A Walking-Distance To Vancouver

Serendipity brought my friend and I to Main Street on Sunday, June 19th just in time for Vancouver’s Car-Free Day.

As usual, the story has a rather random start: a few months ago, this friend and I took a magic class and got to know this amazing magician who, oddly enough, doesn’t have too big of an ego to make friends. Unlike the mystical, distant, and perhaps narcissistic magician stereotype, he is more like an artist and a romantic. Like most artists and romantics, he is a happy-go-lucky doer of random things. For example, this month he decided to do a Send-Wonder Campaign and hand out 13 free magic bottles every Sunday of June. He posts his location as he walks down the street, waiting for people to find him and claim the bottles. I think it’s one of the most poetic things done by someone I personally know.

Although I have already bought a bottle myself, my friend remains bottleless. The first two Sundays, my friend had to work and I was busy with school. But this last Sunday, we set out to hunt him down.

Hidden in my secret treasury, this Anything-Is-Possible Bottle is made by Vancouver Magician Jamie D. Grant. - Photo by myself

As we drove down the busy Sunday streets, his bottles were disappearing at an unbelievable speed – 8 bottles were claimed within 2 blocks! As we slowly approached Main Street, something unexpected caught our eyes: a sign saying no cars allowed on Main Street! And not a single parking spot within two-block-radius of it. Something was definitely going on. Tens of thousands of people were walking and chatting on the road; stores had all set up stands outside; and I could hear music playing. As we finally found a place to park, we knew two things right away: 1) we had missed our magic bottle; and 2) we were more than glad that we came.

Thousands of people walking down Main Street. - Photo by myself

Apparently this Car-Free Festival started back in 2005, initially hosted by Commercial Drive; but it soon snowballed in popularity and is now happening within 4 different communities in the city. Many local artists and designers came to show their works, and I even saw my old friend Gorilla Food, as a member of the Veg Fest Vancouver. Car Free day was the first street party I’ve ever been to. Of course, it didn’t feel too much like a party party because people weren’t drinking or dancing, but it was wonderful nevertheless. I can’t wait for next year (when, being wiser, I’ll actually leave my car behind!).

Scratch the "no dancing" part above. This is why I love Vancouver! - Photo by myself

An Exhausting Trip Back In Time

It’s summer cleaning time again.

My roommate and I have been very tight friends since junior high – we were boarding-school roommates back then. Many sleepovers made our mothers good acquaintances too. Now that we are sharing an apartment again, one of our mothers always comes for a visit sometime in the summer to make sure we are not buried under our own materialistic consumption and laziness – in other words, they come to clean the apartment for us.

Of course, being the good daughters that we are, we always try to at least make it presentable beforehand; and of course, being the typical mothers that they are, it’s never enough. Although each time I get the same comment (“how can you even do anything in a place like this?”), I’d like to think that we are improving each year. This year in particular, I’ve booked someone to clean the kitchen and wash the carpet the day before my mother’s arrival, and I even plan to do a broken furniture disposal the day before that. Now, the only thing left for me to do is to organize things around so that my carpet would show.

Which is not as easy as it sounds.

Organizing is more like a workout than an art or a science. Photo by Katie Harris.

In my defense, my room is really far from horrible, especially compared with most of my friends. However, I am not entirely without problem:

For one thing, I have a mild compulsion for buying books whenever I’m under stress. Unfortunately, I don’t read as fast as I buy them. I also like to reread good books a lot, and I have a great issue with getting rid of unread books – which altogether means there are more books than I have room for.

I also have a thing for notebooks. I have many pretty notebooks that are empty because I don’t have that many things to write about. Especially since I’m a rather fast typer and a horrible speller, most notebooks I bought, I bought for pure aesthetic reasons. It’s like a dress so resplendent you know you’ll never wear, but you have to have it just to lighten up the wardrobe.

I try my best to keep my books away from the floor, which turns out to be very hard. Photo by Henry Bloomfield.

So where to begin …

As usual, I start with piling up my old assignments and handouts from school for recycling. I had many pleasant surprises along the way – bad sketches on the margins of my notes, which I thought were masterpieces back then; ideas I believed were ingenious but were never carried out; fragments of stories I wrote, that hardly make any sense now but it’s always interesting to try to figure out what was on my mind at the time.

It was not easy to throw them away. These ideas, random thoughts, paper-full of words, horrible sketches… I spent time on them. They were a part of me, and by throwing them away; I fear that they’ll never come back.

It was by then I started to understand the idea of hoarding. Of course, compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder and the hoarders’ ideas of keepsakes usually go way beyond our imagination. However, the underlying idea is the same – we want to hold on to ourselves, as much as we can.

Some things may seem meaningless to others, but they are treasures hidden deep in our hearts. Photo by Timitrius.

As I force myself to be more and more responsible, my notebook consumption has been cut down significantly. However, I still have more unread books than a person can read, and many read books that I should probably let go. I guess everybody has one or two things they always find emotional comfort with – be it clothes or dolls or stamp collections – that are really hard to let go of. My obsession with books may make me sound like a scholar, (of course, it would be better if I actually read all of my books), but fundamentally it’s not that different from all the other obsessions people may have. I value their presence more than their function, and it is, for the most part, irrational.

But people are not meant to be entirely rational. As I put some of my unread books into a bag, preparing for a trip to the used bookstore, I realized that I could never deny how much comfort the sight of these unopened books have brought me. They, like many other things that have happened in my life, use to be a part of me. Now I have to leave them behind.

Maybe that part of me will never be found, but I can always get something new. As I promise myself (yet another time) stop overbuying, I am really looking forward to my mother’s arrival. And of course, I hope she can change her comment a little this year.

Why I Am Not an Artist

So I was taking my life-sized self-portrait painting back from the studio – the product of me trying to train the artistic part of my brain by taking an introductory-level art class. It was two days before recycling day at school, and I almost left it there to be pulverized for the good of the planet. But then I figured I should probably keep it, if only for a while, since I had worked on it a long time and taken pains to finish it. I knew that at least my mom would like to see it. So I tucked it under my arm and began my journey home – by bus.

This much I can say: the ride was very, very embarrassing indeed. I didn’t have anything to cover the portrait up with so I sort of had to cover it with my body – only the middle part, of course, since I was carrying it sideways. But it was a nice day, so even this did not spoil my mood too much. I dropped my U-pass as I entered the bus, but the driver kindly picked it up for me. It all started well.

This is what I did, only more awkwardly. A pic by Ramona Forcella.

Just before the bus took off, this guy got onboard. He was in his 40s or 50s. As he sat down next to me, I could tell he was peeking at my canvas because I had it leaning with the painting side towards me. “Well, people get curious,” I thought. That’s normal. Incidentally, we got off at the same station. He got off first but slowed his pace so he could talk to me. I was expecting a compliment on my work from him, but I was in store for more than that.

“Is it… your mom?” he asked. Not a perfect start.

“It’s me.” I smiled and held it right side up so he could see. We were still in the middle of a sidewalk so I didn’t hold it up long. I wasn’t all that upset about his comment since at least he could tell the subject was something resembling myself. I added helpfully: “It’s a real-life sized self-portrait.”

“Wow, that would be my second guess. Really well-done. Did you paint it from a picture?” “Yes, I did use a picture.” It was true. A friend of mine had taken a picture of me which I then used to paint from. I smiled a little more as he kept mumbling “really well-done” and “very good”. I have to say I was very much flattered.

He went on: “So do you do wall-paintings or something? Could you paint on a wall if I gave you a picture?”

This was going in an unforeseen direction, and a rather strange one too. I hesitated but kept my smile: “I’ve never done that, but I suppose that it’s possible.”

Then, he said: “Well, do you…do you work as a painter or something? Can you do a painting from a picture, if I give you one, you know, like a wall painting?”

These were all the thoughts running through my head at the time, in order of occurrence:
1, Are you serious?
2, If I say “Are you serious?” would it sound like I’m interested in actually doing it?
3, This is 100-level visual art, and I’m barely keeping my mark above 70%. Is he trying to pull some sort of a scam, or is he just a really nice guy who doesn’t know much about art?
4, Was I missing a huge opportunity for an amazing story by saying “no”?
5, I’m not trying to be an artist here, you know.
6, I’ve been thinking too much and thinking off track. I should really say something now.

My trains of thoughts. Not very well organized, though. - Photo by Neff Conner.

All right. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I said afterwards. I guess that’s what shock does to your brain. Plus I was having like 5 trains of thought running on at the same time in my head, which was probably a handful for both my working memory and long-term memory. But anyhow, I said something like “I really don’t think I’m good enough.” I guess the train-of-thought number 3 was most dominant at the moment.
He said: “Well, I think you are. But if you rather not do it, I suppose that’s fine.”
And I thanked him yet another time and departed.

Then I think my trains of thoughts just crashed into each other. I have no recollection of how I walked through the remaining streets and hallways of my apartment building and got home.

You know, to be honest, I don’t think I’m a modest person. If I think I’m good at something, I can hardly hide it. But in this case, I really, truly, sincerely, don’t think it has something to do with any tendency to modesty that I might have.

As soon as you take out a drawing board, people start to call you an artist. I wish someday I could smile to that title. - Photo by Supermac1961.

Here’s an example to explain myself better: my mom looks very young for her age. All the salespersons are shocked when I call her “mom” in stores. It’s happened so many times now that we hardly feel anything but “here we go again,” when it happens. I mean, as a woman she feel happy when people think her age is 5 years less than her actual age (which I won’t tell here, promise, mom). But occasionally we encounter people who are either trying very hard to please her, or are extremely bad at guessing someone’s age – they’d say to my mom: “you look like you’re in your 20s!” Now, I promised not to talk about her real age, but I can also promise you that it’s way over 20 – she’s my mom, after all. At times like these, she just gives a really awkward smile and nod in reply. After one of these encounters told me that it sounded so  . . . so far-fetched that she doesn’t feel flattered any more when someone compliments her in this way.

Well, that’s what I felt today. The praise I received was so over-the-top that I couldn’t really take it as a compliment.

No doubt I was happy and that the man totally made my day, but come on. I was taking the introductory visual art course, and still barely keeping up with the class average. Yet here was me: a B-student, carrying a canvas on one of the most embarrassing days of her life, taking the bus, bumping in to this guy by chance — and then being offered a painting job to do?

People hang strange things up on the wall. I should be more open about what counts as art. - Photo by Jason Anfinsen.

Okay, all right, I might be taking this more seriously than he expected me to. Chances are what he meant wasn’t a serious “job,” and all he wanted was a random piece he could hang in his living room while pretending to be artistic (sorry, Mr. Man, but picking me really made me doubtful of your sense of art).

But here’s the real reason I’m writing this post – well, one of the real reasons, aside from keeping a record and showing off the amazing day I was asked to paint for someone – is to ask a question: am I being too dogmatic about what makes good art? I mean, although art is an acquired skill, and the grade I received in the course suggests that I was no where near mastering it – does it mean that it is impossible for me to produce a good piece of art? Even if my piece is to be artistically horrible, as long as someone likes it, and enough to hang it in his own living room, who cares? I’m not pretending to be a master artist here – so even if I happen to sell a painting, completely by accident, it’s not like I’m cheating right?

My Small Attempt in Having a Greener Life

It was by sheer chance that I recently stumbled upon some really powerful articles arguing about how, if we eat less meat, the world will become a better place, at least for farm animals. In fact, they were so powerful that I have made a decision I thought I’d never ever consider – I’m becoming a weekday vegetarian.

“Wait a minute,” I can almost hear you say, “a weekday vegetarian? Is that even allowed?” Let me begin by saying that there are two types of people in the world: ones who live perfectly happily without meat, and ones that can’t, and I belong to the latter. So that is why I have never considered the possibility of me doing something like that until I came across this amazing TedTalk by Graham Hill, the founder of TreeHugger.com.

Graham Hill proposed an interesting idea of being a weekday vegetarian, saying that if all of us become part-time vegetarians, it’s as if half of us have become full-time vegetarians. Very appealing proposal for someone who barely knows the names of a handful of veggies, like myself. And that’s exactly what I’ll do. Starting today.

My breakfast today was an apple turnover at Blenz. Not the healthiest choice, but with bacon sandwiches and ham croissants out of the picture, this was the best I could get. Did I mention I am rather picky about food? In fact one of the main excuses I had for not going veggie was that I hate green peppers and carrots. Strangely enough, these are among the most popular must-put-ons for pretty much any veggie dish I’ve seen. Am I worried? Yes, but since people survive with peanut allergies or lactose intolerance or diabetes, I figured disliking green peppers and carrots probably wouldn’t kill me, or my veggie devotion.

My lunch. I've always liked Udon soups and their key ingredient usually isn't meat anyway.

And then, here comes tonight – the first challenge I must conquer before I can put that “gone green!” label over my forehead.

As a newly-pronounced weekday veggie, I have yet to discover my secret collection of the “that tastes so much like meat but it’s actually made of tofu!” places in Van city. Don’t worry, I’m not starving yet. I know this one place on campus that makes amazing bagels. Last time I had a mixed-fruit bagel toasted with butter that totally brightened my day. (Butter! I know! But as a beginner I haven’t gathered enough courage to try vegan yet. Maybe later.) Only this time, it’s closed.

If you are a student like me, you’ll probably know that there aren’t a ton of places to eat during summer time. There was a good pizza place close by, but their only veggie pizza was practically covered with green pepper. I had a real struggle with my id over whether that pineapple-and-bacon pizza was okay – there were only few slices! – and somehow managed to step away. Victory!

Without too much winning spirit, I walked to my last resource before having to go to class with an empty stomach – Starbucks. Hardly sounds like a dining place, but they do make Panini’s that at least look pretty good. Unfortunately, there weren’t any veggie ones. I thought about starting with an “I’m vegetarian but I sometimes cheat with fish because fish don’t feel pain (which, by the way, is not true)” attitude just to get the momentum going, but then decided having tuna for dinner on my first vegetarian day wouldn’t be very encouraging. Being not the biggest fan for yogurt (I said I was picky), I went for fruit salad and lemon raspberry loaf.

My dinner. I find lattes fill up my stomach rather fast, but how green is drinking coffee again?

Now, here’s the first day of my green life. Not the biggest success one can expect, but I’m getting there. Will I be strong enough to continue, or will I surrender to temptation some day? Most importantly, will I ever find my secret collection of restaurants that are both green and awesome? We’ll see about that.



Eat Like A Gorilla

If you haven’t heard the news yet, I have recently been brainwashed by an amazingly inspiring talk and decided to venture into the world of vegetarianism. As someone coming from the land of good food (i.e. China), my initial instinct is to jump onto Google and Yelp, searching for the Vancouver vegetarian restaurants collection. Diving into the world of good bagels and tasty salads, something unique caught my eye – Gorilla Food; raw, organic, vegan, and live foods only.

The place is like a mini rain forest in the middle of downtown Vancouver; you can’t miss it.

I don’t know what your initial reaction is, but a picture of a huge bowl of grass and leaves suddenly popped up in my head as I was reading this. In fact, Gorilla Food has quite a positive review on Yelp. But coming from a background where no food goes uncooked, I wasn’t convinced. Now, there is only one way to find out – try it out myself.

Gorilla Food is located at 436 Richards Street, downtown. I parked my car in a nearby parking lot and headed towards the dim, semi-underground room that looked almost like a pub. For a restaurant with such a well developed website, I was sure expecting a bigger space. But the yellowish light, the tree decoration, and the interesting paintings around the walls made Gorilla Food small, but intimate. I heard people at the other table discussing science and philosophy. As we took our order by the counter and sat down, I felt like this indeed was a good place for some profound, intimate, and philosophical conversations.

Before I let go of the big secret of how I liked the food, let me first tell you what my expectations were. To be honest, I came here expecting to eat like a cow. I was expecting a variety of unusual salads with mysterious dressings and odd-looking leaves. With maybe a banana for dessert. I have had some good experience with Vegan desserts by now, but nothing so far was entirely raw. After all, how can you substitute bread?

GO Veggie Burger – the brown piece on the left is the raw bread. Not for everyone, but I liked it.

As it turns out, you can. There are a variety of different raw bread recipes you can find online, which basically involve mixing a bunch of vegetable pulps together before dehydrate them. It’s not an easy process, but it’s do-able. And I have to say it tastes very different, in a good way. Plus it’s not only green and organic, but also healthy and low fat.

So how was my dinner? I must say, if gorillas eat like this, I wouldn’t mind being a gorilla. Frankly speaking the dishes don’t usually have the best looks, but they do have some one of a kind tastes. I ordered the GO Veggie Burger and my friend ordered the Green TACO (the capital letters confused us too). We didn’t leave a seed behind. Although the only ingredients I could identify in the burger were tomato and lettuce, it had such a rich taste that beats many of the dining places I am used to – the ones which serve well-cooked meat dishes that make you schedule an extra hour of workout for the whole week to burn off the additional fat.

For me, the best part of a meal is always dessert. And Gorilla Food has the best apple pie I’ve ever had. Seriously. Remember the usual apple pies you get from restaurants where they’re either too sweet or too sour or both? But because the apple here was uncooked, it was sweet to just the right degree. With a hint of coconut milk, it was the highlight of the meal.

Apple Pie – Best apple pie ever! It practically screams out “I’m ugly but I’m tasty”

I guess now the question becomes: will I go raw? The answer is, sadly, no. But though I’m not confining myself to a life of eating cow food, I will definitely come back in the future to try out other dishes at Gorilla Food. Humans mastered the secret of cooking with fire after thousands of years of raw eating. Interesting how thousands of years later, we’re developing ways to cook without fire – all for the same reason, to survive. If by eating more vegetables than meat we can make the planet a little better, I’m willing to try it. If with food as good as Gorilla Food, I’m willing to try a bit harder. And yes, I will order the apple pie next time again.