Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A good day

On a small hill overlooking Antigua’s capital, St. John's, is the Cathedral that bears this attractive town’s name. It has stood here like a beacon, since it was constructed in 1720.

Ringed by a brick wall, I found a half opened wrought iron gate, and passed into an old cemetery. I stopped and reflected on the tablets that graced tombstones and crypts. Many had been weathered by time and were unreadable. I tried to imagined what history…what stories lay beneath the ground.

Who was Elizabeth Bendall, who died at 36 years of age? Laid next to her was Hopefor Bendall, who, presumably her son, died in 1728 at the age of 15.

On another I couldn’t make out the name, but what I could see read like this:

“He was home in London at the home of his parents in May
and died in Antigua in August, 1739.”

Before the days of telephone, and email, and 747s, I imagined that this man’s visit to see his parents was probably the last he spoke to them. And the journey from London to the Caribbean at the time must have been an arduous one.

I was moved by another that read:

This monument is dedicated to the memory of a tender and affectionate husband,
James Henry Wall, who died in 1795.

Further down was the inscription for a James George Wall, who died at 22 months and 8 days.
It ended with this:

By a truly grieved and feeling wife and mother
Anna Wall.

I hoped that through her pain, Mrs. Wall was able to find delight in the time she had with her young son and husband.

I walked into the church. The inside was made entirely of wood. It was simple, yet majestic. Pews spilled into every corner of this large church.

I left, and ambled down the hill to the harbour. Royal Caribbean’s, Serenade of the Seas, had just arrived, and was disgorging hundreds of tourists. This was unfortunate, because now I had to dodge the touts offering taxis and selling tours of the island.

Wanting to escape the throng of tourists, I walked a few blocks away from the port. Here the streets were lucky to see any pavement. The houses were run down, and roosters (and two goats) wandered freely.

I passed one man, who placed a closed fist to his chest and said, “peace.” It was here that I saw the smallest house I’ve ever seen. It measured no bigger than eight feet by eight feet. Despite its size it was home for someone.

I kept looking down the small streets and couldn’t help but notice the contrast of the neighbourhood with the cruise ship that loomed, a short distance away.

I stopped to take a photo of an aged man sitting on the steps of an old house. Behind him was a sign that read, Ancient Mariner. I wondered if he was once an old mariner himself. I continued past a small barber shop. Some might call it a shack. There was room for just one chair.

“Would you like a cut,” the barber called out!

I removed my cap to expose my bald head.

“Maybe, I can just clean up the edges,”

“Thanks, but my wife usually takes care of that.”

Around a corner, two guys sat on the steps of a small, bright green house.

“Are you from the ship,” they asked?

It was a question I was asked often. This wasn’t a part of town that many tourists visited, but what I enjoy about ambling through areas like this, is that it’s real. It’s not made up, or pretend. What you see—warts and all—is what you get. It reminds us that beautiful places, such as Antigua, and Fiji, where I’ve been before, are not all about exclusive beaches and fancy hotels. There are people, without much, who are just trying to eke out a living.

“We call this the ghetto,” one of the guys jokingly told me. “Uptown is where all the shops are. We don’t have a lot of money, but we’re still happy.”

I hoped I sounded sincere.

Inside the house, a television could be heard. With a smile, they told me they were watching Obama’s inauguration.

“It’s a good day, a good day,” one said.

They didn’t have to explain what they meant. I knew that a black man in the White House, ever how distant, gave these guys hope. We reached out and touched fists, then placed our hand on our chest, and said goodbye.

It’s a good day, indeed, I thought to myself as I wandered uptown and grabbed a bite to eat.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A hundred shades of green

Sometimes White Man Walking needs to give his feet a rest, and grab a set of wheels. That’s what I did in Trinidad. From the airport I had a vague idea where my guesthouse was. The guy at the car rental desk put it like this.

“Take this road until you come to the first street, and then turn left. Continue through the first set of lights and then when you come to the second set of lights, turn left. Follow that road for a while, then turn left, then right, then left again, and right again…when you get there just ask around they will know…”

Right, (or was that left) I got it.

I carried on in the general direction, making it past the second set of lights. Now I needed to find Water Pipe Road, which for some reason the map on the guesthouse’s website made it seem like a major road…I found out later it isn’t.

After stopping people for directions, and driving through narrow roadways and alleys and going around in circles…literally…I decided to call the guesthouse.

“Where are you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Did you pass the supermarket? If you passed the supermarket, you’ve gone too far.”

Now, this wasn’t overly helpful, because I passed the supermarket several times, and didn’t really no if the guesthouse was on “this” side of the supermarket or “that” side.

“No problem,” I said, "I’ll find it." After some more asking, I stumbled, quite accidentally onto Water Pipe Road.

After dropping my bags, showering (yes, before driving I always shower...the car handles better with a clean driver), and taking an hour nap, I ventured out again, trying to figure out the directions, so I would know how to get back.

I drove through the capital, Port of Spain trying to find something interesting to see, but I couldn’t find anything, so instead I found the road that led to Maracas Beach, about 15 km north of the city. (have you ever wondered why the capital of a former British colony has the name, Port of Spain? Of course you haven’t). Maracas is Trinidad’s most popular beach, although this island is not endowed with many beaches. Those are all found on the island of Tobago.

Once I left the city, the road narrowed, and twisted like a serpent. The rain forest, with its hundred shades of green climbed down the mountainside. In some places heavy rains had deposited trees and mud and rocks onto the road. If dodging trees wasn’t enough, I passed oncoming vehicles around sharp bends with care. Driving on the left side of the road made it even more of a sport, as I tried to judge the distance between me and the passing car. Many times I caught myself cringing and sucking in my stomach so as not to hit, or get hit.

At times, the vegetation cleared and teased me with dramatic views. Down below, waves crashed against small rocky outcrops. It looked as if I could ride the lush, green carpet of hillside all the way down to the ocean.

I stopped at a roadside stand, where two Rastafarians were selling oranges, coconuts, sugar cane, and some hand-made crafts. One introduced himself as Edwin Hendricks.

“Like Jimmy,” he said with a laugh, emphasizing his last name. I got it, but I reckon Jimmy Hendricks probably had better teeth and played better guitar than this fellow.

He asked if I have ever tried sugar cane. I haven’t.

He pulled two stalks from the pile, shaved off the bark, and then instructed me on how to get the juice from the white, fibrous stick. I bit down with my back teeth, and freed the sweet liquid that had been trapped in the cane. His friend then offered me a small orange. It was tart, yet delicious and refreshing.

Edwin asked if I wanted to buy a maracas. Crafted from dried calabash, and filled with some seeds, he had a small collection of these simple instruments.

“Two for 100 TT Dollars,” he said.

“What if I only want one?”

“Then it’s 50 TT Dollars,” he exclaimed!

I should have guessed.

“My son will like this,” I told him as I handed over the money.

After choosing my new treasure, Edmond reached out to my hand with a closed fist. He then placed his hand on his heart. His friend did the same. And with that, I jumped back in my car, waved, and then headed down the hill to Maracas Beach.

At one end of the small bay rested a fleet of wooden fishing boats, coloured in varying hues. One man was mending a net, while his colleagues sought shelter under a palm tree close by.

I walked out on a narrow breakwater, where a man was fishing. I asked him if he catches much. He opened his small cooler and showed me his catch. “It’s pretty easy to catch fish, but it’s still fun,” he said, as he turned and cast his line. Less than a minute later, a rather unlucky fish was tossed into the cooler.

I found a little stall selling Bake and Shark, which I later learned was a culinary must. It started with a flat piece of dough that was dropped into a sizzling vat of oil. Then two pieces of fish, dipped in flour, were also placed in the oil. After a few minutes, and like magic, out came a fluffy round piece of bread, which was cut in half to slide the fish in. I finished it off by adding some spicy sauces, cabbage and diced cucumber. There was an explosion of tastes, as I bit into the sandwich.

The next day someone asked if I had the Bake and Shark at Maracas Beach.

Indeed, I did!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sitting next to the Jolly Green Giant

Somewhere over eastern British Columbia, the flight attendant leans over to one of the passengers and says there's a Chinook in Calgary. Today's temperature was 10 degrees and if the television is to be believed, it will soar to 16 tomorrow. Something is messed up when one day it can be -10 and then 10 above the next. Someone's messing with the thermostat, I think. Kind of like my colleagues at work. One minute they're cold, next minute they're hot. They come into my office and start playing with the thermostat. What they don't know is that the building is whacked, so that the thermostat in my office really controls the copy room, or lunch room.

After my flight to Calgary, I returned to the same aircraft, an Air Canada Embraer 190--a sweet little ride--for my trip to Toronto, where I'll connect to a Carribean Airlines service to Trinidad. I settle into my seat at 25F, and as most of the passengers are on board, I'm glad for the spare seat next to me. Then this man plunks a bag down on the that empty seat. Some women would probably find this man's rugged looks attractive. But to me, he has just invaded my space. His curly, greying blond hair masks his true age. He looked like a surf dude from yester-year. Actually he looked a lot like Jesus. I don't know if Jesus was in to surfing, although I imagine him hanging 10, while Moses was parting the Red Sea.

This guy's hands were so big, I bet he could have snapped a surfboard in half. Have you ever sat beside someone on a plane or a bus that when they sit down they fall into the seat, sending a tsunami wave of energy to the people sitting next to them? It was like the Jolly Green Giant had sat next to me, but instead of pulling out a bag of peas or corn, he reached into his bag and unwrapped a smelly burger from Harvey's.

The airplane started smelling like a cheap hamburger joint, which wouldn't be a problem if we were at a some stinkin' hamburger joint, but we weren't. We were in a small confined space, and the smell of onions and pickles, mixed with ketchup and grease turned my stomach.

He then pulled out a bag of peanuts and started breaking the shells, which landed all over his lap and the floor. I swear if I had hair, I would still be picking peanut shells from my head. Did he think he was at a ball game. I half expected him to crack open a can of Bud.

And what's with people cracking open peanut shells. I thought it was just squirrels and chipmunks that did that.

What's almost as bad as sitting next to someone munching on a greasy burger, is sitting behind someone who thinks that no one is sitting behind them. There was a couple in front of me, who after selecting a movie to watch reclined their seat, so their head was in my lap. Unless it's a night flight federal regulation should prohibit seats from reclining. Did they think they were sitting in their living room. They would also move around in their seats, and send the drink glass and soda can flying (fortunately both were empty).

I amused myself by watching some foul-mouthed comedian on the TV monitor. Despite the limitations in this guy's vocabulary (I wonder if his mother knew how he talked), I caught myself laughing out loud a few times.

I thought I would listen to something more wholesome, so I clicked on the Celine Dion CD. I tired after one song. There was a time when I couldn't get enough of Celine, but I've matured. Despite pressing every button on the inflight entertainment system, I couldn't get rid of her. "My Heart Will go On," still rings through my ears.

A snowstorm greeted us as we landed in Toronto. If only I had a moment to go for a walk as the fluffy white flakes swirled down. But alas, I had a flight to Trinidad to catch.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Airline TV Commercials

The other day I came across a Virgin Atlantic TV commercial, marking their 25th anniversary. It's a great ad, especially with many references from the 1980s .

You can view the ad here:

I then searched for some other great airline commercials, which I have linked below. Some very creative spots. I have also included two non-airline spots, which are excellent.

Jet Blue - Just like Dad

Southwest Airlines

Virgin Atlantic


Aerolinas Argentina - winner of best airline commercial (Cannes 2004)


I first saw this ad a few years ago, and it is still one of my favourites

European TV commercial

Don't Wake the Star

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bill Gates creeated a spel chek, so yous it!

I was at the doctor's office today. It wasn't my general practitioner, but rather one of these medical clinics. I have the Ebola virus, but don't worry for me...I'll be fine.

While waiting, I noticed four small posters taped to the walls throughout the office that read:


Do I really want to be treated by a doctor whose staff are careless and lazy? I can forgive such a sign if it were in Blagovescensk or Nay Pyi Taw or Ougadougou, or even Yokadouma, but in Vancouver such poor spelling is inexcusable.

While technology has unfortunately turned us into lazy and poor spellers, there is no excuse for not using one's computer program's spell check. A few seconds of time would have revealed the errors contained on this sign. But even worse, I suppose, is that no one in the office has any care to correct the offending signage.

Speaking of doctors, one of my inquisitive colleagues no longer asks me about my doctor's appointments, after she probed much further than she probably liked a few years ago. The conversation went something like this:

Colleague: So, why are you off tomorrow?

Me: Oh, I have a doctor's appointment

Colleague: What's the appointment for?

Me: Well, some doctor is going to shove a camera up my ass and take a look around. Wanna come take a look? Invite some friends, bring some popcorn, we can all watch my rectum and colon on the big TV monitor.

Now when I tell her I have a doctor's appointment, she never asks why.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Being somewhere without actually being there

After my previous post, where I listed a number of my dreams, including going on a Canucks road trip to Chicago, Boston, or New York, my friend Anna game me added inspiration by creating a picture of her husband, K2, and me on the side of a building in Times Square.

Almost as good as being there.

If you're interested, Anna also has a great blog at:
Mommy's Empty Head

A crappy afternoon

Yesterday, my four month old son was covered in pooh. Literally, from head to toe. He had a massive explosion that even his kevlar diapers couldn't stop. When I carried him upstairs to get changed I had no idea what I was dealing with. I noticed some wetness on the front of his blue shirt, but I thought that it was simply a collection of drool.

I laid him on the change table and my other son, Jack, looked at me and said, "Daddy, what's that on your shirt." A patch of light brown goo had mysteriously appeared on my white shirt. What I initially thought was a pool of drool on my son's shirt was indeed poo. It's amazing that the force of this explosive natural phenomenon could send crap up his front and backside at the same time.

I didn't know where to start. I unsnapped the bottom of his "onesie" (if you aren't sure what a onesie is, then call one of your friends who has children), and this runny, pumpkin-hued liquid gushed out from around his diaper. I had never seen anything like it.

Jack ran into the bathroom where my wife, Carrie, was relaxing in the tub, and announced, "Max pooed...mommy Max pooed."

He then ran back into his brother's room, where he watched me assess the situation. First, I got some safety tape and cordoned off a six foot perimeter around the offending child, who laid there as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I stood for a while trying to figure out how I was going to take off the poo-soaked shirt without getting crap all over his head.

With little choice, I had to pull the shirt over his head. Jack then ran and told his mother that Max had poo on his head. My wife almost drowned laughing about the crappy predicament that I found myself in.

I looked to my youngest son, who now had poo over his entire body, and apologized. I don't know what I was apologizing for, but it was the only thing I could say to him at that moment. He just looked at me with those big blue eyes and smiled. I guess there's a reason we don't remember things in our first few years of life.

Jack kept up the play by play, and relayed the progress to his mother. She must have thought that I was able to handle everything, because she didn't make any effort to extricate herself from the bath.

I got out the jumbo box of wipes and started to clean his body. The wipes did little but spread the gooey liquid around. I started gagging, so I took him outside and hosed him off. That didn't work, so I strapped him to his change table, at which time Jack yelled, "mommy, now there's poo on the straps." I filled his little bath tub and threw him in, but as if on cue he started peeing. Oh well, what's a little pee in the water when your body is covered in crap.

By now, Carrie had climbed out of her bath and was now smiling as I was trying to take control of this shitty situation. The bath did wonders and Max was sparkling clean. A few hours later while feeding Max, my wife turned to me and matter-of-factly said, "I think you missed some, there's still some poo on his ear."