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 DTES 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. He'd 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. 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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

SkyTrain Geopolitics

I saw the most odd conversation taking place on the train today.

There were three exchange students talking heatedly in English. When the students are all from Asian countries, it's usually a mini-lesson in international relations.

There was one tall, serious-looking Asian guy with huge eyes and studious glasses, talking with two girls, one very quiet and plain-looking one and another flashy, extremely beautiful girl with long, wavy, 80's style hair and white jeans with horizontal rips all across her thighs. From the rips, you could see flashes of white lace over bare legs underneath. Very stylish.

Anyway, the guy suddenly made a very uncomfortable face, and started to squirm a bit.

"Well...Taiwan is just Taiwan. It's a country," he said, slowly and matter-of-factly.

"What language do you speak in Taiwan?" the long-haired girl snapped.
"You speak Mandarin, right? Where did Mandarin come from? China, of course!"

I, and other passengers on the train, watched in amazement as this extremely pretty, petite girl gave an agitated explanation about why Taiwan was not a real country, waving her manicured fingers emphatically through the air, to give a rhetorical smackdown to the guy.

He seemed somewhat uncomfortable, and mumbled something inaudible, after which the girl pinched her fingers together and said,

"Taiwan is so small! Right?"

They proceeded to talk about other Asian countries, like Korea, which I couldn't hear too clearly. The initial tension died down, and they got talking about what their plans were for the weekend. 

"Well," the guy, "See you this weekend."

"See you! Bye!" the girls waved, sweetly as he got off the train. 

No sooner than the doors closed, the long-haired girl turned around, her lips turned up and showing her gritted teeth, and she let out a loud "TSK!" 

Immediately, she launched into a barrage of what sounded like complaints against the guy in Mandarin to her friend, pointing to the closed door. Her friend was a lot more subdued and calm, nodding and agreeing in a lukewarm way but trying to steer the conversation in another direction rather than feeding dher friend's irritation.

It seemed like the only thing keeping this conversation from degenerating into a full-on argument was the English language -- being very good at it, but still not using many curse words, they kept that segment of the conversation tense but respectful during the train ride. 

Generally, at gatherings, I hate being asked by other Asian people what background I am. My background is as much a determinant of identity as my social class and political beliefs.

For starters, I am technically Canadian, and so are my parents. Further, the region my parents come from is extremely detached from mainstream Japanese culture, so it's not really possible to make a comparison. Yet the minute I say 'Japanese', one of two things seem to happen: 1. I become a "suggestion box" for all things that suck about Japan and all the awful things the country has ever done, 2. I am hit with all the reasons why the person thinks Japanese food or culture is amazing --- none of which I deserve even one iota of credit for. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Observing people more deeply

My mother told me she was a bit sad that I didn't seem to sketch people anymore, or observe them as deeply as I used to. That hit me like a brick: it was true, I have been so preoccupied lately that each time I'm on the SkyTrain or bus, I'm hardly looking at people like I used to. Just like beautiful clothes and soaps never registered when I had no money to buy them, interesting people or scenery doesn't register with me anymore because I have no time to draw anymore.

This got me thinking about what was really important in this life. I'd like to draw more often again. For years I thought there was no audience but even if it's only my mother who enjoys my comics and drawings, I feel I need to start again. 





そもそも「純粋なカナダ人」なんて先住民(ファーストネーション:カナダ人口の4パーセント程)しかいません。あとはみんな, ルーツを辿ればどこかからの移民だし、中国系やインド系、日系の人だって、19世紀後半あたりからずっとカナダにいる家族もいます。

カナダ人には色々な人種の人たちがいますが、基本的外見で判断しては駄目。アメリカの「melting pot」(同じ鍋にとけ込む)文化とは違って、お互いの違いを尊重するモザイク文化では、ターバン巻いていようが、家では広東語しゃべろうが、英語が多少なまっていようが、同じカナダ人です。

バンクーバーは保守派よりは左翼よりの人があつまる街なので、偏見的な意見は極力避けた方が良い。内心「○○人はイヤ」とか「ホモって嫌い」だなんて思ってても、口に出したらアウトです。Racistとかsexist とか homophobicというレッテルを張られると損なので、なるべく避けた方がいい。

2。First Nations の土地であることを忘れないこと。よく政治家絡みのイベントでは、「まずはじめに、ここはセイリッシュの土地であることを皆様に自覚していただきたい」的なことを言うけど、バンクーバーではこれは特に大事!最近、バンクーバーの市長も「Vancouver formally recognizes city was built on unceded First Nations territory」と公式に発表してます。"Unceded" = 譲っていない、と言う意味です。白人/移民の手によってバンクーバーや他の街は出来てしまったものの、先住民の許可はなかったことの自覚です。これは重大なことです。時々カナダに来る人たちは「ネイティブの人たちって酔っぱらいばかりでしょう」とか「あの人たちって街から出て行けば良いのに」だなんて軽く言いますが、とんでもない。元々彼らの土地だし、GDPとか学問とか言う話以前に、自分たちのほうがよそ者と言うことを忘れてはいけません。実際、BC集で石油会社とBC州のネイティブが土地の使い方について裁判を起こすとすると、ネイティブの方が有利の場合が多いのです。

自然豊かなBC州は、あくまで先住民 (First Nations, Indigenous, 間違っても「インディアン」と言っちゃ駄目)の土地だと言う意識は強いです。ロブソンでも、ダウンタウンでも、ノースバンクーバーでも、先住民の土地を借りているってことは決して忘れては行けません。もちろん、先住民たちは過去にも今でも、激しい人種差別にあいますし、年配の方の場合は想像を絶するひどい暴力を味わった人たちもいます。でも、とくに温暖化や環境問題が多い中、彼らの自然と共に生きる文化がとても見直されています。先住民族の権利を忘れては行けないという意識が高い人たちがバンクーバーにはいっぱいいます。







8。色々と物価が高い。果物はまあ比較的安いけど、その他高いものがいっぱい。家賃が馬鹿にならないほど高い。West endでは意外と安いアパートもあります。古いビルでも、一応ダウンタウンだし、海の近くなので最高です。


10。「和」は意外と大切。よく、オーストラリア人とかアメリカ人が不思議に思うことは、カナダ人って実はあまり本音をはっきり言わないこと。曖昧な言い回しをしたり、内心「あ、この人きらい」とか「あの提案良くない」と思っていても、それを言葉や態度にあまりはっきりさせない。「バーン ブリッジェズ」(橋を燃やす)と言う英語の表現があるけど、「橋」とは人間関係です。橋がある間は行ったり来たりできるのを、燃やしてしまうともう二度と戻れなくなる。とくにバンクーバーでは狭い世界なので、嫌な人でもきっとどこかでつながっていたり、またあう機会がある可能性が高い。なるべく橋を燃やさず、内心面白くなくても当たり障りの無いようにつきあっている人たちも少なくありません。





Monday, May 19, 2014

Laundry girl

There are women who go to the laundry room, small pile of shirts thrown into a plastic shopping bag, with full make up and eyeliner caked on.