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!