Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Steveston child's Easter

Easter is but a week away and the stores are already flooded with bunnies, eggs,and baby chicks in marshmallow, rice crispies, jello, meringue, and my favourite - chocolate!

Some of my most memorable Easter memories revolved around scavenger hunts for these treats.

I remember painstakingly planning the best places to tuck away these treasures - not too well hidden that my children might overlook them, but not too obvious that I deprived them of the joy of discovery.

On a sheet of paper, I would sketch the floor plan for each room and mark each hiding spot with a big red "X." I didn't want these goodies to languish in some forgotten corner long after the holiday had come and gone.

Once, I had an idea to drive my daughter to three different neighbourhood malls so she could meet their respective Easter Bunnies and collect the token handful of foil wrapped chocolate eggs. We stopped after visiting Shellmont, Blundell, and Broadmoor malls. My husband thought the practice was verging on greed.

In reality though, at least at that point in her life, my daughter had not been properly initiated into the candy world. After the egg hunt, her basket would lay dormant in her room, the eggs losing their shine and the gummy bears gradually hardening with age.

I was ready to sign her up for a chocolate appreciation class had the normal course of childhood development not intervened. She started attending school and getting invitations to birthday parties. Talk about sudden overexposure to lip-smacking and sugar-laden cookies, cakes, ice cream, and whatnots in the goodie bags. Once my child developed a taste for sweets, she never looked back and Easter and Halloween took on a whole new meaning.

Yes, sugar is an acquired taste!

To celebrate this holiday, I thought I would present a picture depicting a child's view of a Steveston Easter - with bunnies, eggs, and a sweet chick - all ready to be coloured.

Just email me and I will send you the image file as an attachment.

Enjoy and Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Where the books are

Being a bibliophile, I always get a jolt of excitement whenever I come to within striking distance of a book repository. It can be a public library, a bookstore, or even a supermarket mega bin piled high with titles that didn’t quite make it to the best sellers’ list.

When my children were young, we practically set up camp in the Steveston Public Library. An inviting bay window in the children’s corner drew the kids like a magnet. They curled up against the pane, lost in some fabulous make belief world - utterly oblivious to the park and pool just beyond the glass barrier.

At story time, they sat in my lap, their attention absorbed by the librarian who spoke in a high-pitched and exaggerated voice. A few songs and a rousing clap of hands later, we were back to thumbing through more children’s classics. Some were left on child-sized desks while others were reverently carried away like treasures to the check-out counter to be savoured after dinner like rich desserts.

The Steveston Bookstore was likewise a hot destination point on our family jaunts. It ignited a different kind of exhilaration in the children. Was it the heavy air or the general clutter of the place, but I could always sense the power of the written words whenever I entered the store.

Though fascinated by the hundreds of books crammed into shelves and piled from floor to the ceiling, my children always dashed into the room at the back of the store for the perfect read.

My son couldn’t get enough of those tattered Jim Davis' Garfield books and the Archie comics.

My daughter never walked out without books on dogs, cats,and horses tucked under her arm.

A few dollars laid on the counter went a long way towards expanding their home libraries back then.

Just last week, I walked into the bookshop and it seemed as though time had stood still. Half-obscured by the front counter, Bill Chung was hunched over his laptop while a portable radio broadcasted a local talk show.

As before, all around him were books - glossy hardcovers jostling for position on wall shelves, greeting cards resting in display carousel pockets, and the movers and shakers sitting in the windows (the most coveted spot of all) luring in potential customers with their catchy titles and sumptuous jackets. And, of course, paperbacks still overflowed from every available nook and cranny.

I asked Bill if he had boarded up the back section of the store as there was a blank wall where the treasure room used to be.

No, he said. I must have been thinking of his previous location. He had since moved a few doors down to gain better visibility.

“Selling books is a funny business and you have to be seen. If customers don’t see you, they don’t think about you,”says Bill.

I asked Bill if he carried any books specifically on Steveston that I could recommend on this blog. He moved his mug of simmering tea aside and pulled out three titles for my inspection.

Afterwards, as I put Bills’ books neatly aside in one pile, I wondered aloud what would happen to books now that we are venturing more and more into the digital version of the printed words. Would downloadable PDF files and electronic readers wipe out the traditional bound paper book, with its solid touch, whiffs of cigarette and perfume, faded coffee and grass stains and – best of all - the occasional slips of paper scribbled with some stranger’s private longings.

Bill didn’t think so and I hope he is right. Otherwise, I pity all children who will never have the opportunity to doodle stickmen and initial hearts on the margin of a page or wake up with crease lines across one cheek from having hugged a book to bed.

Oh, yes, here are Bill’s recommendations for those of you who are Steveston history buffs. Visit him soon and get a copy. Let’s keep the book business alive and thriving in our village.

Sutebusuton by Mitsuo Yesaki
The history of the Japanese population in Steveston from the 1870's to 1950's

Steveston by Daphne Marlatt and Robert Minden
Steveston, expressed in a collection of poetry and and superb black and white photographs

Steveston Cannery Row by Mitsuo Yesaki and Harold and Kathy Steves
An illustrated history of the southwest coast of Lulu Island

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who can harness the wind?

In Steveston, we are no strangers to the wind.

As soon as the weather improves, it seems, we converge at Garry Point Park to watch kites being pulled and tugged to the sky. You can spot their colourful bellies grow full and hear their tails snapping as they pressed against the wind. Any British Columbia Kitefliers Association member would tell you that Garry Point Park is one of a few favoured locations to host kite competitions in the province.

It came as no surprise then that Olas de Viento - or wind waves - took up temporary residence at Garry Point Park in early December 2009. What better place to showcase the red circular form of steel curves that represents - what else - the wind that blows through the landscape and the waves that break at its feet.

And there couldn’t have been a more fitting place to embark on a nature-inspired experiment.

When I first came upon the light pole just steps away from the Garry Point Park concession window, I was intrigued by the solar panel and mini wind turbine sprouting from the top of what would otherwise be a very ordinary looking light pole.

To create a more sustainable community and reduce its greenhouse gases emissions, the City of Richmond has installed wind turbine and solar powered lighting system - one at the Vancouver Airport and one at Garry Point Park - to test the viability of the hybrid power system.

The pilot project commenced on May 14, 2008. The ten metre pole uses Innoair 600 PV technology to channel energy harnessed from the wind and sun to a battery pack, which provides illumination from dusk to dawn.

The success of this study will lay the foundation for further expansion to designated locations around Richmond. If adopted in the wider community, can you imagine a neighbourhood with no electrical cables and a green lighting system that’s 25 percent cheaper than that provided with the standard street light?

OK, I hear the naysayers say! What would happen when the sun decides to hide behind low lying clouds? After all, it happens, even Richmond. Are we then doomed to go about our business in darkness after sunset?

Apparently, the wind is a much more dependable source of energy than the sun, and the next item on the project team’s agenda would be to determine whether or not this light could function with only wind power.

In the meantime, whenever I need to press my hat down, or pull my jacket close to my chest, or turn my umbrella right side out, instead of complaining, I will think about the tremendous power we can harness from this force of nature and rejoice in its endless supply and enduring strength.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sakura in Steveston

Did you know that Richmond has a sister city in Japan?

If you have ever strolled through Steveston in early spring, you would know why.

Rows of cherry blossom trees seem to simultaneously erupt into frothy pinks or whites – in public parks, private yards, and along the streets.

Trees in the Steveston Community Centre parking lot

Trees leading up to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery

It is glorious to watch the branches burst into life, then stoop under the weight of densely packed blossoms, and within weeks, scatter their airy mantle to the winds.

The cherry blossom, or sakura, is Japan's national flower and its arrival heralds not only the coming of spring but the start of the school year. So seriously do the Japanese take the blooming period that weather forecasts include reports on the blossom season as it sweeps across the country. People eat, drink, and - no doubt - fall in love under the cherry blossom trees. For extreme sakura worshippers, viewing cherry blossoms - in daylight and moonlight - is a cherished past time. I know this is true because, like you, I have seen "Memoirs of a Geisha”

Do you catch your breath at the sight of pink and white petals being fanned off a tree, engaging in their swan dance mid-air, and fluttering in wide sweeping arcs down to the ground? It kind of reminds me of a spring snowfall – but without the wet hair, soggy socks, and squeaky sneakers.

This majestic display can be interpreted in many different ways. The Japanese view the fragility and fleeting presence of the cherry blossoms as symbolic of the human existence. The flash of brilliance that is soon extinguished parallels the limited time that encompasses the rise and fall of our lives. No wonder then, that the richly symbolic sakura has inspired many poetic souls and found expression in their arts.

*Cherry blossom poem:

"If only I could
divide myself,
not miss a single tree
see the blossoms at their best
on all ten thousand mountains!"
-Saigyō Hōshi(1118 – 1190), a Japanese Buddhist priest-poet

*Cherry blossom art:

-Katsushika Hokusai c.1834 "Goldfinch and Cherry Tree"

*Cherry blossom music:

*Cherry blossom movie:

-scene from "Memoirs of a Geisha"

So, before the cherry blossoms disperse and disappear from Steveston for another year, let's get out there and get utterly lost in their beauty.