Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Authentic Boracay...part 2

Making necklaces with Puka shells

Puka Beach lies at Boracay's northern end. It’s where the road ends and the beach begins. Because of its more remote location (can there be such a thing on an island that is just 7km long) it is much quieter than White Beach. I walked out onto the beach, which stretches to the right and left, and passed two women sitting next to a blue, wooden boat. They were making necklaces and bracelets with shells found on the beach.
Further along, I noticed a woman, probably in her 50s, collecting shells. I stopped and asked what kind she was looking for.
“Puka shells,” she said, reaching into her bag and showing me a small, delicate white shell with some modest colouring on it. In the centre was a hole in which they feed string to make jewellery.
I continued down the beach and found myself looking for Puka shells. I thought I stumbled on one, so I walked back and gave it to the woman.
‘No, that’s not one,” she said laughing.
So my skills in shell identification needs some work. I smiled and said goodbye to the woman.
I came across these two people, Edward and Becky, relaxing at Puka Beach

Except for a handful of people, the beach was empty. The water looked invitingly perfect. Its aqua marine colour shimmering in the morning sun. In the distance, a wall of dark storm clouds gathered. I kicked off my sandals and walked along the beach for a kilometre or so, before it abruptly came to an end.

For a fleeting moment, I contemplated trying to round the rocky point, but I had no idea how deep the water might be on the other side, so I turned back down the beach. Just then, a few raindrops tumbled from the sky. I hoped I could make it back to my hotel, before the sky unleashed its angry torrent. But on this day, nature would get the better of me, and the rain soon poured from above.
I spotted a shelter, made of bamboo and covered with palm fronds, not far down the beach. I decided to wait out the storm there. I scampered up a small path that led to shelter that sat about 10 feet off the beach.  The entire structure measured about eight feet by 10 feet, and was constructed of bamboo poles that had been lashed together. Behind the shelter was a tall hillside covered in lush vegetation.
A fortuitous shelter to escape the rain
Safe from the rain that lashed the top of the shelter, I pulled out a book, Richard Branson’s Business Stripped Bar: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur, and began reading. When I grew tired of reading, I sat and stared out at the ocean. In the distance I sported a small ferry, and a few Bangka boats passed by, but other than that I was alone. It was as if I was marooned on a deserted island.
Two hours on, I grew restless, and regretted leaving my jacket in my hotel room. I resisted the urge to leave the shelter, knowing that I’d be soaked in a short time.
Thirty minutes later the rain eased and I dashed for freedom. The clouds that had tormented me, gave way to a bright blue sky. Instead of taking a trike back to my hotel, I decided to walk. I wasn’t sure how long it would take. The main road leading away from the beach climbs steeply, and I laboured under the warm noontime sun. I passed through small villages, where the homes that fronted the road also served as small shops selling fruit, candies, drinks, and other things that would allow a family to eke out a living. Most of the small homes were made of discarded wood, or palm fronds woven together.  A lucky few were constructed of cement.
Road leading away from Puka Beach

One of many roadside shops

A small village near Puka Beach

Father and Daughter
Just as I was enjoying the quiet and remote feeling of these villages, my senses were assaulted by an army of Korean tourists driving four-wheeled dune buggies. There were more than 20 of these vehicles. It was an odd sight.
Next to the road up ahead, I spotted a colourful umbrella attached to a bicycle. When I got closer, I noticed that four metal containers were attached to the bike. A young boy sat on the seat, while his father stood next to him. Turned out they were selling ice cream. So for 15 pesos, about 40 cents, the man scooped out a small dollop of banana and strawberry ice cream and placed it regally atop a bright red cone. I thanked them and continued along to my hotel.
Father and son selling ice cream
Everyone leaves Boracay with a different feeling. Some are dazzled by the beaches, while others revel in the island’s nightlife. To me, Boracay felt authentic. And I liked it even more because of it. Yes, I enjoyed walking along the sandy beach and swimming in the warm ocean water, yet I equally took pleasure in walking through small villages, or meandering through plots of land on the other side of the road from the famed White Beach, where scores of people live in cramped, ramshackle homes, and burn charcoal to cook their meals.
Boracay is real...and more beautiful because of it.   

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Boracay doesn't disappoint

Boracay...on approach to Caticlan 
Friends of mine once visited the Philippines with the intention of seeing different parts of the country. They went first to Boracay. Just the name has a taste of the exotic. They never left, spending their entire vacation there. After visiting Boracay myself, I now know why.

Bangka boats ply the waters between Caticlan and Boracay

One of the boat's crew
 The island of Boracay, just 7km long, and a kilometre wide at its narrowest, lies some 315 km south of the Philippine capital, Manila. It is hard to find on a map, yet it’s the Philippines’ most popular island destination, which says a lot considering the country is home to more than 7,000 islands.  
After an hour flight from Manila, I landed at Caticlan, on Panay Island. The airport is just two kilometres from Boracay, and can only accommodate small turboprop aircraft, owing to the short runway. Once outside the terminal, I hopped in a trike, a motorcycle with a side car attached to it. There’s a seat in the front next to the driver, and room for two people in the back.
It took just a minute or two to reach the port, where I boarded a Bangka pump boat for the 10 minute crossing. These narrow wooden boats, maybe 50 or 60 feet long are equipped with outriggers for stability—really just bamboo poles lashed together. Some carry 20 passengers, while longer ones can accommodate up to 40.  
Arriving in Boracay, I jumped in another trike for a 15 minute drive to my hotel, The Palms of Boracay. The island’s main road is narrow and twists from one end to the other.

Navigating the island's main road on a "trike", the local taxi

It was now early afternoon when I reached my hotel, and given that I had been travelling for 24 hours, I treated myself to a nap. Before falling into my bed, I set my alarm (or so I thought), so I would only sleep for a couple of hours.
Boracay's famed White Beach,

My alarm never did go off, and when I did wake up, I did with such a start that I feared I had slept through the entire day. Turned out it had only been three hours.
My hotel was just a minute’s walk to the famed 4km long White Beach. And it didn’t disappoint. Lined with restaurants, bars, and small hotels, areas of the beach are commonly known as Boat Station 1, 2, and 3. Not so long ago, before a central jetty was built, visitors would have been dropped off on the beach at one of the three stations, depending on the location of their hotel.
I walked along the beach, with its powdery sand. But before long I took off my sandals and continued walking in the water. The sky looked beaten and bruised, as menacingly dark clouds tried to hide the setting sun.
Day's end on White Beach

There’s something about sunsets that draw people. Maybe it’s about the sense of reflection and thinking about everything that happened that day. Maybe it’s about the promise of a new day to come.
As I passed people on the beach, I noticed many were taking pictures of the sky. There was a beauty to it, despite the angry looking clouds. I imagined showing up in holiday pictures in Tokyo, Seoul, and Sydney.
A busy footpath fronts the many restaurants and shops. Here one can relax at the countless massage tents, where an hour’s massage costs $8. Vendors talk briskly trying to sell sailing and diving excursions, sunglasses and hats. And somewhat oddly getting a tattoo here seems popular.
The sun had long since gone. The sky was dark, yet people were still enjoying the ocean’s warm water. I turned back toward my hotel, and was tempted into a beachfront bar and restaurant by a group of young people, with drinks in hand, jumping up and down to the music. It seemed so care free.  Vacation had liberated people from the burdens of life.
I found a table and ordered a pizza and a beer.  And when I heard Katy Perry’s popular songs Teenage Dream and Last Friday Night, the same ones that play on the radio at home, it made me realize how small the world really is.  
Join me for part 2, when I venture to Puka Beach, and seek shelter from rain

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is there an airport shuttle?

I had been to Manila’s Nino Aquino Airport before...well, sort of. A dozen years ago I was sitting in a Cathay Pacific flight simulator in Hong Kong, where a friend of mine was “flying” from Hong Kong to Manila. It was a rather unusual flight that included terrible weather conditions, an engine fire, an engine stall, and a host of other flight challenges that the examiner could throw at the two pilots. But despite this, we landed safely in “Manila”.
Of course in a flight simulator you can’t just get out and explore your destination. And so the other day I actually landed in Manila for real. While there was some turbulence during the 14 hour flight, I doubt the pilots of the Philippine Airlines Airbus 340 encountered any engine fires or any other potentially crippling experiences like my friend did that in Hong Kong. And I'm thankful for that. And so too I believe is the woman sitting near me, who did the sign of the cross as we lumbered down the runway while taking off in Vancouver. 
Manila’s airport, known as MNL, was recently given the distinction as the world’s worst airport. I'm sure others could hold the same distinction. The airport actually consists of four terminals that are not connected in any formal fashion. Three of terminals are in need of a good makeover. I landed at Terminal 2, which is exclusive to Philippine Airlines, and was surprised that it took only 20 minutes from the time the wheels of our plane touched the ground, to the time I was struck by the humid tropical air, while walking outside the terminal. My passage through the airport was made quicker because I didn’t have any checked baggage, which was probably a good thing as the baggage carousel area was crowded and the space inadequate for large aircraft disgorging hundreds of passengers.
I had a four hour layover before my Cebu Pacific flight would whisk me off to the island of Boracay, from Terminal 3. I had read that an airport shuttle takes passengers between terminals, but if time is a concern, then one might want to avail themselves of a taxi.

Time was my friend, so after running the gauntlet of taxi touts ready to pounce on their prey, I asked a security guard where I could catch the airport shuttle. Just as I was asking, I saw a large sign across the roadway that read, AIRPORT SHUTTLE.
I stood under the sign with a handful of other people that I assumed were also transferring terminals as well. I later learned they weren’t. After 45 minutes I finally asked the guy directing traffic how often the airport shuttle comes. He pointed to a large yellow bus that had arrived a short time ago. The bus had no visible identification that it was a shuttle of any sort.
The driver told me that he will leave at six exactly. I looked at my watch. It was 5:30. Exhausted from my travels, I climbed aboard and fell into the front seat.
“I leave at six whether I have one passenger or no passenger,” he offered.
“So, is this the airport shuttle,” I asked.
“No, it’s a hotel shuttle for the Mariott, but I go past Terminal 3.”
The driver turned on a 1992 Nicholas Cage movie called Windtalkers, a World War II film about US soldiers in Saipan. he driver left the bus idling presumably so the air conditioning could cool the inside of the bus, and the outside through the open door. 
Close to six o’clock he returned to the bus, and kept looking up at the red digital clock at the front of the coach. Finally, after waiting for more than an hour, the bus pulled away from the terminal.
“six o’clock exactly he said,”
Not quite. The clock read 5:59.
I asked the driver he if gets lots of passengers.
“Not many...maybe one or two,” he offered.
“Maybe you need a smaller bus,” as I looked around the near empty 47 passenger bus.
“Sometimes I get a lot of luggage,” he added.
After a 10 minute drive, he dropped me off at Terminal 3, Manila’s newest terminal. 

I still don’t know if the airport has a shuttle.       

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The long road to success

A year ago I wrote how a nagging knee injury cut short my goal of completing the Gran Fondo Whistler, a 120 km cycling event from Vancouver to Whistler. I remember sitting on the side of the road, just 20 km from Whistler and calling my wife in defeat, “I can’t do it,” I said into the phone. I can almost feel the pain today, as I willed my legs to climb the hills, wincing in pain, with each turn of the pedal.
Waiting to be picked up and transported to Whistler, I tried to comfort myself in the notion that success doesn’t always come easily, though I never thought it would end with someone helping me to my car in a wheelchair. I vowed that day that I would return. 
There were a chorus of people who told me I didn’t need to do it again. Some were gracious about my having made it as far as I did, given the circumstances. But 100 km wasn’t my goal. And so I had to return this year to give it another try.
Over the past year, I saw three physiotherapists and an osteopath. It was only after the last physiotherapist that things started changing for the better. He prescribed exercises that would strengthen my glute muscles (those are the ones in your butt), and correct the misalignment in my pelvis and hips that he (and the sports therapist in Whistler) had identified.
I was cautious in my training, afraid of aggravating my knee, but when I did 40km, then 75km, and finally 90km without the pain I experienced last year, I had a good feeling that I was going to conquer the ride. And so last Saturday while waiting at the start in downtown Vancouver with 7,000 other cyclists, I was excited, yet anxious—fresh with the memory of a year previous.
I rolled across the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and marvelled at the ocean and green mountains. The clear blue sky and the morning sun rising over the harbour. Climbing the first hill at Taylor Way, with a tight pack of other cyclists, I eased onto the Upper Levels Highway. I was pushed on by the enthusiasm of the cheering spectators that lined the roadway and overpasses.
I opted not to stop at the first aid station near Horseshoe Bay. A good sign I thought. Fifty kilometres on, I pulled into the second aid station at Britannia Beach. Then at 73 km I stopped at the next rest station, where my wife was waiting. I was feeling great, and the ride so far was a lot of fun. But I knew that the hardest part lay ahead.
The hills here are unforgiving. Making it worse was the oven-like heat that sucked away the energy. I pushed on, wiping away the rivulets of sweat dropping off my head. I gained strength as I passed the 100 km mark—the place where I had to give in a year ago. Then the muscles in my legs began to cramp. At first I tried to settle them down, but they’d had enough of the abuse, and made like a wet towel being wrung out. My muscles were telling me they were done, but they didn’t know I had a goal to complete. I pushed on.
At the last aid station, I called my wife, who was waiting in Whistler. “I’m going to do this. I’m coming!” With 16 km to go, the hills didn’t let up, and neither did the muscle cramps. In fact, with 7km to go I had to stop and have a talk with my muscles. I hadn’t gotten this far to quit. I sent a text message to my wife telling her that I would be a little longer than I thought. I stretched my muscles at a bus stop that had become an oasis for other riders seeking respite.

Nothing was going to stop me now. Not the hills. Not the heat. Not the exhausted muscles. I climbed back on my bike and pedaled down the kilometres. A sign on the side of the road read, last hill. A welcome sight indeed. Six hours and fifty minutes after leaving Vancouver, I turned into Whistler Village and sprinted toward the finish. I tried putting both arms up in celebration, but my muscles were screaming out and my legs tried to seize up, so I did a couple of fist pumps with one hand instead.
It took a little longer that I thought, but my goal was complete. No one at the finish, except my wife, knew what this meant. To them I was just another rider. Congratulations. They knew nothing of the pain...the struggle...the doubt. To be sure there were others that day, fighting through their own battles, and trying to climb that mountain.
Sometimes you have to fail before you can taste success. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why do we project biases onto our children?

Do you ever wonder why adults and society in general project certain biases onto children? Okay, maybe you’ve never given it much thought, but every day we project our own preconceptions about things on to our children. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it. Like when we tell our children, “You might not like it, but you can try it.” Why don’t we just let them try something without adding our own biases?

Of course gender biasing is a huge issue and starts the day a child is born. It manifests itself in the colours we associate with girls and boys, and the toys they are supposed to play with. My six-year old son has never really been interested in trucks and diggers and other heavy machinery.  No, he’d much rather spend his days in the library reading books. In fact, he often likes reading about the Disney princess’ and we don’t discourage it. Yet, I’m sure many a parent would dissuade their young sons from reading “girl” books.
There was a time a few years ago when Jack was into Tinker Bell, so much so that he wanted a Tinker Bell cake for his birthday. When I went to the shop to order the cake, they asked me what name I wanted written on the cake?
“Jack”, I answered.
“And how do you spell that,” she asked.
“J—A—C—K,” I told her, sounding surprised that someone would have to ask how to spell that name.
“Oh, I thought it was for Jacqueline.”
Of course, because why would a boy be interested in cool things like fairies, with magical powers?
Another time, we went to a McDonald’s in Hawaii, when Jack was about three, and he was hoping that the princess tiara would come in his Happy Meal, but it didn’t, because the tiara was a “girl toy”. Why doesn’t McDonald’s just have “toys” with their kids’ meals? Maybe it’s about marketing, but I’m not sure what value there is in having toys for boys and toys for girls, it only magnifies the gender biasing that is already so prevalent in our society.
On our way to the airport the following day, we stopped in at that McDonald’s and got Jack the tiara. He loved it and wore it many times. Some parents would never have let their son where a tiara. Too girly...too sissy...not manly enough...give the kid a truck, they would have said. And while Jack looked a bit goofy wearing the tiara, we didn’t discourage him from his play.
And just a few weeks ago, Jack and I, and Max, my two year-old son, were at the amusement park and we were waiting in line for the big Ferris wheel. The next car to come toward us was a bright pink one. Bubble gum pink. A real vibrant and fun looking colour. Seeing three males standing in front of her, the ride operator asked if we wanted the pink car, or did we want to wait for the blue one that followed. Why should it matter that some boys got the pink car? Would she have said the same thing to a group of girls if the blue car had come in first? Maybe, but not likely. Of course, we’d take the pink car, and I knew exactly what Max would say, so I asked him.
“Pink...like Kylie Minogue.”
Kylie Minogue, is a popular Australian singer, who made an appearance on a Wiggles show that Max likes, and she wears a pink shirt, so Max always associates pink with Kylie Minogue.
The other day, a neighbour looked at Max and said, "Wow, I love your blue eyes...you are so beautiful." Then she quickly apologized for calling a boy beautiful, and then said he looked handsome. Why can't a man be beautiful? In fact, Max's eyes are beautiful.
Of course there are differences between girls and boys, but what are we doing to our children when we narrowly focus their play and imagination with a bias that adults have created?   

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I know my place

“Daddy’s going to be in a bike race,” my wife said to our six-year old son, Jack, the other day.

While it was indeed a race—six times around a 10.5 km course—I use the term “race” loosely, because I had no pretence that I was really racing myself.

“Do you think he’ll win,” Jack replied to his mother.

“I don’t think so,” she said

“But why not? What if he tries really hard,” Jack said as if willing me to win. And that’s what I like about young children. Anything is possible.

Later that night while putting Jack to bed, he looked at me with me sincerity and said, “Good luck with the race. Try hard and make sure you pass 10 people.” It was nice that the expectations had been tempered. Daddy won’t (I mean can’t) win, but maybe he can pass 10 people.

While waiting at the start of the race, told a friend this story, and then I started sizing up the competition. There were about 70 riders in my category of unlicensed “racers”. Looking around at the fit and lean cyclists, with their three and four thousand Dollar bikes, I turned to Tom and said, “I don’t even think there are 10 people here that I can pass.” It would have been like showing up at a Formula 1 race with my Toyota Corolla.

A couple of seconds later, Tom looked at me and said, “We’ve only been a block and we are in last place already.”

A few hundred metres along, we started down a small hill through the University of British Columbia, and onto Southwest Marine Drive, and it was at that point I thought of Jack’s words of encouragement—try hard and pass 10 people. I knew I couldn’t catch that many, so I dashed ahead of a couple of people and never looked back.

On my way up the course’s only hill for the first time, about six of the elite racers passed me, and when a course volunteer shouted words of encouragement to me, I pointed to the riders that had just passed me and jokingly said, “I must be in seventh place.”

While I tried to keep my speed over 30 km/h along the flat stretches, a pack of the elite riders—20 or 30 at a time—zipped passed me at 40 km/h, maybe faster. The sound they made was not unlike what I imagine a swarm bees to make. Impressive on a number of levels.

It took me a little more than two-and-a-half hours to complete the 63km. When I got home, Jack asked me if I came in last place. Funny, how the expectations had fallen even further.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Subway overtakes McDonald's

Used to be in some parts of the world (maybe still is) that having a McDonald’s meant you had arrived—economically and socially. Because McDonald’s doesn’t just open up anywhere, it was seen that a country or city was modern, and part of the global family.

In Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates.

I remember hearing people say (or at least that was their talk) that they would never go to a McDonald’s when travelling. I, on the other hand, had no hang ups about stopping in at the golden arches on my travels. In fact, some of them were quite memorable. In Zurich for instance, I remember sitting outside on a wooden picnic table. It was a pleasant fall day, and I munched away on a cheeseburger, while watching people stroll through a large plaza, near the train station. In Macau, one McDonald’s is set inside one of the city’s delightful Portuguese inspired buildings. In Costa Rica, my wife and I went to a McDonald’s, and then made up a silly song about hamburguesas (as burgers are called there). And in the last few weeks that my wife and I were in Seoul, when she had lost much of her sight, she would venture out some afternoons to McDonald's, and the large red and yellow sign, however blurry it must have been for her, was the one thing she could see.
I’ve been to McDonald’s in Krakow and Melbourne. Suva and Sharjah. Panama and Bucharest. But there are some places that I have been where there wasn’t one of these ubiquitous restaurants. In Cuba and Iran, for instance. And I don’t remember there being one in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Hamming it up in Macau
I once asked the McDonald’s corporate headquarters if they had a list of all the countries where they had a restaurant. They told me they don’t keep that information. Really? I imagined the entrance of the global office of McDonald’s to have a giant wall map of the world, and little “M”s lit up representing all the places their brand is. Though I did find on the McDonald’s Canada website that they have restaurants in 119 countries.  
Given that, you could be forgiven for thinking that McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain in the world. And for sure, they are still one of the most globally recognized brands, but they no longer have the most restaurants. That honour recently went to the Subway sandwich shop. Yes, there are 33,700 Subways, compared to 32,700 McDonald’s. 
I can’t say I’ve been to a whole lot of Subway restaurants around the world.  And the few that I have been to just don't hold the same reminiscences that McDonald’s does.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is there a pilot on board?

You know those stories you hear about medical emergencies on airplanes, and a call goes out, “Is there a doctor on board?”
A week ago, while waiting for a flight from Vancouver to Kelowna, I expected a slightly different announcement to come over the PA -- “Is there a pilot on board?”
Our flight was to depart at 6:50 PM, but poor runway conditions in Kelowna, resulting from snow, delayed our flight. Because of the delay the flight crew had gone over their allowed duty time, and a new crew needed to be found.  A short time later, a pilot showed at the desk and a few people broke out in tempered applause.
Finally, at 9:00 PM, two hours after our scheduled departure, boarding commenced. Once everyone was seated, the Captain came on the PA and announced that while he was ready to fly, he needed a first officer. I thought he was going to ask if there was a pilot on board. Instead, he told us they were looking for a pilot in the airport.

Mike Luckovich cartoon

A short time later, he told us they were now looking for a pilot who lives near the airport in Richmond. And added that the flight attendants had been working for almost 14 hours, and if we didn’t leave soon, they would need to find a new cabin crew as well.   
Almost an hour-and-a-half after we boarded the aircraft, and close to four hours after our flight was supposed to depart, the Captain announced that our flight was cancelled and that we would be rebooked on a flight the following day.
Since I don't live near the airport and given the late hour, I wasn’t sure how practical it was to go home and then have to return in the morning during rush hour traffic, so I decided to find a hotel. The Air Canada agent told me that because I lived locally and that delay was caused by weather, they wouldn’t put me up in a hotel (though later when I thought about it, it may have begun as a weather delay, but had it not turned into an Air Canada dispatch and staffing issue). 
Just as I was leaving the counter, another passenger told me that the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, my favourite hotel—for its comfort and location (inside the airport), had rates for $129. The Air Canada agent told me to tell them that I had a missed connection. Perfect, I thought. I’d get a good night’s sleep and already be at the airport in the morning. 
I went to the hotel’s front desk and told the young woman that I had a cancelled flight and Air Canada told me the hotel had rates of $129.
She didn’t say as much, but the look she gave me was one of, “Oh, they did, did they?”   
“Do you have any paperwork from the airline?” she asked, curtly.
“No, they didn’t give me anything.”
“Well, they’re supposed to.”
After this brief exchange, she got on the phone and tried calling an airline rep, but no one answered. She called again, and still there was no answer.  Finally, she talked to her colleague next to her, and while I didn’t hear what she said, I imagined the conversation went like this.
“This guy has asked for a rate of $129, but he doesn’t have any paperwork from the airline, what do I do?”
And he probably said what anyone would at 11:00 PM, “Give him the room for $129 and don’t worry about the paperwork.”
She asked for my credit card, pecked away at her computer and as she was giving me the key to the room, she said, “They know they are supposed to give passengers some paperwork.”
Okay, I got it. You’re peeved at the airline, but don’t project that onto your customers. The feeling I got was that somehow I was cheating the hotel for asking for this rate.   
I went to the nicely appointed room, and climbed into bed. At 2:00 am I was awoken by a large, flashing white light that was going off in my room.  The light flashed every second, and was accompanied by a clicking sound, as if someone was tapping a metal bowl with chopsticks.
I looked up at the light and saw the word, FIRE. I didn’t hear any commotion out in the hallway, so I called down to the front desk.
“Hello, Mr. Donohue...you’re calling about the flashing light...there was a false alarm and the fire department is on their way, and once they clear a panel it will stop. Shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.”
The light was so piercingly bright that when I closed my eyes, the inside of my head lit up. I tried pulling the cover over my head, but I could still see the flash of light and hear the clicking sound.
After 30 minutes and with the light still filling my head, I called down to the front desk again.
“Hello Mr. Donohue, yes the light...we are still working on it, shouldn’t be much more.”
Thirty more minutes, and at 3:00 am (an hour after it started), I called the front desk again, still very patient, but sounding a tad annoyed.
“Hello, Mr. Donohue...yes the light, we are not sure what’s wrong, but we are working on it...shouldn’t be long now.”
As I lay there, I imagined that this was what it was like for a prisoner to be tortured psychologically. No wonder you hear of people confessing to things they didn’t do-- they just want the madness to stop.   
 At 4:00 am and with the torment now having gone on for two hours, I called once more to the front desk.
“Hello Mr. Donohue. Yes, the light. We aren’t sure what is going.”
“Is this happening in every room in the hotel?” I asked. A subtle way of suggesting that I might be moved to another room.
“No, it’s just on the 10th floor...I’ll find you another right room.”
I got up, put my clothes on and packed my suitcase. A few minutes later the night manager rapped on my door. “There’ll be no charge for the night, Mr. Donohue and you can have a complimentary breakfast, if you like.”
He told me to leave my bags in the room, and led me to another room a floor above. I found it amusing when he talked up the benefits of the new room.
“This is our deluxe room,” he went on.
At 4:15 am, I didn’t much care what room I had, as long as a bright light didn’t pulse into my head.
Three hours later, the alarm clock went off. Bleary eyed, I returned to my first room to shower and collect my bags. The light was still flashing in the room.
Because I had a plane to catch, I didn’t have time for breakfast, and when I was leaving, the night manager was very apologetic. 
I checked in for my flight, and learned that my flight had been delayed.
Is there a pilot on board?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On being considerate

I was listening to the radio the other day and the hosts were talking about people being considerate, which got me thinking about some of the small things we could do to be more considerate. Imagine how much nicer the world be if we were all a little more considerate. 

Don't leave your dishes in the kitchen sink at work
Don’t pee on the toilet

Flush the toilet after using it
Don’t push your way ahead of other cars when merging. We’re all wanting to get somewhere.
Use your turn signal when you want to change lanes or turn a corner
Really, for the sake of courtesy and safety, only one car should be turning left on an amber light, not 2,3, and 4 cars that we routinely see
If you're a pedestrian, don’t cross the street when it says don’t walk--you’ll hold up traffic wanting to turn
Don’t jay walk on busy streets or near intersections
Bicyclists – obey the rules of the road. Stop at stop signs and lights, and don’t ride on the sidewalk
At the grocery store, don’t leave your cart in the middle of the aisle, move it to one side, so others can get by
When returning a basket at the checkstand make sure it’s stacked properly
Don’t leave unwanted food at the end of the checkstand, or left on shelves in random aisles, especially perishables
When queueing at the checkout, don’t block the aisle way in front of the check stand
And when you're finished with it, return your shopping cart to the appropriate place
If you're driving, and you're stopped at a light, don’t block streets and alleys. And those signs that say not to stop in front of a fire station are there for good reason

And when you do hear a firetruck, or ambulance, or police car, move aside. Chances are they're not going to the same place you are
Don’t litter! Take your garbage with you, or find a trash bin
Don’t spit your gum on the street or sidewalk. It’s makes an unsightly mess and might stick to the bottom of someone’s shoe
Clean after your dog
Don’t throw cigarette butts on the street
Open doors for people
Move to the back of the transit bus when you get on
Use the back door of the bus when exiting
Stand aside and let those on a bus, train or elevator come off first before getting on
Don’t leave newspapers and garbage on the seats and floors of buses
Give up your seat to someone who might need it more than you
When driving let someone beside you change lanes when they have their blinker on
Wash your hands after using the toilet
Take your tray and garbage off the table when you are finished with them at a fast food restaurant. If you brought it to the table, take it away
At the airport don’t stand in the way when your row hasn’t been called. If you want to be first on an airplane, buy a business class ticket, rent a baby, or choose a seat at the back of the airplane

Maybe you have some more ideas on how we might all be a little more considerate.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Random thoughts

Apparently only 15 percent of Canadian adults are getting enough exercise -- 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise per week -- so says a recent study.

Have you ever noticed that when people get on an escalator or moving walkway, they stop walking, as if the world owes them something? Have you noticed that when we go to the shopping centre, we instinctively drive around and around trying to find the closest spot to the door, so we don’t have to walk far? And if you take transit, do you know notice how everyone huddle at the end of the train platform where the escalator deposited them, instead of walking further down.

Imagine if we just walked a little more.


My five year old son asked the other day, why it is that people say the alarm [smoke alarm, fire alarm, alarm clock] is going off, when really it is going on? Yes, why is that? 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Back to the grind

The other day I got up for the first time in more than a year and went off to work. Not that I didn’t do work over the past 13 months, just a different kind.

What’s interesting is how familiar the routine was. Bag packed and ready by the front door, clothes hung out the night before (I even tied my tie on the first attempt, something that doesn’t always happen). At 6:20 my wife turned to me as she usually did before and told me it was time to get up. Without protest I got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Minutes later, after shaving and showering, I was downstairs pouring a bowl of Special K. It was all very machine-like.

When I got to the bus stop, I recognized some familiar faces – bus friends as they’re called. I wondered what they had been up to over the past year.

My commute is similar as before—bus, train, bus. Sometimes I can make it just over an hour, other times it’s longer, like the other night when it took an hour and forty minutes to get home. The hawkers of free newspapers still ply their trade at train stations. People still don’t move to the back of the bus, so the driver thinks the bus is full and leaves others waiting at the stop while the back third of the bus is empty. And the people that should get up to give someone a seat still don’t. Some things never change. 
Riders still have the same tired, sullen look. I remember someone telling me years ago that all the people in Romania look depressed. Have you ever been on a bus or train in Vancouver in the morning?
Though there are some differences. The music spilling from people’s ears is different than it was a year ago. And while many still pass the time flipping the pages of free newspapers, others now entertain themselves on new ipad tablets.
While making my lunch the other night, my wife said to me, “I remember you doing that...we’re you really off for a year.” After three days it surely doesn’t feel like I was.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Beautiful moments

Have you ever had one of those times when the beauty of the world is so striking that it leaves you in awe. Yesterday, while driving through Vancouver's Stanley Park, we had one of those moments. As the late afternoon sun set, it burned the sky marvelous hues of reds and oranges. My wife captured the beauty in the photographs below. Looking at them now, it's hard to believe that the temperature was zero degrees, instead of more a balmy temperature felt in the summer.

This experience again shows how beautiful the world is, and reminds me that really we have nothing to complain about.

May you find your own beautiful moments in 2011.