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!