Thursday, May 03, 2007

Shane Doan: What happened to separation of church and state?

If Thomas Jefferson was a Canadian, he'd be rolling over in his grave. The bizarre recent obsession in our nations capital, culminating in Bob Nicholson's trip today to Parliament Hill, fills me with mixture of disdain, anger, confusion, and embarrassment. Our politicians are violating so man tenants of our national sensibility:

Innocent until proven guilty
Mind your own business
Do you job

But above all these, the recent parliamentary preoccupation threatens that core western doctrine: separation of church and state. Hockey is our religion. This meddling is an attack at the very core. First Harper gets elected and now this. These are ill tidings indeed. Watch for locusts ....


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Conclusion: Vancouver loves The Canucks and Beer

A friend shared the following graph with me and I've found it quite instructive. The graph shows the water pressure in Burnaby during the long overtime game that started the series between the Vancouver Canucks and the Dallas Stars. One can't help but notice the drastic drops in water pressure that followed every period. A beautiful thing ...


Friday, December 08, 2006

Kyoto and Miyajima

Just a few more photos from Kyoto (the cultural heart of Japan) and Miyajima (home of the famous "floating torii"). Click on the links or photos to see the full sets.



Wednesday, December 06, 2006


"The pain of Man's inhumanity to Man is unbearable"
-- written on the wall of the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Careful What You Give

Riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) headed west today, I met the delightful couple pictured above. Despite no Japanese on my part and minimal English on theirs, we managed to converse for several hours as our train sped across Honshu. I pulled out my laptop with the intention of showing them a couple of pictures of Smithers. We ended up going through half of my iPhoto library. They were quite impressed that Haleigh played hockey. They also agreed that I have a wonderful family and a very beautiful girlfriend (damn straight).

By the end of our short time on the train together, I felt like these were old friends. They typified the warm, kind, and interested nature of the Japanese people. We’ve all heard it a million times, but it is amazing how much of communication is non-verbal. Half the time, we were floundering with words, but the smiles and laughs got across the real point.

I had brought a few things with me to give as gifts and I wanted to share with these folks as thanks for the time we’d spent together. But I knew of the Japanese culture of reciprocity when it comes to gifts and I did not want to create a situation where they felt obligated to give something in return. So I secretly extracted a small bottle both of Crown Royal and maple syrup from my suitcase and awaited our arrival at their station.

As we neared the station, we began to say our goodbyes. They warmly shook my hand and thanked me profusely for the great trip. At what I thought was the last minute, I quickly handed them the very small gifts, repeated my thanks for the wonderful trip, and tried to open the way for them to exit. How naive.

With the stealth and speed of a ninja, the man opened his wallet, pulled out a 10,000 yen ($100 CDN) bill, and deftly deposited it into my pocket. This was exactly what I did not want to happen. I tried to resist and return the money, telling them that their gift to me had been the conversation and time together. They would have none of it. As one who’s intimately familiar with dogged stubbornness, I could see what I was up against. From the look on their faces as I tried to insist on returning the money, you would have thought I was holding a gun to their child’s head.

Knowing that, at this point, to further refuse would have been futile and insulting, I had no choice but to relent. They each shook my hand about 20 more times and repeated thanks constantly until the train stopped. As they were milling out, they turned with every step to wave back to me. Once off the train, they came back to the window and waved to me furiously until the car pulled me out of sight.

I felt horrible that I had created a situation where they felt it necessary to reply with a truly inordinate return gift. But it was clear that this experience had made their day. I still feel bad and I wish that they could have accepted my very simple gifts. But I guess that they wouldn’t have offered such an exorbitant gift in return if they couldn’t afford it. And the exchange of gifts raised the level of our shared experience to something that fell within their own culture and tradition. All I can do is pass on the story of these people’s incredible kindness, openness, and generosity. They are the epitome of the unique warmth and kindness of the Japanese people.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Let It Snow

This is the type of scene I was hoping for. In Sapporo on the north island of Hokkaido and the snow is flying. The air is full of light, white flakes. Not too big that they’re wet and sloppy. Not too small that they’re icy bullets pelting down from the sky. But those perfectly sized flakes that drift down from a grey sky, meandering in the quiet air, in no hurry to find the ground. Call them goldilocks flakes. It’s as if the neon streets have been thrust into one of those Christmas balls and someone has shaken it just perfectly so that the white stuff saturates the air.

I came up this way, drawn by my northern instincts, in search of the Japanese expression of winter. I arrived here the night before last and the snow started promptly the next morning. And as if according to order. It started out big, wet and sticky. After a brief dash from hotel to train station, I looked like a walking snowman. Cold and wet, but you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I love the winter. Rain gets to me. But I could take snow and cold forever. The refreshing feel of cold air tugs at something innate. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of childhood memories, but winter feels like home.

There’s something comfortable about this city. I’ve hardly been here at all, but it feels very different from Tokyo or Kyoto. And not just the weather, though that may be the root cause. The sartorial landscape (that one’s for you Vince) is varied and somewhat reminiscent of home, though in a more elegant way. Less English speaking, but the people are as warm as I’ve found anywhere. And a noticeably mellower pace. I could spend many content days here, hunched over a steaming bowl of ramen, watching the sky empty on the streets.

Unfortunately, time’s a bit tight. So after touring the surprisingly impressive botanical gardens (only the green house open), I hopped a train for a cross-country jaunt to the island’s north coast. The trip there and back took me through the rural countryside, blanketed with a virgin layer of the season’s first snow. On the way there and back, I couldn’t get over the familiarity of the winter scenes. If the rice paddies were swapped for hay fields and the signs translated to English, I would have sworn that I was on the Highway 16 headed from Smithers to Houston. I’d traveled over 7,000 km to end up in Quick.

For reasons of time and season, I’ve only managed a small taste of what Hokkaido has to offer. I feel like wine connoisseur, given just the slightest sample of a deep, rich, and complex offering of sweet nectar. Sold as I am, I must delay the full bottled rapture.

More photos here

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Harajuku Girls

Circumnavigating Tokyo on the Yamanote line, the fashion is an analogy of Japanese culture. The dress is uniformly conservative and homogeneous. Men wear business suits. Young women wear skirts with high socks. All very well dressed, but with little variety. A young man with wild hair or a hip-hop look adds the odd bit of flair. These stand out like pale stars against the otherwise uniformly dark sky.

By comparison, the Sunday crowd at Harajuku is a brilliant explosion of fireworks. Every weekend, girls (and a few guys) from the areas surrounding Tokyo ride into the city and converge on Harajuku station. Once there, they emerge like butterflies from the cocoon. The outfits are vast in variety, fulgent, and exquisitely intricate. “Gothic Lolitas” and visions from an anime reel walk the street. It’s an amazing spectacle. A feast for the eyes.

Drawn to this flame is a motley crowd of locals, Japanese tourists, and gaiijin. I was just one of many confused and bemused westerners circling the scene with camera drawn. But we weren’t alone. Buses full of Japanese tourists (yes, they have them too) stopped on the bridge to take it all in from behind tinted glass. Several older Japanese men prowled the scene, asking the girls to pose for their cameras. I couldn’t tell if they were serious photographers or just creepy old men.

Also attracted to this feeding frenzy were others seeking to capitalize on the confluence. A train of vans, painted with slogans and blaring propaganda, stopped to evangelize to the crowd. A man paced back and forth with a UFO adorned flag emboldening everyone to “Welcome E.T.” A peaceful young man held a large sign advertising “Free Hugs”.

Through it all, the girls showed an odd combination of exhibitionism and shyness. I sat along the bridge for a couple of hours, observing the scene and wondering. Why were these girls here? What drove them to this audacious form of expression? And what were they expressing? Doubtless, this was statement of individualism. These girls not only stood out from the crowd, but they also stood out from each other. But there was also a palpable sense of community and belonging. The girls arrived and remained in pairs. They greeted each newly arriving member with gleeful screams and hugs usually reserved for long lost friends. Maybe living in the less cosmopolitan outskirts of the city and alienated in their own communities, they found here a longed for sense of belonging. Many of the girls, underneath their elaborate plumage, didn’t meet the societal ideal of conventional beauty. So maybe this was a way of receiving attention not otherwise afforded.

I’m no anthropologist, so I don’t know. And I probably couldn’t understand anyway. But whatever the cause, the effect is a unique and curious bit of counterculture. Another beautiful idiosyncrasy of Tokyo.

Click Here For More Photos

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