The Name Thing (Why am I known as Zale Dalen)

I thought I had covered this in an ancient post, but if so I can’t find it. Today my friend Paul Stallion in Winnipeg wrote to say: “Tell me again (I’m pretty sure I’ve been told before), where did the genesis of your name come from?” So here’s the story:

I was christened David James Scott – David after my father, David Henry Scott, and James after my grandfather on my mother’s side, Lieutenant Commander James Lauden Bromfield, RN. All good and honourable names. In those days it was traditional to name babies to honour their living relatives.

I went through school and into university with the name David James Scott. Then I met my first wife, Rena Bishop. She told me that she had been christened Gwyneth Bishop, but her parents had become Kabalarians when she was twelve and had changed her name to Rena. Here’s a link to the Kabalarian website, which of course paints a flattering picture of their cult. I always found it interesting that they claim to be based on the Kabbalah, “an esoteric method, discipline, and school of thought in Jewish mysticism” which claims to predate religion, though the cult was founded in 1930. In any event, the present day Kabalarians believe a complicated system of numerology which posits that a person has a life path, determined by their date of birth, and some kind of mystical resonance with the numbers derived from their name. Each letter in a person’s name is given a number from 1 to 9, but starting over after the letter ‘i’ with 1 again, so that the letter ‘j’ would be counted as 1 and the letter ‘k’ would be counted as 2. Taken in total, but not exceeding 9, these number give a person’s name a numerical value which somehow resonates with a number derived from their birth date. They don’t care now the name is pronounced. It’s only the letters and the final number that counts. If this sounds like improbable nonsense to you, then you agree with me. Utter bollocks.

It’s not just a person’s birth date and name that matter to a Kabalarian. Every other number in their life matters – their street address, their license plate, the number assigned to the current year. It’s all considered and calculated. Life can get quite complicated. An 8 birth path going into a 9 year can be scary for them.

At any rate, I didn’t hear much about the Kabalarians after I met Rena. We dated, lived together, got engaged, and finally married in 1971. She didn’t talk much about the “Kabalarian philosophy”, other than the occasional mention that we were in such and such a year, or our address added up to such and such a number (which might mean that it would be prone to electrical problems or water damage). Rena was, and still is, a brilliant woman, the kind of person who studies university level physics for fun. I’m sure she recognized how silly the beliefs of her parents were, or at least would appear to skeptics like me.

Then, in 1972 or 1973, Rena’s father died. He had been the person in her life who told her how the world was glued together, and his death left a huge hole. She started taking courses at the Vancouver Kabalarian center, and spending money on their lessons. Soon she was deep down the cult rabbit hole. I remember one occasion when she went in to buy a license plate for our car. She didn’t like the number on the plate that was offered, so she asked for the next plate in line. That was refused. So she paid for the plate, walked out the door, dropped it in the nearest garbage can, then return to say that she had lost her license plate and paid again.

At this time I was having my own issues with my father, David Henry Scott. For several years, I identified as a hippie. With the rationalizing arrogance of youth, I felt that, given that society made it next to impossible to get around without my car, I should be allowed to park wherever I wanted. So I had a large parking ticket debt, so large that the police showed up to arrest David Scott for failure to pay. They could never find me, but they found my father fast enough. He wasn’t pleased.

Then he was bragging to his business associates that the family farm was free and clear. One of them checked and told him there was a lien on the property, a lien because of non-payment of his student loan. Of course, it wasn’t his student loan. It was mine. My father was furious. Such were the unintended consequences of giving me his name.

Rena came to me after one of her Kabalarian classes and told me that I would never be rich and famous with a name like David Scott. It just didn’t match my birth path. I needed to change my name.

I had two other reasons to consider changing my name. One, of course, was that my father was not happy with having the same name as he had given me. But the other was based on my belief that we are a combination of three things. We are what other people tell us we are; we are what we tell ourselves we are; and finally, we are what we actually are which is a combination in various proportions of all three determinants. All three of these elements that define us are unknowable. We are not fully aware of what other people are telling us we are, except for the broad strokes. There are so many assumptions people make and express about us that are invisible to our conscious mind. We are also not completely aware of what we are telling ourselves we are. Habits of thought maintained since childhood go unexamined, which is why psychiatrists and therapists can make a living. And we are not fully aware of what we actually are, which is a combination of all three of these factors. Nevertheless, I felt that, possibly, the best way to create a more positive, outgoing, adventurous, and enjoyable personality might be to change the label that I put on that personality, the label that I put on myself, my identity. I would rather be self created than created by the agendas of others, or even of reality. I didn’t expect to become totally self created, but I felt sure I could change the balance. So why not give it a go? (Zale Dalen – where the Dunning-Kruger Effect meets the Imposter Syndrome)

Rena presented me with a list, provided by the Kabalarians, with many rather ordinary names but often strangely spelled, like ‘Jon’, but also including stranger names, among them the name ‘Zale’. I felt that the name expressed something of my personality – distinctly different, slightly odd, unique and possibly intriguing -so David James Scott became became Zale Ralston Dalen. Rena Scott became Laara Dalen.

I hoped that my father would see this as an effort to repair the damage he’d done by giving me his name, but of course he didn’t. It took him years to process what he saw as disowning the family. The rest of the relatives were initially resistant to the name change, but with constant correction finally accepted it. I settled in to being Zale Ralston Dalen, and went about establishing a movie career.

Did this experiment in becoming self creative work as I hoped? Hard to say. Having a strange name came with its own problems, like people calling me Dale, or Zane. My first national publicity appeared in TV Guide when my name was listed as Dale Zalen. I heard from somebody putting my name forward as a director that one of the executives who would give final approval asked, “Can he speak English?” My name also gave me what I unintentionally asked for – a feeling of being cut off from my history and heritage. These problems seemed to fade as I became better known, but the feeling of being adrift came back with a vengeance when my father died.

My father died in 1986. By then we were on very good terms. I had spent weekends interviewing him and transcribing the tapes, which became an oral history of his very adventurous early life. I had long since paid off my student loans. The styles of the hippie movement had become either mainstream or comical. Everybody and his dog had an earring. A tattoo no longer indicated a complete social deviant. I had certificates from the New York Film Festival, The London Film Festival, Sidney Australia and Thesolonika. Such a degree of international acclaim had healed the wounds from my teen years, and my father actually cried when he saw my certificate from the Moscow Film Festival, “For peace and friendship among nations.” He didn’t understand that they would give that to anybody who denigrated capitalism.

Fast forward to the turn of the century. Laara and I had separated and were on our way to a divorce. My children were adults and didn’t need me any more. I’d gone bankrupt. I was about to run away to China to recover from the crash and burn that was my life. My name, Zale Dalen, had no heritage to it. Worse, it was slightly embarrassing. People who knew could recognize it as a Kabalarian name, and I wanted no truck with nor endorsement of that particular brand of nonsense.

So, despite having been Zale for more years than I was David, I went to China as David James Scott. That’s the name I was using when I met my present wife, Ruth Anderson. It didn’t hurt that the name David Scott had real value in China, where I was being hired because I am a white man and a native speaker.

I fully expected to keep my birth name for the rest of my life. But then, on returning to Canada, I Googled ‘David James Scott’ and found, or rather, failed to find, my name buried in thousands of results. Goggle ‘Zale Dalen’ and I’m at the top of the returns. That’s a hard brand to give up.

So now I have a slightly schizoid existence as both David Scott, to people who met me while I was in China, and Zale Dalen, to those who knew me before I left and after I returned. Actually, I’m even known to some as Da Dawei (Chinese for Big David), my Chinese name. That’s what Ruth calls me when she wants to catch my attention in a crowd. Apparently the percussive sound cuts through the noise and gets my attention.

As an aside, I felt that adopting a Chinese name was only fair and courteous, given that most Chinese take an English name as soon as they start to study our language. This has resulted in some very strange names, like Space Fish, Falcon, Chicken, and our Chinese best friend, Panda. If I’d known a single word of Chinese when I arrived in China I would have chosen Gao Dawei (Tall David) because Gao is a common Chinese family name while Da is not. No matter. Being Big David struck me as funny, like a gangster name, Mr. Big, and apparently strikes many Chinese the same way.

And that’s the broad strokes of a very long, detailed, and complicated story. I’ve tried to cut it to the bone, the salient points, but it really brings up many questions – why did I go bankrupt after quite a successful career, first as a movie technician and then as a director. Why did I become, as I recently posted, “Almost Famous”, and why did that all go away. But that’s nothing to do with the name thing.

Thanks for asking, Paul.

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 and 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. 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! 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 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).

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.  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.