Humphrey and The Trade

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When I was a kid I remember watching a short Disney cartoon that made an indelible impression on me. It showed a bear named Humphrey, who desperately wanted some fish. He swiped at the lake over and over, and all that he ended up with was a tiny minnow. As he held it above the water, sad that it was so tiny, a bigger fish jumped up and swallowed it whole.

At that point he had an epiphany.   He could hold the fish over the water and one by one collect the larger fish that jumped up to eat the minnow. Soon his arms were full of large fish. Just as he was about to walk away a fish bigger than all the others floated by. He dropped all of the other fish and pounced. Continue reading


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I worked in management for Sears throughout college.  It was a good job that treated me well and gave me a great opportunity to build a business management resume that has benefited me throughout my whole adult life.  But that was a very different Sears that I have seen over the last 10 years.

Last week, I was on lunch and decided to pull up a YouTube video of Chris Tomlin (a Christian worship music artist) singing a song I’d hurt at church the weekend prior.  As most of us know, YouTube regularly plays videos of sponsored content (a.k.a ads) before your chosen video.  It is part of the monetization that Google brings to all of its products.  When a company pays for an ad to run, they specify all of the criteria that will determine who sees the video.  This includes thing like the geographic location of the watcher, the viewer’s history, and the specific thing searched for, as well as everything in between.  I’m simplifying the process, but it is nearly infinitely customizable, ensuring that the only people who see your video are the exact people you want to see it.

So, I search for Chris Tomlin and the title of the worship song (I don’t remember right now exactly which song it was) and I click on the video.  Before my video starts to play, this is the ad I see (feel free not to watch the whole thing):

I skipped the ad when it gave me a chance and watched my worship video, but the more I thought about it the more upset I became.  I can’t think of a YouTube history on my account that would have been pertinent or anything else that makes sense…unless either they were putting that out to everyone, or they were specifically targeting people watching worship videos.

So, I took to Twitter, incredulous that Sears would be so insensitive.  The screenshot from my Tweet, and Sears’ response not long after, are below.

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It is 2014,  know.  I am not surprised by a company supporting homosexual marriage.  I don’t like it, but I know it happens.  I don’t support the homosexual mafia attacking companies like Chik-fil-a simply because their CEO said that he believes a marriage is between a man and a woman.  But most of all, I can’t support the incredible rudeness of a company deliberately attacking the morality of Christians in this way.  Whether their Tweet to me was an automatic response to mine or not, it doesn’t matter.

I’m not one to start a boycott and get worked up over anything secular.  I think that secular complies not guided by Christians will not act Christian.  However, companies that deliberately attack Christians is another story altogether.

You know why they do it?  They do it because they know that they will insult us and treat us disrespectfully in whatever ways they choose, and we will buy their products just the same.  We might post a Facebook complaint and feel like we accomplished something, but as soon as the next sale comes along, we will open up our wallets again.

For me, it stops here.  I have drawn a line in the sand.  I have a lot of Craftsman tools and a Sears credit card.  I’m canceling the card and have bought my last tool from them.


Incidentally, if you want the story behind the video (which I actually haven’t seen in its entirety), Sears sponsored a float in the recent Chicago homosexual parade.  On that float they had 4 homosexual couples getting “married” and this video was celebrating that.

Next time you buy a Sears product, know that is where some of your money is going.  If you support that, then great.  If you don’t, you are supporting it anyway with your money.




In a recent series of car commercials, a husband and wife enter a dealership and the sales person asks what kind of car they’re after.  “Exciting,” “Sensible,” the husband and wife respectively say at the same time, seeming to contradict one another.  The husband looks like a kid in a candy store, but the wife looks annoyed.  The saleswoman says that they can have both of these things if they buy the advertised model.

A subsequent commercial in the same line, shows the husband being asked a question by the saleswoman.  The husband’s eyes roll up and he sounds out a long, frozen “uhhhh…,” seeming to go into spinning pinwheel mode.  The wife says, “That’s ok.  I call this my me time!”

This type of characterization isn’t a rare phenomenon on Television.  In almost every ad you see, men fall into one of only a couple categories.  There is the eternal teenager you typically see in beer commercials, only interested in sex, cars, and alcohol.  You’ll see the idiot dad, totally incapable of making any intelligent choices for his family or his own wellbeing.  You’ll also meet the manly-man who basically just thinks about sports constantly.  There are countless other media versions of these characters, often referred to by the term “mook.”

If we were to be fair, not every male character on TV is like this.  Urban men are typically shown as more well-rounded, and there even are a few good dads mostly in car commercials, but the message when a female partner is present is very consistently clear: men are stupid, sex-obsessed, goofy creatures who are good for comedy relief, but need a woman around so they don’t accidentally kill themselves.

It has not always been this way.  Women used to be the target of the jokes, the weaker partner in need of guidance.  Certainly, no one would suggest that the Ward Cleaver version of reality is something that should be foisted on the public in this day and age.  Clearing the air of many years of sexism against women may seem to mean that men should now be the ones in the social doghouse.

But the question one might ask would be, “does this constant characterization of manhood affect society?” It does.  It affects the way men see themselves, the point and purpose of manhood, and the women and children in our society as a result.

When I was 4 years old, my mother and I went out to wash the car one Saturday afternoon, a small moppy-head child,  a woman in 70’s clothes, and a yellow ’76 Corolla with fake wood paneling on the sides.  I had just seen an episode of Sesame Street in which a fireman stood on ladder spraying water.  He had the walkie-talkie up to his mouth and was repeating “the fire’s out!  The fire’s Out!”  I can still hear it in my head.

Guess what I did from the back bumper of my mom’s car while holding the garden hose that day?  Yep, you guessed it.

When I was a little older, I tried to re-enact a scene from Superman, and broke a glass vase.

I once made a grappling hook, and tried to climb a tree after watching the A-team.  That one hurt, and I landed on dog poop.

A few months ago, I saw the latest James Bond and ran around my house shooting my Nerf gun.  I’m not ADHD, and I’m not a child-like goofball.  Although, I would never claim to be average, in this sense, I am pretty normal.

Knowing that guys are geared this way, who is surprised when adolescents want to buy Axe Body Spray after seeing a commercial with 4 attractive girls walking in on a guy showering after he uses their product?  I don’t wonder what those teenaged boys are thinking.

I hear women complain sometimes that the men in their life act more like teen boys.  They want to play video games instead of getting jobs, drink too much and don’t care about the problems they create when they are drunk, and don’t think through their actions.  Some of this is more than the complaints of women who are surprised that men aren’t acting like women.  Some of it is true.

This is also not something that is new in society (with the exception of the video game part).  It is a weakness of manhood to fall prey to these problems, but it is growing worse.

Everyone, men and women, need mentors, and heroes: people to model themselves after.  Humans often learn much more by watching people they admire than by simply reading how to books.  Youtube is a great example of this.  It is easier to watch someone do something while teaching you how to do it, than simply reading a tutorial.  Likewise, while Youtube is a great tool for teaching how to change the water pump on an ’08 Sentra, it is far less adequate at teaching a guy how to be an auto mechanic than actually hanging out with an a seasoned professional mechanic while they work together.

Men are particularly, naturally geared that way.  We learn better by kinesthetic practice even more significantly than women do.  Society has known this for thousands of years.  To make a boy into a blacksmith, he spent every day with a master blacksmith.  A young knight spent went about daily carrying the knight’s equipment.  This process was not by accident.

Now, we have decided to largely abandon that process at least until the young man has reached his 20’s.  But that doesn’t mean that the natural process has stopped.  The boys still learn by watching and copying the behavior of the men they admire.

I am convinced that this is one of the main reasons for the explosion in the numbers of young men getting tattoos, especially in urban settings.  Watch basketball or football for more than ten minutes, and you will see men inked from head to toe.  Young men who see sports stars as some of their greatest heroes, especially when fatherless homes have become normative, will copy what they see.  Most of them won’t become sports stars themselves, but unfortunately their tattoos will make them largely unemployable.  The cycle will continue.

If we are to fix our society, we must break this cycle.  Men who are available and successful must make time to mentor young boys who don’t have this at home.  Families, particularly urban and poorer one’s without fathers in the home, must highly manage the messages being seen by their boys.

The commercials and programs will change accordingly.  The consistent whining about the content of programming and music lyrics won’t help.  These things are pure capitalism.  I am not defending it, but it is a market, like it or not.  If you don’t like the shows on TV, stop watching them.  If you don’t like the characterization of a commercial, don’t buy the product.  No matter what we do, we can no longer afford to be media abusers, like crack addicts continually returning to the poison that is killing us.

The only reason they show that type of programming is because it works and makes the companies money.  When that changes, the media will adjust.  The remote control is in your hands.  The future of our society is not as easy as a channel to change, but they are undeniably linked.  We are not passive observers of media, it is affecting us.  The time has come to do something about it.

Election Blue – part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the seriesElection Blue

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I’ve been licking my wounds from Tuesday night’s election.  I worked professionally on two campaigns this season, and volunteered walking and working the polls on another.  All of these went the wrong way.  One was expected.  One was an incredibly close and shocking loss, and one was a surprise blowout.

The sense of loss I felt on election night I can’t describe.  The most painful for me was of course, the presidential election.  Like many others, I fasted and prayed leading up to Tuesday.  At the polls I prayed between approaching voters, as my Democrat rivals laughed and joked about how the Republicans were in their final days of idiocy.

As we refreshed web pages and watched the TV in the command center, our hearts sank.  I’ve talked to many who feel the same as I do.  Our country has been going in a direction that is an offense to God.  We have a lot to repent of.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, “I know God is always on the side of the right.  It is my constant prayer and anxiety that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”  That is the farthest place from where this nation has been, and this election was not a step in the right direction.

Further, it feels like quite a hopeless place.  First, this election (even more than the last) highlights a massive racial divide.  Only 39% of white people voted for Obama, yet over 95% of black people did.  The Red State/Blue State divide is bigger than ever.  Christians voted even more for Romney than they did for McCain.  The fact is that young and minority groups are voting in larger numbers than they ever have, and overwhelmingly for Democrats, and if something doesn’t change, Republicans will be the permanent underclass.

Like many I’ve talked to, I’ve felt like I am in a daze.  I’ve even thought about what country I could move to that wouldn’t murder as many babies and hold up choices that God says are sins to be virtuous.  But tonight during my bath, something in my brain clicked.  We are supposed to be “salt and light.”  Many…no most, of the people in the Bible were called to stand for God in places and cultures that were hostile to Him in ways that we can’t fathom.  Sure, being against homosexual marriage might get your business boycotted.  But when was the last time that I was thrown in a pit full of lions for praying to God?  When was the last time that people stoned us for talking about Jesus?   Were you chained to prison guards because you preached the name of Christ.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the word of God to his generation his entire ministry, and no one ever listened.  The people were just as hostile to the things of the Lord when he died, as they were when he started.  We aren’t called to change the world.  We are called to proclaim the truth of God in love.  Sometimes we will reap a harvest in revival, and sometimes the people will throw rocks.  Jesus even said that many will hate us for being His followers, and in John chapter 3, He said that people would reject Him because they love darkness more than light.

The second thing that my mind went to, as I sat in the tub pondering the election, is that Jesus took a group of about 120 followers that were dedicated to Him (with 12 main leaders) and changed the face of the world.  So on Friday, the leader of this strange heresy was put to death on a cross and his followers scattered in fear.  The plotters of the status quo were victorious.  But by Monday, these same scattered losers were rallying around their risen Christ, willing to give their lives to spread His good news throughout the entire world…and they did both.

I know that Republicanism doesn’t equal Christianity (or vice versa).  But no one who truly understands both politics and orthodox Christianity can believe that the Democratic Party is any friend to God.  Remember, they removed Him from their platform this year…although it was merely a formality after removing any reference to His teachings from the same.

So, it is time for our Resurrection Sunday type of moment (once again—not equating the two).  Yes, all that our country stands for may indeed be lost.  But it doesn’t matter.  We are called to stand for Christ and His principles regardless.  But it is time to rise from the ashes of defeat, and face this with the steely resolve of people who are not afraid, because they cannot lose. -Ryan

The Wall

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I decided to undertake a massive project this summer, which we now affectionately call the Great Wall of Ryan.  My house sits on the top of a little hill, which is a pretty novel thing in North Texas.  This means that in every direction, the ground slopes down and away from my house, like a little rollercoaster for any topsoil.  The only defense I have found for this problem in my front yard is to build a massive retaining wall near the street.

In preparation for this project, about two years ago I imported a large amount of dirt into the front of my yard.  Then about a year and a half ago, we were able to swing a deal for a whole lot more soil, which was also dumped on top of the existing pile.  And there it sat, for over a year.  It was embarrassing.  My neighbors would occasionally comment.  I was afraid I would get a brick thrown through my front window, but I was handicapped by work projects that I could not walk away from.

This summer I finally got the time, and I dedicated my life to making this wall.  And what a wall it is!  Nearly 120 feet long, in its two sections framing my yard, and just under 4 feet at the tallest, it is a giant monument to hard work and dedication.  And I built it all by myself…with lots and lots of help.

While to my neighbors, the most important thing is that the former Prairie Dog Farm in front of my house now actually adds to the aesthetic of my block, the biggest lesson to me was the kind help that my hard-working friends put into the project without asking for anything in return.   And the lessons I learned this summer, alongside teenagers and grown men while building this wall, are what is most worth mentioning here.

Much of the summer played out this way: I would start working relatively early in the morning, mostly to avoid the heat.  Then I would call to, or answer a call from one of the teenagers I know, who said he was “bored,” and “do you need some help today?”  I would pick the teen up and drive him to my house.  We would then work until lunch (which I’d provide), go back at it, and often bust our tails till evening.  Many times, we would also feed them dinner before taking them home.

Not a single teen sat in the yard and complained.  Not one 13 through 18 year old said, “It’s too hot!” as we worked in 105 degree sun.  None of them avoided me the rest of the summer.

What I did hear a lot of were things like, “Wow, this is so much fun.  I’ve never done anything like this before,” and “Hey, call me when you need more help.”  They always thanked me as I dropped them off back at home filthy from digging, looking like some Depression era dust farmer.

There was the 13 year old who begged me to let him come, after his brother had helped.  We spent the day driving stakes and putting up line-levels to set the height of the project.  I had to force him to wear sunscreen and drink water.  He laughed the whole time, and wondered why I only let him put in some of the stakes.  Mostly, he wanted to use my axe and a few other sharp tools to try and cut a log.  I let him.

I also spent many days with the 16 year old who practically lived at my house.  He stayed in our guest bedroom on the weekends, not because there was something horrible at home, but because he wanted to work.  This teen doesn’t even attend my church or youth group.  His family is from a different country, and they sent him here alone for High School.  He approached my front yard project like it was food, and he a starving man.

We were cutting some blocks for the curving corners of the wall, a task that takes forever and I really dislike, when he asked for a turn at the saw.  I showed him how to operate the angle grinder with its sharp diamond blade, and he went to cutting.  When he finished, I was astonished at the quality cut he made.  It wasn’t quite as good as what I could do, but it was an amazing first attempt.  I told him so.

From that moment, he wanted to cut every single block.  He spent hours making perfect cuts and angles, which were eventually far better than the work that I could do.  I told him that he was good at it, and he became a master at it.  He later told me that it was actually his least favorite thing to do, even though he was always the one who asked to do it.  He did it because he was proud and accomplished.

But this was far different from what parents and teachers have been telling me about teen guys.  Huge numbers of teenage boys are getting barely passing grades in Junior High and High school, and are deciding not to go to college at all.  They aren’t doing this to chase after wild dreams in art, music, sports, or to travel the world.  Instead they are staying home and sitting in front of the X-Box until their parents force them to get a job.  In fact, according to a government official in the State of Washington recently, “Teen males, 16- to 19-year-olds, have an unemployment rate of about 40 percent. That is certainly something unique to this recession.”[1]

So why did I experience such a difference in the guys I was working with?  Why were they sweating in 100+ degree temperatures and not complaining?  Why were they thanking me at the end of an 8-hour day instead of demanding payment?

I think it is because they were engaging in something that is hard-wired into guys, and part of what manhood is about.  They were out building something, working with their hands, and accomplishing a project.  They were doing something they were being told not only that they could do, but also that they were good at.  They were also seeing immediate results of their labor.  When you shovel a pile of rocks for an hour, after that hour the rocks are no longer there.

But the narrative for success that we are telling our young men does not involve those elements.  What we tell them is to be quiet and listen in school, which many of them are naturally not any good at.  They also need to invest in things that they won’t see any results of for many years.

This is told to teenagers in High School career programs, and as a threat to keep them studying hard.  “I mean, you don’t want to not get into college and have to be a construction worker for the rest of your life, do you?”  You can almost hear the sad trombone play in the background.  But that threat doesn’t appear to be working on many of these boys anymore.  Now more than ever, their response to this question is “I don’t care.”

That response says far more than most people realize.  “I don’t care” isn’t a complaint.  “I don’t care” isn’t a cry for help.  It isn’t something you can argue past or even fix through stern lecturing.  “I don’t care” really means, “I have lost hope, and I don’t think anything I do will actually matter.  So, I’ve given up.”  It is a crisis beyond education and employment.  Our men are in a crisis of hope, and a lack of hope makes a person’s heart sick.  Sick hearts don’t produce healthy lives.

They lose hope when they aren’t involved in things that they see as making any lasting difference in the world.  They lose hope when we hold up feminine qualities as good, while simultaneous saying both that any good male qualities are expressed equally through women, and that most male qualities are actually negative.  They lose hope when they have no true heroes that express virtuous male qualities.  Why should they have hope?

The message is, “Just be a like the good girls.  Sit down and be quiet.  Try not to be such a boy.”

In our church’s youth ministry, one of the things that we instill in our leadership team is that our job is not to fill buckets, but to light fires.  This means that we don’t want to just teach students not to “smoke, drink, or chew, or date people who do.” Instead we want them to know mostly that God built them to do great things, that He put destiny in their hearts, and has an awesome future planned for them.

The only way for them to really see this completely fulfilled in their lives is to be in close relationship with the God who created them and loves them dearly. When they fall in love with that God, they will want to know how He wants them to live their lives and will want to live according to that.  Expecting them to follow His rules for any other reason is like expecting people watching a soccer game on TV to also not use their hands during the match.  The spectators are not on the field and haven’t committed themselves to the game, so why would they commit to following its rules.

So we believe that when the teenagers fall in love with Jesus, and commit themselves to Him, then they will want to passionately follow what He tells them He cares about.  They will try to do less of the things that hurt that relationship, and more of the things that deepen it.  Their actions will be fueled by the passion inside, not just from some list of dos and don’ts.

Remember High School Algebra?  At some point in the semester a student raised his hand (it was almost always a boy) and asked the teacher, “When will I ever use this in real life?”  Our boys are asking that question of almost everything, and our response is to tell them to be quiet and let us put more in their buckets.  It is obvious that as a society, we aren’t lighting our boy’s fires.  We are just trying to fill their buckets, and they are responding accordingly.

So back to the wall…

What happened this summer is that a bunch of boys got to invest their time in activities that are inherently manly (yes, there are other manly qualities that don’t involve shoveling).  They built things that will hopefully last far into the future, and they saw immediate fruit from their labor.  They got to work with an adult man who not only cared about them, but also modeled certain qualities, and told them that what they were doing was good and important.  And they were also told that they were good at what they were doing, and were thanked for their help.

They left feeling accomplished and good about themselves. These were boys that for a while at least, didn’t say, “I don’t care,” at all.  They seemed to care about something a great deal.  They left fired-up.

[1] Arum Kone, a regional labor economist for the Washington state Department of Employment Security, as quoted in The Spokesman-Review. February 13, 2012.

Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 4 (Bee Factory)

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This is Part 4 in a series about my recent tour in Canada.  Click the links if you’d like to catch up on Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of the series.

Generally, all Chinese bus tours work the same way.  You meet each morning between 6:30 and 8, and the bus leaves for its journey.  Every 2 hours or so, the bus stops at one of those roadside restroom areas, or some sort of small sightseeing place.

Some of these small sightseeing tours were not much more than gift shops with overpriced trinkets, which the “tour guides” (not Thomas) would try to prod you into buying with grandiose explanations.  I never bought any of these.  Thomas told the Bohemians not to.  The rest of the people on the tour were spending money like rap stars makin’ it rain.

One of these “tours” that we went on was the “bee factory” as Thomas described it.  I was excited because I like bees and have always wanted to know where they were made, although I assumed Thomas actually meant it was a honey processing plant.  Either way, I have often thought about keeping bees myself, although I doubt my bedroom would be big enough for more than one or two hives.

At the Bee Factory, we were greeted by plywood cutouts that were painted like bees, the kind with little holes that you can put your face into and take a stupid tourist picture which makes you look like a bee with some genetically engineered human face.  My one regret of the whole trip was not getting a picture with me in one of those cutouts.

The Bee Factory turned out to be the best tourist trap of the entire trip.  Inside the Factory (read that, “gift shop”), the guide stood up to give us “the exciting bee experience…and afterward you can buy some bee pollen to take home to your honey.”  His talk was filled with puns, and not much else.  Basically, it was just like bee-ing (see what I did there?) in the audience of an infomercial.  I am not sure if there was anything made in this location at all, or if it was simply a gift shop.

It is easy to think of visiting these types of places as extreme rip-offs on the tour, and if you buy things there they are.  But they do serve a couple of purposes.  First, we would only actually spend about 30 minutes there, and we only visited a couple of these places.  They gave you an opportunity to stretch your legs and use the restroom.  It was better than just using public toilets on the side of the road.

Secondly, and far more valuably, they gave the Bohemians things to laugh about back on the bus.  Bee Factories turn out to be much better stories than anything else.

When I was a kid, my family took a road trip through Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.  Along the way, we stopped at The Amazing Dinosaur Experience. Billboards had warned us about the danger of missing this “once in a lifetime opportunity” for many miles, so we stopped.  It turned out to be cave that the portly owner had “covered with plaster and painted white” with a few half-fake dinosaur bones painted glow-in-the-dark and stuck under a blacklight.  We still laugh about it to this day.

The Bee Factory was that type of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. -Ryan

Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 3 (Thomas)

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This is Part 3 in a series about my recent tour in Canada.  Click the links if you’d like to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.

We got to know Thomas, our tour guide, quite well during the trip.  A slightly chubby 61 year old Chinese man with a warm and welcoming smile, he was really nice and well informed about almost any question you could ask him, including things that had absolutely nothing to do with the tour at all.  Any time there was anything of interest, he would use the bus PA to explain in detail, often in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English.

This was amazing to me, although he wasn’t completely perfect at it.  He once answered our bohemian group’s question (we were the only ones who would ask them) about rocks by telling us that we were looking at “sentimental rocks.”  We were pretty sure that was supposed to be sedimentary, but as he talked about this for 10 minutes, no one in our group had the heart to correct him.  Plus, the idea of rocks pining for the excitement of the last ice age was a thought that I enjoyed.

On occasion he would say things that didn’t quite make sense, or just couldn’t be true, but his information almost always proved to be spot on.  I suspect that he learned most of what he knew by reading the little placards they place throughout sightseeing areas.  I read a few of them and realized that he had told us all the same thing a few minutes before.

Occasionally, I would go to the front and talk with him for a few minutes.  When he wasn’t doing something else, he would often nap in the front row.  As he napped, he’d hold the little PA microphone just under his chin and against his chest.  He might have done that to keep people from trying to talk to him, as if he were just about to speak.  But I suspect that it was more likely that the mic was like holding a security blanket or teddy bear, and that gave him comfort.  At least that’s what his restful smile seemed to indicate.

He often talked about the Chinese people in Vancouver and their effects on the city and its real estate prices.  He actually didn’t seem to like Chinese people all that much.  He told me proudly early on that he was from Hong Kong.  When I asked him if people from Hong Kong didn’t like to say they were Chinese, he scrunched his nose, frowned, and said, “No, we are from Hong Kong.”

He would also tell the Bohemians little pieces of inside information, like what gift shops were a massive waste of money, from time to time.  And, he was less rigid about giving us mean looks if we were late to the bus.  We were usually late to the bus.  We were kind of the teacher’s pets.

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

Vancouver Header

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.