Just over a year ago, I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the MPub program. Much hair-pulling and stress happened over the few days leading up to the move, but all my immigration documents were assembled, the moving truck was packed, and I was on my way.
As part of the usual process at the border, the Canadian border agent asked me if I had anything to declare: tobacco, firearms, plants.
It just so happened that I had a plant with me. The only plant of fifteen, in fact, that I hadn’t given away before leaving town. An Oxalis triangularis, or purple shamrock plant. My favorite plant. A special plant. The leaves folded under at night. It had been propagated in 1997 from a plant that was purchased at the New York Botanical Garden’s annual plant sale. Until a few years before this I had never seen another Oxalis triangularis, and I still don’t see them often.
Assuming they were concerned with people bringing pot plants into the country or something, I declared my plant to the agent. Honesty is the best policy, right?
Big mistake! After waiting inside the border agency building for my visa to be issued, an agent came outside to inspect the plant. I told her that this was the only plant I had kept of fifteen. That it was special. The agent said the problem was the foreign soil, and the possibility of bad microbes or fungi being brought into the country. I proposed a solution: Oxalis plants have rhizomes—if I removed one of the rhizomes and washed the dirt off, could I still take it with me?
After explaining a second time, I had failed to convince her. Nor do I think she wished to deal with me anymore. She claimed there was no choice because I had already declared the plant (implying I should have lied). She asked me to throw the whole thing into the designated trash can. Even the pot. The pot! The beautiful cobalt pot that the plant had been in for over ten years. It seemed there was no option though, so into the rubbish bin it went.
That hurt a lot, to be forced to throw away something that meant so much to me. But really, there was a lot of sacrifice involved in my getting to Canada. Both intentional and not.
For the first time in over a decade, I didn’t have any plants that needed minding. My apartment was missing something—yet, buying a new plant wasn’t an option, as it wouldn’t be able to come home with me either.
At the end of a rough school year, I moved back to the US. I’d be in Missoula, Montana, for the summer, performing my required MPub internship at Adventure Cycling Association. When my supervisor was taking me on a tour of the building the first day, I saw it. I saw them: two different employees had an Oxalis triangularis on their desk! I made note to ask them about taking a rhizome or two.
Some weeks later one of the coworkers gave me a few rhizomes, which I soon grew into a new plant (above). Near the end of my internship, the other coworker gave me her entire plant, pot and all!
Here I am, having gone from no Oxalis to two, thanks to the incredible kindness of my awesome Missoulian coworkers. I didn’t think the Oxalis could be any more special to me, and now I’ve got a great story that starts with tragedy and ends with generosity and kindness.
After a year away from my lifelong home of Portland, Oregon, I am preparing to go back. Things have certainly changed during this period, and I’ve spent a lot of the summer thinking about what I’d like to see in the next chapter—and more important, how I am going to write it.
As with the Oxalis plant, I hope for a delightful conclusion to the story.
Reading a book for one of my classes—a book about the Canadian publishing industry, incidentally—I came across this gem:
“The impact of the United States’ imperial bullying in its war in Vietnam must also be taken into account. For a country that claimed the moral upper hand, not only was the claim of protecting the free world from Communism in Vietnam highly tenuous, but the televised carnage and clearly desperate and vicious actions of the US Army also led many Canadians to thank fate or their preferred deity that they were born in or had immigrated to Canada. The determination throughout Canada to carve out a separate national identity was palpable.” (Source intentionally not named!)
These are probably the most scathing words I’ve heard about the US since I’ve been here. Except perhaps when the writer was discussing the US in class…and as the only US citizen in the room, I was a little uncomfortable in my seat.
It has been just over a month since I moved to Vancouver BC, and culture shock has been a constant companion.
Experts say that the first stage of culture shock is a honeymoon period, filled with joy and wonder as you explore your new country. Unfortunately I was abruptly catapulted past that stage when my rented UHaul mysteriously disappeared less than 12 hours after I arrived in Vancouver. (It had been towed: it was too close to a fire hydrant which was set back from the curb on an unlit corner, impossible to have seen in the dark when we parked it.)
Combined with the frenetic pace of the program I entered and leftover stuff from home, it has been a rough month. Desperate cries for help on Facebook have resulted in people coming out of the woodwork with supportive messages and open ears, which have all been very helpful. My mom even sent me a T-shirt that is everywhere in Portland, but never meant much to me until I got to BC (left).
A few weeks ago while chatting with my travel-savvy friend Debbie on Skype, I started mentioning some of the strange random cultural issues that had been popping up. Amused, she suggested I keep a list and then write a zine about it.
Turning negatives into a positive seemed like a great idea, so I’m excited to announce my next zine project will be just that! The tentative title is: “I’m a Stupid American: My Adventures in Canada and the Backwardness I Found I Had There.” Right now I’ve got a running list of about 26 items ranging from small differences to humorous anecdotes, but I imagine at some point I’ll want to write a narrative to encapsulate the larger experience. Perhaps I’ll also produce a companion piece about the “reverse culture shock” the experts say I’ll get upon returning home.
Don’t expect to see this project being pulled together until December at the earliest, and possibly not until Summer 2011 or later. The program I’m in is already kicking my butt, and I’m only four weeks in!
Bookish has been rather quiet the last couple of months, and might continue to be quiet moving forward. That’s because I’m preparing for some pretty big changes in my personal life, including moving to a different country(!) and starting a master’s program.
This has been a long time in the making–I was originally going to apply to the program at the end of 2007. It was at this time total lunacy started breaking out at my former employer, and if it wasn’t directly related to my job it pretty much didn’t happen–and even if it was related to my job (like keeping mentally healthy or getting enough sleep) often it still didn’t happen. Good times.
Anyway. Between the prerequisite books I’m to read before stepping foot inside the classroom in September, boning up my Adobe skillz as required, and trying to prepare for life in a new land, it is time for Summer School at Bookish HQ. (Sadly, not the kind that includes trips to Venice Beach and a German shepherd wearing sunglasses.)
Here are the books I am currently reading, or will be reading in the next two months:
• Adobe InDesign CS4: REVEALED (It’s maaaagic!) Last week I started an InDesign course at PCC, and we’re using this as a textbook. Interesting class. My mom and I thought we were choosing a traditional class over an online course, but our class is very non-traditional. Three classes–Intro to Word, Intro to Excel, and InDesign, are all being taught simultaneously. The textbook, in tandem with a PCC course packet, guide you through the work, and the instructor is there for support and grading. Our class time–three hours on Wednesday night and six excruciating hours on Saturday–is mostly just computer lab time. Attendance is not necessary as long as you’re getting your work done and are keeping in touch with the instructor so he knows you haven’t died. As my mom and I are sharing class materials and I was very sleep-deprived last Saturday, I spent a good portion of our class time napping on the bench outside our classroom.
• Help For Your Shy Dog Author Deborah Wood used to write the weekly pets column for The Oregonian. Her book seems to feature mostly moral support, rather than specific practical tips, for owners of fearful dogs. While I have not yet finished the book, my faith in working with Atticus on his fear has been renewed. I also recently discovered that Rescue Remedy is actually noticeably effective, which has definitely helped Atticus during fireworks season.
Unfortunately, Wood does not cover fear aggression very much, which is Atticus’ issue when he’s around other dogs. We still even have to keep him separated from Rain, the new puppy. He’s very slowly getting over his fear of her, but he will still growl if she gets too close to him. And because she’s a rambunctious 11 9 week old puppy who doesn’t understand warning growls, she will always get too close. They remain separated for now.
• Lonely Planet Canada About two months ago I got an email that began, “Dear International Student.” I chuckled. Yes, technically I am an international student, but not really, right?
Then a few weeks ago I was trying to wade through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website to determine whether or not I needed to apply for a visa as a US citizen. The language was different than the legalese I was used to, and their 1-800 hotline didn’t work outside of Canada. It started hitting me: while I could be standing in the middle of Canada and not feel terribly out of my element, it turns out that yes, Canada is a different country with different laws and more confusing legalese that I don’t have a year to figure out all by myself. Now I assume that the International Student Office is going to be one of my best allies during the next two years.
Now that I have a new perspective, I need to study up. Lonely Planet guides have a great reputation for travelers trying to immerse themselves someplace else. The edition I have is not the latest, but I’ve had it for five years and it’s a good start that I don’t have to pay $26.99 to read. At some point I may also get Lonely Planet Vancouver and use them both for reference.
• Editing Canadian English Humble Canadians to the core, the authors have chosen to write a book of suggestions rather than edicts. As Canadian English is usually a mid-point between British and American English, there is a lot of disagreement even between Canadian dictionaries on spellings, uses of hyphens on compounded words, etc. Although I love style guides and this is a prerequisite book, it stirs up my fears about looking stupid by unknowingly messing up some Canadian English. Fortunately, I can switch my Mac’s default dictionary to the Canadian one–I hope this will help avoid embarrassing situations.
A favorite quote so far: “Henry Fowler declared that American and British English should not be mixed, an injunction that must leave Canadians speechless.” –Peter Sypnowich
• A Confederacy of Dunces “Like a bitch in heat, I seem to attract a coterie of policemen and sanitation officials. “
Right now I have six boxes of books behind me, waiting to be sold back to Powell’s. The more books I get rid of, the harder it is to weed more out. My beloved set of David Sedaris books is going–serious sacrifices are now being made in my earnest effort to lighten the load.
A Confederacy of Dunces is only the second book to be fished out of the box. While I can easily get it from one of the great libraries I’ll have access to, there’s something to be said for being able to pull it out at any time for a comedy break.
• Publishing for Profit If I’m to become a media magnate in just two short years (please note: this is not my goal), I need to know big business. What would Rupert Murdoch do? Already I’ve observed how PCC, with my InDesign class, is adopting a corporate model by minimizing expenditures and maximizing profit. But how can I be the front-runner in all things profitable when I believe that minimizing expenditures also leads to poor work quality–something I abhor?
While I do not wish to become more evil, I do hope to learn some successful business tactics reading this book. As a non-profit veteran, I definitely need to be schooled on capitalism. Right now, I’m not buying it. (Literally–ha!)
• Book Publishing I Published by the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University. A book of articles by students of the MPub program about various aspects of publishing.
•Basic Marketing: A Global Managerial Approach A textbook about marketing. While I am excited to learn more about marketing, the 900 pages are putting me off a bit. While this is an older edition, I also suspect some new topics, such as marketing via social networking sites, will not be covered. Bummer.
• Essentials of Accounting (Workbook) If you know me well, you know that math-like subjects are not my forte. You may also know that when I am dreading something, I tend to put it off as long as possible. (Infer your own conclusions from the placement of this title.)
That’s the list. I’ve got two months to read five textbooks, get through my InDesign class, secure my student loans, find a place for Atticus and I to live in another country that doesn’t seem to have a lot of dog-friendly housing, and then pack up all my stuff and move there.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go take some valium…
It wasn’t apparent I was having culture shock in Canada until after I returned.
Looking back though, the signs were there. Being the only person who didn’t laugh at something a child said, because I was the only person in the house that didn’t speak French. Not having eaten a tajine before. Desperately looking for a vendor at Granville Island who looked like a native English speaker so I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to understand their accent, or wonder if they were fully understanding what I was trying to tell them. Having an uncomfortable time talking with a friendly Spanish traveler also because of his heavily-accented English. Just being awfully quiet in general, for fear of looking like the stupid American.
Since my return home, I have noticed the following:
Canadian drivers are much more polite than even Portland drivers.
I could ride my bike on Commercial Drive, which is a lot like Hawthorne, and not only were there no aggros, but plenty of car drivers were looking out for my safety! Whoa! I did get honked at once though, on Victoria Drive…by what else? A guy in a ca. 1975 Chevy pickup! The honk was a lot shorter and more polite than when I’ve been honked at in Gresham, for sure.
There are way more old trees in Portland than in Vancouver.
On Wednesday I was sitting in the waiting room of my chiropractor’s office watching the falling rain when I realized that from my limited sightline, I could see at least three trees that were clearly over 50 years old. Vancouver has a lot less of this because the city is so much more dense. The trees they do have are deciduous and not conifer, which is more native to the Pacific Northwest. This is a drawback, as the safety is palpable when you are ensconced in the northwest’s mighty firs.
Dang, I eat a lot of processed food.
Perhaps it’s because I was staying with people who were clearly slow foodists, but I expected to have stomach issues that never happened…until about a day after I got back. The meals I had in Vancouver included homemade awesomeness by my host’s husband, who made things I had never even heard of before, using whatever happened to be lying around the house. Since my return, I’ve noticed just how much of what I put in my mouth comes from a box or a bag. Yeesh!
As soon as I crossed the border back into Washington, the weight was lifted. I knew that although the highway sign said 70, it was okay and even expected to go 75. I could pay attention to the big numbers (miles) instead of squinting to see the little numbers (kilometers). At the border, I had a conversation with the US guard about Voodoo Doughnuts. Like taking a few days to break in a new pair of boots and then putting the old ones back on, I was relieved, and totally comfortable again.
Less than 24 hours after my bike fall at Granville Island (my neck still hurts, incidentally), I had another ill-fated encounter that has led me to the conclusion that Granville Island hates me.
Last night I decided to visit the Granville Island Public Market for breakfast on the way out of town. After bading goodbye to my hosts, I got in my car and made my way down to the waterfront for what should have been about a five minute stop. I even parked in a one hour zone on the pier.
After grabbing a egg and cheese bagel from one vendor and a chocolate glazed doughnut from another, I started patting my pockets while walking toward my car. Something was missing.
Where were my keys?
Oh crap. Of course something like this would happen in a foreign country! And with my darling iPhone inside too, rendering me nearly disabled in the situation!
Now, if you know me well at all, you probably know how common it is for me to lock myself out of my car. That’s why I have a hidden spare! Except I was skeptical about the safety of the neighborhood I was staying in, and thus put my hidden spare inside the car, so it wouldn’t get stolen during my stay. D’oh.
I tried to find either a pay phone or an English speaker that I could understand. When I thought I finally had the latter, turns out I was dead wrong, but at least the Frenchman selling cheese was big-hearted, and helped me find a member of the Granville Island security team.
The Granville Island security guys called a towing company for me, and one particularly nice fellow even stayed outside with me and kept me company while I waited.
We talked about the similarities between Vancouver and Portland. The 2010 Olympics. The self-involved nature of Americans versus the more global awareness of Canadians. The weather. I told him how embarrassed I was about this happening, particularly during what was supposed to be a very short stop before heading back home for the day. My security guard friend even used the word “d’oh!,” despite Canadians being more formal in their speech.
During the long wait, I mentioned how fortunate we were that the weather was once again clear and sunny after some serious early morning showers. Fierce winds were forecasted for the afternoon though, and as we stood talking the winds were already picking up. And imagine, me without my jacket!
When the tow truck guy finally found us on the island, it only took him about five minutes before my door was unlocked and only a few more before I was on my way. The security guard and I wished each other well, and I started the long journey home, over an hour late, with a neck so stiff I could barely look behind me to change lanes on the freeway.
What conclusion would you draw from these two negative incidents happening at the same place, so close together? It seems Granville Island has an evil curse or something. Or, the lesson to be learned once again, is that it is completely wrong to have a car in Vancouver.
Today was another cold, wet day here in Vancouver. After a couple of great meetings downtown in the morning, including having lunch with the crew of Momentum Magazine, I decided to use the rest of my last day to check out the famous public market at Granville Island.
Even before I got there, the nice pants I was wearing were getting pretty wet. There wasn’t any covered bike parking next to the market, so I settled for putting my homemade waterproof seat cover over my beautiful Brooks saddle before heading inside.
Oh boy, was it an awesome market. It’s too bad I had just eaten lunch, because I’m pretty sure I could eat a hole through the place under the right circumstances, much like Wakko Warner. Miniature cakes. Gelato. Fresh produce. Handmade bamboo baby hats. Like Portland’s Farmers Market, except every day of the week, and inside a building!
After enjoying a cup of jasmine tea, a dry peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie and drying off a bit, I decided to head back to my hosts’ house. I discovered my waterproof seat cover was leaking, threatening to endanger my beloved Brooks saddle, but wiped most of the wet and started riding off into the rainset.
As I navigated the island to find my way back to the seawall in the cold rain, heavier now than ever, I moved over on one of the narrow streets to let a car pass me. Looking down, I saw another set of rail tracks that had been mostly covered by asphalt–the few roads on the island seemed to be full of them.
Of course, rail tracks are a prime danger zone for cyclists. And wet metal is really slippery. And, my friend, I think you know what’s coming next–and not just because you read the title of this blog post. : )
I took a spill. My head hit the pavement but most of the hurt was in my neck. My knee got a little scraped, but I didn’t ruin the nice pants I was wearing, unlike the last time tracks swallowed my wheel and I tore through two decent layers of clothing (ask me to show you the scars!). I immediately got back up on my bike, with that weird post-fall bitter taste in my mouth.
Once on the seawall again, I discovered that my shifters had been knocked a little out of place, but I later adjusted them back to their rightful place. I used most of the rest of the ride home to grumble under my breath (tongue only partially in cheek) about the rain, and rail tracks. And the steep hill I had to climb to get home. And the weight of the extra stuff I took today in my bag.
And just about everything else. But mostly my fall and the rain. Once home and into a dry pair of pants, sipping a cup of warm tea, and checking in with the intertubes, things were right as rain again in Heatherland, despite having pain in other places in my back since that time.
Looking back, this is the third bike crash I’ve had, and the third that has only involved me–no cars. Two of the three have involved rail tracks, and to be fair, I had a near-crash in December involving the tracks in front of my office. If I was Stephen Colbert, rail tracks would definitely be going on the Threatdown.