Archive for November, 2011

My Saturday Morning in Canada


3.45am: Alarm. Snooze button.
3:54am: Alarm. Alarm off.
4:01am: Zoe. Get up.
4:07am: Tea, breakfast, email.
4:50am: In the car. Warm up the engine. Indicate, down Wilmot, right onto Oak Bay Drive, right onto Douglas. AM radio talking about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), then the regime of Robert Mugabe. Change to shuffle on the Ipod. It starts to rain.
5:11am: Stop for petrol at Shell. Unknowingly leave the petrol cap on top of the bowser.
6:20am: Raining harder. Stop for watery, burnt servo coffee. Cigarette in the car. Still dark.
6:50am: Raining really hard now. Still fucking dark. Windy roads through the Malahat. Slow to the speed limit, peering through the rain and the dark to find the sides of the lane. Notice faint glow of first light blue over the highway shoulder.
7:12am: Hmm. Transmission.
7:34am: What’s that smell? No. That’s not your engine. No, it’s gotta be outside.
7:41am: Dude. Transmission.
7:50am: Zoe. Seriously. Transmission. Stop at Petro Canada in Nanimo. “Hey. I need to get to Tofino but I think my transmission’s shot. Is there a bus station somewhere here?”
7:51am: “Petrol cap. Where’s my bloody petrol cap? Oh for fuck’s sake.”
7:56am:  “The bus costs $44.75 to Tofino.”
“When does it leave?”
“10:45am.”
7:58am: I could make it to Port Alberni. Yeah. I’ll just leave the car there. Hitch to Tofino.
8:01am: “Do you guys sell temporary petrol caps?”
8:57am: Miss the Port Albery exit. 30kms before it’s possible to turn around.
9:10am: Transmission…
9:18am: Transmission…
9:26am: Shit.
9:32am: Pull over. Jehovah’s Whitness Community Centre carpark.
9:33am: “Sure, you can leave your car there. The bus station is just down Johnson out there. Yup, just go straight down Johnson and it’s on your left. If you can want a moment, we just have a 15 minute meeting here and we can give you a ride. Can you wait 15 minutes?”
9:48am: Into the car with the Jehovah’s Whitnesses. “So, where ya from?”
9:52am: Pull into the Greyhound carpark. “Yeah, no problem. No problem at all. You sure picked the right place to pull in, ‘ey. Hey, do you know anything about the work we do? How about we give you something to read on the bus? Here, I’ll just give you a bit of literature.”
9:52am: Two-and-a-half hours ’til the bus to Tofino. Gets into town at 2:35pm. Try to hitch but it’s raining too hard and my oversized rain jacket makes me look like a crazy person.
10:20am: Leave my backpack at the bus station. Go for a walk back up to my car to get a few things I’d forgotten in my rush not to inconvenience the Jehovah’s Whitnesses. It’s further than I thought. Catch a lift with a farmer at the Petro Canada.
11:04am: Start walking back to the bus station in the rain. Try hitching there for the hell of it. Sure beats walking. Couple of Germans pick me up. Just so happens they’re heading to Toffino to go hiking. Not really hiking weather, is it?

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Counter Attack!

It’s a dark and rainy night. Sort of stormy.

Round the corner and police lights. Roadblock. Shit.

“Hi. Saanich Police Counter Attack.”
“Uh, sorry?”
“Saanich Police Counter Attack.”
“Oh. Ok. Hi.”
“Where are you travelling from this evening?”
“Uh, my uncle’s house. Just… around the corner. Back there.”
“And have you had anything to drink this evening?”
“No.”
“No?”
“No. Nothing.”
“Alrighty. Thank you. Have a good evening.”
“What? Oh. Ok. Thanks. Um, yeah. You too.”

Canadian police: giving their motorists the benefit of the doubt.

Spanish Language Tape Land

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about learning to speak Czech. I had tried to learn a little before leaving Australia, diligently listening and re-listening to all ten units of Pimsleur’s Speak and Read Essential Compact Czech, obediently repeating the phrases as I was told to, doing my best to get the accent and pronunciation right, memorising as much as I possibly could. Then, I flew to Prague.

Unfortunately, the conversations the tapes were teaching me usually went something like this:

Woman: Excuse me, do you speak English?
Man: No.
Woman (pointing at a building): What is that?
Man: This is the national theatre.
Woman: Thank you.

Or, this:

Man: Good day.
Woman: Good day.
Man: Excuse me please, is this a post office?
Woman: No, this is not a post office. This is a restaurant.
Man: Tell me please, where is the post office?
Woman: The post office is over there.
Man: Okay. Thank you.

When I got to the Czech Republic, I found that not many conversations actually proceeded this way.

“Good Day,” I would say to the people in the shops.
“Good Day,” they would reply, before saying something dense and complicated in rapid Czech.
“Uhh…” I would say.

This made it difficult when what I really wanted to communicate was something like: “Do you have baking soda? I want to make some banana bread, you see, and I don’t know if there is any such thing as baking soda in the Czech Republic. And even if there was, I don’t know what would be written on the label because everything’s in Czech, and they didn’t really prepare me for things like needing baking soda on my Czech tapes…”

Or, when I went to the doctor’s, something like: “So I’ve got asthma – everyone’s got asthma in Australia. But, see, I’ve had this really bad cough since I got here, and it’s probably the cold weather and everything – my lungs aren’t really being used to negative 14 – but it doesn’t seem to be going away and I’d like to avoid antibiotics if that’s possible. So I was hoping maybe you could help me out?”

So I was just sick for a long time instead.

What the Czech tapes got right, though, and what I didn’t even realise they were preparing me for, were some particulars of Czech culture. Czech Language Tape Land is a strange, desolate place, where people often say “No” to each other or cut off conversations prematurely. People are constantly asking for directions to restaurants but I don’t think they ever actually eat anything, or even ever sit down. They just kind of stand around in the cold, pointing at monuments and asking what things are, formally introducing themselves and their colleagues, telling each other they speak Czech well. Everyone says goodbye a lot. “Goodbye,” one person will say with a sigh. Short pause. “Goodbye,” the other person will say.

Admittedly, this wasn’t an entirely accurate representation of what Czech people were like, but after being there for a while I was able to draw some pretty funny parallels.

Anyway, I’ll be road-tripping my way down to Mexico in a few weeks, so now I’m learning Spanish. The internet has generously provided me with three levels of thirty units each of Pimsleur’s Speak and Read Essential Spanish, which is about 45 hours of Spanish lessons. I try to complete at least one unit every day – two on weekends – often in the car driving to and from work. They specifically request you don’t complete the reading section of the units while driving, so I do that bit at home.

On the surface, they are quite similar in content to the Czech tapes. “Excuse me,” I say in Spanish to the traffic. “Where is the restaurant?” Or, “Good evening. It is nice to meet you. I am Mr. Jones. I am from North America.”

In Spanish Language Tape Land, however, they definitely eat. They tell each other they want to eat, and then they  go off somewhere to eat, and then they change their minds and decide they want to drink instead, so they go to order beer and then complain about the price. They are constantly pooling their money and then spending what little they have in restaurants and bars, asking the other people around them how many pesos or dollars they might have. The Spanish speakers are over-friendly to the North Americans, who then get all uncomfortable and tell them they don’t understand Spanish. The men flirt with the women and the women cleverly and snidely rebut the men. My favourite conversation so far, has been this one:

Man: Miss, where is the Bolivar Hotel?”
Woman: It’s down there, sir.
Man: And the Restaurant Columbus?”
Woman: It’s here.
Man: Thank you miss. I am Mr. Jones.
Woman: Glad to meet you, sir.
Man: And you. Are you Miss Gomez?
Woman: No sir. I’m not Miss Gomez. I’m Mrs. Gomez. Goodbye sir.
Man: Goodbye Mrs. Gomez.

I’m very much looking forward to going to Mexico.

Administrator’s Note

I’ve been a little neglectful of this blog lately but I’ve participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It has me writing 2,000 words a day (alongside work and other things) and doesn’t leave me with much left over for here. I’ve also been spending a lot of time inside hiding from all that real weather going on outside, so I don’t have a whole lot to report, anyway. Except for maybe some things about lunch delivery, which is what I’ve been doing for a job – but more on that later.

Anyway, people have been hinting that I should probably write some more bloody posts, so I’ll see what I can come up with. Until then, a diversion: here’s my friend James’ blog, who is currently riding his bicycle across South-East Asia, like the crazy man he is.

Speak soon.