Friday, September 30, 2011

In Vancouver

It's now been three weeks almost to the day since I arrived in Vancouver.

For those that don't know, I am here because I was accepted into the Faculty of Education's Professional Development Program at Simon Fraser University. There were other programs I was interested in, and even others that I maneuvered myself toward applying to in years past, but Simon Fraser seemed like the place for me for two main reasons:

1) It's a condensed one year program which allows me to return to Seoul in the late summer of 2012.

2) It's a program with a great reputation and one that a dear friend went through only a few years back with wonderful things to report.

I have to say that I consider myself very fortunate to be in the program. I'm humbled by it and by the people enrolled in it with me. I say this from the experience of having applied to 2 rather exclusive grad school programs (one in B.C. and one in New Brunswick) a few years ago and getting denied by both. I guess life takes you to a point where such things are finally possible.

I don't know how much I'll be saying in detail about the program, though I feel each day that I want to say a lot. It's only been three weeks on campus, but in that time, I can honestly say that I feel as though I know most of the 31 students and 2 professors much better than most friends, colleagues and teachers that I've known for years.

We've already become a tight-knit group, and dang - there be some very interesting people. There are 2 Natalies, 2 Stephanies, and 3 of us Daves. I am okay with being "Calgary Dave", there is also a "Vancouver Dave", and we are rounded-off by "Astro-Dave" who is significantly younger than I, yet only 2 years from obtaining his PhD in Astro Physics. Like I said, I'm humbled to be included in this program.

I don't want to say too much, also partly because I'm going to be journaling about program specifics in another format, but I will say that this is the most introspective group I remember being a part of. SFU really wants us to bring ourselves to our teaching. I think this is good. Each day feels like a gift to be able to head into school and engage with like-minded folk who just want to make education better, should we be so bold to aim for such lofty things.

The Simon Fraser Burnaby campus is located at the top of Burnaby Mountain, and on a clear day, one can see all the way back West toward Grouse Mountain and down into the Eastern part of Burrard Inlet. There was a notification on the university homepage the other day of a bear sighting on campus. So far, I have seen the following animals on campus:

a) Two deer behind the education building
b) A coyote crossing the road in front of the morning bus near the football field
c) A barn owl five feet from the road stretching its wings to take-off into the brush
d) A harbour seal (not on campus, but hiding between boats at Granville Island)

In winter time, the mountain top is nearly always shrouded in clouds, but I'll take the views while they're here. I've rocketed down the mountain hill at over 60km/hour on my Brompton a few times, but haven't yet garnered the energy to make it up the hill in the mornings. I might try it once on a non-school day just for poops and ha-has, but I think it might be best to leave the extreme mountain climbing on bikes to those with mountain bikes. Every day I watch guys on professional 28-speed road bikes climb the hill while standing in their lowest gear. I wonder if it would even be possible on my wee folder. A friend of mine has broken two chains already on his hybrid, so possibilities look grim.

I did manage though to take the bike out a couple of nights ago on a quick jaunt down to Stanley Park and the sea wall. I'm pleased to announce that from my house to Science World at the East end of False Creek is only 20 minutes by casual bike, and it's only 45 to English Bay via Burrard Street Bridge. I rode by the Lost Lagoon with a big fat grin on my face. I really want to make sure that I take advantage of my time in this city. I need to do my best to be by the ocean, to get in a kayak, and to climb some mountains.

Lots more to say, but for now it should suffice to report that I'm feeling lucky to live here, to attend this program, and to be taking the time needed to make this career a reality.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back in Calgary

I'm actually in Vancouver, but before I write about good stuff like loving my university program, discovering that there are many rabid Catan fans in my class, and being able to ride from my house to the Stanley Park sea wall in about 40 minutes, I would like to first comment about my time in Calgary.

I won't spend too much time on this as this blog is mostly for family, and they don't need to read about themselves, but there are a few things I would like to mention...

1) My family is grand - I have to say it. I did get to see friends and I had some quality time with my sister and Jay - most notably on a killer camping trip to Montana - but I spent most of my time with mom, dad, and my nephews as my sister was often at work and that left the little people free to be dropped-off at mom and dad's place. I got to spend a lot of quality time as uncle Dave, and it really only took about 10 minutes of weird time with the boy's being shy at the airport for me to once again work my way into their hearts. I got to swim with the lads at Lake Bonavista and attend Christian's first day of grade 1. Milestones - I miss most, but make it there for some. I hear rumour that my sister might make it out to Vancouver for a visit at the end of October, and I'll be back in my hometown for Christmas and New Year's. It was a whirlwind visit, but not as crazy as others have been. Calgary felt like transition time for me this visit - not rushing to head back to Korea, and knowing that it'll only be a matter of months before I see family again. It's a good feeling. Vancouver is not so far, but it was far enough for my parents to do a road-trip with me with a one-night stop-over on the way out to the coast. Look at me - I'm a 35 year-old college kid. How about that?

2) I feel like I've truly left my old life. I hate the term "growing out of...", and that's actually not how I feel, so conveniently, I don't need to use it. That being said, I have grown-away from some things that had previously been a huge part of my life, and I'm happy to report that it feels okay. The big sign for this was attending the CAT-Awards as emcee. The CAT Awards recognize excellence in non-equity theatre in Calgary. I had been a big part of that community for years leading up to my departure, and my (largely involuntary) involvement in the awards before 2008 had led to me being a bit of a punchline in years when I was absent. It was with honour and humility that I agreed to emcee the awards at the request of the board. I had a great night, I think most of my material went over well, and I was very happy to see some dear friends and other deserving colleagues recognized through the awards process. It was a very special evening in that regard. Sadly, I also witnessed the disappointment of watching some of the community members turn on each other. I didn't know that awards shows could draw such ire from those who aren't recognized as much as they think they should be through the process, but the next morning, there were a lot of bitter folk in full-on rant mode. By this logic, Martin Scorcese might have also been one pissed-off Italian from approximately 1981 until 2007. What the hell, man? Get over yourself, be happy for others, recognize the celebratory purpose of such events. It really is that simple. But as it is, such displays left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, and ironically lead me to close-off memories and feelings toward my time in theatre to the point that I really only hold onto the very best of the good. That's the way it should be, I suppose - and there is lots of good. I am grateful for my time, but I don't miss it. I've packed-up my tent. The arts invites interesting egos. In this case, "interesting" is a euphemism.

And that was Calgary this time. There was mostly good and significant amounts of great. It still feels like my home, but in that I'm defining the contents of home in much more selective terms. That feels nice, too.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Air Canada

I'm thinking that before I begin blogging about my Vancouver life so far, it would make a lot more sense to first make mention of my time in Calgary - my hometown, the place where I was born, and all that jazz.

I'll start by saying that I was really only there for under two weeks. I arrived on a Thursday, and by Saturday... wait, first, let me tell you about Air Canada...

What can I tell you about Air Canada? Air Canada is cheaper than most other reasonable airlines that make the flight from Seoul to Vancouver to Calgary. There are cheaper ways, but they usually involve flying on some airline that employs out-of-date craft and requires travelers to change planes in five locales with a collective stop-over time of nearly 36 hours. Being that I wanted to get to Canada in reasonable time, and being that I wanted to bring my folding bike with me for the year and didn't want to have it thrown-about among various airlines, I went with Air Canada.

Air Canada, once one has traveled on just about any other airline, in comparison kind of sucks. I know it makes me sound like an ass to complain about being able to fly as far as I recently did in such a short amount of time, but man, as left as I might lean, the affect that airline unions have had on that airline is noticeable and regrettable to put it kindly. I actually admire and commend Air Canada for allowing less-than-runway-quality physical specimens to put on the attendant uniforms for many decades, but I don't like how it seems permissible for attendants to A) treat ESL speakers as less than human, or B) react to the following situation in the following way: when I was offered a choice of roast beef (only one choice) and I inquired if it might be possible to have some sort of vegetarian dish - even simply more salad - because when my girlfriend booked the tickets, she forgot to mention the special meal request, I was told that I should "train" my girlfriend better next time.

It's not those collective experiences among others though that make me want to write complaint letters, but rather the treatment I received regarding the transportation of my bike. Let me do this in point form...

- My Bromptom folds-up to a suitable size for regular checked baggage. I purchased a soft-sided transport bag from Velofix, a bag recommended to me by the boys at Biclo bike shop in Seoul. By all accounts, this is the best way to transport the Brompton as it's light, and you can transport clothes along with the bike by folding the clothes into sturdy plastic bags to act as padding. My bike was padded to the extreme by the time the zipper was done-up.

- Air Canada charges an additional $100 for an over-sized or overweight check-in bag. They charge $225 for an additional piece of luggage. This was not communicated to me clearly when I spoke with the representative for Air Canada at the Incheon Airport from Seoul. When I arrived, I paid $225 when I had expected to be paying $100.

- In addition to the $225, I was told that I needed to pay an additional $55 to mark it as "fragile" and to have it be treated as a bike - handled with more care and placed into the special baggage area with skis, guitars, and the like. Before I even got on the plane, I was paying an extra $280 to transport my bike.

- To my surprise, upon arriving in Vancouver, after waiting by the special baggage claim area for over 30 minutes after making my way through customs, my bike never turned up. I made my way over to the regular baggage carousel and there it was - my bike rotating around with the rest of the suitcases - the "fragile" stickers partially ripped but still on the bag.

- I then took the bike through the Canada transfer hallway where I spoke with an Air Canada employee about what had happened. He apologized profusely, threw another 3 "fragile" stickers on the bag, and assured me that the bag would be handled properly on its way to Calgary.

- As I was sitting in my window seat in Vancouver waiting for the plain to load, the luggage truck came careening toward the plain and made a hasty hair-pin turn by the conveyor belt. Guess what went flying off of the truck. The luggage clowns grabbed my bike from the tarmac and threw it ("fragile" stickers efficiently visible) onto the conveyor belt.

- Imagine how pissed off I was on the flight home.

- When I arrived in Calgary, my bike had once again been placed in regular baggage. I immediately went to the Air Canada's baggage area at Calgary International and told them my tales of woe. They wanted me to open the bike in front of them, which I did to reveal that a closing clasp had snapped in half, and the rear wheel when folded out had been whacked out of line. I'm pretty sure that there had to have also been some unnecessary stresses put on the joints.

- The bike has been fixed (thanks to Bike Bike) in Calgary and at minimal cost, but a cost nevertheless.

- I am in the process of requesting a refund from Air Canada. Specifically, I want to ask that I get my $55 "special treatment" fee back from the airline because, man - if that's special, I would hate to think what would have happened had it not been marked with bright red "fragile" stickers. I think we all know the answer - "fragile" stickers read as "throw" to the people who are most responsible for reading them.

- I'll keep you posted on what happens, but I'm not hopeful. When this airline strikes, I'm going to have a hard time being on the side of the employees. Just sayin'.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Leaving Seoul

Again - it's been a while. But let me begin this update with an admission that I'm not entirely confident that I'll be able to have as many entries here as I did while living in Seoul - especially over the last year when I averaged more than once every two days or so.

Part of the reason for this is that fact that through my program, students are asked to journal about the day's events and to show evidence of self-critical and reflective thought about their learning and teaching. While some are handling this through electronic format, I've decided to keep my electronic journaling to this blog and will be writing in one of them nice moleskin journals for my university needs. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) I want to keep my blog separate and apart from most of the nitty-gritty of what goes on at school. It's good practice for when I get into my teaching practicum and actually need to adhere to the privacy acts that exist in schools in Canada. 2) I'm thinking it would be a good idea to once again get into the practice of writing in a hand-written journal - something I haven't done for probably about 15 years. The journal for school will go with me everywhere, and I'm going to need to make specific time for writing in it on a regular basis. I'm interested to see where this process goes, and how it's worked into the curriculum for my program.

So, that's that. Yet, despite the fact that I'm simply not going to have as much time to give to entries here, I still want to. Truly, I'm not sure who reads this anymore, but I had gotten to a place where the only specific audience in mind was my family who were further away than they are now, and some friends who had moved about the world to end-up also far away. So, I suppose I will still be writing with y'all in mind.

And, I suppose if I'm going to get into anything approaching a regular rhythm with my entries, I should begin with what it was like to leave Seoul this time. It was different.

I was going to write that I have now officially been away from Seoul for the longest amount of time since I started living there. Suwon was a different animal, and it's hard to look at the time I spend in Canada immediately after Suwon as even being in the same ballpark as what I'm experiencing now.

This past August 25th, I left a job I've held for the last 2 and a half years. The job was mostly unsatisfying for a great many reasons which I don't really need to get into anymore... so that's nice. But it also provided me with the opportunity to meet some really good people, to live in a comfortable apartment that I made my own, and to investigate my own teaching methodology that, struggle with it as I did in that arena, became stronger I think through the adversity that I faced with it.

I also left a city I have grown to love - not without its blemishes - and one that I plan to return to before this time next year. I love living in Seoul, and I aim to find an even better situation for myself, work-wise, when I return, though I know that the friendship landscape will look a lot different than it did when I left there - it always does in Seoul.

And of course, I had to walk away from the woman I love as I went through customs at an airport. Not to belabour the point, but when you feel that much sadness in parting, you know that the strength of what you have will bring you back together. The rabbit has plans to visit Canada this Christmas, which pretty much guarantees that this will be the best holiday in the lengthening chronology that is my life. If this is the last Santa Claus year for my nephews, then I'm overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be there with my fiance to share it with them.

So, Seoul waits over there, for me, for now, and that's okay. I will be a busy man over the next year. Canada time - a year of it - might be just what's required for me to re-approach Seoul with the right directed energy when it's time again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Still here... but...

It's been nearly two weeks I think since I last blogged. This is because:

1) I left Seoul on August 25th.
2) I had to keep it a secret as I was asked to host a theatre awards event in my hometown two days after I got back to Calgary.
3) I have been busy with friends, but mostly with family, since being back in Calgary.
4) Tomorrow morning, I will leave for Vancouver where I will be enrolled in the Professional development Program at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby for one year.


I will write about these and other things as soon as I get a chance.