Tag Archives: Canada

No2010 and the Death of the Left

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan

-John Lennon

Last week the Olympic Flame was diverted from its intended path in front of the BC Legislature by protesters. The downtrodden and disenfranchised of this province rose together in glorious revolution to disrupt an integral cog in the all-consuming Olympic machine – the photo op.

Every time I see the No2010 protesters on the news, I am filled with armrest-ripping rage when I see their flakey, malnourished leaders make  a speech on the evils of capitalism. Is it because I’m just shy of my 30th birthday? Is it because my factory farm fed existence is being threatened? Have I sold out to the corporate machine, put on a blazer and started selling real estate?

Not exactly. Well, at least I’m not selling real estate. I’ve been following protests like these in the news since the so-called “Battle of Seattle” at the meeting of the G8 countries in 1999. In that time, wars have broken out, oil prices have skyrocketed, the cost of computer storage has plummeted, and every year these protests seem to be less about affecting actual  change and more about making noise and ruining things.

The Olympics are a particular sore spot for me because it is only tangentially related to the problems the protesters are trying to address.  Are any of the torch runners greedy land developers? Did any of the snowboarders widen the sea to sky? Should the Olympic flame be blown out as Terry Fox’s mother might carry it to the podium? Most of the people involved with the Olympics are simply trying to achieve their hopes and dreams. Disrupting that proves nothing. If the protesters are complaining that society sees them and the poor as human garbage, they do themselves no favors by acting the part.

You might say that making an out-dated and kyriarchal sporting event slight less enjoyable is a small price to pay in the never-ending class war between the rich and the poor. Over time these efforts will result in the anarchist paradise that supposedly we’re all hoping for. But let me ask you this.  Is there any mention on the No2010 website of actually talking to government officials? Will they be sending any bills to Parliament? The Legislature? City Council? Strata Council? Are they knocking on any doors? Raising campaign funds? I must admit I haven’t been looking all that hard. There’s only so much rhetoric I can take at one time. I did find a lovely Riot 2010? Riot Now! pamphlet, though.

Even if No2010 achieved its goal of stopping the Olympics, then what would happen? There never seems to be any plan with these movements, be it No2010, the Green Party, the Marijuana Party, or even the current NDP. I think that there is such deep-seated hatred of authority in these organizations that any kind of leadership or coordination is immediately shouted down. Meanwhile, the BC Liberals will probably be in power for the next 100 years. You can be sure they will pass any dumb idea that the Fraser Institute can cough up. It’s not because the Liberals are necessarily on the take. By the time the Fraser Insitute presents an idea for a bill, they’ve got all sorts of studies and petitions that make the legislature’s job much easier. The only people who even pay attention to protesters are running paranoid military juntas. Canada is nothing of the sort, so we’d do best to start acting like it.

Happy Canada Day

I just had this little known fact about our National flag revealed to me today. Tell me, can you see the two faces in the Canadian Flag?
national-canadian-flag1
Here’s a little help from MS Paint.
national-canadian-flagjackjacques
The two faces are named Jack and Jacques, and from their position and expression, it looks as if they are arguing. It’s debatable whether this example of figure-ground reversal was intentional. Still, it’s a symbol of how our country was forged from a tacit agreement of equals rather than a glib consensus. I like that.

The Trip Part 9: Yatta! Yatterman!

yattaman_poster

Now that I was in Japan, I would regret it if I didn’t take in some form of anime-themed entertainment that would take months to be released in Canada. Theo and Tarra invited Sara and I to the “Yatterman” movie, which had just come out the week before. It fit the bill perfectly. “Yatterman” was based off of the 1970s anime of the same name. It’s about  two mechanics, Gan-chan and his girlfriend, Ai-chan. They travel the world on a robot dog called the Yatterwan to recover the fantastic Dokuro stone from the clutches of the evil Doronbo gang. The gang consists of Tonzura, a pig-headed muscle-man, Boyakky, the lecherous evil genius, and the bossy Doronjo, who under all the bondage gear just wants to find a good man and settle down. Despite being in all Japanese, the movie was fun, campy and colorful. It made fun of the fact that it was based on a cartoon by showing how ridiculous all of the formulaic transformations would be if they were in real life. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it also teaches everyone about the evils of tea-bagging.

In addition to the lovely film, we were also treated to the little differences in Japanese theater-going. Every ticket was assigned a specific seat. There were detailed maps on the screen showing the way to the exits, which made the theater feel a bit like an airline flight. We saw previews for two American films, “Bolt” and “Marley”. I had only seen both films from their trailers, and the differences were striking. While the American previews played up the snarky humor of both films, the Japanese trailers focused more on the emotional parts of the films and, to my surprise, made me want to see them more. Are Western entertainment companies trying to hide the sad parts from the audience, or do Japanese audiences need to see more of a film before they make the decision to see it?

While we’re on the subject of Japanese entertainment, Sara and I had quite a bit of time to check out Japanese television. There is anime, although it’s not running constantly. If there is an anime cable channel, we weren’t getting it in the apartment. There was a documentary on NASA to commemorate Japan’s contribution to the International Space Station. It was interesting because they would show the stock footage, the narration, and the re-enactments (with Western actors, so this was a well-budgeted production) and then they would cut back to the studio with a couple of stalwart experts demonstrating the distance from the Earth to the Moon to a panel of celebrities. Occasionally, there would be an insert to the reactions of the celebrities to what they were seeing. For example, the actresses teared up on witnessing the funeral of the Apollo 1 astronauts. It turns out that Japanese television shows do this on a regular basis. They would show something, and have a panel of celebrities comment on it. In addition to the space program documentary, there was also a show where people would eat their dinner in a room full of puppies or pot-bellied pigs and the panel would watch what would happen. It seems almost crass to inject the opinions of celebrities into things like the space program, but do we sell ourselves short by keeping the idea of information separate from the guilty pleasures of VH1? We decry that Ashton Kutcher is getting more twitter followers than CNN, but instead of setting these two forces against each other, perhaps we should be getting them to work together.

Concerning Japanese game shows, there are many, and they are wackier than ever. My favorite of these was a show where these two guys dressed like Prince Valiant went to peoples houses offering them money if they could win a game of hide and seek.  The Prince Valiant guys would get clues on the contestants’ whereabouts via traps set near the hiding places. We watched a family win 1 million Yen (around $10,000) by hiding themselves in various places in their own house. The small daughter won by hiding in the bottom drawer of a china cabinet. The 100 million yen (million dollar) contest was much tougher. About 20 contestants hid in an electronics store, and when they were caught they would get mud, paint, and other substances thrown on them. One guy had tarantulas thrown on him, so subsequent prisoners would enter the losers circle saying stuff like, “Why is everyone stuck in the corner-OH GOD NO GET AWAY!” Suffice to say, nobody won the grand prize.

Seeing those people humiliated on national television reminded my why US shows often miss the point of Japanese game shows. They spend so much time trying to bare the souls of the contestants or checking the instant replay to realize that such shows are not about rewarding skill or knowledge, they are about hilariously punishing ignorance!

The Trip Part 8: Japan 101

img_1291

We met up with our friends Theo and Tarra, who were staying at the same apartment complex we were. We decided to go on a little whirlwind tour of the city via the Yamanote line, an elevated train that circles all of Tokyo. Since this was Theo’s third trip and Tarra’s second, they gave us some important pointers about getting by in Japan.

– When you go to pay for something, you place your money in a small cash dish which gives the salesperson time to wrap up your purchase or calculate your change.

-Don’t tip the wait staff at restaurants. The tip is worked into the meal price and the wait staff will go to great lengths to give you back your change. Restaurants do this to ensure you are a repeat customer rather than just a one-time big spender.

-When using the washroom, bring your own wash-cloth to dry your hands. Most public restrooms will have no toilet paper, a hold-over policy from when people would steal toilet paper in the early days after the war. It’s customary to use kleenex, which is commonly handed out at street corners to advertise pachinko parlors and other such things.

-If you are having trouble communicating with a Japanese person, write down what you want to say. Most Japanese took English in middle school and high school, and are more likely to understand English in written form rather than spoken.

We took a walk through Ueno park to look at some Cherry Blossoms, then took the subway to Asakusa to see the Senso-ji, the oldest temple site in Tokyo. After lunch, we headed to Akihabara and had tea at one of the first maid cafes in Tokyo. We ended off the trip with a hearty dinner of Shabu-Shabu in Shinjuku.

img_1297

img_1299

img_1309

img_1342

img_1356

Japan, like any other far off place, is surrounded by so much myth and hearsay in Canada. Some people will tell you that it’s full of nothing but buttoned-down salary-men and office ladies, and others would have you believe that it’s a saucer-eyed mecca of anime-themed insanity. I was glad to finally go there myself and get my own impressions of the country.

The first thing that I noticed about Japan was the signage. Everything and every place seemed to come with its own set of instructions. Trains, bathrooms and snack packaging are all designed to be fairly easy to use without any questions. This might strike people as kind of stuffy, but I look at it as the product of a people that just likes to know where to go in life. I think this attention paid to organization and instruction has created a very high penetration rate for advanced technology like cell phones and televisions. The Japanese can trade up cell phones every three months because NTT DocoMo is willing to hold a customer’s hand and facilitate the change over, rather than throwing a data cable and an Indian call center agent at them and say “get to it”.

On that note, salesmanship is considered real work in Japan. Over here, we have this image of salespeople as Willy Loman from “Death of A Salesman”, pathetic souls with no vocation besides hocking the work of other people. In Tokyo, there are people on megaphones and flashy signs everywhere. Once you’re in the store, you never get the feeling that you should buy something or get out. The salespeople are having fun selling to you and you in turn have fun shopping there.

Japan has a lot of things that we in the West would consider very libertarian in nature. Cigarette and beer vending machines are restricted by legislation here in Canada, but in Japan these things exist because of a strong sense of organization and community. It’s kind of a busy-body philosophy. Many businesses will not serve students during school hours and if a child decided he wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes, passersby would think nothing of interrupting him. It makes you think about the kinds of freedoms we could enjoy if people simply took an active interest in the lives of people around them.

The Trip Part 6: The Birthday Party of the Century

You’d think that after exploring Intramuros, Corregidor Island, and eaten copious amounts of mango fresh from the tree, that we had seen all that we could see of Manila in one week. But no, the last night of our stay had even more surprises in store for us.

One of Don’s Colleagues was holding a birthday party for her granddaughter on Saturday night, so Sara and I were invited. We were a little trepidatious at first because we didn’t know the family, but we were so flattered by the invitation that we accepted it. As we meandered through the highway, Judy mentioned that there would be the kid’s party first, then the adults’ party after dinner. At this point I wondered what exactly Sara and I had gotten ourselves into.

This was our answer.

To say this was the most extravagant birthday party I had ever been to was an understatement. They had a DJ leading the kids through games of finding coloured golf balls and seeing who could say “Happy Birthday” the longest. There was a vintage ice cream cart, a cotton candy machine, Transformers goody bags for the boys, Disney Princess goody bags for the girls, and chair covers. As God as my witness, I have seen chair covers at a child’s birthday party.

But what really floored me about the whole party was the parents. What were they doing while their children were being over-stimulated with toys and sugar and all that nasty stuff? Again, as God as my witness, they were chilling. Just kicking back with their drinks and watching their kids have the time of their lives.

Now this is a scene that is completely foreign to my home country. If this was going on in a Canadian backyard, no matter what income level, you’d have parents in the middle of the games making sure the “bad” kids kept their distance from their precious little snowflake.  Someone would be grilling the caterer over little Jimmy’s gluten allergy, or there might be a small cache of parents gossiping about what a bad influence the DJ is. They would not be catching up with their cousins over fruit cocktail.

Now, you might say I’m only making this observation as a non-parent, but believe me, I was nervous too.  Someone was making toy swords with balloons, and Sara’s 10-year-old triplet cousins were having a full scale battle with the other kids. I fully expected to hear a piercing wail coming from a kid who got hit too hard or whose balloon sword had popped. All I heard was laughter. Sara and I were talking with Don’s colleague’s neighbour, who has twin nine-year-old boys, and she asked if Sara had any kids and when she was planning to have any. Her tone was more akin to asking “When are you going to Cancun?” rather than the “When is your life going to be ruined too?” or “Can I have your mat leave?” tone that I usually hear when the question of children comes up. At that very moment, something clicked into place. A solution with clues reaching far back into the trip.

We all may have heard at some point or another on celebrity talk-shows or chick-lit novels that you need to get a Filipino nanny because, you know, they love kids. You might think, well, they come from a developing country and they would appreciate the Canadian/American minimum wages, so they’ll work hard. The party was a big “No, no, no, you don’t understand,” to that statement. They LOVE kids. They are not only our future, but they are one of the pleasures of life. The sound of children playing is considered the background noise to a life well-lived. In the malls, there are all of these playgrounds and rides. I saw no less than 5 places in one mall advertising that they host birthday parties. You could tell that the tour guides were directing their stories at the triplets, and any other kids we taking the tour with. Judy even told us that in Geneva or Canada, people would see her with a triple stroller and give her looks of pity. In the Philippines, people with no more with 5 pesos to their name would go up to her and tell her how blessed she is.

Does this mean that they value children in the Philippines more than we do? Of course not, but the concept of children is approached with less emotional baggage and less fear. Our culture makes it tough to be a parent. “Where are the parents?” is the first question people ask when they hear about kids shoplifting or beating up each other in the news. Then you’ve got the other side of the coin, where parents are pulling their kids from dance school because they were playing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” at the recital. Parents are basically being judged all the time, which makes them paranoid. Everyone else is paranoid of the paranoid parents. We are all actively trying to avoid each other, so our parks are empty, our kids can’t relate to anyone, and under no circumstances do we have big, fun, birthday parties.

So what am I going to do, knowing what I know now? Again, I’m not a parent yet, but I want to be some day. I’m not going to be leading a one-man revolution against paranoid parenting, that’s just too much for me or my kids. We can’t just socially engineer away all of our problems. I will be looking to them to see what makes them happy, and try to balance that with the knowledge that I have that will keep them that way in the future. And most importantly, I will enjoy myself.  I think we can always choose the way we react to life, and if an entire nation can make their child-rearing years the best years of their life, I think I can too.