It’s getting late to wish you a Merry Christmas, but still on time to wish you all a Happy New Year.
We’ve had a great Christmas this year, full of warmth and affection and a certain acceptable amount of gluttony. I bought Ruth a rowing machine to replace our elliptical trainer that had finally burned out after years of keeping us fit. I started with five minutes on it and have been increasing by a minute a day. Yesterday I rowed for seven minutes and it left me with very sore quads and biceps, so I know it’s working. I have been far too inactive over the past year, and it takes very little to tell me I need regular exercise.
Ruth bought me a new laptop. I’m not sure how I will like Windows 11, and I am sure I’m in for at least a week of computer hell as I get used to the new machine. But my old laptop, running Windows 7, just can’t handle the video editing programs I want to use. I really miss Final Cut Pro and am frustrated by the learning curve of Adobe Premier Pro CS6. As a result, I skipped the refinements I would have given to to this video I made for the grand kids and just slapped it together to get it off in time.
There’s lots going on right now, mostly good, often frustrating. My quail egg hatching project has come a cropper with only four chicks hatched and none surviving after trying with two batches of eggs. I’ll try again in the Spring. The operation on my right hand, involving cutting off the arthritic bone on my right thumb and gluing on a tendon from my forearm, has been remarkably successful and I can now practice the violin again without immediate pain in my bow hand. Instead I have immediate pain in my right shoulder from the rotator cuff repair. I’m hopeful that the rowing machine may also address that problem.
I keep promising myself not to take on any new learning curves, but I’ve just purchased a new grinder and polisher and will shortly dive head first into knife making. The very last thing I need is a new hobby, but here I go again. There’s always something causing pain, much an unavoidable part of getting old but also self inflicted like running a finger into the band saw just before Christmas. It will heal, and hurt like hell until it does.
I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions, but I do intend to gain some consistency in my exercise, my music practice, and the projects I pursue, including more frequent updates to this personal website.
For you, my presumed reader, I wish the very best in 2023. Stay interested. Carpe the fuck out of each diem. Enjoy another ride around the sun on this amazing spinning globe. As my friend Danny in China would say, love ya tons.
I got a letter from a former student today. Landon has been corresponding with me since Ruth and I returned to Canada.
Here’s my response to his latest communication, reorganized with names for clarity.
Landon: Hi David,It’s been three years since last time I wrote to you.
Zale: How wonderful to hear from you, and to hear that you are still working at improving your English. The truth is, your English is already very good and the things that confuse you are mostly English idioms and phrases that I use in an unconventional way.
Landon: I have to say the time is flying so fast, especially during past two years with COVID-19 pandemic. We didn’t travel frequently, we were busy for working, we were even asked to work for home when there were COVID-19 test positive cases occurred around my area. It’s like I don’t have much memories during past two years. As one of my colleagues said “year 2019 suddenly jumped to 2021”. And now it’s 2022 already, I wish you can have an enjoyable year in the new year.
Zale: Yes, time is flying very fast. I also find it hard to believe that it is 2022 already. Actually, I find it hard to believe that 1984 is no longer in the distant future, or that I am now considered elderly. In mind, heart and spirit I feel like a man in his thirties, and it’s rather disturbing to find myself with all the physical limitations of advancing age. I’m fortunate that Ruth has done such a great job of documenting most of our time in China, and our lives during spring and summer vacations. Without those photographs that great stretch of time would be just a blur. https://www.flickr.com/photos/canadiandragon/ is where you will find her most recent pictures. But going into her albums is truly amazing: https://www.flickr.com/photos/canadiandragon/albums
Landon: My son got started primary school from Sep, 2021. He behaves just well at school. He is cooperative to teachers’ guidance, and consciously get homework done every day. But meanwhile, he is not willing to do what we, family members, told him to do, even though the thing is really good for his study. It’s like a common problem in China that a child listens to teachers, while opposes to families. The problem is there, but we still manage to improve the situation from time to time.
Zale: This is good to hear. But please keep in mind that a child needs a childhood. If he is paying attention to his teachers and doing his homework, that should be enough. After that, I think you should just expose him to as many different activities and ideas as you can and see what sparks his interests. Have you taught him to play xiang qi? Can you find any magic tricks online to teach him, especially tricks that show a scientific principle. Does he have an interest in music, not just listening to it but also making music. Does he like fishing? Does he like to make things? There is so much instructional material online that any interest he has can find help to go deeper. Maybe he’d like to build a robot. Or a rocket. Does he know the names of all the birds in your area, or all the different trees, or the different food crops? Does he know how to cook? Does he know how to sew? Can he type with all his fingers on a QWERTY keyboard? (If not there are great typing games and apps available to help him build up speed and accuracy.) Whatever he shows an interest in, encourage him. Even if all he wants to do is play computer games, encourage and support him. There are people today making a good living playing computer games, or commenting on computer games. You have an interest in English. Maybe challenge your son to keep up with you, talk to him in English, see if he can teach you any English vocabulary. The things he learns in school – mostly how to sit quietly, be obedient, and repeat what the teacher tells him – are not nearly as important as the things he will learn by following his own interests.
Landon: I occasionally logged on Facebook yesterday(because you know the website is blocked in China unless using proxy), and just noticed what you said on Facebook that your friend has passed away. And I am sorry for hearing that. I then read your whole blog for missing your friend. I could feel the friendship of you two, the memory you have for your friend, even though you two had many disagreements before. I hope you could recover from sorrow soon.
Zale: My father talked about reaching an age when he seemed to be going to a funeral every few days. I’m now at that age myself, and must simply accept it as a natural part of life. Over the Christmas holidays, my friend, Bernie, in Australia died. My cousin Billy, my childhood hero, died. You know about my friend Rob. One of Ruth’s friends and associates died of a brain tumor. Worst of all, my daughter in law is very likely to die of terminal cancer, although there is still hope. (we attended her fairy tale wedding just two years ago and you can see the pictures in one of Ruth’s albums https://www.flickr.com/photos/canadiandragon/albums/72157710271821806 ). You can read her story here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-lennea-get-uncovered-treatment? Are you familiar with the stages of grief first described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in “On Death and Dying”. The stages are:
Most people have to work through these stages in order to accept reality. For example, when given bad news from a doctor about terminal cancer, the first instinct is to deny that it’s true, possibly seek a second opinion, refuse to deal with it. The next step is to be bitter and angry, possibly lashing out at doctors and family. Then comes bargaining – if I just change my diet and start exercising, this will go away. But when it doesn’t go away, the next step is depression, horrible, deep depression that makes it hard to see any joy in life. And finally there is acceptance – this is natural; this happens to everybody; I’m going to live every second until the end and enjoy what is left of my time on earth. It has always seemed to me that the first four stages are a complete waste of emotional energy. I much prefer to jump straight to acceptance. And that”s how I deal with things like my friend Rob dying. Yes, I miss him. It’s hard to believe that he’s gone. But that’s life. That’s reality. There’s still a lot of joy in my world. So, while I feel sad, it isn’t a sorrow I must recover from.
Landon: For my English study, it’s quite a long term task.
Zale: Ha ha. It’s a lifetime task, even for a native speaker. Ruth and I are still learning English. It is endlessly fascinating, and there is no way I will ever know all of the words in the English language. I still encounter words I have never heard before. Usually I just guess at the meaning and read on. That is the best way to build a vocabulary. It’s only when I can’t imagine a meaning that I bother to look a word up. But usually, the context will give you the meaning. Of course this runs the risk of looking foolish if I try to use a word but don’t understand it. For example, many native speakers think that “penultimate” means the very best, the top, the final, as in “It was the penultimate achievement of his life.” In fact, it comes from the same root as “pen” meaning “almost” as used in words like “peninsula”, almost an island. So the penultimate achievement is the one before the final achievement.
Landon: I never said I gave it up, but I was never determined to devote time to study it (maybe there is no much need from my current working), and consequently I never saw any much progress of it. But recently, it seems I spent a bit more time to touch it. For example, I install an app called Radio Singapore(I once studied there) to listen the English channel, and another app called CNA(its an app from Singapore mainly focusing Asia News and the worlds as well) to read English news.
Zale: I applaud you for this. The best and easiest things to learn are learned simply for the fun and joy of learning. So many people seem to be dull creatures with no real interest in anything but entertainment provided by others.
Landon: Overlly I feel that for those four parts of English – listening, speaking, reading, writing, I need to improve listening with the highest priority, and reading with secondly priority. The rest, speaking, and writing, I will set them aside(maybe for future to improve, ^_^). I sort the four items above mainly out of the frequency I use them. I listen the News from radio, and I often fail to understand during the listening because of unfamiliar words or fast speaking speed. The situation of reading English News is a little bit better. Because I can refer dict for new words while reading, and repeat to read for better understanding, it’s low efficiency though. I’m always surprised that there are so many new words when reading different topics of News.
Zale: And when you have a passion for learning something, breaking it down into sections, setting priorities, and organizing your study is a great way to improve,
Landon: I have some parts that I don’t understand from what you writing, could you just explain a little bit more if you have time: 1: From your facebook, “News of his death kicked the crap out of my Christmas this year” I think it says the News made you had a sad time during Christmas, right? But I don’t understand “kicked the crap out of …”, even after I refereed dict for the word “crap”.
Zale: Okay. This is a vulgarism, the more impolite version of which is “kicked the shit out of…: As in “If he does that again I’m going to kick the shit out of him.” meaning I am going to do serious damage to him. News of my friend’s death was a severe shock that brought me to tears. It cast a shadow over my entire Christmas as I struggled to accept the loss, i.e. it kicked the crap out of my Christmas.
2: From your blog: “Occasionally he would drop a name, or tell me he was talking to the star, or the director, or the financial group that would pull it all together. Just one more piece of the puzzle to lock down and he’d be in production” “Just one more piece of the puzzle to lock down and he’d be in production”, does that mean like every thing is ready except a last problem? But what is the exact mean of “lock down” here?
Zale: You understood perfectly. Yes exactly. When he was putting a deal together there were hundreds of elements that needed to be decided, i.e. locked down, starting with the script, the director, the cast, the location, etc. and most importantly, the financing. Very often there would be a vital part to this that would make everything fall into place. Often getting the interest of a major star would be that vital part, or the interest of a wealthy investor, or a “green light” from Netflix. So you see, you really did understand what I wrote. This is a perfect illustration of my belief that running to the dictionary every time you don’t understand something is usually not necessary, and, in the case of idiom like “locked down” often not helpful.
Landon: 3: From your blog: “And what Christmas party is complete without the Laowise (Ruth and my folksinging group name and a Chinese/English pun) Christmas carol performance.” Here, why I think it should be “And what Christmas party is not complete without the Laowise …”. I feel a little puzzled. Because only with Laowise, the Christmas could be perfect and completed.
Zale: No. For your version to work you would need to leave off the word “what”. “And a Christmas party is not complete without the Laowise…” Adding the word “what” asks the question, “Is a Christmas party complete without the Laowise…”So you see, once again you understood my meaning completely. It was just an unfamiliar structure that you found confusing.
Landon: 4: From your blog: “He had a key role in putting the deal together for one of my features, “Terminal City Ricochet”, but bailed on that production and is only credited as “additional crew”. So I really don’t know what he accomplished.” I can only figure out it does say “He had no accomplishment”, the rest I don’t understand at all.
Zale: To rephrase this I would write: I know he played an essential role in the early stages of the financing for one of my features, “Terminal City Ricochet”. But he left that production early after a dispute with one of the other producers. Other than that accomplishment, I don’t know what else he managed to achieve.
Landon: Currently the main issue for me is vocabulary. If I had gained larger vocabulary, I think I could have a faster understanding while listening, and a low frequency of referring dict while reading, thus improve the efficiency of reading. And I will devote more on vocabulary.
Zale: Again let me stress that the best way to build vocabulary, and certainly the most fun way, is simply to practice voracious reading, especially classical writers like Charles Dickens, or more contemporary writers such as George Orwell. Just read. Guess at the meaning of words. Only go to the dictionary when you really feel that you don’t understand. I have a huge vocabulary, compared to many native speakers, and I don’t think I went to the dictionary ten times during all my years as a student. But I read everything I could get my hands on.Now quite often I think of a word I use and I’m not sure I understand what it means completely, so I will go to a dictionary. It’s much easier now that a dictionary is as close as Google. Almost always, I find that my understanding of the word is correct.Once again the Internet has made finding material to read easy. For example, I’m now rereading a book by George Orwell that I read probably fifty years ago. When I recommended it to somebody online, I discovered that it is available for free here: https://libcom.org/files/wiganpier.pdf
Landon: Again I wish you have all thing the best in this new year.
Zale: Thank you, Landon. And again it’s great to hear from you, and to learn that you have become a family man of some substance. I hope you have a happy, joyful, and prosperous time in the new year and years to come. Please feel free to write to me and tell me more about your life, family, work, and interests in China. You might even include some pictures.
Warmest regards Your old English teacher, David (Zale, Da Dawei)
We’ve been binging on Netflix with feel good Christmas romcoms. So far we’ve watched and enjoyed “Lilly and Dash”, “California Christmas” and it’s sequel, “Home for Christmas” a Norwegian series that is quite engaging, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” about Dickens writing “A Christmas Carol”, just excellent, Ruth’s favourite, “Christmas in the Wild” about a vet who moves to a baby elephant rescue in Africa, and my favourite, “Operation Christmas” about the air force base in Guam and their Christmas distribution. So, for a complete change of pace last night, we watched a couple of episodes of “Connected”, a science show with a very animated host. Great fun. Highly recommend it.
Our chickens are not happy with this white Christmas, rather unusual for this part of the world. The snow is still falling, six inches deep now, and the chickens are quite comical as they try to navigate it. I’m only going out to put a fresh suet cake in the bird feeder you can see hanging on our clothes line.
We are just getting ready to put the 火鸡 (fire chicken = turkey) in the oven. I hope you all have a great Christmas full of joy and good cheer. All the best in 2022.
We drove Spiff, named after Spaceman Spiff in Calvin and Hobbs, off the lot last week. It’s our first all electric vehicle and full of surprises. But before I tell you about it, I want to have a moment of silence for our dear departed Toyota Sienna van, Blando, the best vehicle to date I have ever owned. Just last week I had five heavy 5/8″ 4 X 8 sheets of OSB, three sheets of 4X8 drywall, and three eight foot lengths of drywall corner bead INSIDE my van. It was an amazing workhorse while we did our house renovations. It functioned totally reliably while I pushed the odometer up to 226,000 kilometers. It had great acceleration for highway driving and was a pure pleasure to drive. And it’s gone. Crushed for financial gain. Sob. Spiff will not be able to replace Blando for practical use, and maybe never in my heart. But there you go. Time passes and things change.
I marvel that anybody as currently impecunious as I could be driving a brand new EV. So let’s start with the logic that allowed this to happen. Blando broke a front strut a couple of weeks back, valiantly fighting the rare snow drifts and ice packs of our streets. It was still driveable, but we were facing a $1,500 repair bill on a vehicle with a $1000 trade in value. It had all those aforementioned kilometers on it, and a few minor things were going wrong, like the flashing airbag light on the dash I covered with tape. So I could expect it to nickel and dime us to death from here on. We had been thinking that our next vehicle should be an EV. This seemed like a good time to look into them. We made an appointment to repair Blando, then started checking out EVs at the dealerships, starting with the Toyota Prius (we decided we didn’t want a hybrid. Why include all the complication of an ICE machine with the simplicity of an EV?). Then we tried the Hyundai Kona (we liked it but… no.), and finally the Kia at Harris Auto here in Nanaimo.
We had been thinking we would probably lease our next vehicle. Matt, Harris Auto financial guy, suggested we look at financing. He worked out the numbers, subtracted the $5,000 federal subsidy and the $3,000 provincial subsidy, added in an amazing warranty package, and told us how to apply for the Scrap-it program, for which they still had a few tickets left. Scrap-it is an industry program that pays $6000 for any ICE vehicle that has been insured for six months and is taken off the road, meaning driven into a crusher. It turned out that we could finance our new EV over 96 months, making payments of $208 bi-weekly, which was stretching what we felt we could afford, but still within range. The FOMO of the situation is that the subsidy programs, especially the Scrap-it program, have very limited funds. When the money is gone, there’s no guarantee the funds will be topped up again. There is talk that EVs are over-incentivised. So that was it. Deal.
I should mention that our salesman, Roland Holland, is an incredibly personable and helpful guy. The fact that this would be his first sale, and Ruth would get to cut his tie in half once it was completed, added a lot to the fun.
So here’s the timeline: Ruth heard a horrid kasproinging noise in the van on a Friday. We got a diagnosis on Saturday, and made an appointment for a repair for Tuesday. Checked out the Prius on Saturday and new EVs on Monday, and decided on the Kia Soul EV Monday evening. Called to cancel the repairs to Blando Tuesday morning and drove Spiff off the lot that afternoon. Delivered Blando to the crusher Wednesday morning, with Roland following behind to drive us back into town, then returned to the dealership to cut Roland’s tie in half, which apparently is a thing here. It all happened so fast.
But, okay. What you really want to know is what I think of the new 2020 Kia Soul. So here goes. Spiff seems to be incredibly well made and solid. It has the same feeling of thoughtful design and construction that I liked so much with our old Toyota. It doesn’t have the hauling capacity of Blando, but the trunk space is not bad. Here it is loaded with twenty one boxes of laminate flooring, four rolls of cork underlay, and a couple of lenghts of drywall bead. Not bad for a little car.
The learning curve to get used to driving an EV hasn’t been bad at all. The pleasures of the new experience have been many.
Let’s start with the most unexpected pleasant surprise. I absolutely love not having to put a key in the ignition. That seems like such a small thing, but it really isn’t. I unlock the door with the fob and put the fob in my pocket. Then I get in, put my foot on the brake and push a button to boot up the system, turn the big nob to drive. And I’m away. One of the greatest improvements in automobile technology has been the remote door lock. It’s hard to believe we used to walk around the car locking, or unlocking, each door. This takes the remote lock one step further, and it’s a big deal for me.
If I want to get nostalgic, I could lament the loss of the girlfriend test. Do you remember that one? The idea was you picked the girl up for your first date, unlocked her door, waited until she was seated, then closed her door. If your door wasn’t unlocked by the time you walked around the car, that would be the last date. But I digress.
There are a few things I love about modern cars. Remote door locks top the list. Electric controls for side mirrors comes next. Power windows would be third, then cruise control. And going way back I suppose I should list power steering and power brakes and automatic transmission. (I remember my father buying his first automatic transmission way back in the fifties, and complaining about having a foot he didn’t know what to do with.) Then there are the frills like heated seats and a heated steering wheel. All these things we take for granted, and the new Kia Soul takes them one step further.
Take cruise control as an example. The Kia Soul takes this to the edge of being an auto pilot. If the car ahead of you is doing seventy, and you have cruise set for 90, you slow down as you catch up. If the car ahead stops at a red light, you gently stop behind it and only need to touch the + sign on the steering wheel to start coming back up to speed as the car ahead moves again. On a clear day with the lines visible, the cruise control, or maybe it’s the driver assist, will give a tug on the wheel if you wander out of your lane. It will even take you around a curve. It doesn’t do that smoothly, but it does it.
Just a couple of things more to mention. The first is silence. Start up the system and it is silent, so silent that using the rear wiper seems loud. Then there’s acceleration. Step on the accelerator (not the gas, there is no gas) and you get instant smooth acceleration. Lots of it. Pin you to the seat acceleration. And then my favourite feature when it comes to driving – regenerative braking. You can set that to a level from zero, which means you just cruise down a hill like you normally would, to maximum which means the car noticeably starts to slow when you take your foot off the accelerator. I set it at maximum and drive without touching the brakes. Pretty much ever. The regenerative braking puts the energy of momentum back into the battery. It’s set with paddles conveniently placed on the steering wheel, and pulling and holding the one on the left will bring the car to a complete stop. Of course this means that my brakes should last forever.
For a couple of years now, the big name in EV has been Tesla, and it still has the status, plus a price tag twenty grand or more higher than the Kia. But I find the Tesla quite conventional looking, by comparison, and I think the big touch screen monitor protruding well out from the dash is downright ugly. Also, as Ruth has mentioned many times, a touch screen is a bad idea when you are driving. We want buttons, conveniently placed and activated by feel. I don’t know how much of the Tesla controls can be activated by feel, or voice control, but the emphasis seems to be on that big, ugly touch screen. So the way I’m feeling right now, I wouldn’t trade. Not even if you threw in the twenty grand.
Final word: We liked the folks at Harris Auto. We got a lot of attention from Roland Holland, our salesman. Matt made the number work for us. And the car itself is just a total blast to drive. We did find some aspects of the navigation system counter intuitive, but nothing that familiarity won’t fix. So…happy campers here. If you want to check out the Kia Soul EV at Harris Auto in Nanaimo, tell Roland that Zale sent you.
UPDATE: February 2 2020 finally found something to complain about. The rear view mirror has buttons under it. One summons roadside assistance. The other is for emergencies. Not sure what the third is for. Anyway, I have to adjust that mirror every time Ruth drives the car. Yesterday I accidentally hit the roadside assistance button. The call went out, and I couldn’t cancel it. I tried hanging up the phone, with the button on the steering wheel for that purpose. It ignored me. Maybe if i had pushed the button on the rear view mirror again instead it might have cancelled. But I tried a few things and then just waited for somebody to answer, explained the situations, and had THEM hang up. Not a big deal really, but very strange. And the first thing about the car I didn’t like. That is a very strange place to put buttons calling for assistance. Bad choice, really. It seems the designers assumed that only one person, of only one height, would be driving the car
UPDATE 2: And this one is NOT A COMPLAINT. I was delighted when we dropped in to Harris Auto with a few questions and Matt showed me this feature. Pushing the button on the door handle opens the locks as long as I have the fob in my pocket. This means I never have to take the fob out of my pocket unless I forget to lock the car and want to lock it from inside the house. Push the button. Get in. Foot on the brake. Push the power up button. Rotate the big nob to put it in gear and drive away. It may seem like a small thing, but to me it isn’t. It means no fumbling around in my over stuffed pocket trying to find the fob to get into the car.
My last couple of posts have been about having cancer, and the side effects of the hormone therapy. Since this is my homepage on my browser, every time I fire up this computer I’ve been greeted with the headline: I’m Growing Tits Now. That’s getting to be a drag. Not that I’m likely to forget the fact.
While having cancer is always on my mind, like the background hum from the big bang that we hear as radio static, it’s far from the most important fact of my life. I shall make a list:
Today I bought a new router bit. I’m putting a chair back together for Sadie, my former sister in law. It fell apart because somebody left it out in the weather. I’ve glued the seat back together, but don’t trust it to not crack at the glue joints. That seat was originally built in the factory from nice blocks of oak, with four parallel surfaces, which made gluing it easy. Now that it’s contoured, it’s difficult to clamp without having gaps at the joints. I bought the router bit to let me inlay a piece of hardwood on the underside. That should guarantee that it won’t split. I’ll spare you the details, but this turned out to be more complicated than I hoped, and it still isn’t completed.
We had had another Stagefright Cafe open mic night at Wellington Hall this week. Ruth and I put that together once a month, recreating a 1965 coffee house. Every event has been different and great fun. We sell coffee at ten cents a cup. I bake banana bread and Ruth bakes chocolate chip cookies.
We replaced the roof on my workshop shed this week. It was leaking slightly, and that kind of thing has to be stopped. So we bought corrugated steel sheets and covered it. Ruth did the work on the roof. I did the cutting and handing stuff up to her.
I had a rehearsal with the new Vacant Lot Band. The name is reclaimed from my jug band in the sixties. Great rehearsal. I’m excited about getting a group going again.
The rehearsal was followed by a drive to Qualicum Beach to play with the Oceanside Jammers, my fiddle group.
I’m getting excited about the trip to Scotland. That happens this coming Thursday and will keep us away until December 26.
All in all, there’s a lot going on in my life. Each item on the list above deserves more details and pictures. Maybe later. For now, this gets rid of the headline that I didn’t like.
It started with an email from Tom Charity, Film Centre Programmer & Rentals Manager Vancity Theatre
“Hi Zale, meet Sue Biely, who is coordinating National Canadian Film Day for Reel Canada in BC. The Directors Guild is one of our sponsors, and they have agreed a budget to bring you over for our show on the 19th. I’m going to leave you and Sue to work out the details, but please keep me looped in and I’ll facilitate in any way I can.”
What? Why? How could this happen? Here I am, living in obscurity and thinking myself forgotten, yet somebody wants to fly me to Big Smoke for some reason. Well, that certainly breaks up the tedium of my not at all tedious life.
And the reason, as it unfolded, was beyond flattering. The focus of the evening was to be a retrospective of the films of Atom Egoyan, one of Canada’s best known and successful “not populist” film makers. Two of his films were to be shown, The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica, as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival.
The organizers had decided they wanted to show another Canadian film before the main features, and asked Atom to name his favourite Canadian movie. And he named “Skip Tracer”, my first feature, shot in Vancouver in 1976. I was gob smacked, as the British would say. Blown away.
A flurry of emails and arrangements followed and on April 20 I found myself boarding a Harbour Air seaplane in Nanaimo Harbour for the beautiful twenty minute flight to Vancouver. Before leaving I went through the stack of boxes and junk in our basement and found what I believe to be the last two remaining original silk screened posters for Skip Tracer – one for Atom as a thank you for remembering my movie, and the other for Sue Biely, the organizer of the event as a thank you for being so…uh…organized. I also packed a framed ‘certificate of appreciation as a patron of the arts’, something I owed to my old friend Brian James Clayden for his support of my GoFundMe campaign to get back my violin.
Aside from these two items, I was traveling light. I didn’t even take a razor with me, since I’d be returning the following day.
The screening of Skip Tracer was another surprise. It was well attended. More than that, Skip Tracer was treated as an important film, a film of historical significance, a relic of a lost era in Canadian film making. I sat in front of the screen after the credits and did a question and answer session with the audience, slipping back into my old role as self important enfant terrible and promoter with nary a stumble, as if forty years hadn’t passed since the New York Film Festival of 1978. It was like visiting a past life. My only regret was that my first wife, Laara Dalen, who produced Skip Tracer, couldn’t be there with me to share the spotlight. She was every bit as much responsible for the birth of the movie as I was. It wouldn’t have happened without her.
After the Q and A session, I was approached by a man who looked very familiar. It took me a minute to recognize Roger Huyghe, the grip on the Skip Tracer production team. Death by nostalgia.
I found Atom Egoyan and the actor, Bruce Greenwood (from both The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica) in the bar of the Sutton Place. Bruce excused himself soon after I arrived, and I had the pleasure of chatting with Atom about China and his new film project, another difficult movie about the exploitation of Chinese sex workers during the San Francisco gold rush.
That, for me, was the high point of the whole adventure. I admire Atom immensely, and not just because he is so kind to me and my movie. He’s a survivor. He makes difficult films that are not populist movies. Films with integrity. I frankly don’t know how he has managed to do it, since I couldn’t. But I think the answer is that he has a single-minded passion for his art that I lacked, being too interested in sailboats and other life adventures.
The next morning, BJ joined me for breakfast, as did Roger Huyghe. We enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives. All three of us have ridden the dragon of boom and bust housing prices, separations and divorces, wealth and poverty, good times and bad. We endure. I felt loved.
Then I was off to catch the seaplane home.
I got back on Thursday afternoon, in time to make it to my regular fiddle session with the Oceanside Jammers in Qualicum Beach. Another reality. Already my day of fame and celebrity seemed like another world, another life.
Here’s my latest attempt to bloom where I’m planted. I’ve been organizing an open mic night at Wellington Hall in Nanaimo.And wonder of wonders, this wordpress is finally starting to add pictures again, after refusing to for months. That’s great.
Hey, the open mic night is going to be great fun. Come and perform. Come and be an audience. Come and eat grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade banana bread with ice cream. We’ll have a good time and if this seems to be appreciated, maybe we can make it a regular event.
We would start it a bit earlier, but that hall is infested with Brownies until 7:30.
I spent new years day cleaning and organizing my workshop. My tiny workshop. When I started, I couldn’t walk to the work bench and if I got there the surface was so cluttered that doing anything was difficult. Now it is clear and tidy, with all tools available.
The second day of the new year I started on the new basement, moving everything that’s in storage from the end with the windows and sliding door to the very back, then setting up my tools on magnetic strips on the wall and again clearing the work bench space. What a sense of satisfaction I get from having a tidy and organized work space.
I would dearly love to show you pictures, but apparently my WordPress is still refusing to upload them.
I had the brachytherapy on schedule on January 24. That’s the operation where they implant radioactive iodine seeds in the prostate and allow them to eat your lower end innards, which apparently they have been doing. Side effects were supposed to peak in week three and four post op, then gradually get better. So now it seems I’m through the worst of it and starting to heal. If this is as bad as it gets, I sailed through all the treatment with only minor discomfort. On the 27th of this month I find out how successful the treatment has been. I’m feeling quite optimistic. Statistics say that 95% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are alive fifteen years later, provided it was caught before it left the prostate. Not bad odds. That would get me to 84, which isn’t a bad run.
No news on the Mary Bane documentary. It’s in the hands of the producer, and until she finds some money it isn’t happening. So I’m trying to keep active and live through the winter months.
Around the turn of the century, I received a rather large royalty payment for my work on “Kung Fu the Legend Continues” in exchange for giving up world rights forever. It was enough to pay off my debts and leave me slightly solvent, but not enough to set me up for retirement. I could see that film was on it’s way out, so I decided to investigate digital production.
At the time, digital movies all seemed to be making excuses for the visual quality. They would pretend to be documentary footage left by college students in the woods (Remember “The Blaire Witch Project”?), or interviews by a psychiatrist. They generally were shot by amateurs with the camera on the head of a trained seal, and their sound quality was horrible. I looked at the technology and was amazed. If this were handled in a proper, professional style, it could actually look like a movie, I thought.
Also, I have never been happy working as an artist in the industrial management style used in television and low budget movies. The focus on schedules and efficiency is anti-art, and there’s never enough money to allow mistakes or experimentation. So I approached a casting director here and suggested we make a cooperative movie, with everybody involved doing whatever was required. We would start with an idea, a theme to explore, shoot a scene, edit that scene, then gather to discuss the scene and decide where to go next. I bought three Canon prosumer cameras and two Mac computers, a Cobra crane, some basic microphones and a carbon fiber boom pole. I absorbed the hard costs, and everybody contributed time.
That turned into one of the best artistic adventures of my life. We had a ball, and the result really does look like a movie. It looks great. Actors who otherwise couldn’t get their faces on the screen had many minutes of screen time. We fitted barn doors on work lights from Home Depot, and used furnace filters for diffusion. One of our cast, with welding skills, converted a fridge dolly into a very versatile camera dolly. We all had fun and I’m very proud of the finished picture, which we put out under the banner of the Volksmovie Group and called “Passion”.
The only problem was my business plan. I had attended every Toronto Film Festival for the past twenty years or so, and I was sure we would blow them away, find a distributor or get some television sales at least. But I hadn’t counted on the glut of digital films being submitted. A producer friend of mine lent his son a camera to make a five minute short of himself French kissing the family dog. He got invitations to three film festivals. The organizers could afford to give him the screen time, because they knew they would have a rowdy teenage audience and it was only for a few minutes. But a full length feature like ours was competing with the latest from Hollywood, with visiting stars to attract press coverage. We had none of that support. We didn’t get a single festival invitation.
In desperation, I set up a private screening at the Pacific Cinemateque in Vancouver. I hired a publicist. We had a great screening with a full audience. Laughs all the way through the picture. But not one opinion maker showed up, and we didn’t get one column inch of copy in the papers. I realized that I could have torn up a thousand dollar bill outside the theater for all the good I’d done my movie.
And then I went really crazy. Our ambition had been to get enough money back from making “Passion” to give everybody something for their time and have enough to do it again. I decided to do it again anyway, with even less money. I had a script that I loved, about tree planters, called “Getting Screefed”. I bought a school bus and a Volkswagen van, water hoses for making rain, a child’s swimming pool for a water reservoir, a generator, lots of tarps, and we assembled a great cast. We set up a tree planter camp in the bush and spent a glorious summer shooting scenes and cutting them together.
I quickly realized that trying to make this movie on miniDV was a mistake. It really needed spectacular images and great lighting. It had many rain scenes, and storm scenes at night, and it needed a dedicated special effects team. It really couldn’t be done on zero budget. The actors, who weren’t being paid even expenses, were hard to assemble and keep in the camp while we shot. We got maybe half the movie shot during that summer. What we shot looks great for performance, but there’s something not quite good enough about just about every scene. Either our special effects don’t cut it, or there’s some other problem.
We intended to edit during the winter of 2001/2002, and return to finish the movie in the Spring of 2002. But as I worked on the editing, the deficiencies of what we shot became more and more apparent. Then somebody vandalized the Volkswagen van we had left in the woods – threw a rock through the windshield and tore the wiring apart trying to hot wire it. Somebody else stole my generator from the school bus I had parked on a local farm. I realized it didn’t matter. I didn’t have money to put gas in the generator anyway.
I was living in Nanaimo, B.C., trying to be a movie maker. That’s a bit like living in the Sahara and trying to be a lumberjack. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, I was the Enfant Terrible of the Canadian film industry with two critically acclaimed feature films to my credit. But after thirty years of television work, to pay the mortgage and raise the kids, I was no longer the hot young artist. I was the old television hack. My previous clients had all aged out of the business, lost their shows, or run afoul of the IRS. I wasn’t getting any work. Nobody saw any reason to hire me.
I knew I could move to Toronto, or Los Angeles, or even Vancouver, hang out and go to industry events and parties, schmooze myself silly, and eventually, with my background and filmography, somebody would give me a job again. But I’d been there and done that. I didn’t have the heart to do it again.
Now I’m back. Tim Johnson, one of the main characters in “Passion”, and I have been reviewing our work on “Getting Screefed”. Looking at the assembled scenes just breaks my heart. We came so close. The performances are so good and the cast is young and beautiful, especially the women. I feel like if I had just been able to push a bit harder, go a bit close to the edge, put it all on the line, I might have been able to get the movie finished. But I know this isn’t realistic. I made the right decision. But now Tim wants to take another run at it, and the project deserves it. So I’m in. But not with no money this time. We are now looking at the script, which we still love, and considering crowd funding and other new methods of raising money.
I think this is something I just have to do.
Here’s the trailer for “Getting Screefed”, slightly reworked to support a crowd funding application.
Ruth and I perform as the LaoWise, which is a pun on the Chinese word for foreigner, “Lao Wai”. Of course the Chinese do not add an “s” to pluralized a word, “Lao” means old or venerable. So we’re assuming that LaoWise means “venerable and wise”.
Anyway, to get to the point, we performed once again this year at the combination Robbie Burns Day/Chinese New Year celebration, our third such performance. This is always great wacky fun, with haggis won tons and a lion sword dance. We did a three Chinese song set before inviting my young friend Kipling, eight years old, on stage to play a Scots jig with me on the violin. As a finale we were joined on stage by an accordionist from China, a young pipa player, and a singer who joined Ruth in singing Auld Lange Syne in Chinese and English while I played the erhu.
A couple of weeks later we did a performance at Aspen Grove school, at the invitation of the music teacher who provided these photographs and testimonial.
Laowise is a performance/education experience I would recommend to anybody. Ruth and Zale really know how to put on an entertaining show for kids while also giving a real sense of what life is like for children in China. Their many years of experience living there learning the language from scratch, like children, makes them a valuable resource. Their upbeat songs and audience participation style keep kids engaged. I especially liked their use of traditional Chinese instruments to accompany themselves and provide atmosphere. If you engage them for your next cultural event at school or even a birthday party, you won’t be sorry!
– Cathryn Gunn, Music Teacher, Aspen Grove School, Nanaimo
More recently we did a forty minute set for the Retired Provincial Employees Association. We talked about our experiences in China, reading Chinese characters, how Chinese children learn language, all with Chinese songs and stories.
I don’t think we’ll ever hit prime time as performers, but we do get a great reaction to the shows we put on, and are often invited back. This was our second time for the Retired Provincial Employees Association.