the months of chiropractor, bone scans, ART, acupuncture and whatnot but the short story is that I had developed a stress fracture and wouldn’t be able to run. Worse than that, I wasn’t supposed to walk. The running was obvious to me because I had been trying it every couple of weeks in spite of my highly trained team of caregivers, but the walking surprised me. I still walked to work and in fact, I walked into the place where I rented the crutches from. We all laughed when I said who they were for.

I healed enough to leave the crutches behind when we went to Greece but only barely. Yes, we met our fundraising goal and so we went on the trip and I cheered for all the runners. In the years since I’ve gotten back into running and have since done a starter triathlon but my body isn’t really built for long-distance running and I’m ok with that. The other things I really like to do – diving and hiking and snowboarding and yoga and riding my motorcycle (I know, not a sport) take up enough time and money and keep me active enough.

So why am I now deciding to embark on another incredible training and fundraising program? Because it’s not just about my spectacular past failure: I also don’t really like cycling on the road, my bike is squarely consumer grade and I know from experience that I am not generally encouraged by the incredibly overly cheerful people who tend to be involved in these things.

But my birth mom died of cancer and so did my grandfather and several friends have been lucky enough to recover from it. It’s a cause that I believe in and I am hungry to be a part of something. I’m sure in no small part I want to see something like this through. Also, in this process of self-discovery, I’ve learned that I like trying new things.

Finally, if Bif Naked can be as positive and lovely as this (posted on her Facebook page, Dec. 4th):

GOOD TIMES are found in everything I ever, ever do. Since I have been home in this gorgeous place, This Rainforest City of My Dreams (Vancouver-Home-of-the-Vancouver-Canucks), I have been in a bit of a pickle: cancer tests. Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am here to tell you that I am a PRO and that I find so much fun in the wards-n-wings of the Cancer Agency ( http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/default.htm ) in fact: I am downright LUCKY to live six minutes away. As I went in to the O.R. yesterday, I sang “Rock and Roll All Night” by KISS ( https://www.facebook.com/KISS ) at the TOP OF MY LUNGS whilst being wheeled in on my little bed/gurney and had such a great laugh with the lovely and loving nurses and staff. I had so much FUN! I believe, with all of my bursting, little heart, that finding the goofiness+fun makes ANY situation better. Anything is better WITH laughs. I want to share with you my wishes for YOU and YOUR laughs, today. I send you all my gratitude, my positivity, and my deep affection. I am ever thankful to have a computer and the desire to share together, with you all. We are so lucky, in this moment. Sending each and everyone a big, squishy hug and throwin’ horns, listenin’ to rock-n-roll, and generally finding my fun. Love and Light to you. Namaste.

then certainly I can ride my bike to Seattle – just please don’t ask what’s the worst that could happen. Please send me your kind words, advice and encouragement, and if you are so inclined, I will take your donation too:

http://www.conquercancer.ca/site/TR/Events/Vancouver2014?px=3601641&pg=personal&fr_id=1514

RTCC