The Year in Review

This year…

January… I didn’t do much other than school. But I did spend some time wandering around Chinatown with my camera.

February… I caved and went over to check out all the fuss around the Olympics. I ended up wandering around with my friend Clare and bumped into a bunch of other people I knew. It was cold, grey, and wet, but now I can say I’ve been to the Olympics.

March… I, and some others, did a series of interactive, contemporary reworking of the Stations of the Cross as an installation in the south lawn of the Cathedral. It was really well received and quite impacting for those of us who created it as well.

April… My cousin got married! I went to Montreal for the wedding.

May… The conference I spent far too many hours working on finally happened on my birthday. I got to have a birthday lunch with Brian McLaren!

June… I went to Portland for an Episcopal Church mission conference. I road-tripped down and had a lot of fun!

July… spur-of-the-moment trip to France! On my friend’s boat! Viva la France!

August… I finally got to Symphony Splash on the long weekend. The Victoria Symphony plays a concert from a barge in the middle of the Inner Harbour. We sat on the lawn of the Legislature for the show. It culminates with the 1812 Overture, complete with fireworks shot off from one of the Navy boats.

September… I didn’t take many pictures. I didn’t do much other than school. I did pick a lot of blackberries though.

October… Also took very few photos…


November… Jen and I went to San Francisco!

December… It snowed in Victoria again! And I went to Edmonton for Christmas.

Eclipsed: Who Has Seen the Moon?

I remember the first lunar eclipse I saw. I was young, I don’t remember how old. Young enough that Dad would still pick me up and hold me in his arms.

We lived on Bleecker still, in Belleville. My room was the bedroom across the hallway from my parent’s bedroom.

My parent’s bedroom had a little balcony off of it. It was over top of the sunroom, what had been an old porch when they moved into the house. I am not sure if the balcony was there when they bought the house, but it was a great thing to have when I was younger. I recall many lunch times sitting up there with Mum and Jen in lawn chairs. I guess it got more sun than the front porch and the garden.

I remember one evening being woken up by Mum or Dad. They brought me out onto that porch off of their room and Dad pointed up at the sky.

The moon was gone. Hidden behind the shadow of the earth. Or at least that is what I know now.

I don’t remember if I was given an explanation of what was going on. I just remember the wonder of the full moon disappearing.

The next morning, pictures of the eclipse were on the front page of the Belleville Intelligencer. I felt important at school for having been up to witness it happen in real time.

* * * *

It was an overcast day all day today in Victoria, nearly the other side of the country from my first lunar eclipse sighting. The clouds cleared up just long enough to watch the moon disappear. Then they rolled back in again.

If the moon has reappeared, I cannot say.

Seven

Everyone has defining moments, the kind that you can point to and say “I remember where I was when…” For many people of my generation, we can remember where we were, what we were doing when Princess Diana died, when the aeroplanes crashed into the Twin Towers. For my parents generation, they remember when man first walked on the moon, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and so on.

For me, I add November 5, 2003.

November 4, 2003 was a fairly normal day in our abnormal life. We had some good friends from our Ontario days visiting us in Prince George, where we lived at the time. At home was Dad, Mum, and me. Jen was at school in Edmonton. We did the usual dinner, spend some time with Mum, go to bed. I likely stayed up late working on a paper in the den. I don’t really remember anything special about November 4th.

Sometime between 5 and 5:30 am on November 5th I woke up to Dad pounding up the stairs. He had been sleeping in the living room on one of our bunk beds, beside the hospital bed Mum had been sleeping in for a few months. I jumped out of bed and met Dad at the top of the stairs.

“She’s gone. She must have stopped breathing sometime after we were up at 1am. I woke up and didn’t hear the oxygen going any more and I knew something was wrong. She’s gone.”

And now, when people recite the old verse, “Remember, remember the Fifth of November…” I remember. But I remember someone else.

circa 1981
Photo from Aunt Nancy’s slides.

RIP: Passport, Pt. 5

I have had to renew my passport, my passport that I have travelled extensively on for the last five years… To pay homage to the places I have been, I photographed each page of the passport. I plan to go through them all and share one or two funny/strange/awkward stories relating to the stamps on that page.

The Solomon Islands. Papua New Guinea. There are so many things that could be said about both of these places. We got a rat in Honiera, Guadalcanal, Solomons. We saw lots of flying foxes in Madang, PNG. We built a canoe in PNG. We dove in the Solomons.

I thought of telling the story of Danny, the corrupt Aussie expat who has the town officials wrapped around his fingers in Gizo. Except that is a sad story and Danny is probably in jail now.

I enjoyed Gizo for another reason. I managed to connect with a group from one of the local churches when I was there. I was walking through town on my day off and stumbled across a church sports day. One of the youth teams invited me to join them and I spent the day playing volleyball and soccer with them. It was a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure I was the only white person there, but that wasn’t anything that I noticed or that seemed important at the time. The sports day was made even better by the quality music they were playing. Most of it was “worship” music from about five to ten years earlier. Some of it was “classic” Christian stuff from the 80’s. The best song was off of Petra’s 1987 album This Means War That was a summer roadtrip staple for many years when Jen and I were picking music; I believe I still have the cassette tape.

RIP: Passport, Pt. 4

I have had to renew my passport, my passport that I have travelled extensively on for the last five years… To pay homage to the places I have been, I photographed each page of the passport. I plan to go through them all and share one or two funny/strange/awkward stories relating to the stamps on that page.

Vava’u Harbour in the Kingdom of Tonga was one of the biggest harbours on Offshore. It doesn’t compare to somewhere like Honolulu/Pearl Harbour or Shanghai, but as far as South Pacific yacht havens, it takes the cake. There were hundreds of boats docked and anchored there. Most were anchored in the huge, protected harbour of Nieafu.

Nieafu was an interesting place. I spent some time in the market there and wandered its shops. It definitely was a South Pacific town catering to the yachties crowd. I found some fun stuff there that I still use today.

There was a huge schooner anchored in the harbour. To the best of my memory, it was nearly as long as the Grace except it was a sleek, expensive looking, fibreglass hull with automatic push-button sails. It had a small crew that could raise and lower all sail from the cockpit and were kept busy polishing the ship each and every day. And our guys thought morning clean-up was bad! We later heard that it had been boarded by pirates somewhere else in the South Pacific.

Pirates operate in different ways in different parts of the worlds oceans. We hear a lot about the big operations off of the east coast of Africa where the pirates use speed boats with cannons to get oil tankers and the like. It is a little more subtle than that in the South Pacific. Usually what happens is an unsuspecting yachtie will come across a poor soul adrift in a life boat. Taking pity on them, they bring the fellow aboard to feed and water before dropping them in the next port. Or so they think. What happens, more often than not, is the poor shipwreck victim waits until the yachtie(s) are out of the way – asleep or in a different part of the boat – and uses the radio to call his buddies who are waiting just over the horizon or around in the next lagoon. They come up, guns ablazin’ (figuratively speaking) and take over the boat with the help of their guy on the inside.

Moral of that story? No more Mr Nice Guy. If you’re going to help shipwreck victims on the high seas when there seems to be no reason for them to be adrift on their own, use caution and never let the radio out of your sight. Another good tactic is to sail around in a wooden boat without any shiny parts with dozens of young people swarming all over it at all times. That scares a lot of people off.

RIP: Passport, Pt. 3

There are only two things on these pages: the second Chinese visa and an upside-down stamp for Palmerston Island (in the Cook Islands). The second is not really a customs stamp, but it is pretty much the coolest stamp in the entire passport. Unfortunately, mine was the only one that got stamped upside-down…

To tell the story of the Chinese visa, I remember back to May 2007 when I went over to Vancouver, on my week off, and spent some time getting visas for the entire crew and Skipper’s family. It is the best summary I have of the story of the second Chinese visa…

Today I went down to W Broadway to the Chinese Consulate to get visas for our crew because we need to get them before we arrive in Shanghai on the boat next February. I got there between 9:30 and 9:45; the embassy opened at 9am. The room for visa applications was already full of about 200 people, mostly sitting down on long benches like they have in train and bus waiting rooms. I was one of maybe 4 white people in the room and I felt like I was in China: all the signs were in Chinese, all I could hear spoken around me was Chinese, all the people were Chinese, I was taller than everyone, and it was very crowded. There was a sign at the entrance to the room saying “No numbers today.” Great, a free-for-all, Chinese style, of people trying to get visas (or so I thought). I surveyed the room for a few brief seconds before deciding to stand in one of the short lines at one of the two windows for visa applications, dreading wasting my entire day (of 5 very precious days off) at the Chinese Consulate. A very forceful white lady inserted herself in front of me: “What number are you?”

“The sign said no numbers today.”

“Oh, there are numbers alright, I’m 791 [or whatever it was].” She proceeded to enlighten me that they had already run out of numbers for the day – people started queueing at something like 6am in the alleyway. Well, I was not about to come back at 6am tomorrow morning, so I decided on trying my luck at today.

Fortunately, the SALTS office had been in communication with someone at the consulate and had given me a letter, signed by our executive director, introducing me to them. I stayed in line, budged in front of people (in the Chinese way, of course) saying that I just had to speak with Ms. Whatever-her-name-was and saw no other way to do so. The best part was an elderly Chinese man, not in the queue, encouraging me to budge in.

I got up to a window and presented my letter (thankfully, I’d worn my Pacific Grace shirt today, one more identifier of me with SALTS) and said that my company had been in contact with someone at the embassy and I was here and didn’t know how else to speak with her. The lady at the window disappeared with my letter into the back for a few minutes. I spent those minutes hoping no one would discover I had no number and shoo me away. She reappeared and simply asked me if I had the completed form. I pulled all 15 applications out of my bag and pushed them under the window.

After a few minutes of explaining that, yes, I am not going to China until February and I know that is a long way away, however I will not be able to get the visa between now and then because I will be out of the country, she informed me that I had to change all of the visa applications to a multiple entry, 1 year visa. As long as it is the one that costs the amount of money for the company cheque I have on me, I don’t care what visa it is! I scooched to the side, unwilling to give up my place at the window in case I never got it back, and changed all 15 applications before shoving them under the window again. After stapling all the photos on to the applications, and removing all the paperclips, she smiled at me and said “You pick up on Friday, okay?”

“That will be just fine!”

Half an hour after I entered the Consulate, I was walking back down Broadway, laughing to myself for a good two blocks: guanxi is alive and well in Canada as well as in China and I am very glad I had that letter.

RIP: Passport, Pt. 2

My Chinese visa was the first thing that officially went in this passport. We will get to the first unofficial thing in a few pages.

In 2006 I travelled to China for six weeks on a culture and language exchange with InterVarsity. The memorable moment that goes with this page has less to do with the destination and more to do with the way of getting the visa.

We travelled to China as a group and, as a result, our visas and aeroplane tickets were bought as a group. In the months preceding our trip, I recall a flurry of activity trying to get everything ready and paperwork all filled out. The three of us from Victoria had arranged for our passports and completed visa applications to be sent to our group leaders in Vancouver. From there, they were to be taken to the consulate for processing.

On the eve of the day of the appointment at the consulate, I received a call from the group leader: “Gillian, you did not sign the visa application! We need your signature in order for it to be processed!”

“But I can’t get you that before tomorrow and you have to take them in all together! … Wait – you have my passport there. I’ve signed it. Just forge my signature.”

… “Um, are you sure about that?”

“Do we have any choice?”

And that is how I got my visa to China.

RIP: Passport, Pt. 1

I have to renew my passport.

I got this passport in November 2005. At the time, I was sad to renew because the previous one was my first solo passport and it had my Australian Student Visa in it. I mourned the loss of that first passport, though I was able to keep it in my possession.

This time, I am even sadder to renew my passport. It has been with me through the last five years and those five years have been my most travelled years: of the 24 pages in the passport, two and a half still have space for stamps. Yet I have to renew. It expires in November and I am due to travel internationally in November/December. Before I travel, I need to get a visa and before I get a visa, I need a new passport. Reluctantly, I begin that process…

To pay homage to the places I have been, I photographed each page of the passport. I plan to go through them all and share one or two funny/strange/awkward stories relating to the stamps on that page.

Today, from the first two pages: Germany and Austria 2006 and French Polynesia 2007.

In 2006, Natalie and I travelled to Europe for three months. On arrival in Copenhagen, we both used our EU passports (her: British, me: Dutch) because the line was much shorter and, as it was late at night, all we wanted to do was get out of the airport to my friend Nina’s house. This was fine, except we did not get any European entry stamps.

Fast forward to crossing the border out of Germany and the Euro Zone and into the Czech Republic a month and a half later. I am on the train and am awoken from my daydream/nap by the customs agent demanding my passport. Assuming they also want my train pass (not valid with a European passport), I hand over the Canadian one. The boarder guards demand to know where my entry stamp is. I do not have one and all I can muster in my dazed state is “They didn’t stamp it.” That must have satisfied the guards because they eventually stamp my passport and I am in. These are some of the only stamps I received in my three months/10+ countries in Europe.

French Polynesia was the first “foreign” port of call on Offshore. Yes, we had stopped in Hawaii after leaving Victoria, but the United States of America does not qualify as foreign in my books, even if it is the Hawaiian Islands. We landed first, and cleared customs in Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. Despite the fact that the islands are made up of a majority Polynesian population, all of the customs agents or “gendarmerie” are Frenchmen from France who come over to work in the Islands. They came aboard to clear us in and, in keeping with being good hosts, I, as cook that day, brought up a basket of tea, coffee, and biscuits to offer to the gendarmes.

Understand that everyone in the South Pacific wears the simple outfit of a sarong/lava lava/pareo and a t-shirt. Everyone, that is, except the gendarmerie. Instead, they wear their tight blue button up short sleeved shirts with navy short shorts and knee socks. They were quite the sight. I, in my awkwardness of two weeks at sea and rusty French, addressed them with the informal form of “you.” I am so sorry, Madame. I did learn something in French class but the short shorts and long socks shocked it clean out of me.

Hove to

To continue to appease the northern commenter… I offer this previously unpublished piece of writing, from this day in history…

June 20, 2007. 139nm

I never get tired of the sunsets out here. We’ve passed below 10N and so the wind is somewhat lacking, meaning the sea can be somewhat glass-like.

Yesterday and today we hove-to for a swim stop. Yesterday, I ended up with far too much saltwater in my body so today I took the snorkel gear out. How many people can say they’ve gone snorkeling in 15,000ft of water? It is so incredibly blue and surprisingly clear. All you can see are the people around you and tiny jellyfish ranging from the size of a dime to about 15cm in diameter. The small ones would sting a bit, but you don’t really feel it.

I never last long out there because I pretty much have no stamina. When I got out of the water, I went up and sat on the bowsprit. It was a unique perspective to look back at the swimmers and the boat against the endless horizon. Just us and the ocean.

I also did my first sights today with the sextant. It is neat to be learning such an old craft, albeit with some modern equipment. I was only 1.6nm off on my first sight which is pretty good. I haven’t calculated how I did on my second sight. The process reminded me of that part in Red Rackham’s Treasure where Thomson and Thompson try to correct Captain Haddock on his navigational calculations to which he replies: “Gentlemen, please remove your hats.” “Why?” “Because according to your calculations, we are now standing inside of Westminster Abbey.” It makes me laugh just thinking of it…

We caught another dorado today. I guess it is in the freezer which means I’ll be expected to do something with it tomorrow. Meals seem to be less exciting on this leg. For one thing, we didn’t buy as much in Hawaii as we did leaving Victoria. I think the allergies are more restrictive on this leg as well.

Well, it has cooled down and I am cooking tomorrow so… ‘night.