Wednesday, 31 December 2008

How To Be Funny

6 months ago (on Facebook Graffiti) I drew this:

In the beginning of December, Family Guy had this sketch:

Which makes me 6 months funnier than Family Guy...

Happy New Year!

(Check out my new 2009 Music Blog!)

Thursday, 30 October 2008

How To Write A Novel

I have registered for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for November and am hoping to begin work on a novel shortly. The idea is to write 50,000 words in 30 days with the limited time forcing raw creativity out of my mind. No time to edit, no proof reading. If I complete the challenge, I will receive a printed manuscript free of charge and can apply to publishers if it is any good.

I'm not holding out too much hope there but it seems a nice incentive.

To put into perspective how much 50,000 words is, my entire year of blogging so far totals just 38,000 words! As a book, 50,000 is considered "short" but as a month-long challenge for a practically ADD writer (juggled alongside a full time job & volunteer youth work), it looks pretty hard.

My aim is to find 20 sessions for 2,500 words each during the course of the month. Until my first, I am mentally planning ideas, characters and twists to make sure it is at least worth the paper it is to be printed on!

Ideally, I'd also like to get back into regular blogging so will be "procrastinating" from time to time with a blog update (since I tend to do things only when a bigger challenge is set out before me). Maybe I'll upload a few vlogs as I go...

Who knows? Maybe I'll forget and it will be Christmas before anything gets done...

I hope not.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

How To Tell A Story

I decided to write a story today and practice my video blogging. Hopefully this entertains you. Please rate & post comments so that I can improve.

Hello and welcome to the second of my video blog posts, entitled "How To Tell A Story" from my "Canadian Adventure" blog.

He awoke in the night with a start; sweat dripping down his round face. For a second he forgot his peril and wondered what the weather would be like today but then he looked around and remembered everything. He breathed a heavy sigh and wiped the sweat from his brow.

He had been here before. The square room was dimly lit by flickering lights which reflected off the blue walls and gave everything an eerie glow. In the darkness he struggled to make out his surroundings. It had been a while.

The room had been designed with "prisoner storage" in mind and was flawless. Yellow food packages littered the floor in uniform rows - each cleverly designed to be tempting but unfulfilling. The entire set would afford him the energy to last him a day but he knew better than to waste them. He would save them for when he really needed them.

In this place, time had no meaning. Days were broken up between panic and sleep but weeks and years drifted by as if there was no reason to count them at all. He'd tried at first, but soon lost count whenever he was moved to a different location and so he soon lost heart and gave up. He wondered now if he could even count at all.

Like weathered ancient castles, his memories had been eroded and his mind had become emptied. He wondered if he had a past anymore, he wondered what his present was and he wondered if this was to become his future. He had long since given up any hope of rescue or escape - his screams had never been heard anyway. He'd decided instead to conserve his energy for running. Running was his purpose now.

He glanced back to where he had been sleeping and suddenly remembered his nightmare. The girl. The girl with the red bow. She'd been running. She knew his name. She'd told him it wasn't safe and that he should go with her. But he had so many questions. Who was she? Where was she running? Was she running from the same people he was running from? He hoped she was okay.

Suddenly the flickering lights went out and the room was plunged into darkness. A couple of seconds passed. From the high ceiling he heard a buzz, and then watched as the neon lights illuminated the warehouse-sized room. His heart skipped a beat. He could never get used to this feeling. They were coming!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

How To Make A Video Blog

The first of my video blog posts, hosted on YouTube, to go with my Canadian Adventure blog.

Please comment and rate it so I can improve as I make more videos.

Edit: Video remade to remove a few errors. Further suggestions welcome.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

How To Get A New Job

Since arriving in Canada, I have had 4 jobs and worked more than 1000 hours. As well as landscaping and the summer program, I also worked briefly as a chef and even more briefly as a cold caller, back in the Spring. Now it is approaching winter and I don't want to be working outside when it is raining or snowing (having had enough of that during the first 4 months of my stay!) so have started looking for a new job.

Since January, I had planned on moving to Whistler and working near the slopes; with the promise of more snowboarding with meeting international travellers exciting me greatly. However, these plans have now changed! As it turns out, Whistler is very popular and as such is very expensive. While I could probably see myself earning about the same wage as I do at the moment, living costs would probably triple to over $2000 a month - which would not help my finances at all.

Psychoanalysing the decision, I realised that my main reasons for wanting to go were to snowboard more, experience life in the mountains and make new friends (from all over the world). Ever the optimist, I have since realised that I can fully experience a Canadian winter (and Christmas) here in Richmond, with snowboarding pretty close by; just north of Vancouver. As for making new friends, (which I am currently doing anyway) I will be able to visit Whistler on weekend breaks and trips (SnowJam 2009?!) since my living costs will not be ridiculously high!

As this sees me remaining in Richmond for the foreseeable future, I recently declared interest in the Fridge's assistant coordinator position under Bruce, who I worked with during SummerFun. As well as a wage, it means more responsibility and extra volunteer hours, becoming more involved in the planning and running of the Friday night program. I think this is something that will be useful for me to improve as a youth leader as well as something that will look good on my résumé on the path towards becoming a teacher.

Working at the program last night I made an effort to get to know as many new faces as I could, managing a good number before the end of the evening. Even after the building closed I was making friends with the other volunteers and the youth waiting outside for rides home. I even hung out with a group that had seemed like trouble makers last year and found them to be quite entertaining and mostly harmless.

The Whistler news was also good for the two other youth groups that I work with - something that they were happy to tell me since they are very appreciative of the effort that I put in and think I work really well with the youth. It is great to know that even though it seems like my plans have fallen through over the winter, I will still have plenty to do over the next six months!

Ideas for a new job are being whittled down by the criteria of the things that I didn't enjoy in previous jobs. Stress from restaurant work has narrowed customer service down to cafés and shops, almost catching pneumonia in January has pretty much cut outdoors work from the list and not enjoying long bus rides has cut out anything with a commute longer than 6 miles.

Suggestions so far from various sources have been a shop worker in Richmond Centre, a post office worker (possibly postman - walking quickly to stay warm!) and youth worker in one of the community centres. I have considered each of these options and when I have put together a pretty flashy résumé, I will start applying to employers across Richmond.

As for landscaping, since returning I have been Larry's spare guy (used either as extra help, or to cover for a sick employee) and am halfway through a few weeks with Sal's crew as she tries to bring them back up to speed after a lull over the summer. Quite the opposite of how I remember her, she has been really nice for most of my time with the crew and was careful to give me easier jobs when mono was making work hardest for me.

Having spent around 6 months of my time here as a landscaper, I have learned much about the job and been through many emotions towards it. Covering every area of the spectrum I have gone from loving the idea of sticking at it for my career to hating it with a passion. Currently I find myself in the happy medium of knowing that I won't ever make a career from it but I could return to it as a good way to make money in foreign countries as I travel.

This upcoming "end of an era" again puts me in the scary but exciting mindframe of not really knowing where I'll be in a few months (career-wise) and is a feeling that I don't think I could ever get used to. I'm sure that it'll work out, just as this trip has and I look forward to finding out what happens.

Monday, 15 September 2008

How To Fail An English Paper

This week's post was guest-written by Zander Rios and amused me. Regular blogging will resume next week with updates on Whistler and my life in general.

It was once said, "What is worth doing, is worth doing at the last minute". Actually, I may have made that up but in the interest of my getting a decent grade on this paper, lets hope I'm right. While I have always been something of a procrastinator, in writing this paper I seem to have set the bar at a new high. It is now nearly lunchtime and this paper is due in about four hours. Perhaps I should have started a week ago, but in light of this omen, and since I really have no other choice, I'll take my best shot.

The first step towards failing an English paper is to skip the class in which the assignment is given. Not only do you receive the assignment late, but you also miss learning how to write it! While this step isn't entirely necessary to failure, it helps to lay a firm foundation of ineptness in your writing.

For this step, several approaches can be taken to help you achieve your goal. First, there is the classic "weekday partying" approach which substitutes class for a good time the night before - with large quantities of alcohol recommended to ensure success.

Another good approach is to schedule a haircut during class, resulting in a dilemma as you weigh up the guilt of standing up the salon against the guilt of skipping class. This is actually an easy decision since there is not a single person on Earth who'd rather go to class than have their hair cut! Suit fitting or medical appointments are acceptable alternatives for this approach.

The final method - the ever dreaded “sleep through” approach - is not for the faint of heart. While this may not seem like an overwhelmingly difficult task, remember, friend, I am talking about a class that begins at 2:30pm! This approach is best aided by using your phone's alarm. This way you can leave it on silent and not have to worry about any annoying alarms. If you cannot quite bring yourself to silencing your own alarm, there is always the “roll-over”. This simple technique involves using your body to muffle the noise which will prevent you from waking up.

Since you aren't trying to fail the class, you'll have to show up eventually, which leads us to step two; achieved simply by burying the assignment deep in your schoolbag. Try to avoid viewing the assignment as you hide it since this can cause a feeling of anxiety and a future desire to search through your bag for it.

Be sure to cram your books on top, both to avoid accidentally viewing the assignment, and to lend a sense of overall classlessness to the proceedings by bending and wrinkling the paper in ways only achievable through intentional unintentionalness. This will cause you to feel extra depressed at the way you treated the assignment (once you are finally forced to start writing), helping to foster an overall sense of failure to your failure. This is okay though, since failure is the goal here, after all.

The third step is one that I hold close to my heart, known as the “four day weekend”. Starting your partying a full 24 hours earlier, on Thursday, allows for a large momentum to build up which will carry you through the weekend with ease – avoiding any threat of “weekend work”; the mongoose to failure's snake, if you will. Though seemingly similar to step one it is actually only a distant cousin!

Avoiding weekend work is essential to ensuring failure and this can be achieved with the classic “college kid routine”. This is simply consumption of alcohol each night, recovery each morning and then immediate preparation for the quickly approaching evening in the afternoon! Alternatively, a trip to the nearest city without your books is a great way to spend your long weekend - gambling recommended but not essential.

Poor planning, with some tweaking, can be used to great effect in achieving failure. Suddenly remembering a second paper (or doing it a week early by accident!) whilst avoiding the first can help to confuse proceedings and prevent the first from being started at the right time. To perfect this, it helps to ignore the professor when they are announcing deadlines, which can be achieved by sitting near attractive members of the opposite sex in class and not discussing your work with your classmates.

Applying every step discussed above to both papers can be very effective but is difficult to master, so don't get discouraged if you cannot fail two papers simultaneously. Spending all night writing the wrong paper will help to tire you out for the paper you intend to fail and help you ignore your conscience as you continue to put it off.

The final step is fairly simple. Having spent the weekend partying and now tired from an all-nighter doing another paper (that is possibly not even due!), despite a long morning nap, you start to think about starting the paper. To avoid temptation, the final recommendation is television. Flip through channels until you find a show like Law & Order S.V.U. - which is seemingly on repeat! Now, you may well have seen these episodes before, but that doesn't make them any less entertaining. Sit back and enjoy. Go through your normal routine of television watching. If that includes a favourite chair or popcorn then be sure to follow your routine thoroughly. Before you know it, you will have totally forgotten about the paper you intend to fail.

After several hours, to your surprise, the familiar comfort of Elliot and Olivia miraculously capturing rapists and murderers will end. While this may seem like a negative event at first (as though you'd have to start writing), be patient friend, for “The Saint” starring Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue, has just come on!

Since you probably know of its terribleness, you won't want to watch but give it a chance. We're talking Kilmer, Shue, Russians and Cold Fusion; good writing, directing, and acting be damned! After the stunningly bland conclusion, you'll head to bed; the paper nothing more than an afterthought!

Now, you've reached the due date of the paper. Since you have no intention of failing the entire class, you will want to start writing eventually. This is where I must cut ties with you; you're on your own. I could tell you to find your favourite writing spot, and put on some music, and the usual things that people say to help you get started, but what's the point? You are royally screwed!

Written by Zander Rios.
Edited by Chris Reed.

For those of you that actually care about grades, lectures and success, Homework Tree is a cool schedule planner designed for students that may help you organise deadlines and assignments - provided you aren't distracted by attractive people whilst the deadline is being announced!

Friday, 5 September 2008

How To Go Back To Work

After an eventful summer, things have gone back to the way that they were in April! I recently returned to work as a landscaper (after two months out; having worked with kids before a month off), attended two youth club planning meetings (of the three that I hope to be involved with before and after Whistler), I am blogging things that happened within the last week and I am again single.

The main difference is that my bank balance has dropped after a lower income for 2 consecutive months (SummerFun, travel and sickness) and despite my rent being reduced whilst I was away, I have still paid out more than I have had in and so I am going to be working hard in these coming months to make sure I am comfortable in Whistler - with it's notoriously high prices!

In terms of getting ready for Whistler, I met a guy (who happened to be a friend of my Aunt and Uncle) whilst working in June and he told me to call him so he could put me in touch with some contacts that he has in Whistler. I have sent resumés to the provided contacts and should be sorted in terms of getting a job. Unfortunately, as confirmed by Cory (who tried the same move last Autumn) the accommodation is much harder to come by and is the reason that a lot of people end up not going even with a job sorted out.

From what an international employee told me when I was in Whistler in the Spring (that I could sort work and accommodation through Whistler/Blackcomb resort), I have also been scouring the website for information on jobs and housing recently and although most of the jobs don't apply to me (not sure whether I am too early or too late!), I have discovered that they do student-type housing arrangements that sound good.

In order to book the accommodation, however, I need to provide credit card information and since many travel sites request this (and I like to travel), I have decided to get a secure credit card with a limit of $500 (£250). This is partially because I don't want to accidentally go over the limit and be in trouble, partially because I don't yet have a credit history and partially because they request the limit amount in cash before they give over the card and so I couldn't afford to get one with a four-digit figure anyway.

Whilst waiting to go back to work this week, I spent some time helping out the Bowen's with their house painting - putting the money towards my rent. The work has been hard but it was good to get some exercise and I worked hard. I had been planning to do it for three days this week but after the first two (and with mono-induced fatigue) I accidentally fell asleep during the day on Wednesday for 6 hours, despite having already had a 9 hour rest! I found ceiling painting to be hardest (requiring constant force upwards - whilst dodging splashes of paint!) and messiest and have a new respect for my cousins and their boyfriends (who have been painting houses for the last few summers)!

Aside from the occasional fatigue, the mono has pretty much cleared up and I should be better before October. I returned to work yesterday and did well with the new crew - Danny having moved on and some new foreigners having been brought in (from Nigeria and Brazil) without getting tired at all. In the evening I purchased a bus pass for the month (since Danny would no longer be driving) and now have freedom to get about without frantic loose-change hunting before every trip!

As well as the return to work, it has been all change for most of the people that I know - with the youth returning to school and most of my friends who are my age going to university or college! As much as I enjoy what I am doing, I know for sure that I want to return to university one day with my new sense of direction and improved focus.

Still definitely sure that I want to teach, I am again excited that three nights of my week will involve having fun with the youth and learning new things through working with them. After visiting Keats and Latona summer camps, I realised that SummerFun (though fun) was no substitute for a real summer camp and am now looking at preparing applications for around December in terms of applying for an American summer camp next year - hopefully on the west coast!

Between all of this I have also tried hard to remember what I knew about coding from a while ago and with the help of some websites, I have added a few new features to this page as I look to perfect it in the coming weeks. My favourite at this point is the "favicon" icon of a maple leaf shown in the address bar when you visit my page. Along with the content-rating system, new menu and soon-to-be-improved search bar I am beginning to enjoy seeing my page and hope that people who visit it like it too.

As ever, comments, questions and thoughts are appreciated and I look forward to responding. For the less vocal among you, a rating out of 5 will suffice.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

How To Have A Fun Month Off

Since I had travel plans booked, and then was quite ill for most of the rest of my time off, I would have missed for most of the month whether or not I had booked it off in May. To say that August has been eventful would be quite understating it!

As well as the travelling around Western Canada and Oregon, I also spent time updating this blog (post by post) to a new site (which has better features, such as autosave and an index!) and writing the final few posts from the last month that hadn't been posted on time because I was still trying to catch up from when I slowed down in late-Spring.

With the promise of returning to work on Thursday looming - via bus now that Danny has moved on - I have a few days to try and get better before my 6:00am starts and cross-town bus ride. Having cleared out a lot of junk from my room, I have sorted my work gear into a neat area and will be ready to start earning again within the week.

Whilst going through hard times post-Jill, I used MSN and facebook a lot to speak to new and old friends, who were happy to help me through it. Although I could have seen us lasting until I moved to Whistler, knowing that it would have ended probably wouldn't have been the best thing to deal with for the next few months so I am coming to terms with it now and am less upset.

The last few weeks, I have started going to the movies more often and have seen three films since Calgary - only actually paying for one! Sage, from Summer Fun, suggested that we went out all day on the day after the Radiohead concert - so that I wasn't stuck at home all day being sad. We went to see the Dark Knight, ate dinner and then went bowling before bussing around town a bit and chatting. I was extremely grateful to have such friends and hope that one day I will be that helpful for one of my friends in need!

We have since (because her friend works at Silver City, so she gets discounts!) seen "Pineapple Express" (which I couldn't stop laughing at!) and "Step Brothers" (which I should have seen coming, knowing that I don't find Will Ferrell funny - not even laughing once!).

For my last weekend in August, I went with Taryn, Josh and Kevin to Playland at the PNE. Playland is a theme park open for most of the summer, with exciting rides and carnival attractions. Buying a ride pass each, Taryn and I set about trying to get our money's worth by going on as much as possible.

Starting with the most exciting looking one, we went (with Josh - who chose to go on a few rides) on the wooden coaster which literally launched you out of your seat on every (steep!) drop! Seated in pairs, I was paired with a small excitable child who cheered the entire way round before giving me a massive "high five" at the end!

The second ride of the day, if possible, was more sketchy than the 50-year old wooden rollercoaster! It was called the "Wild Mouse" and whizzed a small cart (with wheels near the back) around a teetering track with the front end seeming to go over the edge at every turn. At one point we tilted the cart slightly on one corner and I was quite worried - the ride not even boasting a perfect safety record!

After an expensive take-out lunch and a beer, we headed for some of the more spinny rides (for some reason!) and were hurled, spun, flipped and squished by G-forces galore! Although shaken up, we both continued on (albeit with a slight wobble to our walking) and managed in the end to go on just enough rides to make our day passes financially worthwhile.

In the evening (after crashing out from the excitement of the day), Danny called and we went with Jon Fenn for some beers and nachos at a local pub - discussing careers, girls and travel plans for the coming months (Danny planning to stay a while in Central America; Whistler money-saving being the only reason I am unable to join him!).

The first of September is a national holiday (Labor Day) and means time off for most people. Hopefully I will find some cool stuff to do with friends before everyone heads back to work, school and university until Christmas!

Monday, 25 August 2008

How To Get BC Medical Care

When I arrived in January, I was hoping that I would be able to get medical care and a doctor, since I was a Canadian citizen, without any major hassle. The fact that I am only now blogging about it now, in August, should be testament to how wrong I was.

Firstly, medical care varied in each province and since I hadn't been born in BC, I had to wait 6 months before I could apply for a "Carecard". Not wanting to have to slow down for 6 months, I continued as normal - working with burning oils and bladed machinery, snowboarding down steep mountains and riding my bike through Richmond traffic; even surviving a collision!

Rationalising the chance of getting seriously hurt as low (having only ever been hospitalised once - in France!) and having $700 as an emergency fund in my bank, I lived with no fear and toughed it out; even when I sprained my ankle - borrowing crutches and ice packs from friends and healing without assistance.

June passed and medical care didn't cross my mind. Nothing major had happened for months and I was too busy with other things to remember! In July, when my job changed from lawn-mowing to childcare, I had a First Responder co-worker on hand to help me the one time I did get hurt (by a bounced stone!) - only inspiring me to upgrade my own First Aid qualification.

Using this month to relax and travel, I decided to go on the Oregon trip straight after the Jack Johnson concert. Requiring insurance, I chose AIG, having had good experiences last summer in the USA - getting $10,000,000 coverage for $12!

In Calgary, mouth pains, aches and a slight fever caused me to think that I had flu and a wisdom tooth so I vowed to get medical when I returned to BC. After my return, the intense migraines and terrible fever stopped me from getting anything productive done and I tried to recover with hot baths and rest. Also preoccupied with sadness over Jill, I had lost my appetite on the day of the concert and after not eating all day, fainted on a friend whilst stood up waiting for Jack Johnson to come on stage!

Jack Johnson's fans, being as chilled and friendly as he is, were soon aiding me with food, drinks, assistance and advice. Even when I had to leave the crowded area at the front where we were stood, to get food, I walked through thousands of fans each way and only got one rude response when I asked to get by!

After the concert, I met up with the other 10 people and we began the overnight trip to Florence, Oregon. I curled up on the floor and tried to sleep. When we eventually arrived (after various delays), we headed for the campsites, pitched our tents and went to the lake. The weather was nice but the wind was strong and sand from the dunes swept across the beach.

We sunbathed for a while and a few guys dug holes, before we all headed back to the campsite for dinner cooked on a campfire. We kept the fire going for a while and I eventually went to bed after singing along to Jesse's guitar for a while, including his favourite "Ooh-de-lally" [From "Robin Hood"] which he had played at Kids Club Camp, before I knew the words!

The next morning I awoke with a sore throat but ate soft foods and still had a good time. We spent the day at a beach and I even learned to surf (briefly) before a bail scared me into calling it a day! After throat pains made me unable to finish my dinner (and having tried tylenol, ibuprofen, cough drops and throat ache pills already), I decided to sleep early and hoped that I'd get better.

With the extra few hours not helping, and in quite some pain, I decided to visit a herbs and remedies store in the outlet shopping centre we stopped at on our way home, and was recommended Oil of Oregano (which North Americans pronounce quite differently to Brits!) for what the clerk thought was tonsillitis - after freaking out in typical over-the-top American fashion; diving behind the counter, chewing some Vitamin C tablets and warning me to stay back!

By the end of the journey, I was in agony. The oil had not helped at all; only causing more pain as I struggled to swallow a foul-tasting shot every 2 hours! In Richmond, my Aunt took me to the hospital (which was quiet at 2am) and I received medical attention (the doctor gasping at the severity of my condition!) as well as an IV drip of morphine - once they'd finally got the needle in properly, after four failed attempts!

Now on medication for "Glandular Fever" (Mononucleosis) and feeling better, I have filled in the Carecard forms and will soon have medical coverage for the rest of my time here. Hopefully I won't need it but it is a good thing to have, just in case! Now I just have to fight through a few more weeks of slight fever, throat pain and fatigue and I will be back to 100% again!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

How To Support Bands

In Canada, until very recently, it was indisputably legal to download music from the internet for free. The argument to support this, put forward by various organisations including the Canadian government, was that most people who download are those who also support their favourite bands anyway (via CD's, concerts and merchandise). Furthermore, I would add that my recommending a band to someone else who I am quite sure will like them, as a fan, will further add to the band's profits as this other person purchases their CD or visits their concert.

In all honesty, buying a CD is very rare for me. From the hundreds of albums that I have already downloaded this year, I have purchased hard copies of only two. Did these albums deserve it more than the others? Well, to an extent. They were by my favourite artists and sounded great, but there are other awesome albums in my iTunes that I may never purchase, which is a shame - The main problem being their cost!

My way of supporting bands has moved on from CD's to concerts. Prior to seeing Mark Ronson last October, I had never seen a famous band/artist play live. I always preferred recorded music over live music on albums and so I figured that the same would apply to the real thing.

In the last few months, I have been to a few more concerts, of varying size. In the spring I saw "In Medias Res" and "Pedro the Lion" play at Trinity Western University, in the cafeteria. The gig was small but sounded great; Jesse and I sitting on the floor in front of the stage, in front of the seated crowd. Both played interesting lyrics to indie guitar music and I enjoyed it a lot. In July, I saw Newton Faulkner (the first concert where I'd heard a song by the artist/band before buying the ticket!) with Thea (my cousin) and we also got a pretty good location, at the front of the room - where we could hear both Newton and his support act, Haley Sales, really well.

In April, I heard that Radiohead (promoting their latest album, "In Rainbows") were coming to Vancouver to play a show in August. Immediately I jumped on the opportunity to get tickets (albeit too late to get them from Ticketmaster!) and found a guy on Craigslist who sold me two - one for Jill who was also a fan!

In fact, the concert was probably the reason that Jill and I became friends at all so I was really looking forward to it when we started dating in June. The show was to be filled with songs that I knew and I was excited to see how they sounded live since their music was less acoustic than most of the concerts I had seen. Coupled with this was that their show was to be my first outdoors one; in the open-air UBC Thunderbird stadium.

At the concert, I bumped into a few of the people who I'd heard were going (as well as being stood pretty close to Jesse and Virginia - from how they described their location - though we couldn't see them!); the concert being one of the most popular of the year for Vancouver - and my friendship groups all containing fans!Supporting Radiohead, I decided to buy a T-shirt (which turned out to be woven from recycled plastic bottles in landfills!) and already have the latest album, also looking to buy "OK Computer" in the future. The event was awesome and despite a bad start, the night went quite well.

The bad start was that Jill, who had been away at camp for three weeks, had decided in that time away that she wasn't ready for a relationship after all and was going to break up with me. Although she had planned to bring it up after the concert - so that it didn't ruin my night - I had noticed her looking uncomfortable and it had come up just before we got to the gates.

The news came as a shock and I was devastated but after some thought, I realised that I would find someone else and still had a really good friend in Jill. As much as I am not over it yet, I know that I will be eventually and was glad that it happened at all - since it had been fun whilst it lasted.

Other concerts this month are to be Jack Johnson and Oasis and I think that I will have an excellent time at both! Jack Johnson's music is a lot more upbeat so I will be drifting into "depression" mode a lot less during my second time at UBC Thunderbird stadium. Oasis' concert is at GM Place (home of the Vancouver Canucks NHL team) and will also be exciting.

In the coming few months (a bill having been proposed in June) the Canadian government (under pressure from the RIAA and other American music corporations) has introduced plans to make downloading illegal and enforce hefty fines on people who disobey. As much as I would like to think that I wouldn't get caught anyway, I am likely to change my habits when the law comes in so have been stocking up on new and old music recently, in case any of it appeals to me after the law has been passed.

Though frankly I still fail to see how the argument that "downloading doesn't support the artist" would affect The Beatles, Tupac or Pavement anyway...

Sunday, 10 August 2008

How To Combine Travel and Family

As well as having citizenship (and therefore no need for a working visa), I chose Canada because I had connections here already in case things went badly. My Uncle had made a good case for Vancouver last summer when I visited after summer camp (having already made a pretty good case when I first visited in 2005!) and when things weren't working out in the UK, it seemed like an excellent choice.

If I hadn't had family living here, I may never have visited and discovered the wonders of Vancouver. I probably wouldn't have had the courage to move abroad without a support network and this note would be quite different! Maybe even talking of a return to University in less than a month! Who knows where I'd be now if not here?

Since I had booked August off of work, for rest and relaxation after a busy 7 months and to see certain things that I had not yet seen, I decided to kick it off with a youth trip to Camp Latona (my 6th youth program as leader since getting involved with "Fuel" back in February!) and spent a few days hiking, doing watersports and having fun. I even got the opportunity to tell "the longest joke in the world" to a small group of enthralled youth - who then were maddened slightly by the punchline not being as worth the wait as they'd hoped (though I was complimented on my storytelling abilities).

Each evening we'd wrap up the day with a campfire, singing songs and talking to each other. I chose to use the time for reflection upon my life and the trip so far - thinking about my month working with kids, my relationship with Jill, my upcoming month of free time and my travel plans that were to unfold over the coming years. Dividing my thinking time between staring into the fire and watching the stars (lying by the shore under a clear, dark sky filled with stars and galaxies), I also began to think a lot about my family and friends back in the UK and how much I missed them.

I thought about how I was probably never going to live with my family again and how weird it was not to have seen anyone from England since January! I wondered when I would eventually move back to the UK, how often I'd visit before moving back and what everyone would be like when I did. I figured that the biggest change would be Harrison since babies tend to change more than teens or adults, though I knew that nothing would be the same. Even after only 200 days, the email updates and occasional phone conversations with my parents have revealed that my close family members have been doing a lot since I left!

After camp, I boarded a Greyhound bus to Calgary (for my Aunt's wedding) and had a thankfully uneventful journey (considering the horrors that had made international news a few days before my trip!), even getting the whole back row to myself for most of the journey which allowed me to curl up and sleep - when I wasn't writing letters to Jill for the second batch which was to arrive at her camp on the 9th.

I was picked up from the Greyhound terminal by my Grandparents and challenged on the way home to finish a "Peter's Drive-Through" meal (with famously large burgers, fries and shakes). I told them of my time in Canada since I had seen them in February and we had a good conversation. A couple of times their being old and conservative shone through and I was amused by their reaction to a man with spiky green hair. Discussing Jill, they told me to make sure I got their seal of approval on any girlfriend's that I was planning to marry, though I assured them that marriage was a long way off for me!

Hanging out with my cousins and grandparents in Calgary was a lot of fun and I am becoming much more familiar to them than when we were practically strangers in 2004! Kai was instantly comfortable around me and we went exploring and played in the garden. As well as cycling and soccer, we also built a house for some bumblebees, collected "neat" rocks and watched muskrats in the lake. She had a lot of energy and I wondered how I'd lasted a month with 20 kids when one was tiring after just one day!

At my Aunt's house I had a chance to kick back with most of my Calgarian cousins (Kai, Arah and Hannah) and we played "Rock Band" as I sipped refreshingly sweet cool raspberry beer. Kai took the drums (hardly missing a beat throughout! - impressive for a 5 year old!) and Hannah played guitar. I played "lead singer" and after a few songs, we set a new high score on The Killers' "When You Were Young".

I also hung out with Ron, Carole and Katie (who had also visited for the wedding), and we had fun playing pool and golf with Grandpa, as well as watching the Olympics and shopping. The trip has been great for getting to know my Canadian relatives better but I definitely miss my English ones and am hoping that my Dad's plans to visit in September don't fall through.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

How To Try New Things

If you have spoken to me in the last year, you will know that I am not quiet and shy like I was in high school. No longer am I the guy propping up the wall at a party or freaking out because a girl spoke to me. Not that I really ever was to the extent I am suggesting but I definitely remember feeling awkward around girls - and probably didn't hide it well.

I have said many times that travelling has improved my life, made me the person I always hoped to become and allowed me to try new things but it wasn't an easy journey. Just the other day I was reminiscing about SnowJam (the first major group setting on this Vancouver trip) and remembered that prior to chilling out and having a great time, I had been the new guy, stood alone in the car park afraid to talk to all the random strangers without the comfort of someone (in this case the Bowen's) to fall back on if I was rejected.

Allowing myself out of the "introvert" cage on the trip back in January not only made me a whole network of new friends but it made me realise that the world was not out to get me and that being myself didn't send people running for the hills. Being defensive and shy had really only ever made it harder for people to get to know me - a vicious cycle.

Since then I have tried a whole host of new things (some falling under the "Bucket List", others just random daily events) including foods previously dismissed as "gross" (the Bowen's cook great food even if it was something you thought you didn't like!), music (with opportunity to download as much as I desired!) and activities that at one point would not have appealed to me at all!

Working at SummerFun, new things (as well as the opportunity to explore new parts of Vancouver accompanying the kids to water parks and beaches) came in the form of dares and contests. As stupid as the challenges seem now, at the time they looked like fun and were exactly the thing that the kids needed to have crazy memories of the summer.

As much as we'd have liked the kids to tell all their friends that they made fudgsicles or went to a beach during the summer, they are much more likely to brag to their friends that they saw a dude pull string through his face! In fact, by the second week I had kids that I'd just met requesting that I do it again - the returning "first week kids" spreading the word rapidly! Not wanting to repeat my tricks (and already having video evidence of said stunt!), I decided to embark on other crazy pursuits in the name of entertainment!

For a $20 bet (that I may never receive) I ate large bites from a raw onion because a volunteer wanted to see it done! Dressed as a unicorn (with my coworker, Sage) I pranced down a makeshift catwalk to everyone's amusement - just for fun. Just before the camping trip (and 2.5 hour journey), I decided to drink 2 litres of water in one sitting (apparently dangerous because you can't vomit water!) and then not go to the toilet for two hours! I tried in vain to repeat my 3-minute breath holding record from last summer but found 15 gawping kids to be too distracting!

As crazy/ridiculous as these things sound, I did learn from them. For example, when you cover your nose an onion doesn't taste so bad. When you have to pee really bad, your body heat is all concentrated to your bladder and you get cold. When you prance around at a fashion show that everyone else is taking seriously, dressed as a unicorn, you probably won't win. Unless the kids are the judges! And things will always seem funnier when you are holding your breath or trying to drink!

At Camp Latona, where I spent the first few days of August, we were organised into teams and set challenges, competing for prizes at the end of the camp. I was placed in a strong team which bonded quickly and decided upon the name "Dirt Pigs". Most of the activities were games that we had used for the Summerfun kids - more fun when actually playing them, it turns out! - and then towards the end there were some more obscure challenges!

One such challenge was an eating contest where I was given the "Bachelor" meal - a mix of meaty tinned spaghetti and creamy banana yogurt! Despite the disgust factor that ran through my mind, I knew that food all went the same way in the end and that I should go for it anyway. Fortunately, I adore banana and even meaty spaghetti was bearable with a good mix of the yogurt - though I usually don't mix savoury and sweet!

The other memorable challenge was trying to eat dangling marshmallows with elastic stretched around my upper lip pulling me backwards! Knowing it would make me look silly was hardly reason enough not to try it and with this mind set I am sure to continue to have an amazing trip - even occasionally doing something new and interesting that isn't also goofy and stupid!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

How To Enjoy SummerFun Camp

The last week of July was the final week of Summerfun and so we had been put into a team of four coordinators with no volunteers and with a reduced group of senior kids for the week of camp. Cindy, the church's youth pastor and main organiser for both Summerfun and Kids Club, would be in charge of the juniors with her daughter Ariel (who had helped both teams through the first four weeks) and we had to help the kids organise their camp.

The first day involved planning. Although a campsite had already been booked, the food and activities were to be the kid's choices so that they felt as though they'd had some say in the planning. We ran a heads-down-thumbs-up style ballot and structured a menu and decided on the items to bring along - the location having a lake and a field.

The campsite turned out to be the En's summer home after the original campsite refused a group that didn't contain more than four 25+ year olds. We were to pitch the tents in the garden and play in the lake, jumping off the dock, as with a regular site. A bonus of this set up was having the bathroom and kitchen to ourselves and in close proximity.

The kids were asked to provide the tents and a few of them offered 6-8 man tents for the three groups; 2 tents of girls and one of boys. A joke on the second day written on the chalk board was of mixed gender tent arrangements which troubled some of the kids so we decided to tell them the truth! The second day also involved shopping for items on the menu and a scavenger hunt around Richmond in 2 groups to help the kids bond.

Things to retrieve involved photos of certain locations, items from various fast food outlets, banks or shops and random items such as golf balls and nails. We returned shortly after Bruce's team - tied with 20 points each (probably losing because of a stop we made on the way back)!

On Wednesday we headed out to Mission in the vans and after dropping the things at the house, went on a hike around a waterfall and river. Although most of the day was great, a stray stone thrown to splash me bounced and hit me right on the bone of my knee – dropping me to the ground in pain. After a cold pack on it for most of the rest of the day I felt better and awoke the next morning feeling fine again.

The rest of the camp went well with the kids pitching the tents (apparently successfully!) as a team. Our guys tent turned out to only just fit the kids so Bruce slept in the van and on my way to join him I looked up at the stars and wondering when the next time I’d get an opportunity to see them so vibrantly again, decided to sleep under them; on a roll mat and inside my silk sleeping bag liner!

The next morning I woke up with cold feet but dry and happy, so decided to make a fire for the kids who were slowly awakening. After chopping some wood and making a tipi, I got the fire going with minimal paper and soon had a roaring flame! I spent most of the rest of the morning supervising the fire – allowing kids to poke at it as I had enjoyed when I was younger – and encouraging their smoke trail patterns; although asking them to move away when they were making them!

Most of the kids were well behaved and the two that weren’t, I had offered to talk to for the week so that the other leaders could have a break – Jenny and Bruce having just had two weeks with the pair! After a long talk with the two of them and then a really long talk with the more stubborn one, I managed to keep order between the two for the rest of the trip and was proud of my efforts – for which the other coordinators were also grateful.

The final day of the week, the first day of August, has been declared free for Bruce and I, so I will be packing for Latona and Calgary and then travelling in the afternoon. I am excited for my month off of work and will try to see much in the coming month.

Friday, 25 July 2008

How To Run A Summer Program

Summer Fun has been a summer program for the youth at Fraserview church for many years and usually runs through July. The kids are split into two groups (Grades 1-3 and 4-7) named Summerfun Jr. and Summerfun Sr. and as two of the four main coordinators, Sage and I worked with both groups in rotation - starting with 2 weeks with the seniors and then 2 weeks with the juniors (the reverse order of Jenny and Bruce). As of July, it is the 5th youth program that I have involved myself with since arriving in January and I am becoming quite well known at Fraserview.

As well as the two volunteers on each team, we had a selection of 14/15 year olds from youth programs or schools around the area who had come to help out. They were unpaid but got to experience all the activities for free and earn some experience with kids. Many of these guys were from Fuel, Fridge or Kids Club and I got on well with them all. Some of them showed great initiative and all were liked by at least a few kids – some of us leaders gaining fan clubs that liked to follow us around!

On the Steveston treasure hunt for "Pirate Day"

The first week was a shortened one (with a day off for Canada Day on the last day of June) and we ran activities around the building as well as in the neighbouring park for the first day. With the weather being great we included water fights and a soapy slide across the field as well as ice creams and popsicles each day.

Each week included two field trips where we had access to the vans and could go anywhere that we had planned. Sage had done most of the planning and organising and I had been around for assistance and ideas, during the month of June. In the first week we visited Steveston for a walk and time at the water park on the "pirate" themed day - themes picked by the coordinators from last year to help with ideas for this year. We also went to laser tag and one child got the location’s accuracy record!

We also watched a few movies each week for the chilling out time, and to keep the kids out of the sun since it had been pretty hot for most of the month. Crafts and games included underwater pictures on paper plates, covered in blue acetate for watery effects and colouring pictures, with "kid hunt" and "sleeping lions" being favourites.

Kid hunt involves all the kids hiding and the leaders finding them afterwards. This became the most popular game after the kids tired of trying to find me in sardines because of my difficult hiding spots! Sleeping lions is a game where all the kids pretend to be asleep and lose if they move or talk. This is a favourite of mine because all the kids stay in one place; peaceful and silent.

The next week involved much of the same, with the seniors again (the second of our 2-week period with them before a 2-week shift with the juniors.) including trips to swimming pools and themes more to do with water. The second group was larger but still well behaved and enjoyable to work with. A few times we had to take a child aside but nothing major occurred so it was an interesting experience talking calmly to the kid in question and trying to have their behaviour improve.

The two weeks with the junior children was very different, with a lot of chaos when the kids decided to “dog pile” a particular volunteer or coordinator and jump on them. It was still really good fun – though I spent most of the time with a child on my shoulders so it was more tiring. By the end of the two weeks, where we visited pools, an indoor play area and beaches I was looking forward to the 5th and final week of the program; where the four coordinators (Jenny and Bruce from the other team) were to be taking the senior group on camp!

After the experience so far, I am sure that teaching is the way I want to go although I realise a classroom atmosphere will be very different to a summer program, though now I am looking more towards working with the upper end of elementary school since I enjoyed working with the older group a lot – knowing some from my kids club group.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

How To Be In A Relationship

Since getting a girlfriend in June, I have been able to experience areas of Vancouver that I would otherwise have had no reason to see - as well as finding out what life is like with someone special in my life. Since we live about one hours bus ride from each other, we have tended to explore both Richmond and Vancouver, so that one person didn't always have to make the journey.

The nicest movie theatre (cinema) in Richmond is Silver City and was the location for our first date because we could both get there in about the same amount of time and it had nice screens and food. This was the second time I had been to see a movie there although it was more fun as a date than to see (lame sci-fi filled) Indiana Jones. Despite getting mammoth cokes and popcorn - we consumed very little, enthralled by the film.

Most of our time together has been at our house’s for walks and movies and we have yet to see a bad one so far! Despite being hesitant to suggest "Butterfly Effect" (from other girls’ testimonials), Jill ended up loving it – adding it to her favourite movies list, along with Fight Club, which we also saw together!

Our first weekend together was Father's Day and we went with my family for Malaysian food in Steveston, where we celebrated my birthday and Ron's Father's Day, ordering a selection of delicious food. We then went back to their house and played games of "Apples to Apples" which was fantastic - Jill getting along with everyone. The two of us then walked a few blocks from my family’s house to a park and hung out, talking about life.

A few days before Jill had exams in mid-June, I went with her to the library and helped her study Maths and Science since I was stronger at them than she was and she needed someone to help her through certain topics. We spent most of each day that weekend in Vancouver Public Library and I helped her through the textbook chapters before writing some practice papers for her to do. This was great for both of us; useful to me as teaching experience. She recently got her results and she passed both exams!

In the Japanese Gardens - a section of tranquility in the heart of Vancouver

After one of the day’s sessions, we walked around Downtown for a bit and came to the Japanese Gardens (where Jill and her brother, Jeremy, would go sometimes). We walked around and took some photos of the beautiful flowers and water features. We even got a picture of the two of us together which I love. Though the weather was sunny, it wasn’t too hot and made a perfect end to the day of studying inside.

Recently, we decided to go out again and Jill picked from my shortlist of semi-touristy places that I had wanted to see. We settled on “Gastown” and headed across town on the Sky train. Upon arriving, we viewed the steam-powered clock and walked to the statue of “Gassy Jack”; the area’s founder in 1867 – so called for his tall stories. Despite not knowing of too much more to see, we settled on Starbucks to hang out and discuss things to do – deciding to find somewhere nice to eat.

Jill remembered a cheesecake café that Jeremy had taken her a few times – which had live music on Friday’s – and we decided to search for it, as well as “blood alley” which she vaguely remembered as being nearby and interesting. Although we were unable to find the alleyway in the end, we were fortunate to stumble upon the rotating restaurant with viewing deck, just before sunset and decided to head up the 130m elevator to watch the city as the sun went down behind the mountains. The elevation took less than a minute and the glass elevator offered an interesting view of the nearby area as we rose rapidly towards the deck.

With clear weather, the views were spectacular and we spent a while looking in all directions and reading the information panels, as well as taking photos of the sunset as it cast it’s shadows across the city. We were amused to discover that nearby Burnaby had been confused for Calgary and Seattle by numerous tourists (unaware of Canada’s vastness!) also deciding to see some of the sights, that we could now see from above, before the end of the summer.

After the spectacular sunset, we headed to the café ("Trees") and had some cheesecake whilst listening to the live music. The experience was brilliant with the delicious cheesecake hitting the spot and the room-filling music giving the café a great atmosphere. The band’s frontwoman was witty; keeping the crowd entertained between sets - reminding me of how amusing Newton Faulkner had been between songs, when I had seen him a few days earlier with my cousin, Thea.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

How To Explore Acting

July 10th marked my one month anniversary with Jill and we went out to a nice restaurant in Richmond to celebrate. Not wanting to upset her Mum by getting her home late – having recently missed a bus transfer and adding half an hour to the journey! – I decided that we should aim to arrive back at her house by around 9pm for a few brownie points and also to ensure that it wasn’t our last ever date! The food was excellent and the evening was really nice.

In the taxi back to her house, I received a phone call (which I would have missed if we had not been aiming to get home earlier than usual) from my Uncle (who insists that I call him Ron) inviting me to a film shoot in White Rock. I have been interested in short films for a long time and have also wanted to work on a set for a while to see how it all goes.

Told that I would be doing some “grip” work (odd-jobs) and a few scenes as an extra, I accepted the offer and began to work out how I’d manage my day – having to be back in Richmond before the filming was likely to finish due to having a party to go to in the evening, via limousines from a friend’s house.

Half an hour later I got another call, from Ron again, inviting me to one of the “Bard on the Beach” shows – a local Shakespeare festival - which I had also declared interest in a few times. The show (“Titus Andronicus”) was the following evening and would be my last chance to see a “Bard on the Beach” play this year – having missed opportunities earlier in the summer as well as last year when I visited Vancouver after summer camp.

The next evening I was picked up by Ron and we drove through Vancouver to English Bay, where Bard on the Beach is set up– a group of white pavilions with red flags on top. Ron (an actor - addicted to Shakespeare!) had already seen “King Lear” and “The Tempest”, and although “Titus...” was considered to be one of Shakespeare’s worst scripts (I was informed just before we arrived as Ron tried to run me through the confusing plot line and numerous main characters!)

Although the play was interesting and quite violent, I fell asleep (running around with kids for two weeks beginning to tire me out!) before the halfway point and despite a large coffee during the intermission, didn’t take in much of the second half either – although I did keep my eyes open! I remember being quite impressed by some of the actors that had given pretty believable performances - including a few of the villains and Titus’ daughter.

The next day I awoke early (despite a late night where I had nearly passed out with tiredness more than once!) and with a feeling of anticipation, made the journey to White Rock with Ron. The first set of the day was a café that had a bar. As well as the bar scene (with the extras at the tables in the background), they also decided to use the downstairs office as the main character’s booth in his workplace.

The director of the film, Jason Goode, is one of Ron’s friends through Pacific Theatre – the company that Ron (currently Artistic Director) founded 25 years ago! I first met Jason when the three of us went to see “There Will Be Blood” and I have since seen him act at Pacific Theatre, in a few plays.

This was the first time I'd ever seen a real clapperboard - hopefully not the last!

After exploring the set for a little while, I was asked if I could be the body double for the lead actor, whilst they set up the lighting and camera, so that he wasn’t in the same position for a long time. I decided that this was a really cool idea that would let me see first hand how everything worked on a set and I sat patiently as they moved props, lighting, cameras and people around me – jokingly referring to myself as the lead stunt double!

In the end I did much more “stunt double” and “extra” work than “grip” work and instead enjoyed the opportunity to see every side of the filming – from the directing to the script-checker watching each shot on a TV and taking notes.

To cap the weekend of acting, I went with Jill on the Sunday to see her friend Rosa (who I had met a few times before) perform in a youth production of “As you like it” at the “Bard on the Beach” location. At the event and the buffet afterwards I met most of Jill’s closest friends and got along with them.

Having outlined a few ideas for short films in the last six months on my laptop – landscaping work giving me plenty of time to exercise creativity – I am now aware of some of the steps to take towards making the films a reality. As the years go on I will edit these ideas significantly but one day I may have my own short film – another “Bucket List” goal now that I can tick off “Be an extra in a film”.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

How To Spend Your Canadian Summer

As a general rule, the busiest time for landscapers is the height of the summer. Although the mowing slows down - less rain and more heat causing the grass to turn brown and grow more slowly - the weeding and other neglected areas of the job (taken over by the mowing between April and June) become high priority and so there is much work to be done.

Since my trip here was always less about the working and more about the experiencing life abroad - I had asked a while back about how much time off I could expect in the summer (for travel, family and relaxation after some busy Winter and Spring months!). Initially my supervisor told me that I could expect very little; a few days at the most, but knowing her previous record for reliability I decided to ask the main boss, Larry, anyway.

Being a much nicer person, he was keen to give me time to explore the local area and try my hand at running the summer program, Summer Fun. We agreed on two months off – where I could return at any point if I wanted to – before returning definitely in September and October before I headed off to Whistler.

As well as the summer program job throughout July (Monday to Friday from 9am until 4pm), I also had some travel plans (Youth trips to Camp Latona and Oregon, a family wedding in Calgary, travel around Vancouver Island or Okanagan and possibly a weekend in Seattle!) coming together for August.

During my final few weeks as a landscaper, I managed to meet a guy with contacts in Whistler who said that it would be quite possible for me to find work at a hotel, restaurant or café through one of his friends there – including accommodation! Before the end of the summer, I hope to have secured a place of employment and residence for the 4 month period there this coming Winter – my aim to get in some quality snowboarding as well as meet travellers from around the world!

So far my work with the Elementary school aged kids at Summer Fun has been a blast – with trips to Laser Tag, swimming pools and beaches as well as games, movies, food and crafts on the non-fieldtrip days. I appear to be popular amongst the kids because of my energy and craziness – a highlight being the “String Snort” which has now had around 300 hits across Facebook and YouTube! Other stupid things for children’s enjoyment so far have included breath-holding contests and raw onion eating - with much more to come before the end of the summer I’m sure!

Having fun with the Summerfun kids - making a human totem pole

Currently my favourite part of each day is the “Leader hunt”, where I tend to find an awesome place to hide and will only be found after making noisy “cacaw” sounds that I first used during the Kid’s Club Camp “Pooh Hunt” - to help the kids find me in the dark forest when their interest levels were diminishing (the giant yellow suit apparently not enough!) – for similar reasons!

Another highlight was discovering that I could organise as much soccer as I wanted in the free time – since a lot of the kids and Sage (my co-worker) were really into it! – as well as discovering that Sage was no less crazy than me so it looked like being another fun month in Canada – filled with as much banter as I had come to expect from Danny or some of the other landscapers!

As an added bonus, Canadian West Coast summers are pretty hot and I am getting quite a tan – the beach and pool days giving me reason to even out the farmer’s tan and make my body as brown as my arms! My hair is also being naturally bleached by the sun – making me look more like a “surfer type” – which I like.

Monday, 30 June 2008

How To Observe Vancouver Bike Month

Since arriving in Canada – having had my bike flown across the Atlantic as the single item of “sporting equipment” that each passenger was entitled to have carried for free - I have only cycled for a handful of reasons. Firstly, I have been using it a few times each month when visiting my Uncle’s house, a few miles away. For 2 months I also made the commute to the Flying Beaver by bicycle too. On top of this, there were a few times that I cycled the short journey to Hugh Boyd school and played football with Danny’s friends.

This is around an average of 10 miles a week, which is pretty poor. For Summer Fun throughout the whole of July, I made a decision to become more active and cycle the 12 mile round trip each day. The first time that I made this journey was on the way to the interview and was when I was hit for the first time in my life – by an Asian woman who was turning right without indicating or doing a mirror check!

Pros to cycling this commute over the landscaping one were the later start-time (8:00am being better than 6:00am), the route being quieter (alongside the Fraser river rather than through the city centre) and safer areas to lock my bike – the landscaping car park being quite open.

I also decided to get more into cycling as the summer went on, with June being “Vancouver Bike Month” and July being filled with events and races (e.g. the Tour de Burnaby) around the lower mainland. Jill’s family all seem to be into biking too so I have been able to discuss cycling with them a few times when I have been over.

Unfortunately, there are always unpredictable factors and things didn’t turn out well at all! One day whilst I was at work, Lisa (the Down’s Syndrome girl living with the Bowen family) decided to take my bike from the locked garage and ride it to her music lesson. I arrived home, planning to whiz to the bus stop to meet Jill; being later home from work than I had hoped, and upon being unable to find it decided to ask Lisa and Barb (the two people at home at that time) if they had seen it.

Barb had no idea where it was and suggested that I had maybe left it at my Uncle’s house or with a friend – something that I did occasionally to avoid the ride home – so I tried a few places to make sure but with no luck so with little hope of a result, I asked Lisa:

Act 1: Awkward conversation.
Chris: “Hey Lisa, have you seen my bike”
Lisa: “No”
Chris: “Oh, ok….never mind then”
Lisa: “Actually…Yes”
Chris: “Umm…what?”
Lisa: “Yes…I borrowed it!”
Chris: “Okay…so where is it?”
Lisa: “I don’t know”
Chris: “Where did you take it?”
Lisa: “My music lesson”
Chris: “Ok, so is it there?”
Lisa: “No, it was gone when I came out”
Chris: “Umm…oh….ok…where did you leave it?”
Lisa: “On the sidewalk”
[Exit Chris with sad expression]

After the Bowens filed a police report and had a look through their “Lisa Insurance”, they decided that it would be best to buy me a new bike but said that it would have to be one with a lower value since mine had been top-of-the-range and they couldn’t afford to buy me an awesome bike, brand new.

They found a bike enthusiast through one of their friends and were able to negotiate a pretty good deal on a new blue front suspension, “Gary Fisher” bike that was slightly larger (because of the bigger wheels) than my old bike had been. The suspension and frame material added weight that had not been on my old bike but it was still very light and nice to ride. The only major difference to the ride was the front forks and I was told that they could be tightened to make the bike “suspension-less” if desired.

With the bike being bigger and heavier, it is likely to be harder to transport without taking it to pieces but I was shown a few tricks by Jill’s (cycling-enthusiast) Dad and am now confident in removing back wheels and aligning disc brakes! I am still on the lookout for my old (pretty rare blue GT Bravado) bike as I cycle around – as well as on Craigslist – but have had no luck so far, so instead am making the most of having a brand new (and pretty cool) mountain bike!

Hopefully next “Bike Month” will be less dramatic for me and involve more cycling! Until then I will try to increase my weekly average – maybe even cycling to and from work in the next few months, before I head out to Whistler in the late Autumn.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

How To Use "Translink" Public Transport

Around the greater Vancouver area (including Richmond) the buses and “sky train” are operated by Translink. Prior to arriving in January, I had only used the buses once – last summer with Thea and Brad to UBC (University of British Colombia) – and it had been a pretty good experience; quick, scenic and easy.

When deciding fine details about moving to Canada, in December, I assumed that I’d be fine to either bus or cycle every morning (at 6:00am) to work on the other side of Richmond. Once I realised that cycling was out of the question (since I was hoping to conserve my energy for work and because the weather was poor*) I decided upon public transport.

For a few weeks I took the bus to and from work, on a 30 minute journey across town. The route was simple and though it cost me $5 a day, it seemed like a better option than cycling – at least until the summer. However, public transport is never perfect and after a few times of the buses being late, slow or nonexistent I was getting fed up with relying on it. When Danny (my co-worker) offered to drive me every day, I was thrilled.

During February through May, I probably used the bus fewer than 10 times – instead relying upon walking, cycling or other people's cars to get about. This was brilliant because there was no worry about connections, times or fares and I didn't miss buses at all.

However in the middle of June, when I started dating Jill, I decided that it would be unrealistic and unfair to rely on people for transport to/from her house and since I was unsure of the route I decided to bus around until I was confident enough to cycle the same distance - especially at night!

Instead of buying a pass, I started using up my loose change that had been collecting in my "VW camper van" moneybox - since my wallet had nowhere for loose change - being "manly" and leather! Using my youthful looks to my advantage, I began buying concession fares (a roundtrip saving of $1.50!) and decided against getting myself a monthly pass since it was already halfway through June!

The journeys went well, with my "University of Huddersfield" student card on hand if I was questioned when buying the concession ticket - students also being included in the money saving fare - and I had few problems, especially when I was with Jill who at least seemed to know the Vancouver buses well enough for us to get about.

A few times we decided to go further into Vancouver - her house being on the East edge of the city - and I had the joy of experiencing the "sky train", which I had otherwise only heard about because of the new stations and tracks being built in Richmond in preparation for the Winter Olympic Games. As well as being clean, quick and frequent it was not usually too crowded.

The only problems we experienced with the buses as the month went on were our fault - the most annoying being waiting on the Northbound side of the street as the bus sailed past going South - that particular route being different to the usual that we had been taking!

As well as the website, the system also has a text system where you can see the next 6 buses in one message as a response to texting your bus stop's 5 digit number to the Tranlink text system - which has worked 4 out of the 5 times that I have tried it, which is still pretty good!

As the months visiting Jill go on, I imagine I will probably purchase a bus pass to save change-hunting and having to worry about being 10 cents short or losing the printed tickets. At least when winter arrives and I can't be bothered to cycle every time and then shower at her house!

When the Richmond skytrain is built the journey will change completely but will cut from 40-80 minutes to about 30-50 minutes - I eagerly await another of the major changes in anticipation of the Winter Olympics 2010!

* With hindsight – having since been hit whilst cycling! – I would add “Richmond’s notoriously terrible drivers”!

Friday, 20 June 2008

How To Get A Girlfriend

Since witnessing my parents' horrific divorce when I was young - though old enough to remember! - I decided that the one thing I'd never do was break a girl's heart. In my naivety, I presumed that the only way to acheive this was not to ever find a girlfriend so that the complication of ending a relationship never came up.

Considering it was a pretty bad plan constructed by a 6-year old (as a knee-jerk reaction to events out of my control!), it lasted a long time. Even once I had realised the flaws of eternal loneliness, I was still too afraid to try for love because I lacked experience and therefore self-confidence!

My first real attempt at love came last summer at camp. I met a cute, kind girl who shared a few of my interests and who could make me laugh. We became good friends quickly and I decided that I should ask her out - not wanting to lose her to some American "plastic" when the camp opened and the Philadelphian counsellors arrived. I spent 4 days thinking of nothing else and finally plucked up the courage. Within a week of meeting her I asked her out!

She said no. I was told that I had flattered her but since I wasn't really her type, it wouldn't work out. Considering I had waited more than 2 years to build up the confidence to make this move, it had been a lot easier to take than I had expected. Obviously, I was still devastated but I felt relieved that she didn't hate me and felt stupid that I hadn't waited a bit longer!

Again, I slipped into a routine where girls didn't really feature and tried to get on with my life - instead deciding to let them find me. I increased my self-esteem, felt happier and hung on to my "nice guy" morals - only with confidence! Although I met a few girls in different situations in Canada, I didn't really feel the need to chase one and was content to have my own life.

In April, at Kids Club Camp, I saw a female leader who I didn't recognise from previous Kids Club meetings. I thought she looked cool but (despite being one of the loudest, most outgoing leaders at the camp!) was scared to approach her - since I had spent the weekend acting oddly for the kids and didn't want her to think me a freak!

A few days later I returned from work to a new "friend request" from a name that I didn't recognise on my Facebook profile. I decided to add the girl, check out her profile and then delete her if it turned out that she was not somebody that I knew.

As I was scouring her profile, wondering how I knew her, I stumbled across her "favourite music" section and was immediately intrigued. Whereas most people I had met on this trip had never heard of Sigur Rós, she had it listed in her top 3! Deciding to ask her about some Canadian/American music that I had never heard which she liked (since our music seemed very similar!), we got talking about the Radiohead concert this summer and I decided to buy her a ticket so that I had a true music fan to go with!

Over the next few months we became much closer and began spending long periods of time online or texting each other. When questioned I defended that we were just friends and I honestly hadn't considered a romantic relationship much at all - still waiting for the perfect girl to show up in my life.

After mistaking a kiss for something more serious with another girl, I began telling close friends and family that I had found a girl (who admittedly I wasn't madly in love with - but I figured that I could work on that!) and one of the people that I told was Jill.

She text me back with a confession that she had actually also had a thing for me. As the day unfolded the other girl started giving me reasons not to like her and by the end of the day I wasn't even interested in talking to her. I went out that night and decided to think things through - quizzing some of Cory's friends about my dilemma since I really liked Jill but didn't want to do anything too quickly, having just been messed about!

The next day I texted Jill a lot before chatting to her on MSN. We discussed our feelings for each other as well as how we thought our friends and family would react to the relationship. After deciding that we'd ask her Mum - and receiving a very positive response - we made it official and changed our planned night to Prince Caspian to be our first date.

Walking back along the dike as the sun set on a clear evening,
offering a breathtaking view of the mountains and the water!

The night went well and we have seen each other a few times since (though not every day) and are definitely amazing together. On the following Sunday I was taken to a Malaysian restaurant by my cousins, aunt and uncle for my birthday and brought her along. She seemed to get along well with everyone and it was an awesome day. We can't see it ending for quite some time and are very happy together!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

How To Celebrate Turning 20

Just a quick blog post to let the world know that I have now survived for two decades. Initially this went live as a commentary on my first few and last few years as well as the actual date this year.

A day later, I decided that it really wasn't that interesting and to instead focus on some highlights of my 20 years - in a similar way to in early June where I made an autobiography on my friend's wall in an attempt to spam her profile in the three days that she was away.

I managed 112 posts, including my autobiography from #88 - one for each year - and taking it a few years into the future, with my current ambitions for the next few years. The first few were obviously also a lot shorter since I had very little recollection of the early years - being quite young!

I have decided to count down the top 5 moments in my life so far for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy these...

Coming in at number 5 is Christmas 1998 in Canada.
7 years after leaving Canada for the UK in 1991, my Dad decided to take his four kids and (now ex-)girlfriend across the pond to meet his side of the family. To head off in style, my Dad rented a limosine and we felt super cool as we travelled 300 miles to London for our flight. When we arrived we got to know our uncles and aunt and the three female cousins - Thea, Katie and Arah. I still have many fond memories of the time spent there and until another 6 months pass, it will be the only time I remember being in deep snow on Christmas Day!

My 4th favourite memory is my GCSE results.
Having always tried really hard in school - and after an intense revision schedule - I came out of my pre-college exams with 9 grades between A* and C just after turning 16. Knowing that I had tried so hard and that it had paid off was a moment to remember in itself but that I had finally done something to please my parents was amazing. When I finally get back to that frame of mind in my studies I will be ready for a second shot at University...

Another travelling anecdote at number 3...
Knowing that travel was always something that excited and interested me I signed up for a trip to Malaysia with my school, despite not even knowing where Borneo was. The following 18 months saw me raise £1500 ($3000) through fundraising, go from long-haired to bald, help to plan a trip of epic proportions and lead the group through the jungle! As a leader, a friend and a person I acheived many things and will always remember the whole experience!

Just off top spot is summer camp!
3 months in North America last summer did many things for me - initially introduced to me by one of the teachers on the Borneo trip as something that I'd enjoy - and I came out of it a better, more organised, happier and more outgoing person. The solo travel afterwards - coupled with the experiences like skydiving, paintball and climbing - gave me an experience to never forget.

...And the winner is my 18th birthday!
Having spent much of my free time during Sixth form chilling with friends or going to the pub, I decided that the best way to ring in my legality was to have a large party myself - only inviting the people that I liked! Not only did I get an awesome turnout for the party - in a hired hall with DJ, bar and buffet - but my parents sat in the same room all night without arguing for the only time in my memory! I had a great time and couldn't have wished for a better celebration!

Here's to the next decade being even better than the last one!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

How To Be A Cowboy

When I came to North America last summer, one of the things that I had been hoping to do was visit a working ranch and see the cowboys in action. As it turned out, I didn’t get a chance and so I forgot all about it until the middle of May – when it was offered as a trip with a group of guys, deep into interior BC.

Coming straight from work, I was dropped off by Larry and left with the second group (another group having gone in the morning to get a round of golf in during the day!) which included some guys that I knew from Kids Club as well as some of my friend’s relatives.

We made the 6 hour journey in a minibus (the first time I can remember being in a minibus filled with adults and not kids) and spent a lot of time discussing travel, life, work and music. I managed to find some more Sigur Rós fans as well as even more people that were going to the UBC Thunderbird Stadium Radiohead concert in August (bringing my total of “people I know who are going” to around 20!).

To pass the time, whilst the van was still in areas with signal, I was busy texting back and forth with a few friends that I knew through various social groups and was discussing Whistler, life, my trip to Canada and music too. Instead of a boring 6 hour journey, I managed quite the text-marathon whilst also getting to know the guys in the van too.

The closest I have come to real cowboys (within the last few years - Calgary probably being full of them in 1988!) was probably the trip to Roosters Country and Western bar, back in March - where I learned how to party like a cowboy (cowboy hats, line dancing and a bucking bronco apparently!).

When we arrived, it was about 1am and with the two groups expected to be up by 7am the next morning, for either another round of golf or the horse riding, we all headed to the log cabins in the dark and fell asleep. I woke up at 6am (not uncommon since conditioning myself to do so for work!) and decided to lie down by the lake to try and catch a bit of a tan. This became the subject of banter for a little while - most of the people there thinking me crazy for deciding to tan in the early (cooler) hours!

After a large pancake, bacon and sausage breakfast we headed in our "horse-riding" group to the stables and began talking as the three ranch workers (Will, Alex and Yana) began setting up the horses for us. The three were college students working for room and board over the summer. Yana had come all the way from Germany (a city girl at heart) to try a new thing and appeared to be enjoying it - the ranch owners treating her well apparently - unlike where she had originally been working on another neighbouring ranch.

As well as horse riding, the ranch also did a hay wagon ride and I called shotgun (on one of the wagons which the game of shotgun was originally intended for - the shotgun caller riding up front to shoot at robbers!) and got talking to Yana and the ranch owner.

With some of the guys also being German (Canada being a place filled with immigrants - my ancestry being from Norway and the UK), I decided to try and learn a few things to say to Yana, since a few words in another language can be quite fun. One of the guys, Hank, decided to help me that evening as I added to what Yana had taught me about my name and age.

During the meal, Yana (who was also our server) came by and Hank had a quick conversation with her in German. This led to her looking at me, giggling and walking off! I had no idea what had been said and after much pleading, Hank told me that he had told her that she had a large bum from me! I was shocked and he teased me for a while longer before actually revealing that it had been "he loves you and is learning German to win your heart" or something slightly less embarrassing!

Learning to lasso under Yana's instruction after a paddle around
the lake. Beautiful scenery and a very tranquil atmosphere made
it an excellent weekend of escapism.

Just before leaving the ranch, we decided to try out the final "attraction" at the place - a suspended barrel as a bucking bronco emulator (The four corner ropes pulled to rock the barrel around and simulate a bull ride!) Despite having only just recovered from my ankle injury, I decided to give it a go and lasted a few seconds (one of the better times) before being launched off, minus a few chunks of skin that had been caught on the barrel!

The journey back was filled with much conversation and as we re-entered the signal area, I was bombarded with a number of messages to restart the conversations for the 6 hour trip back. In all it was a fantastic weekend and I am interested in trying one of the overnight horse rides one day, if I ever get the chance!

Friday, 30 May 2008

How To BETA Test A Game

If you don't know what beta testing is, it is a process through which all new websites, games and computer programs go through before they are released to the general public - to remove all the bugs.

As much as I knew that my 3 months away from home last summer would change me, I had no idea the extent to which the change would happen or really even what parts of my life or personality would be affected. Knowing that I would be meeting a lot of new people I figured that I would become slightly more outgoing and I figured that the solo travels would mature me since I would be planning and undertaking the whole trip across North America on my own – excluding the few weeks spent with family in Calgary and Vancouver.

The three months were intended to be a break from the tough year of programming; working long hours inside at a screen. Working outside with kids was pretty much the opposite to my studies and I wanted the change. Even so, when I left the UK last June, I fully intended to live with some of my friends when I returned in September, continue the course until 2010 and eventually work my way up through a company until a few of my own ideas could become video games.

Towards the end of my first year, I had tried to be extremely proactive and submit some of my “third year placement” application enquiries before the second year had even begun; hoping to increase my chances of a placement at a respectable company. One of the companies was Sports Interactive; creators of the sport simulation games that I have played for around 6 years.

I started liking football in 1998 after watching England compete in France ’98 and chose Arsenal after Holland’s Dennis Bergkamp scored a brilliant late goal to knock out the team (Argentina) who had knocked out England! Although I had played football video games since I can remember (Italia ’90, FIFA etc), it was only after I became interested in football that I took up playing football management games – with knowledge of the players and tactics.

Instead of winning games 14-0 and quickly creating a dream team, the management games took real knowledge of the sport as well as being a challenge. Furthermore, SI was celebrated for the accuracy of their database – the game predicting future superstars, top-flight managers using the database and SI scouts being signed by teams.

Being off work for an extended period of time, and even exhausting my interest in movies, books, the internet and every other activity I tried, it was a nice surprise when I received the email from Sega to say that I had been selected to join their latest game world with 100 new beta testers. After a download and read through the pdf manual, I was ready to go.

The game is a start-from-scratch management game using real life players. For example, I had to create my team (Speedy FC), buy 20 or so players, scout out some future possibilities and then play some games against other human users to improve my rankings. Unlike most online management games, this game uses real players (eg. Beckham, Ronaldo) with actual stats - SI being famous for the accuracy of their stats!

Except for starting from scratch, the game is very similar to playing a multiplayer version of the offline game - where real teams are used and up to 5 players can play in rotation. In the online version, the only time AI (artificial intelligence) is used is when a real person cannot be online for a match so the game has to be played by their computer-controlled Assistant manager.

A major part of beta testing is playing the game long enough to find the obscure bugs so that the company can fix them before the game is released. As a games designer, it is often the first step into a company – even for anyone with programming skill. It can be very tedious and boring if the game is pretty bad or if it has a lot of bugs.

Fortunately, since there are 10 game worlds currently running - each with 1000 players! - most of the bugs are being found without my help so as long as I am checking to see if a bug is known, I can basically play a 95% complete version of the game for free (the full version set to cost "the price of a few beers per month").

Even after leaving the games industry - and being a lot less interested in gaming! - I still enjoy knowing that my feedback could change the game, as well as (of course) that I am playing a game before most of the people that will play it - and for free!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

How To Work With Youth

When I was 15, I remember wanting to be one of two things. The first was to do with making movies (a director or an animator) and the second was a school teacher. In June, the penultimate month of "Year 10", we were given the chance to spend a week working at a desired place of future employment to see how we liked it, for "work experience".

Having applied to Aardman Animations (the creators of "Wallace and Gromit" and "Chicken Run") with no success, I decided to try my second-choice career in education, heading back to my old Primary school for a week to work with the younger kids. This was partially because I knew people in the older classes, including my sister, so wanted to try an unbiased group and partially because I had long ago formulated a belief that kids got harder as they got older and I would have most fun with the first and second year children.

As it turns out, I had a lot of fun! Not only did the group adore me and all want to be the ones to follow me around at play time, I was invited to one of their birthday parties, given a bag of chocolates by another child and became “high demand” when it came to helping with classroom work. This experience caused me to consider my theory sound and I’ve continued to prefer working with younger kids ever since - despite very little negative experience with older kids or teens!

Despite enjoying the experience, I decided that I didn’t want to be one of the 24 year old student teachers that looked lost and got walked over. Initially I decided to wait until I was at least 30, and fill the 10-year void with another career. The career I chose, sticking loosely to my creative dreams, was a games designer. I figured that the games market was becoming huge and that creating a game could be compared to directing a film.

Last summer, working with children and young teenagers, I finally reignited my joy for teaching (4 years after moving away from it!) and let go of my self-destructive career path as a programmer. This was the fourth notable group of kids that I had worked with and they all seemed to enjoy my company as well as listen to and respect me as much as the previous groups of kids had. I decided that teaching was a good idea and travel/university could always fill the void before I turned 30, rather than an eye-rotting 10 years of dark rooms lit by screens filled by “nonsense code”.

When I arrived in Canada, I managed to get involved in a youth program called “Kids Club” through my cousin Thea, and joined her to help out with the “Grade 6’s and 7’s” – similarly aged to some of the kids at summer camp in Pennsylvania. This was the eldest single aged group that I had worked with and the first night proved my theory correct, in that holding their attention was a lot more work. I decided to introduce myself with some short stories of things that I had seen, whilst also trying to explain to them what the lunar eclipse was and why it made the moon orange.

As the weeks went on, I went from “strange British guy” to a new celebrity and the group of kids came to respect and adore me. After watching Juno, I learned a few of the songs and taught my age group them. The songs became a big hit and I am pretty sure that most of the group now knows at least one (Tree Hugger by Kimya Dawson!) which is amazing and was really uplifting when I first saw them spontaneously burst into song one time, singing the song that I had recommended!

Positive experiences with Kids Club encouraged me to work with slightly older youth and I soon signed up for my second weekly youth club, “FUEL”, in mid February. This was also a great experience and I was also able to hang out with the other leaders, who were my age range. The youth program was well structured with games, outings and community help mixed in every month and I had a lot of fun hanging out with the youth and playing football or chatting.

When both of these clubs came to an end in early May, I began searching for a replacement (my nightly activities now down to only one night a week (Thursday, football) instead of the 5 nights (2 youth clubs, football and work on the weekends) that had kept me busy in the winter. I found a youth program called “Fridge on Friday” which was for similarly aged teens to “FUEL” but was a lot less structured - seen as more of a drop-in centre than an organised weekly youth program. The night was much more popular too. Instead of 30 teens a night maximum, the program was averaging around 70!

Hanging out with the "fashionable" group at Fridge - having
my new haircut waxed and straightened!

I decided to keep this going until the summer and see how I could work with the more rowdy teenagers, another step away from the safety of working with really young kids. So far it has been really interesting and I have connected well with a few social groups. As the program winds down in early July, I hope to be one of the more popular leaders as I try hard to connect with the youth, and offer an ear if they need someone to talk to.

Maybe I could work with any age in education after all. These next few weeks will tell...