Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Riding a Bike from the San Juan Islands to Vancouver, Canada : p.s. BC Hydro Sucks

On August 27th I rode my bike 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Lopez Village to the University of British Columbia Point Grey Campus. Before leaving for this trip I repeatedly search online for routes taken by other cyclists and had little luck. Some cyclists (most seemingly riding from Vancouver to the United States) explained their routes in rough terms, but actual route maps, or the gold standard for serious cyclists— Strava or Ride with GPS downloadable data— was missing. Eventually I had to piece together ideas from various sources and headed out on my trip. Fortunately on the ferry ride I met a woman who was on a bike heading back to a place East of Bellingham, and she gave me some good pointers. My entire ride from the United to the border with Canada is something you can follow with confidence (Strava link to the ride data).

I am already planning how I can ride part of the US route again. I didn't ride that fast because I kept stopping to take photos, and because I was unsure of the route, and I'd like to go back and get all the QOM.

I started from Lopez Village and took the first ferry:

The one part of the trip outside Anacortes and before Edison that you might be confused about is "do I have to ride on the margin of Route 20"? Yes, so far as I know, you do. I rode against traffic on 20, on the far side of the breakdown lane, and it was a little scary but only about two miles (from leaving March Point Road next to the reservation gas station and casino, over the bridge (there is a separate pedestrian/bike lane on the bridge) until you turn onto the road that goes past Padilla Bay to Edison. If you rode on the correct shoulder of 20 you would have to cross 20 to get onto the road to Edison.

View from the Bridge:

Riding on Chuckanut drive without much of a shoulder with a cliff on one side and sharp drop off on the other was also a bit sketchy, but people there are used to cyclists and all the signs tell the drivers to share the road. Although I was worried about Chuckanut before riding it, it's actually only about eight miles that is sketchy.

Much of the US part of the ride looked like this (view towards Chuckanut):

Or this- outside Ferndale:

I stopped at the Community Food Co-op (Co-op Café) in Bellingham for a late breakfast (I had an early one of food I brought with me on the ferry), coffee, and excellent lunch to go that I ate in White Rock (BC) in front of City Hall. At the Co-op they let me take my bike inside and were very welcoming. The food was perfect, too. I would definitely recommend patronizing the Food Co-op if you pass through Bellingham. There are a couple small places (a restaurant, a diner, and a bakery at least) in Edison right next to the road, and at least one of them looked like outside seating next to your bike would be possible—however, none were open on a Saturday morning at the time I went through.

mmmm lunch (with a Bosko rose):

Downtown Edison: 

After Bellingham there are several routes you can take, the route I chose worked very well, but I think you could safely deviate from it and have the same experience. Basically there is a lot of farmland, and some forests, it's mostly but not all flat, the roads usually have a wide shoulder and they are pretty wide. There isn't a whole lot of traffic.

I crossed the border in the NEXUS lane (got my card Friday), but they told me next time to use the special bike/walker lane next to the building.

After the border things got not so perfect. If I do this ride again, I will have to figure out some alternative route, or do what many people seem to do- hop on a bus in B.C. My route worked. You could follow it. Certainly from the time I got on River Road in Richmond until UBC it was ideal (this part I scouted out in advance). However, in Surrey it got pretty dicey and I thought I was going to die under the wheels of an obscenely larger than necessary pick-up truck.

Crossing the bridge from Richmond to Vancouver:

So, what did I do to celebrate this long ride? Ahhh, I was dreaming of the food I was going to cook up and I had already given myself permission to mostly chill out for the rest of the day. BUT as soon as I walked into my apartment it was obvious that the power was off. I called the emergency number and eventually they sent someone, but it turned out that BC Hydro (the power company) had turned it off. Why? Because the previous tenant moved out in July sometime and BC Hydro was feeling unloved that there wasn't a new name on the account and it was already end of August. Of course when I moved in the building supervisor told me that I could wait a couple of weeks to do it, just tell them the date I moved in. With all the hundreds of details to take care of with completing an international move and getting my Canadian paperwork, university paperwork, buying my little truck, finding groceries, etc. I was relieved to have one thing I could put aside for a few days. But by this time it was Saturday at 4:45. I called them, and they were able to take my details to set up the account, but needed my lease agreement which I could not send because no power=no modem=no internet connection. And while I was talking to the woman it went past 5 pm, when the office was closing.

The temperature in my fridge had equalized with the outside temp, so it must have already been off for almost the entire time I was gone. Most of my food (but not all) was still okay, though, since the door had been closed and it had just slowly warmed. I called Kimberly and although she and Toshi were at a party on a beach, at least it was close by. They picked me up on their way home, with changes of clothes and papers for class prep and a bag of the salvageable food. I spent the rest of the weekend at their house (thanks be for good friends!).

Of course I had sent BC Hydro the lease agreement as soon as I arrived there, but it turned out mine didn't have the signature of the property management company on it, and while I was on the bus going home (hoping that I'd open my door and everything would be on again) they left me a message to call them. Finally getting them on the line (an hour and a half later), they explained the problem. Even though I'd given them the phone number and name of the woman at the property mgmt company in charge of my building, they hadn't called her to ask about the lease agreement. So then they did, and she sent it. And BC Hydro said "we're going to turn your power on remotely. We'll try for 90 minutes. If it doesn't work we'll try another 90 minutes. If it still doesn't work, we'll send a technician. That might not be until tomorrow, but in my experience it's always the same day."

The second 90 minutes expired at 3 pm. I still don't have power, and it's the following morning. I charged my computer and phone in the hallway. I don't have internet, so I can't research the things I need to do today like getting my vehicle insured and getting a BC driver's license (where is the DMV? which insurance company should I go to? where is the closest office?). Last night I had a night ride (bike ride) with a group of guys, got home around 9, and asked my lovely Korean neighbors for a light for my candles. A few minutes later a knock on my door announced the arrival of a whole plate of food (some did not have meat) and a giant thermos of hot water, tea bags, and coffee mix sticks. Totally touched, I went to sleep happy.

I had to use flash to take the photo:

I did this same ride again in April, 2017. Although I took a couple wrong turns (no map. I wrote down the directions of where to turn and then lost that paper immediately), this route, particularly inside Canada is much better (but stay on 82nd, until you hit a sort of bike path that leads to Nordel Way). So here's the Strava link so you can follow in my footsteps.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Performances of "Tradition" for Tourists : Jeongdong Theatre's "Youll"

For many years I've wanted to more deeply examine the performances that are marketed to tourists in Korea. A friend of mine, Choi Haeree, invited me to one of them and I decided that this would be the perfect time to write a paper on some of the issues with appropriation and commodification of tradition that I've seen in such shows. My chief issue with performances for tourists is how they adjust tradition to a point where what they are showing lacks many of the beautiful aspects of actual tradition, or worse, just uses a facade of tradition while offering nothing of substance.

Haeree and I watched a show at Haeundae Grand Hotel in Busan called "The Queen's Banquet." There were many issues, but... there were some good points to the show as well. The full price is 30,000 won, but it seems there are a lot of ways to get discounts, if you're in Busan anyway, you might like it. I wouldn't tell someone "never see that" as there are redeeming features (I particularly was happy that I could take photos during the show!). 
For the second show of three that I am watching specifically  for the purposes of writing this paper, I went to Jeongdong Theatre (formerly written Chungdong but I noticed they've changed the spelling to RR Romanization). Again, I was able to get a ticket for free. Thanks be! Because it was one of the worst performances I've ever seen. Seriously, it was horrible. If you said the show in Busan was like an enthusiastic student performance where they missed some of the subtle aesthetics and got too excited and jumped too much, well, this show in Seoul would be the show done by some pretentious art school students who understand nothing, think they understand everything, have no respect for anyone (including the audience) and are bored out of their minds, or fully know they're doing something stupid and their desire to be somewhere else shows. 

So, let me see if I can explain why this show (ticket prices of 30-60,000 won) was so bad. 
First: The show included all the cliches. If a woman is evil, she sexually tempts, exposes too much of her body (hello, in a "traditional" show you've got women with skirts slit straight to their crotch?), or she wears black lipstick. If a woman is good, she's bashful about physical contact, or she flits around on her toes with a white feather/wand. The story was stupid and cliche over all. It could be summarized as: evil kills good king, hero emerges through difficulty, hero and heroine prepare for battle with evil, they defeat evil, they get married. The entire play was mostly non-verbal, except for sung narration. The over-acting to make sure you'd understand the un-narrated bits was... extreme.

Second: There were essentially three traditional elements at play. A) pansori B) pungmul drumming C) hanbok costumes. But the pansori singers are either incompetent, or more likely, the director told them to make it less of a pansori type singing and more of an operatic type singing. The distinctive properties of pansori were almost absent. Songs were used as narration to move the story (in pansori, narration is narration-- it's spoken-- and songs are when the action slows down to real-time speed instead of compressed jumps), and at almost every instance the pansori was accompanied by a cacophony (yes, loud, loud, loud) of recorded music from offstage including synthesizers, and maybe some cymbal, high hat, a little drum, or whatever from the Western drumset drummer who was in the pit to the front and side of the stage. So the actual beauty of pansori (accompanied by a single drummer on a barrel drum, very subtle) was never on display.

The pungmul drummers had -at most- forty-five seconds of stage time without other off-stage or front stage Western drumset man music accompanying them. Even though the drummers were on stage about five times, you never really got a sense of Korean rhythms or the actual sound of just drumming (even though Korean traditional drumming tends to be what foreigners enjoy the most, show after show).  And finally the hanbok were all fancied up and made sexier, so the performers could look slim and beautiful-- not one traditional hanbok was ever on stage, except perhaps some of what the peasants were wearing, but even those were not white minbok, even if they were minbok-esque. 

I am not saying the show has to be traditional, or that it needs to be fully authentic, but if your marketing and promotional literature talks about how you showcase the heritage of pansori and talk up how it's also UNESCO listed, then at least you can actually have some real pansori on stage. There were a lot of foreigners in the audience, and they thought they were seeing tradition-- they wanted to see tradition, that's why they bought the ticket. To show that that horrible show at best leaves the beauty of Korean tradition tarnished in their eyes. They probably go home saying "that didn't seem very different than xxxx from my culture." There was no dance motion from tradition, and the martial arts scenes were at best an orientalist fantasy of all Asian martial arts rolled into one, nothing specific to Korea, in fact, since the hero and heroine use long staffs, which are not much used in Korean martial arts, but are used abundantly in Chinese arts, probably any Chinese viewer would have thought it was stage-Kung Fu, not anything Korean. 

Third: The entire show was a mish-mash of orientalism and self-exotification where the directors and producers were clearly aiming for a non-Korean (Western) eye, without caring one whit about accurate or otherwise presentations of Korean traditions or culture. The entire thing felt icky, like I needed a shower afterwards. And of course it also represented a giant missed opportunity. The show is twice a day, six days a week. It's widely promoted and backed by the government. All those people who could have learned something didn't. For example at the end the heroine is in a slim and body hugging white gown (with hanbok elements), and has a white veil-like hair piece. So you can understand they're getting married. Never mind that in Korea white is the color of death and funerals, and that traditional wedding robes are gorgeous, splendid things that don't use some lame filmy white lace, but rather an even more awesome hair piece like crown with a trailing embroidered silk strip down the back of the head. Of course a one word title on the side (they had English on one side, Japanese and Chinese on the other on screens) could have declared "wedding celebration" just to make it all clear for the audience, if they really thought people needed it.

They were very proud of their hyper-modern visual techniques-- and I admit a couple times they were cool-- but most of the time they were just distracting and more light on the stage and less eyestrain from trying to see through weird layers of projected moving images would have been nicer. 

I am appalled that this is what is being offered to tourists, that every travel agency is recommending this show (one reason is that most shows are one-off and agencies like long runs that are easy to predict), and that in fact Jeongdong Theatre has slipped so much (I enjoyed some of their cheesy tourist stuff in the past, admittedly when I knew less about traditional performance, but it was much more traditional than this). Tourists who come for a once in a lifetime visit to Korea should be shown the best of Korea, not some horrible mix of bad singing, ballet-esque motion, and historionics. 

I just hope that the final show of the three is less odious to sit through.