Thursday, November 29, 2007

On my way to Bali

I’m flying to Bali tomorrow morning.

People keep asking me if I’m excited about Bali. My answer is yes and no. Yes, I’m excited about going to Bali but, no, I’m not excited about the massive effort it takes to get there.

There are few things I hate more than flying. The endless line-ups (check-in, security, boarding, disembarking, customs, baggage, taxi), the tasteless food (mushy vegetables, rubbery chicken, rock-hard bread), the annoying seatmates (crying babies, guys with bad BO, chatterboxes who won’t stop talking), the PG movies (their inoffensiveness offends me), the cramped, uncomfortable seats (especially the dreaded middle seat).

It’s going to be brutal.

But at least I’m getting out of the office for a few weeks. If there’s anything I hate more than flying, it’s sitting in front of a computer all day.

Speaking of sitting in front of a computer, I’ll be updating my Bali Blog on a regular basis. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested in international climate change negotiations. I’ll post the serious stuff there and the dirt and the drama here.

Okay. I’ve got to finish packing. More when I get to Bali.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On the road again

Just when I finally started settling back into Canadian life, I’m picking up and leaving again. This time I’m going to Bali, Indonesia. I leave on Friday.

It may sound glamorous and exciting but I’m actually going for work. I’m heading to Bali as an “official observer” of the 2007 United Nations’ climate change conference.

No swimming, snorkeling or surfing for me. Just 12 sleepless days and nights stuck inside an airless conference centre watching international negotiations around the “post-2012 Kyoto Protocol commitment period” (I’m getting in touch with my inner policy nerd here).

My job in Bali will be to communicate the news in a way that ensures the fullest media coverage and reaches the widest possible audience. I’ll help organize and run the daily press conferences, set up media interviews and blog the whole thing for the David Suzuki Foundation.

My Bali Blog has been up and running for almost two weeks now (yes, I’m actually getting paid to blog!).

The UN climate conference runs from Dec. 3 to 14 and I’ll be sticking around Bali for a few days afterwards.

Whew. I’ve done a lot of traveling this year. Japan, Borneo, Korea, China, Mongolia, Russia, France. And now Indonesia. It’s a bit ridiculous, really. Not that I’m complaining. I just don’t know how I’m going to top the awesomeness of 2007 next year.

Monday, November 19, 2007

You should listen to this

My mom did a long interview on CBC radio this morning, speaking about how police should respond to "emotionally disturbed" people without using Tasers.

My mom is a mental health nurse and the head of the crisis intervention team at St. Mike's Hospital. She goes out on 911 calls with the police when they respond to situations where someone has gone berserk. Her role is to de-escalate these volatile situations -- something that didn't happen with Robert Dziekanski (the man who died at Vancouver International Airport after being Tasered by police).

Her interview with Andy Barrie runs almost seven minutes. I think she did a fantastic job.

You can listen to the interview here or on the CBC's website (the interview aired Nov. 19).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The end of the affair

Here’s the thing about volleyball. People who play it are liars. Big, fat, stinking liars.

“Come join our team,” they say. “Don’t worry. It’s just for fun. Everyone’s really friendly and it’s totally not competitive.”

Bullshit, bullshit and bullshit.

That’s right. My love affair with volleyball is over. I have woken up in the cold light of day to see it for what it really is -- a ruthless, self-esteem-destroying blood sport.

I was fooled for a while when I was in Japan. My Japanese teammates brainwashed me into believing that my relationship with volleyball didn’t have to be the abusive one it was back in high school. I slowly learned to love volleyball. I left Japan feeling like I had healed my old wounds and was ready to play again in Canada.

From the moment I got back to Vancouver, I begged my co-worker Sheldon to let me join his volleyball team. He waffled for a while (the fact that I boycotted the annual staff volleyball tournament six years running might have had something to do with it).

I tried to tell him that I had changed. That I had seen the light. That I no longer hated volleyball.

Sheldon wasn’t convinced. But he met me halfway. He invited me out for drinks with his volleyball team.

The message couldn’t have been clearer. I was good enough to socialize with his volleyball team but not good enough to play with them.

I accepted Sheldon’s invitation anyway, thinking that I could convince his teammates to gang up on him and let me play.

It worked. By the end of the night I had broken into Vancouver’s impenetrable volleyball community and secured an offer to try out for the team the following Wednesday.

Sheldon said he’d pick me up on the way . . . at 9 p.m.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “Nine p.m.? I’m in bed with Peter Mansbridge at 9 p.m. I can’t be focused and energetic at 9 p.m.”

“Well, technically the game doesn’t start until 9:30 so . . .” replied Sheldon.

I started hyperventilating. All of my Grade 9 volleyball-induced anxiety came flooding back.

“The game?” I said. “No one said anything about a game. I thought this was supposed to be a practice.”

“Practice?” Sheldon laughed. “We don’t practice. We just play games.”

I tried to tell him that in Japan all we did was practice. We practiced serving and spiking and attacking and receiving. I only played a real game once and I hated every minute of it. The pressure, the stress, the anxiety!

And then Sheldon uttered those ominous words in every lying volleyball player’s vocabulary.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s just for fun. Everyone’s really friendly and it’s totally not competitive.”

When we arrived at the UBC gym on Wednesday night, six rotating teams were scheduled to play two different games on three different courts.

I offered to sit out the first set so I could watch the dynamics and size up the players’ skill level. I started to panic when the game began.

Where was the friendly banter? Why were people getting visibly angry when they screwed up? Why were the guys driving the ball across the net with such speed and force? Why was everyone licking their palms and then rubbing them on the soles of their shoes? And then licking their palms again after they had touched the bottom of their shoes? Holy crap. These people were serious. They were willing risk disease for this sport.

My heart sank. I knew I was in way over my head. I reluctantly joined the rotation the next set. All those months spent honing my volleyball skills in Japan disappeared. It was like Grade 9 all over again. I spent the game alternating between praying for the ball not to come near me and trying to keep it in bounds when it did. It was stressful. It was intense. It was competitive. It wasn’t friendly. And it definitely wasn’t fun.

Sheldon was quiet on the drive back to my apartment. As I got out of the car, he delivered one final blow to my shattered self-esteem.

“We’ll call you if we need a sub.”


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Three days in Tofino

One of the best things about having friends from out of town come visit is that it forces you to get out and explore your own backyard. You get to play tourist and discover all of the wonderful, amazing things right here at home.

Like Tofino, for example. My friend Steve announced that he would be spending a week in Vancouver after a long stint in Afghanistan. He wanted to go somewhere where he could just unwind and relax. After a few emails back and forth, we settled on a road trip to Tofino.

I've been up and down both sides of Vancouver Island more times than I can count but I've never been to Tofino. I'd heard it was a bit of a tourist trap and best avoided in the summer. But the beauty of going to Tofino at the beginning of November is that we had the whole place to ourselves. The town was deserted, the beaches abandoned, the trails empty.

Of course, we were never really alone. There were lots of signs warning us about cougars and bears in the area. We were walking along the beach when we looked down and noticed very fresh bear prints in the sand heading in the same direction. We quickly took a few pictures of the prints before turning around and walking in the opposite direction. This is about as close as I want to come to seeing a bear in the wild.

There were also a few surfers braving the cold, cold water.

The whole trip (the drive, the ferry ride, the time spent in Tofino) was a nice reminder that some of the most beautiful places in the world are right here at home.

Monday, November 05, 2007

From the mouths of movers

Death, divorce and moving are said to be the three most stressful things in life.

Whoever came up with that list has obviously never met Denis. Denis was one of the men who helped me move into my new apartment last weekend. Thanks to Denis, moving day was far from stressful. In fact, it was downright entertaining.

I didn’t have high hopes at first. I’ve never had good luck with movers. So I decided to hire a moving company based on a recommendation from the place where my stuff had been sitting in storage for the past 15 months. The moving company said they’d meet me there with a truck and two men at 8:30 on Saturday morning.

I showed up on time and waited. Ten minutes went by. Fifteen minutes went by. Twenty minutes went by. The movers were nowhere in sight. I phoned the company to complain. The guy who answered the phone said one of the movers simply didn’t show up for work that morning and he was frantically trying to find someone else to fill in.

He warned that we might have to reschedule the move. The chances of finding a mover at the last minute on a Saturday morning were pretty slim. Movers tend to party hard, he explained. Finding a guy who wasn’t half baked might be impossible.

“There’s only one guy I can think of who could do it,” he said. “Let me try him and I’ll call you right back.”

He called back immediately.

“Denis is in. We’ll have a truck there in half an hour.”

Exactly 30 minutes later, the truck pulled up to the storage facility and two men jumped out. One was short, stocky and built like a miniature Atlas. The other was tall and thin with a salt-and-pepper ponytail curling out from under his baseball cap. The former was John. The latter was Denis.

Denis strode over to where I was standing, shook my hand and introduced himself. Within five minutes of meeting him, I knew his life story. He was born and raised in a town across the river from Quebec City, moved to Vancouver five years ago, rents a bachelor pad in Gastown for $400 a month, thinks people here are cold and unfriendly, smokes like a chimney, plays the lottery every week.

I took Denis and John up to my storage locker.

“This is everything in your apartment?” Denis asked, eying the boxes stacked to the ceiling. “This is peanuts!”

And so began two hours of running commentary on my stuff. Every time Denis passed me on his way to the truck, he felt compelled to critique my possessions.

On my futon couch: “Are you a student?”

On my beat-up coffee table: “You need to find a rich man.”

On my racing bike: “At least you have one nice thing.”

On my cross country skis: “You’re from back East, aren’t you?”

On my lack of stuff: “You’re not a complicated girl, are you?”

I couldn’t believe this guy was telling me everything I owned was crap. Didn’t this violate the boundaries of the mover-movee relationship?

“I’m not a student,” I told him. “I’m just poor.”

I thought this might make him feel bad about critiquing my stuff but it had the opposite effect. Denis now saw me as an ally. A fellow traveler. A coconspirator.

“You and me,” he said with a sympathetic nod. “We’re the working poor, eh.”

This set him off on a 10-minute rant about how tough it was to make a buck, how people like us had to work hard, how we’re just good people trying to make an honest living. I felt like I was listening to a Nickleback song.

Now it was my turn to feel bad. Clearly this man was a member of the working poor. Me? Not so much. But it was too late to take it back so I just went with it. The fact that I lived in New Brunswick and prefer Tim Hortons over Starbucks gave me instant street cred.

When they had finally loaded the contents of my apartment into the truck, I asked Denis if I could ride in the truck with them.

“I don’t own a car and it would cost a lot of money to take a cab, so . . .”

Denis insisted that I join them in the truck. On the drive to my apartment, Denis kept telling me how much I was going to hate my new neighbourhood.

“The people are so snobby,” he said. “They’ll never talk to you. They all have their noses up in the air. They think they’re better than you.”

I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep the facade going. We were only a few blocks away from my new apartment, a lovely, oceanfront heritage building in Kitsilano. Wouldn’t Denis think it was strange for me to be moving in there? I liked that Denis thought of me as an equal. I didn’t want him to think I had lied about being a member of the working poor. So I made up another lie. I told him that my rent was $500 a month.

I’m not sure if he believed me. When he walked into my new place, he whistled under his breath.

“This is really nice,” he said. He explored the whole place, opening up the cabinets, looking into the closets, peeking into the bathroom.

And then he asked me if I wanted to go in on some lottery tickets with him.

It took Denis and John less than half an hour to cart all my stuff into my apartment. Just before they left, Denis gave me some final words of wisdom.

“You need to find a rich man.”

Who knew moving could be so much fun?