Monday, 28 September 2015

Thank you, Amie, for helping me to see clearly

So I was on the bike close to Tinseltown and I rode through that underpass towards False Creek,  On the other side of road a small black figure was carrying out what looked like habitual movements in preparing her bed for the night on the stone ledge under the arch.  I passed into the lighter darkness on the other side and something moved me to stop about 50 meters down the road.

I fished in my backpack for my wallet, found a $10 bill, and headed back along the other side of the street.  Upon closer inspection, the small black figure was a petite woman of between 25 and 45 (it was dark) who watched my approach in a wary but not entirely unfriendly way.  Not wanting to appear as the Western saviour of a 3rd world village, I held out the bill and said in a self-deprecating way "I'll just assume that you can use this, apologies if I'm offending you".

"I can; thank you", she said in a completely unoffended way and took the bill.  "You're a sweetheart" she continues and then "My name is Amie". I can't even remember whether I gave her mine, all I can think about is that if Amie was living on the streets at the time that George was, the two would have made good friends.  

"Do you smoke cigarettes?" Amie continues.  I fish out my pack and after at first extending one to her, I mumble "I'll just give you a few", which gets me another "you're such a sweetheart", in her gentle voice of perfect English in perfect intonation..  Oh, wouldn't it be heaven if all those call-centre employees spoke like Amie.

After the cigarettes change hands, I still have a foot in my mouth but manage "Have a good night"  to which Amie says "Thank you. Same to you. Such a sweetheart. I love the lights on your bike. Good Night".

In retrospect, I have this horribly weird impression that the way how Amie interacted with me through her language, her body language, and what she said,  she is one of the most normal people in Vancouver.  Her posture,  facial expression, hair and clothing style had NOTHING of the typical Vancouver Faux Personality I have become used to.  This was only confirmed by a sight I saw maybe 3 minutes later.  There is this traffic light at Quebec Street right in front of Science World  (Yes, I know who pays lots of money to now have it called the Corporate BS World of Science but I refuse to participate) and this traffic light stays red for a rather long time.  Another one of the Children of Vancouver with Limited Means (CVLM) was performing a ritualistic dance in front of 2 cars trapped by the light.  He kept rubbing his tummy, pointing at the McDonalds across the street and used his two hands to simulate a begging gesture at the two drivers and their passengers in the two rather expensive cars.  This being Vancouver, the people in the car didn't even acknowledge the person but stared straight at the red light that kept them in this unbearably uncomfortable situation.  You can almost bet that they will vote Conservative in the next election to clean up the streets of this city.   After all, the reason that they didn't give money to the beggar wasn't that they're cheap.  They're upholding principles!

Just what principles are those? 
That some people deserve to be infinitely more rich than others?
That some people are sooo far beneath us that they for lack of a better word have become Untouchables?

In pretty much all religions of the world, charity to those more unfortunate than us, ranks high on the list of principles.

Vancouver seems to be an awfully God-less place.  

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Go to Hell, VW!

Strange title, you think?  A bit tongue in cheek, but no, not strange.

I guess by now everyone has heard that VW was and is cheating by installing special software into its cars that is intended to fool the emissions testing equipment worldwide.  And the software does its job very well.  REAL emissions from VW Diesel cars are up to 40 times higher than those measured on test stands.  And there are 11 million of those cars on the road today. Thing about that number for a second.  Greed is Good again.  And Germans with in their eyes brilliant plans AGAIN have no sense of where to draw the line.  Giving in to greed is one thing.  Committing a crime against the planet is another.

Because it's not just greed.  These ain't the 80s any more!  Just today Pope Francis standing next to president Obama declared the fight against global warming an urgent issue not to be left to future generations.  He even published prayers against pollution: An excerpt from the multi-faith one:

O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth

Pay special attention to the last stanza. Francis, by nature of his job being a more forgiving man than I am, hopes to touch VW's heart.  

I say:  Corporations don't have a heart.  Go to hell, VW!

At first VW Chairman of the Board Winterkorn refused to resign.
\The next day he resigned (High points for consistency).
His employment contract runs until 2016.  Mr Winterkorn 'earned' 16 Million Euros in 2014 and he insists of being paid the same amount for  2015.  Please pay attention to that amount. That is almost 24 Million Canadian Dollars.  Mr Winterkorn is paid as much as 1200 Canadians working full time at minimum wage. Hail Capitalism.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Visas. They're everywhere you want to go.

I did it! 
After almost 3 month of uninterrupted  stay in Vancouver,  I finally booked a flight.
And what a flight it's going to be (hint: it's a 13 hour flight). 
But it isn't going to my final destination. There isn't one on this trip.
Like on the bike trips through Europe, it's the journey that's going to count.
Hong Kong is to serve as a jumping point and easing-in point to parts of Asia where they hopefully won't speak my language and I won't speak theirs.
Ha long Bay, Vietnam (not my pic)

I have learned from my visa debacle of 2 years ago.  When trying to check in for my flight to Hanoi at Hong Kong airport, the stewardess at the check-in counter asked me for my Visa for Vietnam.  All she got from me was a dumbfounded look.  I had booked the ticket and the hotel room in the 'penthouse' of a junk boat cruising Ha-Long Bay, but I hadn't thought that I might need a visa to enter Vietnam.  Regrettable, but  the subsequent 2 weeks in Hong Kong in 2013 weren't bad either ;-) 
Arriving at Hong Kong airport this time will be difficult.  It is the last place that I saw George alive. In every area of the Departures terminal I will remember that day 1.5 years ago and I don't think I will be able to go to he restaurant where we ate our last meal together.

Bali,  Indonesia (not my pic)
In visa matters, I decided to check ahead this time.  And good thing I did.  It looks like I would need visa to enter the Philippines AND Indonesia. So maybe Good Bye Bali & Manila and Hello Ha-long Bay and Angkor Wat? But no, I need visas for both those countries as well.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia (not my pic)

So the next two weeks will be spent trying to get a visa for every one of the above countries.  What happens if I get all 4 visas in time?  Then I might as well visit all 4 countries ;-)  One-way plane tickets between most of these places are only as much as CDN$ 200-300.

Manila,  Philippines (not my pic)
But then there  are other countries  for  which  I don't need visas!  Hong Kong of course, otherwise my first exploration of Asia would have been very short  in 2012 because it would have ended at Vancouver airport. 
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (not my pic)

Add to that the gambling and clothes-buying village of Macao. And then there are Malaysia and Singapore!  Where to go?  Or better: Where NOT to go?

Only ~350 km from Kuala Lumpur: Singapore (not my pic)
Unfortunately I already have to  reasons not to visit Bali.  A friend advised me that it is flooded by Australian tourists and that seems to be confirmed by the fact that the #1 tourist thing to do in Bali according to TripAdvisor is visiting a water-slide park

Update: As of July 1, 2015, holders of a German passport no longer need a visa to visit Vietnam ;-)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

It's that friggin freezing season again (or Sayonara sandals sans socks)

I was riding the bike the other evening (No, not the night of the dead deer; the following night) and my hands were sending strange signals to my brain.  Brain had some trouble interpreting those signals, because it hadn't heard  them in a very very long time.  But after a while there was no longer any way of denying the message: We Want Gloves is what it said. 

Actually Siberia looks a lot like Canada ! (not my pic)

Cycling Gloves?  In September?  Where am I? Siberia?

More messages arrived, this time from my feet.  We Want Socks is what they said.  And this is a BIG deal. My feet haven't worn socks since just before visiting Venice Beach in April.  And they were happy feet ;-)  

An addendum added 2 years later:  It's not just my feet and hands that are NOT happy here.  It's my back, my skin, my hair, my stubble, and most importantly my head.  Since Grandpa died, I've given Grandma 7 years.  I can't remember when I last felt as miserable as during the last 2 weeks.  I have realized that it is impossible for me to care of her in her present state without giving up my life.  Time for some selfishness or common sense to kick in.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Another one bites the dust (or Car drivers keep on killing)

See that bit of grass to the right of the right stone pillar?  That's where it was. (Not my pic)
So I was cycling home to North Vancouver through Stanley Park the other day, not too much after dark on Sunday, when I saw something special on a tiny bit of grass right where Lions Gate Bridge joins the park. 

A deer was grazing on that tiny bit of grass.  It wasn't disturbed by the reasonably sparse traffic on the road and it wasn't disturbed by the bright headlights of my bike. I stopped for the briefest moment to look at the deer and to tell it how gorgeous it was.  I wasn't aware that there is NO native deer population in Stanley Park; I just thought I had never seen one.  Otherwise  I might have lingered a moment longer.

It turns out that I saw this deer pretty much at the last possible moment.  This particular deer, which unknownst to me had been quite famous in Vancouver, was hit and killed by a car a few minutes or hours later.  Here is the story and a picture of the deer.
STORY IN VANCOUVER SUN.  Yes, that's right. The CARS killed BAMBI .

The now deceased deer in livelier days downtown Vancouver (not my pic)

It's rather sad that this deer and many others had to die, that the people of Vancouver and many other cities in the world constantly have to breathe car exhaust, that whole nations are cast into war and then life as refugee-generating zones, just because ignant people can't understand that individual motorized transport is not a right given by God or income, that it kills cats, deer, people, nations (It's not coincidence that the oil-rich nations Iraq and Libya are now in turmoil) and eventually this whole planet, and that they will have to get their lazy asses out of their car seats if they care the least bit about their possibly yet unborn grandchildren.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Life in a parking lot (Without a fixed abode again)

Cat face by Jonathan Fife (He must know what it's like staring into one at 4 am)
My two months of house and cat sitting have ended.  I most certainly won't miss being woken at 4 am by the persistent tickle of cat whiskers in my face and the 'permanent' living quarters are stained by memories of two bouts of week-long sickness, so I was hoping to leave one behind by leaving the other.

It's a long weekend in Canada. Labour Day weekend. The last two days I stayed in a hotel in New Westminster.  Further from the hustle and bustle of Vancouver and the particular hotel costs a bit more but the room has the advantage of being far enough from a road so that one can't hear cars. The view doesn't hurt either ;-) I very much prefer the squealing of metal wheels on old tracks emitted by the cargo trains passing behind the hotel to the honking and impatient noisy accelerating of irate Vancouver drivers. 

But that rest period is over. The hotel in New Westminster is booked solid tonight.  As apparently are most Vancouver hotels.  When I checked this morning, the CHEAPEST hotel room in all of Vancouver AND directly adjacent suburbs (North Van, Burnaby, Richmond) was advertized at $239 + $20 parking + taxes.  That's roughly $300.  I kid you NOT.  The cute part about it is that the hotel in question is the former hotel Dufferin, a cheap hotel that was located right above the sleaziest gay bar in town, offering a convenient destination for cheap entertainment. I remember playing pool with George in the Dufferin bar one night looong ago, when a middle-aged man walked up close to George and asked him "Are you working tonight?".  In those days  (about 10 years ago), the $300 probably would probably have covered the cost of the room, of the company, and of a rather decent ration of party favours ((Just a guess since I never acquired at least one of the list items).   Alas, this is Vancouver and things have changed. The 'new and improved' Vancouver hasn't been called 'mind-numbingly boring' for no reason ;-)

Oh. If anybody wonders where I stayed that night:   A couch was offered and gratefully accepted for the night ;-)

Another thing that was different in those days was the number of homeless people.  Maybe in part to the room-for-the-night placement agency of the Dufferin bar. Be that as it may, when I was enjoying a high vantage point in the hotel in New Westminster this morning, I was shocked by the number of people leaving their night-quarters in the fenced off railway tracked areas. 

Cars doing the usual: Not moving in traffic. Here on McGill street.

And today it finally came to me.  The traffic in this city has changed a lot over the past 5 years.  Imagine you drive to the biggest shopping mall you know. Imagine navigating the parking lot. Imagine cars coming from all directions, leaving their parking spots without checking for other traffic, simply stopping for no apparent reason whatsoever, looking for spots without giving a damn about the traffic behind them, or simply going where their retardedly inept drivers steer them.  Now imagine neither the car density nor the quality of driving increasing once you leave the parking lot and rejoin the city streets.
Entrance to Traffic Congestion Land in North Vancouver