on the res

on ancestors and travel

In a follow-up to my post about family and heritage, i wanted to write about one of the influences on where i choose to go.

You see, when i travel, there are two main motivators for me - climate (which i will discuss in a future post) and connections.

By connections i don't necessarily mean family connections, not exactly... More like storytelling connections.

Sometimes people are surprised that i never traveled to South America, or that i have no interest in going there. It features some of the world's most popular travel destinations, especially for hippies/ravers like me, and for digital nomads too. And although i'm sure there are lots of interesting towns and sights, i never got the urge because i don't really have a connection. South Asia, same deal.

The thing is, the world is very big. Nobody will ever be able to see all the beautiful places in a single lifetime, so you need to find a way to narrow down your destinations. I mean... Yes, i have met people who are backpacking all over the world, diligently checking off every country they visited like it's a shopping list. People inside America do the same thing, counting up all the states they visited, as if the number makes a difference. I guess it does for some people, but it's not important to me.

For me the experiences are what matter. I prefer to go to a place and stay there a while. To try understand it, at least a little bit. I don't like to zoom in and out and call it "visited". I feel like unless i slept some nights there, visited a grocery store, read the newspaper, got recognized at a bar, or a coffee shop... If none of those things happened, well, then i was never really there.

But how to choose the place? One of the things that helps me decide is having a story that connects it to me.

It's not just the family story, though. As i mentioned on the last post, i have some family roots in Malta, Jamaica and Haiti. But those are not top of my list because Malta is too expensive, Jamaica is too full of homophobes and Haiti is one of the most broken-down countries in the world. Never say never, but if i die not having visited those places... it's fine.

But there are other built-in connections to places, connections my brain makes that attract me. Like, my father was born in Kenya (confirmed this week, when i had to complete the 2021 Census). My grandpa spent a significant amount of time working in Nigeria, Thailand and Hong Kong. He lived out his years with his second wife in the Philippines. My father also spent time in Thailand, a common site for British Army exercises. I think both nan and grandpa might have been New Zealanders by birth, but i'm not sure. My whole father's side is wrapped up in British colonialism. My mother's side is Dutch. But oma and opa owned their holiday home on the Côte d'Azur. Opa spent a lot of time with his second wife in Malta. Two of my mother's sisters married Americans. One of my mother's sisters became a Catholic nun in French-speaking Belgium. My mother had to visit China a fair bit for work. My father traveled through as a backpacker in his youth.

I think of the countries my family has lived, or the places they married into, or spent some amount of time in. And then i think about my culture as a Brit, and our colonial tendrils all over the world, or as a Dutch, and their capitalist reach that once spread from Java to Aruba via the Cape of Good Hope. I think about my step family, New Zealanders, one sibling married into a Māori family, another working yachts in the Caribbean, or their father who spent much of his life in Malaysia. And those places influence where i look to go. I don't know much of the actual stories of any of these people - i barely speak to my family - but i do remember the places where they went. So i go there too, to follow the steps of my ancestors, or see what they saw there, or maybe to atone for their sins. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just a starting point. When the whole world is out there, why not start with the places where you feel a connection, even if it's completely arbitrary?

I have been to other places, places where i didn't have a connection, and i have to admit it can take more effort for me to feel anything. Like, Austria, Czech, Slovenia, they're fine, but i don't really care. Hell, even Australia where i lived for over 10 years, i never gave much of a shit. I do still experience some base level of joy in travel no matter where i go, but there's something deeper that happens when i have a myth to connect me.

I have myths of North America. That's a culture that has had an outsized impact all over the world, thanks to its dominance in contemporary entertainment. I have myths of Africa and the Carribbean. I grew up with the usual suite of British classics featuring swashbuckling and probably racist adventurers exploring the tropics. I also grew up with Ancient Greek mythology, which is to say the stories of the Mediterranean. That sea holds a thousand tales, the ruins of civilizations that made up the only history i ever paid attention to as a child.

I like to visit a place and feel like i am part of a story there, that there is some continuity, from the people who lived there decades, centuries, millienia ago... and me. Even if the connection is just a shared story.

So, although i consider myself something of a world citizen, a cosmopolitan who refuses to be pinned down as any one nationality in particular (i listed "European" as the ethnic or cultural origins of my ancestors, on the census)... My heritage does still influence some of my life, around the places i go, and how i experience them when i get there.
on the res

you guys, it's happening!

I just booked my first vaccine appointment! Two weeks ahead of the schedule they laid down earlier in the year, which said my age group was going to be May/June, but probably still on-track for the vaguer Q3/Q4 target they talked about last year for the second dose. (Currently in Canada they're only just now starting second doses for people vaccinated in January/February.) Anyway, it's Sunday afternoon, at a station in they have set up for the purpose. It's about 5km away, but it's on one of my bike ride routes. Wohoo! Will i get a sticker? Will i get a lollipop? Stay tuned.
on the res

Friday Five on Sunday, 2021-05-07 (plus bonus pic)

For thefridayfive.

1) What is your favourite food?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. I will instead give a list of several different foods that i considered my favorite over the years.

- carnitas burrito (Mexican tortilla filled with rice, beans, crispy pork, guacamole, cilantro and salsa)
- pad krapao (Thai stir-fry of basil, chili and ground pork, usually served with fried egg on rice)
- nasi lemak (Malaysian rice platter with curry, peanuts, cucumber, boiled egg and dried anchovies)
- 麻婆豆腐 mapo tofu (Sichuan spicy and numbing tofu with ground pork served on rice)
- 重慶小麵 Chongqing xiaomian (Sichuan spicy and numbing noodle soup with bok choy)
- 涼麵 cold noodle (Chinese dry noodle stirred with cucumber, peanuts, chili and cilantro)

Common thread: chili. If you don't put chili in your food, it's basically a waste of a meal imo. No chili, no favorite. Spam, popcorn and roasted sweet potato are some chili-free exceptions to the rule, all things that will instantly make me happy when i eat them.

Hmm. I have many favorite foods.

2) What is your favourite food preparation method?

Stir-fry, it's not even a question. If you cannot cook it in a wok or frying pan, i will not make it, period. I don't even cook rice, i'd rather put the food on a puffed rice cake.

3) What is your favourite cuisine or style of cooking?

"Chinese" is probably my favorite, but that's too broad. I like Hunan, Guizhou and Sichuan cuisine - they all heavily use chilis. In North America, Mexican cuisine is best.

4) Do you have any dietary restrictions and if so what are they?

I don't have any official dietary restrictions, but i choose to avoid meat and other other animal products (dairy, egg etc) as much as possible. Very occasionally i will still eat them, usually when i am out and it's impolite or difficult to find an alternative. At home i only eat vegan, so i make plant-based spins on my favorite foods, or put together other bean-centric concoctions.

5) If you could introduce the whole world to one ingredient to improve their culinary experience, what would that be and why?

空心菜, 通菜, ong choy, kangkong, water spinach - it is all the same thing. It is a type of river weed that grows in hot and humid environments. In many countries all over Asia it is harvested and cooked with garlic and ginger and chili, plus whatever liquid you like (fish stock, mushroom soy sauce etc). Because it is hollow, it sucks up the juices inside it like an Italian penne noodle and it is fantastically pleasurable to eat. It's fun like popcorn, except it's greens.

Here is a bonus pic, not related to the Friday Five in any way, i just went for a bike ride.

on the res

venting about Chinese elites, for posterity

I want to talk more about my culture/ethnicity/heritage/whatever and how it plays a part in the places i want to visit when i travel, but i will leave that for a future post. I still want to write a Köppen post about travel planning too.

But right now i just want to record for posterity another reminder of how exasperating Chinese elites are.

Every now and then i get a bit of nostalgia for life in China because the weather was good, the food was cheap and delicious, and it was easy to get to parks and natural areas using public transport.

And then i remember by far the most annoying thing about the country. Yes, it is the authoritarian government that runs the country. But it's more than that, it's the attitude of the elites in general. They not only make up the bulk of the government, but also much of the manager class in private industry.

They are incredibly condescending. People in the west might recognize this as represented by tedious diplomatic statements like "foreigners should not meddle in Chinese affairs" or "people who criticize Chinese government do not understand Chinese culture" or some such thing. But it also happens inside China for non-political topics, where you are expected bow to the greater authority of whoever is above you. You are not to publicly question that authority, ever. And people in power are never to show that they were wrong, not unless they are making some final exit confession in the wake of another leader taking control. It can never be publicly acknowledged that the elites could make a mistake, because that would be a loss of face. So, any change that happens, happens through secretive, private agreements, and nobody important is ever held accountable. This kind of backroom dealing is why China remains corrupt, and why its criminal justice system is considered a farce, even by people who are legally Chinese (Hongkongers).

But if you point this out, you are accused of hurting the feelings of the Chinese people. "You don't understand because you're a foreigner. China has been ruled in this way for thousands of years. No foreigner could ever understand." Bla bla bla. As if people in other countries don't share the concept of face, and as if we don't have exactly the same kinds of institutions. For God's sakes, the Catholic church is practically the template for this kind of structure.

Anyway, as usual, getting in an exchange with someone who has bought into the whole elitist Chinese rhetoric makes me want to bash my head into a wall. "Well China's not bad because America's worse. Oh, you're not American? Well you don't understand because you don't speak Chinese. Oh, you speak Chinese? Well you don't understand because you've never really been exposed to Chinese culture. Oh, you lived in China? Well, you are just the stereotypical expat, nothing unique about what you have to say. By the way, you should not lecture Chinese people about how to live. Oh, you think CCP is lecturing Chinese people about how to live? Let me change the topic to some completely unrelated thing so i avoid having to answer that question..."

It's just infuriating. These people have internalized their superior attitude so utterly and completely that it's just a joke to them to have a conversation with anyone who they deem unworthy. Let's bat the conversation over here, let's digress over there, let's avoid discussing any topic of substance, let's not address the point. "Oh - look over there, a bird! Isn't it pretty?" It's so pathetic. Like, if you want to be an asshole then just own being an asshole. You'd still be an asshole, but at least i would respect it.

So, times like this i am like. Yes. I am very glad that now i am outside China i don't have to put up with this nonsense any more, except for the odd occasion when i stupidly get into an internet debate. When i lived there i had to deal with it at work too. Not with all the bosses, but with enough of the bosses that it pissed me off.

It makes me think about the stories i have heard from indigenous people or women in male-dominated fields. About how everything they say is ignored, or written off as naïve or ignorant. The experience of constantly being told that that they could not possibly understand complex matters of business or politics or statecraft. This thoroughly patronizing treatment at the hands of those who have the power. Chinese elites like to say that it's "cultural", but really it's just the same old shit that oppressors pull everywhere.
on the res

thinking about family trees

Several of my friends have been writing interesting posts about their family history this week, and it made me think about the fact that i don't really know my family history.

Like, i don't NOT know it. It's just... not really something that ever came up in conversation, unless someone wrote a book about it. Which two of my family members did!

So, my mom, she was born in the Netherlands, into an upper-middle class Catholic family. Her father was a corporate exec and her mother was a nurse. She was the eldest of 6 siblings - all girls - and the only things she's really told me about her childhood is that she hated the church (which is why we were not raised religious) and she was mortified in school when all her classmates wrote up their favorite bands (like, The Beatles) and she wrote up some classical composer because it's all she'd been exposed to at home.

She went on to leave the Netherlands and go to university in Scotland, where she met my dad.

My dad was born in Africa, i think Nigeria, but it might have been Kenya. His father was in the foreign service, not sure about his mother. All i know from dad's childhood is he has good memories of Africa and he spent a bunch of time in English boarding school. He went to a Led Zeppelin concert once and was thoroughly disappointed because he was so far away. He also played Dungeons & Dragons.

The only family history i have going further back than that is a book that a great auntie on my father's side wrote about the origin of our surname, and a book that my opa wrote about the origin of his.

The history of my father's side surname starts in Haiti, back when it was called Saint-Domingue. One of my ancestors was a Scottish merchant who married a mulatto woman. When the Haitian Revolution happened, she escaped to Jamaica and they had a kid. The kid couldn't keep the family name because of the scandal of being mixed-race, so he adopted his mother's French name and went to Scotland to seek his fortune, trying to pass as white. So we have this strange French-named man suddenly appearing in Scotland in the 19th century, and that's the origin of my dad's side of the family.

I have no idea what my great-grandparents did or how my grandpa ended up becoming a New Zealander, or working for the British foreign service, but i imagine there is a long thread of globetrotters on that side. I have a vague memory that my grandpa worked in a Chinese restaurant as a boy, but i could be wrong.

The history of my mother's side surname starts in Malta. I guess one of my ancestors on that side was a merchant too, and he ended up taking his family branch to the Netherlands and changing their Spanish/Aragonese-rooted name to a more Germanic-friendly version. Just like my dad's side, i have no idea what all happened in between. I guess it was just a chain of good Catholic families.

Apparently my mom and dad's relationship was poorly received by opa, who tried to pay dad off to not marry mom. But they did marry, and then dad joined the British Army and got posted to Gibralter, then West Germany, then our family headed down under (by way of Scotland) and the rest i've written about before.

Which is all to say, i don't really know who i am or where my roots are. I think on one side i have a fairly traditional European merchant class background. On the other side is full-blown, colonize-the-world British Empire shit.

I guess that somewhat reflects two sides of my personality. One is the conservative, spendthrift, intellectual side of me. The other is "fuck everything, i'm taking a ride on this boat to wherever".

But if you asked my culture or ethnicity, or my family's values, i wouldn't have an answer. I'm not much of a Christian. Not much of a Brit or a Dutch either. I consider myself generally Europeanish, but i live in Canada. My family, i think what i got from them is... We'll give you an education. For the rest, go forth and do it for yourself. I think that's the values. Is that European, or is it just middle class?

My family name ends with me, the eldest son who decided to change their surname along with their sex. I'll never have kids. So what will i leave behind? I guess no people 200 years from now will be looking up my travels while trying to figure out their roots.

Meh. I'm okay with that.
on the res

Sunday Funday photo

Taken near the church on the rez. The line is the CN branch that heads down to the Okanagan. It used to extend all the way to Kelowna, but that run was abandoned years ago. CN took over part of the route and now runs a short general manifest to Vernon once or twice a week. I've rolled up next to it a few times on my bike, both on the rez near the yard and out east where it can spend a lot of time waiting for the green light to get on the CP main line.

Our town briefly got in the national news today because the Ministry of Transportation is trialing bicycle strips across the cattle guards. For people who've never lived in the country before, cattle guards (or cattle grids) are wide metal grates that are put across roads in ranch country to discourage cows from wandering into the neighbor's field when they are being herded across the road. Cars and trucks can drive over them, but cows would fall into the gaps and get stuck, so they stay away. (On the odd occasion cows do get stuck, the local news sometimes shows up to report on the folks trying to haul them out.)

Anyway. Apparently some local cyclists complained that the cattle grids were fucking up their carbon fiber road bikes, so the government is trialing perpendicular metal strips, like little tightropes that you can cycle across. I have to say, i don't think i'd be cycling a spectacularly expensive carbon fiber bike down that kind of pot-holed ranch road in the first place, but i know pedaling my aluminum hybrid over those things causes some serious teeth-chattering, and even walking across them as a pedestrian is a fucking pain in the ass, so if it takes a few rich, road cycling enthusiasts to make the road a little more comfortable for the rest of us, i'm cool with that.

Maybe next they can look at fixing the parts of Canada that are literally unpassable on a bike, due to human-powered vehicles being banned on several stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway.

So, i went for a bike ride. I did not trial the new cattle grid cycle strip. I did a quick loop up to the CN yard, then sat on a largely abandoned overpass and played harmonica. On my way home i noticed the snow must've melted, or maybe there's a dam upstream that they drained, because the river is high and full of scum. (Note: this is not the same river that filled up with foam due to the dingbats who thought it was a smart idea to put laundry detergent on their rooves to kill moss. Canada, eh, more than just a place where beavers eat your internet.)

I skipped a beer on the beach because there are too many people outside on the weekends. Happy Sunday. I have to work again tomorrow, but it might turn out to be a surprise holiday because in Germany they had Mayday over the weekend. It's nice working European part-time hours in North America. People here work way too much.

On May 6 they are going to start vaccinating 50+. My age group must surely only be a few weeks away now. I have no idea when they will start giving second doses. Some people have been waiting since January. Travel bans and checkpoints till May 24 anyway, so the waiting continues.
on the res

drunken song of the friday

in a nod to my lesbian years
and a nod to my toronto years
and a nod to my secret folk music standom

The Forgotten City Trailer Part 2

this is ani difranco - trickle down (1999)

all y'all rust belt living motherfuckers know what she's talking about
but it's same out west

i legit got excited by a news article the other day
that said the sawmill in quesnel was reopening

that's a nearby town
whose jobless
and homeless
came here

after the fires
after the landslides
after the plant shut down


this third wave
we still got more deaths
from overdose
than covid

fucking fentanyl

i suppose it's a place to go
for people who don't have anywhere to go
any more
on the res

uppercase rebellion

i had a treasure box as a child
where i kept magazine clippings
and other such treasures

i took a lot of clippings of america
it's what made me fall in love with the place

(as if hollywood and holly johnson hadn't done enough)

i will never forget the cities i had clippings of

reno, nevada
dallas, texas
miami, florida
seattle, washington
albuquerque, new mexico

i never had an interest in the important american cities
new york, dc, chicago, la
maybe i'd even throw a bone to san fran, houston and atlanta
as being important

none of them drew me
i liked the sunsets
and the skylines

if your skyline looks good in the sunset
i am much more likely to be interested
to visit your town

my new postcard for the treasure box is jacksonville, florida
i only know they have good sunsets
because i watch wrestling

since i was a child
i've now been to dallas, reno and seattle
they all were not as good as the pictures

but i've also been to important towns
like new york and chicago
both overrated

la, i loved la
although i only visited some hours
so it should be a grain of salt

reno, reno, i looked at many photos of reno

i've only been there in person once, i think
walking from the greyhound to the amtrak
or from the amtrak to the greyhound
or some damn thing
i wasn't there very long

reno reminds me of the town i live now

i have a glimpse at my day collection i took today
i will post it tomorrow
if my hangover isn't the worst

my hangover will surely be the worst

it's friday
there is a lockdown
nothing is open
how much worster could it get?

remind me to talk to y'all about köppen climate classifications
i think i made a post about them last time i was drunk
but i didn't post it
for reasons
i do not remember
on the res

more covid updates

If i hadn't spent most of this week dithering...

The demand for AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has exceeded the current supply available in B.C. pharmacies. All the current AstraZeneca vaccine supply is expected to be fully used by next week. There are currently no appointment bookings available at pharmacies participating in the COVID-19 vaccination program.

Right, then. So the pharmacy option is out, for now.

Meanwhile people keep dying of COVID in BC, including people much younger than me. The good news is that there are only about 50 cases in my town, so it's extremely unlikely i will be exposed, for now. People in the Vancouver suburbs aren't so lucky.

The government banned flights from India and Pakistan, which is a bit of a nuclear option imo. I wish they would still let people travel, but just enforce the quarantines. The two week quarantine has theoretically been in place for a year, but there are still myriad stories of people ignoring it, or "quarantining" with all their friends and family at home, or getting a waiver because their job is "essential" (notably cross-border truck drivers and shuttle bus drivers, who are ferrying returning snowbirds and holidaymakers across the land border so folks can avoid the designated quarantine hotels that are now mandated for air arrivals).

The common thread in the countries that actually were able to contain this pandemic is strict enforcement of travel restrictions. And, although freedom of movement is my number one freedom, although i am all-in for no borders, kein mensch ist illegal, squatter's rights, right to roam etc etc... I am really fucking tired of living through a second wave, and now a third wave, because the government is politely asking people to be responsible and a small percentage who don't give a shit are circumventing the advice, thereby fucking it up for everyone else. I get it, i really do get it. Freedom is more important than the health of some old and sick people. Being able to travel is necessary for the mental health of habitual wanderers. Dear fucking lord, do i get it. I get it. But also... was it worth it? Now that we are a year into this?

The new round of proposed travel bans has resulted in the police and the government getting into a shitfight with one another because the government is prioritizing the health of the populace, but the police are worried about being seen as the bad guys for being made to enforce roadblocks. . <-- This is me playing the world's tiniest violin for the police. The same police who break up indigenous roadblocks in two seconds flat. Who all y'all policing for, motherfuckers? Sure ain't the people. But cars, trains, pipelines, gotta make sure that oil keeps flowing, right?

For fuck's sake.

Anyway, Happy Friday.