Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hijab Beauty


Yeah, yeah, she's doing it wrong because a bit of her hair is showing, blah blah,. etc. Anyway religion aside I admire Muslim women's fashion because it's not about "does this make me look fat/tall/skinny" it's all about the fabrics and the accessories and the clothes.

Certainly this isn't an accurate drawing, but there were quite a few women in Turkey and Jordan with this kind of style. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Power of Weakness

I stumbled upon an elderly man today while following the avalanche of people running down the Joyce Skytrain station. Like water avoiding a rock while flowing downstream, all these people were detouring to the side a little bit as they went down---I peered and saw there was a hunched over figure in a blue jacket and baseball cap, sitting in the middle of the stairs.

"Are you OK?" I asked, stopping. A man behind me was also asking the same thing. "Do you need help?"

The old man shook his head and insisted he was alright, but the stately-looking middle-aged man behind me looked at me and said, "I think he needs some help."

The man took his one arm, I took the other, and lifted him to his feet. He was so frail. He couldn't even stand up straight, his spine bent backward as if he were trying to review the sky.

The gentleman was able to guide him down the stairs, slowly, and I stuck around to ensure it would be OK. Then when we got to the bottom, the old man said he was going to be fine. But he really didn't look like he'd be able to walk home. He was pointing with trembling, thin fingers at the condo across the street, so the guy suggested we walk him home.

I took his shopping bag, which was astonishingly heavy---somehow, this old man had carried this heavy bag full of milk cartons and cans and bread all the way to the SkyTrain and collapsed midway.

We walked, slowly, slowly, across the street. He looked too frail even to get to the crosswalk, so we crossed despite the heavy traffic in the middle of the street. Normally, when I jaywalk, it's a frightening ordeal -- cars seem not to see me, and I always run to avoid being hit -- but this time, I strode confidently, holding my hand up, and all the cars halted to see the tiny old man, bent over backwards, struggling across.

He was 90. Perhaps Chinese, perhaps not. He kept saying, "Thank you sir, thank you" in a ghost of a voice that sounded so far away.

We arrived at his house, where he held out his jangling keys.
"This one?"

I pulled out the large gold key. He shook his head.

"This one?"
He shook his head again, and with trembling fingers, held a tiny key. I put it in the lock, and lo and behold it opened.

The middle aged man was talking on his phone in Arabic now. I could recognize a handful or words but knew so little I couldn't even start a conversation with him.

We left him, and his grocery bag, after he was home, but I can't help but wonder if we ought to have stayed longer. On the one hand I felt crippling sympathy for him, especially after seeing the awkward black stitch marks on his old, blue, cheap-looking jacket. But then, I felt gladness for him. At least someone in his life is there to sew that jacket up, perhaps a wife, perhaps a daughter with a clumsy hand. On the one hand I felt deeply sad for him that what was once probably a robust young man was now so fragile. On the other, what a great thing that he has a nice roof over his head, unlike many unlucky elderly people in Vancouver. How great to be in a home and not a senior's care facility.

On the one hand, I felt bad for him to not be able to make it down the stairs alone. On the other hand, what a power this physical weakness had: it forced people to stop, pay attention, help. When I am independent, I may feel like a seething wreck on the inside, but since I am relatively young and physically able, no one would help me, I am unqualified to ask strangers for help. Weakness forces distant, standoffish Vancouverites who normally never say hi, never talk to one another, to hold a stranger's hand and ensure he arrives home safe.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Writers and artists: private image versus public image.

I have no idea why writers (or artists) are portrayed as glamorous people sometimes in fictional novels and movies. To my knowledge they are some of the most slovenly, depleted-looking people in the world, especially when on deadline.

One of Japan's most famous manga artists, who draws impossibly pretty and fashionable high school girls and their equally fashionable and attractive boyfriends, had herself a lifestyle that was as far away from glamour as you could get. She hadn't bathed in a week at the time she was submitting her comic to the editors, and hadn't slept properly in her bed for days. I'm not sure how she was able to conjure up images of fabulously dressed girls on paper when she herself was wearing the same ratty T-shirt she slept in for two or three consecutive nights.

Thus I never trust author bio photos. They may look dressed up and made up for an interview or profile pic, but I'm guessing generally, the image on the left is more representative of what the creative person looks like at home during crunch time.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An unlikely white knight


So the drawing above is terrible and needs work but I needed to sketch out some rough portrait of a very kind guy in the Downtown Eastside who gave the initial impression of being gruff and unfriendly, and later turned out to be the most lovely person I'd met in a long time.

I met him while facilitating a writing class in the upstairs of a drug injection facility, for recovering addicts.

This man been involved in all manner of tragic and unfortunate things, none of which I'll list here, but we had a very real conversation about Buddhism and poetry and at the end of our conversation, it was night time and quite darkish and I was about to head out to walk back through East Hastings to the SkyTrain.

Immediately, he asked if I would feel safer if he escorted me, and even though I told him it was OK, he bounded down the stairs and insisted on walking me to the station.

It was so unexpected and kind. I was not scared of walking alone, but there was something so chivalrous about this gesture that I couldn't refuse.  I noticed that it was starting to rain and he had nothing but a black tanktop and white jeans.

"It's raining, though, are you going to be OK?" I asked, worried as we stepped outside.
"Of course!" he laughed. "I'm not melting, right?"

So we walked, and drew a few stares since he towered over me by about a foot and I was dressed in a stuffy and dour grey suit while he looked more like some kind of pirate rocker.

During our 20-30 minute conversation I don't think he swore once, which made me ashamed of my usual language. There was something utterly sincere and wonderful about the way he said it was so great that we were able to meet and talk, that I felt something divine was present in that moment, even though the conversation was mainly carried out in a dodgy area where drug trades were taking place. It was a lovely encounter and one that made me deeply appreciate life and living. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Christine's Night Out


A dating story. I'm sure most people have had some kind of similar experience before. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Emotional cost

I dreamed last night that in the same way that you could see items on a grocery receipt, I had printed out a receipt on white strip of paper the things I had done and the emotional cost it had had. Staying too late at work, obliging somebody I needn't have, spending time with someone just because I didn't want to hurt their feelings, doing something I hated only because it was the accepted thing to do....beside some small things that seemed insignificant at the time, there was a heavy price that shocked me.

Living is full of needless expenses but I will try my best from now on to minimize useless emotional expenditure. Each cost whittles down the soul.

Another thing I realized today -- art takes immense courage. As I put the colours on paper, 1,000 thoughts sprint through my mind, each encouraging me to flee and evade the art on hand:

"You should be working on something more practical"
"Isn't there something more useful you should be doing?"
"Your picture isn't very good anyway"
"The end result of your efforts won't be worth it"
"Can you even monetize this thing you're doing?"

A million times, I have to force those voices to quiet down. It's so easy for them to distract me and make my paintbrush falter and lose concentration and faith in what I'm doing. You can't create good pictures without sitting still and being absolutely focused. You certainly can't create art while taking out the garbage or wiping counters or doing spreadsheets, or even thinking too hard about these other tasks that are so much more appreciated by others.

I imagine everyone deals with this. Instead of dismissing artists as self-obsessed narcissists with inflated egos, I am starting to realize that every artist is to a degree has an immense emotional power and a will to listen to the inner voice. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Yaletown - Happy

A scene I won't soon forget. A man in his thirties, a little paunchy, Caucasian, was dancing ecstatically while walking down Davie Street in front of the Yaletown Roundhouse Skytrain. 


He seemed perfectly sane, and was not reaching out to other, enticing them to dance (like some narcissistic performers like to do) -- he made no eye contact with others on the street, sang no song, but the dancing seemed to be a natural occurrence caused by a happiness that was bursting inside of him.

He crossed the street and danced his way to what I remember perceiving as the promenade of glory in Vancouver. I remember perceiving that a high percentage of those who walk up this hill is young, attractive, rich and successful. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Ferragamo, these are all commonplace in this part of town. That's why it makes such a jarring contrast to see homeless and destitute people here, and there is almost always someone in front of the Starbucks, where people on a slightly elevated platform sip their coffee over someone sitting on the pavement, a hat on the ground collecting change.


The begging man did not even seem to notice the dancing man approach him. He stared ahead at the sidewalk before him, lost in his thoughts. But then something surprising happened. The dancing man, without missing a beat, bent down before him and extended his hand out to him -- between his fingers, the unmistakable green fold of a $20 bill. 

The begging man was overwhelmed with surprise, like he was seeing a mirage. "Really!? " he exclaimed, and the sheer surprise and joy in his eyes spoke to how rarely this kind of thing happened to him. Perhaps $2, maybe $5 -- someone very generous might drop a bill in his hat while passing by. But to have someone make eye contact, smile, and extend a $20 had probably never happened in his life. 

"Of course man! C'mon, gimme a hug," the dancing man said,  without condensation or self-congratulation. The beggar rose to his feet and hugged him, his hands like skin and bones wrapping around the man's expansive shoulders. 


It was the kind of scene that restores faith in humanity. Far better than hidden cash. I was floored to have seen it. 


Friday, June 13, 2014

Warrior girl

This morning, probably around 7am, I was walking around the area and saw a teenage girl about a block away. She was very pretty, pale with striking red hair, and had all-black thigh high socks and a black miniskirt that reminded me of some Japanese anime character.

She was walking very fast, her eyes staring stoically ahead, and she seemed to be holding something to her eye.

Was that a towel she was holding? Was she trying to block the sun? 

As she walked closer, my heart stopped. She was holding a ziplock bag, packed full with ice cubes, against her eye. Someone had hit her, probably less than half an hour ago, and she was holding an ice pack to stop the swelling before she had to face teachers and classmates at school.





What struck me was her expression --- there was no trace of pain or distress in her eyes. All there was was a stoic resolve of a warrior on her way to another battle. It was a face many victims would recognize, some stubborn feeling rising up in your chest when you have decided not to let other people see what had happened. What struck me as heartbreaking was the adorable Calvin and Hobbes design on her backpack, and the lingering traces of baby fat on her face. How old was she -- 14, 15 at best? I have had bad experiences too but have never, ever, had to try to hide a black eye inflicted by a parent or guardian while on my way to school.

I could not stop her then, to ask if she was alright, but I truly hope she is able to rise above her situation and that her abuser lands in jail. There are signals in young people that I wish people would look into a bit deeper. Aggressiveness and hostility is often caused by a deep pain or anger at injustice that needs to be transferred outside to avoid self-destruction. Stony, cold behaviour is often a defence against regularly inflicted pain. Over-politeness and consideration toward others often stems from a visceral desire not to be disrespected and having one's boundaries trampled. So often these are misinterpreted.

I hope to God this girl is able to heal right. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Richmond Casino girls

Every now and then, there are people who look too good for a particular venue. Recently at the Richmond River Rock Cafe (which I entered for the first time due to a Chinese Canadian friend's invitation), I saw amidst all kinds of people.

In that crowd, there was a very beautiful young woman with pale blond hair and a purple flower pinned on the side. She was sitting in the dark, shady food court with her friend, a tattooed, rough-looking girl. One of the guys near me guessed she may have been a prostitute, but her feet were shod with flat, comfortable-looking shoes. Who was she? Later on, an old looking man approached them and started talking with them, showing them an iPad tablet. Clearly she was working there. But how?

The one noticeable thing was that she didn't seem like she belonged in that environment. She stood out like a sore thumb. I hope she gets out of there before she begins to blend into that scenery and before it becomes too familiar to her mind.