Monday, August 31, 2009

this isn't a dutch shot, this is dish soap

i was in the middle of trying to figure out my complicated european cell phone when suddenly three belgians swooped down on me and kissed me on both cheeks. seriously, this european custom of kissing faces as a greeting is a strange custom to me, coming from a culture where we stand about three metres apart and bow respectfully. it's also an open invitation for SWINE FLU, which i suspect i have now, because i woke up really sick this morning. i'm not sure whether to blame France, or Spain, or Germany, but i've caught the European cooties and I hold the EU responsible, because it has severely hampered my ability to enjoy the city.

i woke up on saturday morning to find the Dutch flag painted on my face. i think i had a good night on friday night - a big chunk of it is a little difficult to remember, possibly due to the fact that there was a lot of free Dutch shots going around. there was a borrel being held. i still don't know what a borrel is, but from my deductions, it seems to involve the core of dutch culture, and a lot of drinking. everyone was having a grand time - the spanish boys were teaching Mom I and Mom II how to dance, the French were taking advantage of the one Euro fifty alcohol, and i was strangely excited when Bryan Adams' song Summer of 69 came on, despite the fact that neither Bryan nor I experienced love in the summer of 1969 (he was ten, and when that song came out i was a one year old baby). go canadians.

we were still pretty tired by the time we headed to the big party of the week on Saturday night, held at the famous Hotel Arena. this is an huge, old church that has been converted into a club. it is very, very strange to be dancing to trance music with a beer in your hand and to look up at the ceiling and see what appears to be frescos, with disco lights drilled through them. i left the club just before 4AM, but it was still packed when i left. the EU sure like to party - and pass out cooties.

okay, i'm just going to go crawl into a cave and hope these european cooties go away in time for my trip to Ikea tomorrow.

so i can't be a professional painter or a biker

i have been riding my new bike to get around the city, and i've gotten sore in places that i didn't know could be sore. the Netherlands is killing my nether regions. when i first bought my bike, it was really ugly, so i painted it. since it was me that painted it, it is now even uglier, but at least she is a patriotic shade of red and white. her name is Tegan, after one of my favourite Canadian bands.

i have discovered, however, that even in the safe insulation of the bike path, the bicycle still has a natural predator: the motorcycle, which for some reason is allowed to ride on bike paths. also, it appears that i do not remember how to ride a bike, because braking one single-speed bikes is really difficult, especially while navigating through a downtown crowd. so far, i've hit two curbs and one other bicyclists. i'm sure there is a motorcycle out there with my name on its front wheel. if anyone tries those idioms about "easy as riding a bicycle" or "you never forget it - like riding a bicycle", i swear, i will cry.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

gloria, biker babe

i now have a bike! look out, pedestrians, all you chumps on foot! it's my turn to terrorize the sidewalk!

Friday, August 28, 2009

it's 2AM

i am really craving some Febo right now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

still playing tourist in the city i live in

yesterday, i had a Dutch man explain to me that the Dutch are just the victims of Calvinism. it was his theory of the Dutch. if you believe that hell is an exclusive room with four chairs and you're 99% likely to go to hell unless you work really hard and don't have fun, then the idea of building an entire region that is UNDERWATER by slowly, painstakingly draining all the water from the swampy land (that is located below sea level) actually seems like a good way to spend your time.

i saw the strangest thing at the karaoke bar the other day. i kid you not. a female urinal. i kid you not. complete with a sign demonstrating how to use it. i was going to use it, just to say i did, but there was no toilet paper.

judith and hilde took us on a tour through the grocery store. it was so useful to learn which milk is milk and which is buttermilk, a mistake you do not want to make in your cereal. we bought some delicious dutch waffel cookie things and ate them in the square while playing some game that involves hitting each other on the head. we got a lot of dirty looks from tourists, which may have been because we were rough-housing at a religious monument. but thank God the Dutch are liberal.

HEY this coffeeshop doesn't serve any coffee

J-Man says:
i'd like to visit amsterdam

J-Man says:
not for the pot but because amsterdam is the one place in the world you can be a transvestite, neo-nazi, pot smoking stripper and no one will think that that's odd

lesson i learned today: it is very difficult to find simple, inexpensive, practical furniture in the red light district of Amsterdam. Ikea does not feel a need to market towards stoned tourists, although this surprises me, given the fact that there is probably nothing more appealing to a stoned tourist than the idea of 99 cent hotdogs and swedish candy.

when you think about how much tourism Amsterdam attracts from the weed-and-hookers scene, a lot of the weird things about the city start to make sense. like Febo, (BURGERS IN A FREAKING VENDING MACHINE) a concept that disgusts me to no end, but probably is the answer to the prayer of a stoner with the munchies.

also, the fact that all of the streets in the centre of downtown go in damn circles (as opposed to a rational grid system) probably work interestingly with the stoned crowds. on one hand, if you can't find a street, just walk in any given direction and you'll eventually hit it. that's useful when your IQ has been stunted badly by pot. on the other hand, you'll keep running into the same street over and over again, even if you're walking in different directions. this is probably a little freaky. maybe all the weird things in amsterdam are set up to enhance/freak out the tourists. not the Canadian tourists though. we already have Vancouver.

is it wrong that i like to look at what kind of guys go into those stores with the naked dancing girls in the windows? and i don't mean peeking...i mean getting a good look...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

dutch ovens

i am trying to pick up dutch, just enough to have a basic essential hi-how-are-you conversation and enough to understand what these damn warning signs are saying, but for some reason it's really hard. it is simply not sticking in my head. judith and hilde (whom i have renamed Mom and Mom II) taught me some dutch swear words but i immediately forgot them. on the other hand, i told them what a dutch oven was.

i hereby predict that this semester will not pass before i get hit by a bicycle here. i swear, the bicyclists here are MILITANT. they will not slow down or swerve to avoid hitting you. safely insulated from the cars in their bike paths, they are now the big fish in the proverbial small pond, at least against hapless pedestrians like me, and they act with a such a strong sense of entitlement that overcomes all sense of safety that it almost resembles the sense of entitlement found in, well, car drivers.

tonight we went to a club. then a bar. then another bar for karaoke. my feet are killing me.

if i could rewrite the playlist for karaoke tonight, i would have...

...the germans singing 99 Red Balloons (or Rammstein's Du Hast)...
...the scandinavians singing Dancing Queen...
...the spanish singing something by Bebe...
...the french singing l'amour ne dure pas toujours...
...the dutch singing something dutch, really, anything dutch, just to prove that the dutch have produced something worthwhile musically...
...and the canadians NOT singing celine dion.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


my new home is not actually in Amsterdam, but the nearby town of Diemen. the commute to school doesn't seem to be that bad, as it looks like my school is only maybe ten kilometres away. my apartment building overlooks the dutch countryside, where i get to see horses grazing in a farmfield, which is comforting because it's not that far a leap from my home in ottawa, which overlooks a cornfield. i can't actually enjoy this view right now, as it is 5AM and still dark, but i can't sleep because my body thinks it is 10PM, or even 7PM if it is still living on West Coast time (and really, could you blame it if it was?)

everyone around here really does get around on bikes. i can't wait to get mine. then i'll get to look so cool too.

jetlag stupor

well, i'm officially in that phase of the trip where confusion reigns. as far as i'm concerned, it's still monday because i didn't go to bed last night. i'm so sleepy but i can't sleep right now because it's only 4PM, or 10AM ottawa time, and either way that is not a good time to sleep. i'm supposed to go to school tomorrow but i have no idea how i'm going to get there, although i did accidentally find the train station when i was trying to find the grocery store.

grocery shopping was a bit of a challenge due to my lack of any knowledge of dutch whatsoever. i feel like people here all speak english so you could have a casual conversation with any stranger, but they keep the important stuff in dutch, like street signs, and out of order warnings, and listed ingredient contents. i have no idea what i bought at the grocery store. vollemelk? jilkewsrwjdfnasebs? dutch is not like french or spanish, which are close enough to english that i can guess what i'm about to consume.

okay, time to eat some mueslireep with sdfjkebasdfwbe and try not to sleep for at least another four hours...

Monday, August 24, 2009


waiting at the ottawa airport, getting ready to start my adventure in the Netherlands. saying good-bye to canada by listening to CBC Radio3 on the free wifi at the airport. going from vancouver to amsterdam within one week (over 9 time zones) and starting school right away will be interesting for me, to say the least.

i love you all and will miss you very much! i hope you stay in touch with me! and, once i give you all my new number, please for heaven's sake don't call me in the middle of the night (i'm looking at one particular friend who has been already doing that...)

Friday, August 21, 2009

family trip to montreal

within a half hour of getting into montreal, i found myself trying to find ways to move here sometime in the future. hello mcgill! i've had this love affair with montreal ever since i was eighteen, and my friends and i spent a week here, exploring the city and hanging out. it was the first trip i had ever taken without my parents, not including school trips. some seven years later, after many more trips, i've found there is always so much more to discover in this city.

my parents have found the same thing. my dad just bought a new GPS for our car, and instead of using a map, we've been following that around the city. yesterday, my father accidentally hit BIODOME as our destination instead of our hotel, so we ended up driving all the way across the city instead. at least it was a nice view, even if it was in the middle of rush hour. i have missed my family.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

salmon arm

spent the weekend in salmon arm for the roots and blues festival. the music (grady, serena ryder, chad van gaalen, johnny winter, Dr. John, Sam Roberts, Bedouin Soundclash, Cedric Burnside, Ana Popovic) was great, but i was an even bigger fan of the festival food...including the Doritos bag of tacos, the Wrap Daddy wraps, the corn, the mini-donuts...

even though it rained all day, it was still a lovely view to see the mountains behind the stage. you could see the remnants of the forest fires from years ago, scorched tree trunks on the mountain peaks. and folks are all friendly. someone asked me if they could take a picture of me for their fashion blog - which i assume was for the What Not To Wear section. this was my favourite conversation:

hi, where are you from?
oh, so where did you get the ethnic look?
the ethnic look?
yeah, the ethnic look.
uh, i was born with it, i guess.
no, you know what i mean...where are you from?
oh, well, my parents are from korea.
oh yeah! you mean, like karate kid?

Friday, August 14, 2009

winding down, tying up loose ends

well my summer in vancouver is drawing to a close. today is my last day at work (and i am late!) and right afterwards i'll be heading off to Salmon Arm with meg for the weekend to go to the Roots and Blues Festival, where i hope that Johnny Winter will hold on living long enough to play a sweet show. come on Johnny! Les Paul can wait!

last night i had a beautiful send-off from the various friends i've made in vancouver this summer, my roommates, coworkers, classmates, the musicians, the animators, and even a girl i've only been conversing with on the internet. we had it at my favourite vancouver bar, Cafe Deux Soleils, and Fraser let me play a set for the open mic. i played one of my oldest blues songs (Better Wash My Sheets) and my newest song about driving to Whistler. it was pretty fantastic, and makes me particularly sad about leaving this place.

okay, i better head off to work, so i don't get fired on my last day of work.

Monday, August 10, 2009


i was making my way down Main Street making disastrous financial decisions (but wonderful fashion choices) when my friend patty called me up and asked me if i wanted to go on a spontaneous road trip to Whistler. i went. i had only made it to 20th Avenue and had already blown $200 on shopping, and was quite ready to spend more, had Patty not called me. thankfully the patron saint of my credit card intervened and we were off exploring the sea to sky highway...

...which, as we discovered is quite a trip. it's just this highway that basically runs along the cliff face, giant mountains on one side of you, a steep drop into the ocean on the other side of you. intimidatingly beautiful. unbelievably dangerous.

...especially if you factor in what we out-of-province girls have yet to get used to. there are long stretches of roads in British Columbia where there are no gas stations, no stores, nothing but pure wilderness and road. this is great if you want a retreat from hectic civilization. this is bad if you are out of gas, and on a highway with sharp curves, steep cliffs, and no shoulders to pull over on.

i was getting pretty worried. at that point, we were approaching squamish, which was where my friend Majewski had passed away a month ago, when he fell off a cliff hiking. it was an uncomfortable remind of how the wilderness of british columbia was as cruel and dangerous as it was beautiful. thankfully the patron saint of road trips intervened and allowed us to coast to a little town with a little gas station. we'd had to back track fifteen kilometres but at least we made it when the needle was on empty. at the gas station, i kissed the solid ground and then bought a bunch of chips, chocolate, candy and gatorade to last us for the rest of the way to Whistler.

we met up with Patty's friend Jesse who took us into the village in Whistler. he works as a journalist for the local newspaper, so his nose for the news made him an excellent tour guide. we had dinner at a little sushi shop run by koreans; i'm not sure if we scored the free agedashi tofu because Jesse is a regular or because i ordered my meal in korean. then we took a stroll through the village by the shops and the bars and the fancy hotels. the village is an odd place. i couldn't place my finger on it. it had something to do with the disproportionately affluent population, the expensive drinks, and the faux euro feel to the architecture. because it's unabashedly blatantly built for tourists, it has this curious Disneyland feel to it. and yet it was undoubtedly in the heart of nature, by the enormous mountains and the forests, and you just had to look up to see the ravages of what the previous weeks' forest fires had left behind. people came to Whistler because the nature here is very real - and yet, there was a very fake feel to it at the same time. it was wilderness, but tamed wilderness, like manmade wilderness...or at least man-manicured wilderness. it'll be interesting how that whole feeling explodes with the Olympics next year.

patty and i drove Jesse's girlfriend Sheila home, who is a music therapist. she slept most of the way in the back seat, and patty played her favourite spanish songs for me, including this one beautiful piece by Bebe called Razones.

tengo razones, razones de sobra
para pedirle al viento que vuelvas
aunque sea como una sombra
tengo razones, para no quererte olvidar...

we were driving back through Squamish just then, and i couldn't help but think about my dead friend, how every time i try to write a song now, he keeps popping up, even though we were never that close. and how beautiful this song is now, how perfectly suited the spanish voice is to the grief the words convey, how hollow and empty and real the feelings that resonate in the midst of the wilderness here, the real wilderness, not the manicured wilderness of whistler village or blackcomb mountain, but the real wilderness of the sea to sky highway, where at any moment your loved ones could drop off and die, where at the same time you can't help but gasp at the beautiful scenery of mountains and oceans cloaked in sunset, and you can understand how you might want to lose yourself here.

i have reasons, many reasons
to ask the wind to bring you back
even if it is as a shadow
i have reasons not to forget you...


a while ago i picked up Min Jin Lee's novel Fast Food For Millionaires. essentially the book is about a twenty-something Korean-American who's supposed to go into law, but dreams about designing fashion instead. she has a major shopping problem and drinks lots of water to suppress her appetite, has a younger sister who is the perfect Korean daughter, secretly loves the Bible, and feels oddly alienated from the korean community, even if it seems to be somewhat of a self-imposed exile. you may see why i like this novel. i was reading it while walking home from work and suddenly found myself crying while standing on the Burrard Bridge. it was just the oddest thing. i felt as though this author had managed to take these feelings and unexpressed ideas that i've been struggling with all my life, and had fit it all into chapter one.

a few weeks ago, meg and i went to the Vancouver Folk Festival where i saw Mavis Staples performing. she told us stories about traveling through the States with her family as a performing group, touring from church to church. she told us about meeting Martin Luther King Jr and listening to his sermons. she blew us away with her gospel songs, and i thought about what it must be like to go to church and sing songs like this. it made me wish for a moment that i was black and that this kind of music was my heritage.

at work on friday i found myself humming the traditional Korean folk song Arirang, and wondering how koreans manage to make songs about wishing foot disease on your ex-love sound so poetic.

i swear i'm going somewhere with all this, eventually.

i spent the weekend with my aunt and her family in mission. a lot of time spent at church. number of times i was asked what grade i'm in: 3 (my usual answer was either a polite nod or a less-polite "grade twenty"). i guess my little boy haircut is making me look like, well, a little boy. i met a man who told me he knew my father when they were teenagers. he told me that my father used to swear a lot, use a lot of "D-words" and "G-words" (i smiled politely).

friday night, there was a choir touring from Korea that was performing at the church. i think that's when i realized that this was our tradition, our version Mavis Staples gospel blues. the music was absolutely beautiful. they sang korean variations on Nearer on my God to Thee, an old traditional Korean folk song, an English vocal jazz number, and (my favourite) a version of Arirang. it brought real tears to my eyes. you know, one of my biggest passions in life is for music, and from time to time i am reminded that my love of music was jump-started by my time growing up in the korean church. listening to my father conduct Handel's Messiah every year since i was a little girl, singing "I Got Peace Like a River" in Sunday School, stealing a guitar from the storage room to teach myself chords so i can play along in the worship services of the youth group where i learned to play in a band for the first time. it sounds cheesy and nerdy but that's where my roots were, no matter how far away i've grown from it. it was a pretty touching moment.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

BC makes me look like a cartoon character

looking at meg's pictures from our long weekend trip have led me to conclude that i am rapidly turning into a cartoon character.

Friday, August 7, 2009

this week's theme: stuff on the walls

meg is visiting, which means that i've been eating out a lot lately and meeting folks. the other day, we went to the eatery, a north american-style sushi place that seems to have Astro Boy as their mascot. it's a pretty zany place, with toys and figurines and paintings and paraphernalia all over the walls and ceilings, kind of like the way you might see at a diner. at first i was skeptical because people know my opinion on non-asian asian restaurants, but i have to admit that i was pretty impressed by the very long and very creative menu. meg and laura sang the glories of the electric banana sushi, made of yes eel and banana. we also ordered saketinis, which is also as western as it gets with asian ingredients. still pretty delicious.

last night we dined with one of those guys that sells clothing at the nude beach. Graham is pretty awesome.

i'm heading off to Mission this weekend to spend some much needed time with my relatives. it'll be nice to see them. and then there's sunday. should i go see Smokey Robinson, and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the Burnaby Roots and Blues Festival? i feel like i kind of have to make this happen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

august long weekend

i spent a lovely long weekend on Vancouver island with Meg, Danielle, Friso, and George the dog. Danielle lives in Saanich so she played a wonderful host to us all weekend, greeting us ever morning with yummy breakfasts on the patio which overlooked the trees and the mountains (and some construction sites). we went from town to town all over the island, meeting Friso's parents in Nanaimo, checking out the harbour and the giant starfish in Sidney, going window shopping in Victoria, getting overwhelmed by candy and memories in Chemainus, stopping for sandwich lunches in Ladysmith.

We also went tubing down the Cowichan, which was an extraordinarily pleasant experience. The next day, we went hiking in Goldstream park and accidentally ended up climbing Mount Finlayson. I can tell you that will never happen in Ottawa, where you're hiking and your trail suddenly turns into a mountain. it was fun though, we were searching for the magical entrance to the adult Narnia. which is sort of how i've started viewing the Island, because i've never lived there, but i've been there several times and they've all become pleasant, dream-like memories, whether it's fishing with my family in Crofton, kissing with the first man i loved on a Victoria harbour, or eating fish and chips with rob in tofino. i don't think i could live there, at least right now, but for the first time i thought about my retirement, while i was walking through sidney and thought, wow, i could be happy spending the end of my life here. a strange thing to think at twenty-four.