Saturday 17 May 2008

Trip to Bellingham

Friday was one of those perfect days. My school had the day off (long story - not a Pro-D day but and actual holiday), the weather was absolutely perfect, and I was psyched for a new personal challenge - scooting to Bellingham, USA!

Last summer, I made my first scooter trip into the USA - just south of Lynden, Washington which is a few miles south of the border. Ever since that trip I have been thinking of pushing the distance a little bit.

Friday was ideal as my wife an kids had school so it was like a bonus day for me to do what I wanted. I go up early and by 7:45 was on my way, crossing the river on the Albion Ferry in the sunshine.

I got to the border about an hour later. There was quite a lineup because this particular crossing is only open 8AM to midnight. I did the terrible cut in thing by zipping down the breakdown lane (which, I found out, is technically illegal in British Columbia) and only had a five minute wait. The border guard was not overly unfriendly and I was on the road.

I took mostly quieter roads. One photo I took was a view north to the Golden Ears, in Maple Ridge.

First stop was Lynden. I stopped at the breakfast place I had visited before but instead of having a giant egg, bacon and hash brown meal, I just had a latté and a bagel. I still like the look of Lynden - it’s a very friendly little town.

I then pressed on south to Bellingham. It was a very nice ride, zipping along in the sunshine, although I made sure that I pulled over whenever there were a few cars behind me.

I got a bit lost on the way to the downtown area, but that’s part of the fun of this kind of adventure. I stopped at the Roeder House which is a stately home. He was big into fishing and built the home in 1903. It was closed, though, so I couldn’t get a peek inside.

After a few more zigs and zags, I ended up at the downtown area. It was Ok, the hub of the area being the local Starbucks, but either I was too early or it was a pretty quiet area. I suspect it was the former as there were a nice variety of stores and lots of potential.

I then headed a little north, stopping to take a photo of this great guitar store.

Five minutes later, I was at Bellis Fair Mall. This mall was built when Canadians frequently crossed the border to grab great US bargains as the two dollars were pretty close in value. Then the Canadian dollar slumped to around 60¢ and the mall almost died. Now that the dollars are close again, the mall is returning to its former glory.

A great find was the Daiso Japan store. It’s like going to a bargain store in Tokyo - almost everything is $2 and all the packaging is Japanese. Very cool. I bought some Japanese toothpicks and resisted the urge to cart a trailer full of nifty items home with me.

I then stopped at the food court for lunch. I went to one of those Mongolian places where you pick some food and they weigh it and cook it. I was feeling rather healthy so I picked a bunch of veggies and a bit of chicken. Imagine my surprise when the woman behind the counter weighed it and the charge was $10! Oh well, at what price health....

I then sped back towards the border in the sunshine, this time being given a bit of a gruff attitude by the Canadian border guard. Quelle suprise!

On the way home, I stopped by Otter Park in Langley. It was just a little place that I almost missed but once I was in there, the absolute Greeness of the park sort of summed up how the whole ride seemed. What with the sun , warmth, and amazing greenery on both sides of the border, I felt, well, green! An excellent ride on an awesome day!

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Bear in the Backyard

Here's a little video I made of a recent visitor in the backyard.

He's been making rather regular visits of late, attracted by bird feeders and composters. Hopefully, he'll head up to the hills soon.

There are lots of bears in the wilderness near where we live. Unfortunately, the rapid development in our community has displaced a lot of their habitat....

Monday 5 May 2008

Scooter Gang Terrorizes Community

by Joe King

The sunny weather that Maple Ridge was blessed with yesterday was marred by the formation of a new scooter gang. Two men, wearing red jackets, were spotted riding up and down the streets of this fair community during the afternoon on Sunday. 

According to witnesses, the first scooterist rode his Vespa LX50 across Maple Ridge to visit the second gang member, a local engineer. The second scooterist then rolled out his terrible machine, a 50cc Yamaha BWS. The two then fired up their loud engines and roared through the quiet neighbourhood, disturbing the solitude of a Sunday afternoon.

Their first stop was a local gas station where they made unkind jokes about how little it cost them to fill up, ignoring the unfortunate plight of good citizens gassing up their trucks and SUVs. After spending a paltry $4, they roared off again, this time headed for a local mall.

At the mall, while they took care of errands, they had the audacity to park in the same parking space. "Don't they know that if everyone doubled up when parking, there'd be far too many empty spots," complained Edna Busybody, a local resident.

They then took their foul machines on the backroads, forcing cars behind them to drive at 55 kmh, rather then allowing people to speed as is their right. 

Back at the 'clubhouse' or home of one of the scooterists, they were seen laughing and eating cookies, undoubtedly commenting on the lack of fun they saw others having on the road. It is also rumoured that they are both members of yet another gang, the Volunteer Bike Patrol.

Only vigilance and careful observation will prevent this sort of raucous behaviour from becoming the norm. Can you imagine if everyone in our lovely town were riding scooters? One shudders to think....

Thursday 1 May 2008

Oki-na Gaijin, Chisai-na Kuni (Big Foreigner, Small Country) #10

March 29 - Last Day - Sayonara

This is the last part of my trip to Tokyo series.

This picture was taken inside my apartment 23 years ago for a party when my then-girlfriend (and present-wife) was going to return to Canada.

Had one too many chu-his last night as I woke up with a bit of a sinus headache this morning. After my customary coffee, banana, and tea biscuit, I felt better.

As we were leaving today, I thought I could get away with giving a present without getting flooded with omiyage as we weren’t going shopping anywhere. It turned out that I was sorely mistaken.

I gave some candy, a card and a raku sculpture of a salmon that I had bought last December when we were skiing at Sun Peaks. Apparently these were well received as the omiyage doors were flung wide open.

Yoichi proceeded to give me watches for everyone in our extended family. This included a couple of Guccis, Seikos, and about 8 other watches for various members of the family. I thought about giving him Colleen as a slave girl but then realized that it was time to admit defeat.

I took a last look at the apartment building, first outside my old apartment, then on the roof that had been the scene of several fun parties 23 years ago. Finally, I took a walk around the neighbourhood, realizing that most of the businesses had either changed or turned into residential areas.

Here's a picture of my daughter, Colleen, on the roof of the apartment building.

This picture is a blast from the past - my 25th birthday on the roof of my apartment building.

I returned back to the apartment and we did our final packing. Then we all went with Yoichi’s driver in a car to the airport.

We arrived early so we went for a yakisoba (fried noodle) lunch. Interestingly, we were told to leave all of our bags at the front of the restaurant (unguarded) and ate, out of sight of the bags, at the back of the restaurant. This was something I would never do in most places in the world but, in Japan, even the airport seems super safe. When we were finished, of course, the bags were there, untouched.

We checked in and then said our tearful good-byes and went through the security gates.

In the departure lounge, I shopped for a bottle of duty free whisky - and ended up helping several customers with their selection! Maybe I should have worn a “Scotch Expert” T shirt! I tasted a couple of different ones (including a Johnnie Walker Blue Label that was too pricey) and settled on an 18 year old Highland Park.

The flight went well and was comfortable. But I spent a good deal of it trying to estimate what was t the total of all the gifts I was bringing back. Canadians are allowed to bring back $750 duty free after being away for a week but I was pretty sure that some of the watches were worth that each.

Upon arrival in Vancouver, I made an extremely conservative estimate of the value of the goods I had, paid some money for duty and taxes and headed toward the exit. This being Canada, I saw no customs agent anywhere and almost broke into a run when I walked through the exit doors.

It was good to be home but it was also revealing to me that I had such a good time in Tokyo and would definitely consider living there again. Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t feel quite the same....

Parting shot - Yoichi's Aston Martin - we went clubbing in it one night while at the karaoke bars. The absolute coolest car I've ever been in!