Ear Worms, Nostalgia and Nonsense or Why I Love the Internet

Ruth and I are digging out the basement under our home.  Every morning, as I work, I seem to be afflicted with a new and unpredictable ear worm, a melody from my past that plays over and over until I consciously choose another tune to drown it out.

As I said, these are unpredictable.  Most are stupid. Snatches of songs I should have forgotten.  The other morning it was a couple of lines my father used to sing as we rode in his car to church. “While the organ peeled potatoes and the choir rendered lard, someone lit the church on fire.  Holy smoke the preacher shouted as his wig flew in the air.  And his head resembled heaven for there was no parting there.”  This got me curious enough to Google the lines and come up with this:

Turns out dad had both the words and melody wrong, which isn’t surprising.  What impresses me about this song, recorded in 1928, is how many of the jokes are probably inaccessible to the youth of today.  Do millennials know what it means to render lard, or that songs also used to be rendered? I suddenly feel old.

But how wonderful that the Internet can give me this music and these words, which my long departed father would have been at a total loss to supply.  Just one more reason why I love the Internet.

The other day we were in a grocery store and I happened to see cream of tartar on a shelf.  What the heck is “cream of tartar”.  I knew it was a thing, and had something to do with cooking.  But beyond that, not a clue.  So out came the smart phone, up with Google again, and there it is. Tartaric acid, a by product of wine making, used to stabilize eggs when whipping them. I’m so happy to have lived long enough to have answers to every question in my pocket.

The Little Red Hen Wants a Rooster, Plus the Fiddle Workshop with Rodney Miller

I’m not sure why I find this so amusing.  Maybe because, at my age, anything requesting that I become intimate with it is kind of… sweet.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit kinky.  Here’s a couple of videos of Rodney Miller demonstrating the two fiddle tunes he taught us at last week’s workshop, hosted by Joyce and John Beaton in Qualicum Beach.
First up is the Blue Jig.

Followed by Trip to Dingle.  I’m very fond of this simple tune.



Oceanside Jammers in Rehearsal

I play with the Oceanside Jammers every Thursday, and whenever they have a performance, which will happen this evening.

Here are three clips of the Jammers in rehearsal.  I’d be playing with them, but I’m behind the camera.  This first one is called “Saltspring”, named after the island where my son and his kids live.  I’m not fond of the melody, but I have to admit that the Jammers give it a lot of life.

This next one is just the tail and of “One Hundred Pipers”.  I like this choon, but I wasn’t fast enough to get the tune that leads into it, “Cock of the North”, and could only catch the tail end of this one.

And here are two of my favourites.  “Senneca Square Dance” followed by “Chattanooga”.

The little girl in the center of the group is named Kipling.  She’s the daughter of friends and I take her to our fiddle sessions now, since she plays as well or better than most of the adults.


It’s About Time I Updated

This is embarrassing.  My last past was December 26 of 2013.  My how time flies when you are having fun, and ignoring your blog.  I hereby resolve to do better.

So much to report.   First of all, here’s a little video that I’m very proud of making.  It’s charming, heart warming, surprising, and is being very well received.  If you love animals and people who treat them well, this is something you’ll enjoy:

My attempt to find an Internet distribution outlet for “Passion”, the Volksmovie we made before I went to China, has been disappointing.  I bought a subscription to Vimeo and the film is currently on line, but it’s only generated about thirty dollars in rentals over the course of a year, so I probably won’t pay for another year.  I’m sure another approach will be more fruitful, as soon as we find it.

I’m now also deeply involved in the creation of a web series called QUILTBAGS.  We’ve got nine episodes up now, and are putting up two every month.  The more it develops, the more interesting it gets and I highly recommend you check it out.

While on the subject of chickens, my friend Ingo gave me a pile of plywood trims from his renovation project.  They turned into two new chicken coops, some assembly required.

I didn't like the new coops until I added the brass.


The brass trim pieces came from the local Habitat for Humanity Restore, on sale for twenty five cents each.  I didn’t much like the looks of the new coops until the trim was added.  Now I’m proud of them.

It’s been a couple of creative years since my last post.  Much of that creativity has centred around the house and landscaping the yard.  The pond is now a fixture, with it’s magical electric river, foot bridge and tiny waterfall.

GouGou's favourite spot for watching the pedestrian overpass where a dog might think it could come into our yard.


This is what the back of the house looked like in 2013.

It's hard to remember how bad this all looked.


And this is what it looks like now.

Even this is not quite up to date. More facing has been added on the corner.

You can see the workshop, stage, and garden shed, all additions to the yard buildings once we got the ground raised a bit.


We tore down the old chimney, and Ruth used the bricks to make a nice little nook for the relocated small pond which sat beside the house.

This pool was beside the house, but it had to be moved.


But the big news is that we have just about completed the excavation of our full basement.  We have two of the four walls in place.

There's still more dirt to be removed, but we can walk to all four corners now.


Because we had to have someplace to put the dirt, we built a retaining wall and a driveway.


Eventually this will be where the motorhome lives.

This is all just a tiny sample of the activity around what I am now calling Frog Manor.  The koi which were only a three inches long when I bought them are now at least a foot long.  Grass has come back to our yard.

A more complete pictorial history of our renovation work and activities can be found on Ruth’s Flickr site.

That’s all I’ve got time for right now.  And there’s so much I’ve left out.  Like my piano.  I got one, and I’m slowly getting my Scott Joplin pieces back.  And the Oceanside Jammers fiddle group has become a big part of my week.

I’m going to try to post more regularly from now on.

I Get Mail

Here’s a letter from a former student at Jiangnan University:

Hello David, feel happy for you knowing you have flied back to Canada with Ruth and Gougou. I just read your blogs (both themaninchina.com and  zaledalen.com) and thought about writing this email to you. You may not remember me. I commented about your posts twice and only emailed you once when I was taking your oral English lesson in Jiangnan University four or five years ago. I named myself Jerry at that time.

 This afternoon I was talking to my colleague about web control in Chinese web environment, and I remembered writing you an email about “五毛党” long ago. So I checked your blog. Themaninchina.com is an easy-remember site name and it’s still running! That surprises me. 🙂
I didn’t know you taught grammar! I thought you only taught oral English when I was at university. You posted two blackboard shots in your post Time for a Rant… so that was true… but why? You seemed to enjoy sharing interesting experience and topics with students more than reading and explaining something “dead” written on books. So I think teaching grammar may be a little tough…for you…? I only thought about passing the test of grammar and getting my grade at that time. 新华字典 is renewed every 2 years, but our grammar textbook takes more time. I think the author intends to fill the book with everything that he thinks “may be useful for students sometime”. So you needn’t care so much about the content of the textbook you were teaching. Students who use English in their daily lives will learn what they should know. I made a lot of mistakes and I know I will make more mistakes, but what I know is enough for me to read your blog and write this email to you. I feel good with that. XD
And about the websites blocking thing, I’m glad that you are so concerned with that. I want to tell you about my thoughts. I’ve been a twitter user since 2008, that is before the website was blocked in China. Many people in China still don’t know the government is blocking some websites.
Chinese government may be afraid of the connected WWW and some easy-irritated citizens. When I searched for the Tian’anmen Event in June 4, 1989, connection to the results was still broken in China (while I was using direct connection). Google refused to block some of the results as the government demanded, and Baidu agreed to do that. That was one of the reasons why Google left China in 2010.
Three years ago I was also thinking the government is making a huge mistake, but now I think a little different. True that people have the right to know the truth about their country. And a government has its duty to protect its people from riot and war. I came to believe that the government is blocking websites because they are trying to avoid civil conflicts. They are just too sensitive and have done more than they need. I hope the government will soon recognize that and try some different and milder ways to solve their problem, and believe in her citizens more.
Thank you for reading my long email and thank you for teaching me lessons. I’ve always loved your class (especially the one you talked about going to the island of Xiaolihu(小蠡湖) in campus with Gougou). You are really an interesting person… though your films don’t seem like my favorite type:)   (I found this! http://movie.douban.com/subject/1958782/ Was the movie directed by you? Wow I was born in 1990…
By the way I found a mistake in your post part “A Few Thoughts on China“…Here…
“They have their own version of Youtube (YouKu) Twitter (Weixin) and Facebook (XiaoNei) and Google (Baidu), and these have more users than any of the Western versions.”
Weixin is an interact messaging mobile client, like QQ, hangouts (of google+) or kik. And Twitter is a microblog website, for short blog posts within 140 words. Chinese version of Twitter, the most influential one, is Weibo(新浪微博  weibo.com). Weibo is one of the Chinese native website that accept network audit. Sensitive posts will always be deleted.
And of course I had to reply:
Dear 吴皓昱 Wu Haoyu Jerry:

What a great letter to receive.  You have become a very good writer in English.  I’m impressed.

Thanks for pointing out the mistake in my website.  I’m not sure when I’ll get around to correcting it.  Life is very busy these days, and I don’t even have time for new posts to my new Canadian website.

It was very funny to follow the link you gave me to the Chinese announcement of my TV movie, “Anything to Survive”.  That’s the movie where I got to work with Matt LeBlanc, who plays Joey on “Friends”.  It was a difficult shoot, but left me with great memories.  And 1990 seems like yesterday to me.
I’m a little worried that I will lose all of the Chinese I learned over the past nine years but there are many Chinese people living in Nanaimo now.  Ruth has started doing some private tutoring, and one of her clients is a young Chinese girl.  The girl’s mother is going to have coffee with me next week and help me practice speaking Chinese.  It’s good to be home, but I do miss my Chinese friends and my life in your amazing country.
By the way, I think the situation with China blocking websites may be more complicated than you think.  It’s possible that they block Youtube and Twitter because they don’t want the Chinese Internet to be dominated by foreign companies.  They wanted to give Chinese companies a chance to get established without the competition from huge foreign companies like Google.  Also, with the Chinese companies the servers are in China, so if there is civil unrest or information getting out they don’t like, they can shut down the service provider.  With the servers outside of China they can’t do that.
I am hoping that they will soon realize that Chinese Internet companies are already established and competitive, but that they need a free flow of information from the rest of the world.  Every time China has tried to isolate itself it’s been a disaster for the country.  Hopefully they won’t make the same mistake much longer.
I am very sympathetic to the problems your government has in governing a country like China.  China is urbanizing at a tremendous rate.  The gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening very quickly.  This is a dangerous situation, because when you have so many people drinking expensive coffee at Starbucks while many more are still struggling to eat and buy clothing and shelter, you have a legitimate cause for discontentment.  It can only go so far before the people rise up.
Thanks again for reading my websites.  If you don’t mind, I think I’ll post your letter to my new site.

Please write again when you have some time, and maybe you could tell me about your life now.  You must have graduated from university.  Are you working?  Are you married?

Warmest regards


David AKA Zale in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada

P.S. I’ve decided to go back to my legal name, Zale R. Dalen, or at least to use it for everyday life.  If I Google David Scott I get thousands of hits, none of which are me.  If I Google Zale Dalen I’m at the top of the list.  That alone is a good reason to keep the name.  There are things I don’t like about being called Zale Dalen – it’s not my original name and has no heritage to it, plus it connects me to silly superstitious beliefs that I dislike – but I do like being self created.  I’ll just have to have two names, like Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens).

Life on Salt Spring Island

It’s hard to believe how fast things can change, especially if you spend money like a drunken sailor on shore leave.  Since returning to Canada I’ve purchased a 1997 Toyota Sienna van, complete with trailor hitch that also holds a bicycle rack.  Ruth and I both bought new bikes, and for the first time in my life I’m riding a bicycle that actually fits me.  What a wonderful change that is.

Ruth and I also bought a Bounder motor home, which Ruth has named MH Opportunity.

GouGou at window of Opportunity.  No, she's not driving.We purchased it from an old friend of the family for a very good price, and it’s in fantastic shape. I had a motor home toward the end of the last century, but it wasn’t as big as this one.  I loved it though.  They are so amazingly self contained, with bathroom, shower, kitchen, and in this one a walk around bed.

Inside MH Opportunity.  Lots of room.  We are now parked in the yard across from my son’s lab on Salt Spring Island.  This is my idea of roughing it in the bush.

Our current location in the woods behind Casey's lab. My kind of camping.I’m looking after Casey’s business while he takes a much needed vacation.  My son is a chemist.  He formulated a product called Marseilles Remedy Thieves Oil, an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral concoction of natural oils.  It’s now flying off the shelves in a couple of hundred retail outlets, plus Internet sales.

Casey left us with a few hundred bottles in stock.  All we are doing is packaging, shipping out the orders, and depositing the cheques. So it’s hardly a forty hour work week.  Ruth and I have plenty of time to enjoy this splendid island.  There are lots of musicians here, some quite famous.  We caught Valdi at the Tree House Restaurant last week, a great entertainer.  Yesterday we hiked up Mount Erskine to a fabulous view of Crofton and the Vesuvius ferry.

Last night as we ate dinner, two fawn stepped out of the woods under our window.  The were soon followed by the doe, and shortly after that a young prong horn buck walked across our yard.  The beauty of this place is breath taking.

Despite the charms of Salt Spring Island we will probably be moving back to Nanaimo around the first of November.  I want to be closer to a university, and to the conveniences and culture of a larger city.  So we’ll ask my tenants to vacate my house and move back in.

Picking up the Big Box

I’m going to post this simultaneously to this site, and to The Man in China.  Hopefully people returning from China will find our adventures in moving instructive.

I’m currently living near Fulford Harbor on Saltspring Island.  I’ll be here for at least a month, taking care of my son’s business while he goes on a much needed holiday.

Picture: Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island, B.C., CanadaOn Friday I got the word that my big box had arrived from China, so on Saturday I caught the ferry from Saltspring to Crofton and went to my friend Gordon’s place to borrowed his utility trailer.  I spent the night at Gordon’s, and then Sunday I dragged the trailer onto the ferry and out to Maple Ridge to my sister’s place.

Actually, it wasn’t quite that simple.  Nothing ever is when I’m dealing with rules and regulations and international borders.  Before I could take the trailer away, Gordon told me I’d need to replace one of the light bulbs for the brake lights and asked me if I had the hookup.  I was shocked at the question.  Brake lights?  Hook up? Apparently it’s illegal to pull a trailer without brake lights.  So I dragged the trailer up to Canadian Tire to get the hookup installed. They had no mechanic on duty, it being Sunday.  I bought the missing bulb.  The parts man said he could sell me a brake light hookup kit, but he didn’t have any in stock; I could try Lordco, right next the the Costco.

At Lordco they could sell me the hook up kit, provided I had sixty bucks.  The sales guy went out to the parking lot to show me where I’d have to break into the van to tap into the brake light wires.  We tried to open a little access hatch on the left hand side, but it was too tight to get open without pliers.  I noticed the hatch on the right hand side, opened it, and lo and behold, a brake light hookup fell out, already installed.  Must remember to thank the folks at the dealers for not cheaping out on me when they installed the trailer hitch.

After the ferry, and driving out to Maple Ridge, my cousin Reta and her husband took me in to Balcara for a dinner party with friends and family.  I spent Sunday night at my sister’s in Maple Ridge, but was on the road again early to get up to Ruskin and pick up the sewing machine my cousin has given me.  Then I headed in to Richmond to claim our big box.  That’s when the fun started.

At the shipper’s office, Henry from Korea asked me for the bill of lading.  I gave him all the paperwork I had.  It wasn’t enough.  There was some vitally important document missing, essential to the continued function of the universe, and they wouldn’t release our box without getting confirmation from China that it had been shipped and had not magically appeared in their warehouse.

Henry told me that he might have the paperwork by that afternoon, so I drove to the warehouse where the box was incarcerated.  I could see it.

Picture:  Our big box in the warehouse.  So near and yet so unobtainable.I could take pictures of it, provided shot the pictures from the open loading door and didn’t step foot inside the warehouse, but I couldn’t take it away.

Picture:  The big box.  This closer picture makes the damage obvious.Even from the doorway of the warehouse I could see that the box has suffered some abuse but it looked generally intact.  The way we packed it, I wasn’t expecting any damage to the contents.

That’s when I decided to check on the time in China. It was two in the morning in Beijing.  Obviously I wasn’t going to get our box that day.  I hung out.  Practised my guitar.  Practised my banjo.  Practised my fiddle.  Took GouGou for walks.

I dragged to trailer to the Bridgeport Starbucks and had a venti latte.  The barista was from China and I got to practice my Chinese, much to his amusement.  Then I went back to the warehouse, set the trailer up on the ramp outside the only loading door that had a ramp, and took GouGou for a long walk around a huge field.

Picture: GouGou really enjoyed our walk around the big field.Picture:  GouGou rolling in the grass, one happy dog.It was a beautiful evening.  There was a full moon rising directly over Mount Baker.

Picture:  Moon rise over Mount Baker as seen from Richmond, B.C., CanadaWe walked along a low dike around the field, as ducks and a Great Blue Heron fed in the ditch.  I slept in the van that night.

Picture:  The van and trailer on the ramp, ready for a load in the morning.The next morning I got an email with an attachment.  The paperwork was in hand.  Henry called to let me know I could load the box.  I went into the warehouse to talk to Kevin.  Kevin is from Shanghai, though he’s been in Canada for twenty years.  I got to practice my Chinese, again.

Kevin wanted the customs clearance.  I told him that we had cleared the box with customs when we came through the airport.  We made a “declaration of goods to follow.”  No, said Kevin.  That’s not good enough.  I need an official stamp on this piece of paper, the bill of lading from China.  I called Henry.  “I told you to go to the customs and clear the shipment,” said Henry.  He sounded exasperated.  I sounded exasperated.  But this was not negotiable.  I unhitched the trailer and off I went to 333 Dunsmuir Street to see the nice man at Canada Customs.

He actually turned out to be a nice man, took care of stamping my document without argument, and faxed the stamped clearance to the shipper.  So by the time I got back to the warehouse, Kevin was ready to load my box for me, which he did by putting it on a fork lift and running it straight onto the trailer.

Picture:  Finally.  Ready to roll with the box on the trailer.I was at the horseshoe bay terminal by noon, but that sailing was overloaded.  So I had to wait for the 3:10 sailing.

Picture:  Here we are in the ferry lineup at Horseshoe Bay.Picture:  Ferry lineup, Horseshoe Bay, B.C., CanadaPicture: The Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal with the small boat for Boan Island in its berth.My favourite sushi restaurant in Horseshoe Bay has been closed.  GouGou and I hung out.  We met a lot of other dog owners.

I snoozed in the van for the entire ferry ride, only leaving it to use the washroom before we docked.

I was at my house in Nanaimo by about five thirty.  The box has a crumpled edge on one side at the bottom, and the plywood has been punctured like it was hit hard by the fork of a forklift.  I opened up the box and took most of the instruments out of it, plus sheets and pillow cases and our kitchen knives and our folding camping chairs.  Nothing seems to have been broken.  I pulled out some of the heavy stuff just to reduce the weight.  Marshal, my tenant, was home and gave me a hand to get the box down into the crawl space. It fit just fine.

I delivered Gordon’s trailer back to him and had time for a quick shower in his open air outdoor garden shower, the best shower on the planet.  Then I took off to catch the 8:00pm ferry back to Saltspring, with twenty minutes to spare.

I made it to Saltspring in time to buy a couple of bananas and a bag of Cheezies for dinner and drive to the South End Grooveyard to hear Jason and Pharis Romero playing traditional music on instruments they made themselves.  http://www.romerobanjos.com/index.html  They live on the old homestead up in Horsefly that used to belong to the family of my cousin Darlene’s husband, Ken Smith, who sold the property to them provided them make him a banjo.  They did.  I played it last year.  Beautiful instrument.  I’ve put down a deposit on a banjo for myself.  There’s a three and a half year wait for a Romero banjo, so I have some time to come up with the rest of the money.

Now I’m back on Saltspring trying to get up to speed on running my son’s business so he can take off in a few days for a well deserved vacation.

Life remains interesting.

It’s Good to be Home

Ruth and I returned to Canada at the end of June, 2013, after nine years of living in China.

Ruth went to Winnipeg to visit friends and family.  She is the co-owner of a house in there.

I went to Maple Ridge to claim our dog, GouGou (pronounced GoGo), to buy a van and a bicycle and a smart phone, to attend a DGC sponsored party at the Dockside Restaurant at the Granville Island Hotel, and then to make my way to Saltspring Island via Nanaimo.

That’s where I am now.  And this is my first post as a repatriated Canadian.  More to follow soon.