Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 2 (Cast List)

bus headerThis is Part 2 of a continuing series.  If you’d like, you can catch up and read Part 1.

During the course of the tour, I only actually got to know 3 other people’s names: Thomas, our tour guide; and Sherman and Yale (more about them later).  Most other people spoke very limited English, and I had to give them nicknames to identify them.  I didn’t do this to be mean, but mainly to keep them straight in my head.

Sitting across the aisle from me was Golf Shoes.  Knowing that she would be doing some hiking in the Rockies, she must have decided that wearing golf shoes the entire time would provide her the best traction for mountain climbing adventures.  This meant that almost everywhere she went her shoes made a click-clack noise on the sidewalk.  I never did see her walking through any open fields.

Further up the aisle were Fred and Ethel.  They were both well advanced in years, but quite peppy and adventurous.  Ethel never talked much or even acknowledged me, but was a constant source of conversation as we tried to figure out whether her jet-black hair was a wig.  It turned out that it was, although I’m not going to tell how we found that out.

Fred found me to be far more interesting than the scenery.  Almost any time I looked his direction, he was looking at me.  This didn’t bother me, actually.  I was often observing him.  He was a very cute old man and a smile was permanently etched on his face.  Every day, he looked ready to wade into the river for some fly-fishing, with his khaki fisherman’s vest and Gilligan hat.  I tried to ask him once if he wanted to fish, but he thought I was asking if he liked sushi or something.

Finally, there was Angry Asian Guy.  We didn’t interact much, except for the times when he’d throw a disapproving look in my direction.  I wasn’t quite sure what I had done to upset him.  It could have been for being the only white guy on the tour, or maybe he wasn’t getting enough dietary fiber, but I can’t really speculate.

There was one time that AAG did talk to me.  I had a camera sling bag with a small collapsible tripod lashed to the side.  It wasn’t very bulky or cumbersome, but I did have to be careful when moving through the aisle.  On the second day, as I entered the bus he loudly said “Be careful, your weapon!” as I passed.  I hadn’t come even close to hitting him with it, but my fleshly side thought about being less careful in the future.

There were others on the bus, but they took more minor roles in the events of the week.

Vancouver: Chinese Tour -Part 1

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As I write this, I’m in Vancouver, Canada on a much needed 12 day vacation.  We just ended a Chinese group tour of some of the national parks.  It was incredibly beautiful, with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains, culturally interesting, and stuffed full of amusing experiences with Chinese people.  If you have never experienced something like this, these are some of my experiences and what you might expect.

But before I get deep into my account, let me be clear about a couple of things.  Although my naturally sarcastic brain found many things to keep myself amused (some outright ridiculous, some simply culturally funny), that does not mean that I didn’t have anything less than a wonderful time.

The tour guide was an amazing man who did a great job, and said everything in both Chinese and English only for my benefit, since I was the only non-Chinese speaker there.  The people were mostly very friendly and respectful, and this type of group is a hidden travel secret to visit many places without having to drive yourself, and paying less money than you would almost any other way.

Having said that disclaimer, here’s what happened:

We met at the bus at 8 AM.  On vacation, one would expect to get to sleep in a little bit, but the 8 o’clock time was actually our latest of the whole trip.  We got on board a standard tour bus, the kind with areas to stow your carry-ons above your seat and the little fold down foot rest.  There were two more stops for others to be picked up as well.

By the time we were ready to go, the bus was full of excited and chatty Chinese people…well, except for the seats directly around the two of us.  Those sat empty as a sort of buffer zone from the white guy, apparently.  I wasn’t really offended.  This meant more space for me.

Our collective DMZ was short lived though, because the tour guide quickly announced that we had been given assigned seats.  These would change each day according to who had made him the happiest the day before (or something like that), and we would need to move to those seats after the first rest stop.

Yes, on vacation…assigned seats.  I had returned to Mrs. Zimmerman’s second grade classroom.  I was sure there would be homework later, but I looked forward to some dodgeball during recess.

Actually, it is sort of like your first day of school, or summer camp.  You are anxious about how your teacher/tour guide will act, and you know there will be certain roles each person will play.  Some people you will like, some you won’t.  There will be the popular kids, the nerds, and a group of bohemian iconoclasts who do their own thing.  I was in that group, naturally.  I was after all, the only white guy.

To Be Continued…

Thoughts on Vancouver

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vancouverI’m sitting near Point Grey, outside a coffee shop in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Through my almost two weeks here, I have been taking in all that Vancouver has to offer, and have seen it as a city of contradictions.  Surrounded by both ocean and majestic mountains, beautiful parks and beaches are everywhere, and local produce markets dot the landscape.  It is here that people fuel their active and healthy lifestyles.  In the summer sun they are outside everywhere, walking, biking, and playing Frisbee.

Canadian people are ridiculously nice.  Almost anyone will stop to talk and answer questions*. Everyone thanks the bus driver when they get to the bus stop, and they say “I’m sorry” frequently.  People live a little bit slower than we do in the States, and it is refreshing.


Vancouver is also highly multicultural.  It isn’t a separated mix with everyone in their own areas like it is in the US.  On every block,you hear German and Korean, Slavic and Chinese, yet they still thank the bus driver and say “I’m sorry” in English.

But, as if to counter-balance all of this, there is much more to the picture.  Much of the downtown has an aroma of urine and marijuana smoke with a hint of BO and urban decay, similar to almost any huge city but more pervasive.  During my time here I have seen 1 dead body (a suicide), 2 people convulsing from overdoses (one with the needle still in his hand), and three people in handcuffs.

This is also one of the gayest cities (not intended as a dysphemism).  The rainbow flags everywhere preach acceptance, but the numerous erotic shops, flyers for transvestite shows and homo-erotic film festivals, shockingly-graphic billboards for gay matchmaking, and open displays of over-affection are nothing but perverse.  Stores in most of downtown all display rainbow stickers for support, but also to avoid retribution.


I can feel a spiritual darkness: a sense of being unmoored.  Parts of the city are more safe and calm, but the feeling is inescapable.  It is the kind of spiritual environment where someone jumps out of an 8th story window while a block away men drink and dance in an all-male club.

Two days ago in a drugstore, I passed by a Canadian magazine with a cover story about what is happening to Canadian youth.  The article mentioned that half of all teens report high levels of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.  There are many conflicting theories as to why.

boatsI’m looking at the bay, filled with sailboats following the wind and subject to the waves, as giant cargo ships in the distance thunder toward port.  It is an apt metaphor.  As I sit in the breeze, it seems that the biggest lesson Canada has taught me is that great beauty and serenity don’t satisfy the spirit when you are unable to chart a course and guide your life by anything other than a billowing purpose or the tide of popular opinion. A life will just crash against the waves as the soul becomes seasick.


Right after I wrote this sentence I had a 5 minute conversation with the people sitting around me concerning real estate prices.  Walking away one of the women just said, “Hey, any Canadian will be happy to answer any of your questions.  Just stop us and ask.”  It was as if they could read what I had just written.