Monday, November 30, 2009

Full moon & clear skies

After an entire month of rain, we end November with this:

International flags all over the sidewalks

Late on Friday night after many a glass of wine at Section 3, a group of us stumbled our way through Yaletown on our way to Fritz Fries - our favourite late night snack house for those times when you're really craving a smoked meat poutine.

As we were walking down Hamilton Street, I noticed a series of round international flag decals on the pavement. These were installed a few days prior in preparation for the 2010 Olympics. The idea was to connect the South Granville and Yaletown neighbourhoods to BC Place Stadium via a "flag walk".

Well, Friday night was my first encounter with the flags on the sidewalk. I was in such good spirits that with each step I took I would gleefully yelp out the country of whose flag I was passing. Some flags are obvious. Others? Not so much. But how I managed to correctly identify Kazakhstan's and Azerbaijan's flags that drunken Friday night, I'm not entirely sure.

For more information on the flag walk, check out the Vancouver Sun's story, here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sunshine in November?

I know.

November + Vancouver = sunshine?

It doesn't make sense!

This morning I woke up to a beautiful blanket of fog downtown. Well, that fog has been clearing way for sun. Just looking at my favourite Vancouver webcam, KatKam, it appears that we're in for a beautiful treat today. Of course, it'll be cold out today (currently it's 4°C, or if you prefer, 39°F), but it'll be sunny!

Since KatKam is consistently updating its images, I figure I'd show you what a November morning looks like in Vancouver when it isn't socked in by clouds!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Learning to dance when you're 29: Harbour Dance

Today's Thursday.

Okay, it's American Thanksgiving for those of you in the US (and Happy Thanksgiving to you!), but here in Canada it's just a regular Thursday work day.

But for me, Thursday means dance class.

No, I don't have any dance experience.

No, I never danced as a kid. Not in a studio, anyway.

I danced as a toddler to my Mom's Michael Jackson records in 1982, but that was the extent of it. Even when Mom enrolled me in a 5 year old's jazz class, I withdrew on the first day as I refused to participate. I was too shy - too weirded out by all the other little girls in "funny looking" dance slippers and leotards. I was in my jogging suit. I didn't want to be one of them - a little girl in "funny looking" shoes.

And thus was beginning and the end of my dance career.

Even as I got older, I was too shy to dance. I pseudo-moshed at concerts and wall-flowered all my high school dances - preferring to express myself through guitar or artwork - but never through dance.

Not until my late teens I discovered that winning combination of alcohol and nightclubs. My self consciousness of dancing infront of strangers went out the window somehow. But even then, it had to be to the right song and with the right friends and after enough rum & cokes. And even then, my dancing was very limited.

But I was always told I had the body of a ballet dancer.
I just never pursued it.

And then when nightclubbing lost its luster, I started to sit in and watch TV. First it was So You Think You Can Dance? And then it was So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

And I was hooked!

And I thought, "hey, that looks like fun!"

Those shows exposed me to the whole world of dance beyond what I ever imagined. And all the genres: hip hop, jazz, modern, fox trot, ballroom, tango, contemporary, Broadway, salsa, ballet... just watching Mia Michaels choreography was awe-inspiring enough.

It was so inspiring that soon "Hey, that looks like fun" turned into "Hey, I want to do that!"

So I started to look around online to see where somebody like myself - an adult with zero dance experience - could find some basic intro dance classes. Classes which are tailored to adults who work full time, who might not want to commit long term or pay a small fortune.

And that's when I discovered Harbour Dance!

Located in the heart of downtown Vancouver on Granville Street across from the Vogue Theatre, Harbour Dance appeared to offer everything an aspiring adult beginner would want:

- a variety of dance styles
- a flexible schedule 7 days a week
- a variety of levels (including absolute beginner)
- a choice between single drop-in classes or progressive classes

And it was relatively affordable for my budget! The bonus was that it was close - I could walk there in 10 minutes from where I lived!

So in summer of 2007 I paid for my Harbour Dance membership which gave me a slightly cheaper price on classes.

I immediately took a drop-in intro Broadway Jazz class just to see how it was. I realized I was slightly in over my head with the high kicks, but the jazz hands I could muster.

I took another drop-in, Intro Jazz, and realized that it was more in tune with my experience. But it became really evident that I really needed a primer to go over the basics that I never learned as a child. I decided it would probably make sense to conquer what most would consider the most challenging form of dance:


In September and October of 2007 I enrolled in an adult's beginner intro ballet class. I bought my first-ever ballet slippers and Ballet for Dummies (a great investment). And so it was on every Sunday that I joined a class of predominantly women on the third floor of the dance studio. A pianist would play music as we struggled with our turnout, posture and technique.

Despite the initial struggles, ballet was very relaxing!

It was an hour and a half of stretching, pliƩing and balancing at the barre with the occasional movements across the floor. But does it ever prepare for you the basics of all other forms of dance!

(And no, you don't go en pointe until you've built about 3 years of strength and experience).

I soon decided to try other styles in addition to ballet. Because of Mia Michaels, I decided to attempt modern, so I'd join a Monday evening intro modern drop-in class for a while.

Intro Modern was something else, if not slightly new agey. It's a very free-form expressive dance where you'd spend a lot of intimate time on the floor, pushing yourself off the floor, rolling around on the floor, and so on. Sure, you might smell like feet at the end of the session, but we had our own drummer who'd beat in time to our dances and there was something so primal about it. A very satisfying feeling by the end of it.

Then somewhere along the line I got the bright idea to enroll myself in the Street Jazz course. After all, I figure if I could do Broadway Jazz and regular Jazz, why not Street Jazz?

What I didn't realize at the time that Street Jazz was essentially a fusion of Jazz and Hip Hop. My teenage self wouldn't have believed it. But while assuming I'd be out of my element, I actually felt more at home in this class than anywhere else. It was a workout: push-ups, sit-ups and extensive grooving. But did we ever move and build up a choreography repertoire!

Imagine an entire class of intro dancers learning the steps of a Janet Jackson video. Voila Street Jazz. And it's contagiously fun!

This month I'm enrolled in two progressive classes: intro Hip Hop and another intro Street Jazz. We're dancing to Pharell remixes and old school Tribe Called Quest. Needless to say, I'm having an absolute blast all while keeping fit and staying in shape.

So once again, today is Thursday.

Thursday is dance class.

Some people go to the gym.

I go to dance.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

3 Ways to Directly Support BC Arts

I typically stray from politics on my blog because there are countless other forums which are more engaging if you're seeking that kind of thing, and well, I won't even go into the politics that revolve around the 2010 Olympics - a can of worms unto itself.

But for the unaware, our provincial government, the BC Liberals (not to be mistaken for the federal Liberal party), have significantly cut arts funding in BC to the point where I don't think I've ever seen such a furious backlash before.

There are all kinds of graphs and articles which compare and contrast the amount of funding the Olympics are getting vs. the amount of funding cut from the arts this year.

But we won't go there.

Can of worms, remember? ;)

Instead, I'm putting my money where my mouth is, and I'm donating to the following 3 organizations:

My favourite Vancouver blog, Vancouver Is Awesome, describes itself as "a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to the study, promotion and preservation of Vancouver arts and culture, with a positive spin". I love it because it not only realistically showcases the diversity of what goes on in Vancouver, but it's inclusive to the entire community and their attitude is golden. It's really a breath of fresh air in the blogosphere.

Today is actually the last day of Vancouver is Awesome's Annual Donor Drive. I already donated, but it's not too late. If you donate, your name goes into a raffle where you can win some pretty impressive swag! Check it out!

Oh, BC Studies - how I love thee! BC Studies is an approachable scholarly journal showcasing the province's history, politics, and arts. I fell in love with BC Studies after discovering the collection in the Koerner Library during my years at UBC. It's really a one-stop shop for all things British Columbia and the content and contributors are pure quality. It's just a pleasure to read - even casually - and I do mean that. They really give justice to the depth and variety of BC culture.

Right now BC Studies is having its 6th Annual Online Auction where you can bid on a variety BC-related items: passes to local museums, the opera, Bard on the Beach, restaurants, dozens of BC-related books, and so on. Really, the items in their auction are as quality as the content they publish. Check it out! There are a few days left to bid. If you're looking for some early Christmas shopping deals, this is a great way to do it. I mean, there are $35 books currently bidding for $7! I'd love to be the recipient of any of these items. :) Check it out!

Ahh, CiTR. This is UBC's college radio station (101.9 CiTR). I used to be a member of CiTR during my days at UBC, and although I never had my own radio show, I used to volunteer as a concert photographer for their magazine Discorder.

I love CiTR for their diversity in programming (catering to all sorts of niche audiences musically or linguistically). They're also one of the few public radio stations in Vancouver.

Today's the second to last day to make a donation for their Annual Fundrive. Their goal is to raise $24,000 by tomorrow. Depending on how much you donate or when you call, you'll win some sweet prizes. And if you donate $101.09, they'll give you free airtime. Pretty sweet, no? Check it out!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Flight times to Vancouver

Did you know that it takes about the same amount of time to fly from London directly to Toronto than it does to fly from London directly to Vancouver?

I know.

It doesn't look that way!

Map showing Vancouver, Toronto and London

On a map Vancouver looks like it's twice as far away from Europe than Toronto is, but it isn't when you take into consideration the curvature of the Earth.

Flights from London to Vancouver don't fly directly west over the Atlantic, as if you were drawing a straight line west out of London. They arc north up and over the Arctic (har har), over Greenland, Baffin Island, Nunavut before descending over northern Saskatchewan, Alberta, eventually ending in BC.

While it still looks like a further distance on a regular map, if you traced this route on a globe, it would make more sense. It's that Arctic route which explains why flying directly from Europe to Vancouver makes more sense than flying with a stopover in Eastern Canada.

London to Toronto = 8 hours
London to Vancouver = 9.5 hours
Toronto to Vancouver = 4 hours
London to Vancouver via Toronto = 12 hours

As for people flying into Vancouver from other destinations, Tourism Vancouver has created a fantasic PDF illustrating the average flight times from around the world:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eastside Cultural Crawl 2009

Today starts the beginning of one of my favourite art events in Vancouver:

That's right!

3 days to see 300 artists!

That's 300 artists opening up their studios around East Vancouver's Strathcona and Commercial Drive neighbourhoods to the public! It begins today on Friday, November 20th at 5pm (until 10pm) and then continues on to Saturday November 21st and Sunday November 22nd from 11am until 6pm.

I went last year with my sister and we had such an inspirtational eye-opening time exploring Strathcona on foot and seeing all these amazing little studios that we had no idea existed. It's really a unique yet misunderstood neighbourhood - one of the oldest residential communities in Vancouver proper, located on the edge of Chinatown and home to a thriving arts community.

Just take a stroll around Strathcona on Google Street View to get a sense of the place. It's really cool!

View Larger Map

I highly, highly encourage you to attend the Eastside Cultural Crawl if you're in town - umbrella in hand, of course.

Oh, and if you can fit in a Ukrainian perogy lunch at the Ukrainain Community Centre at 805 E. Pender, you're really in for a treat!

Check out the official website for the event's history, maps, and artist profiles:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Free Moshe Safdie lecture @ UBC Nov 21, 8:15pm

Vancouver Public Library

This comes directly from the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. For fans of Moshe Safdie's architecture such as the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch (as seen above), Vancouver's Centre for Performing Arts, Ottawa's National Gallery, or Montreal's Habitat, you may want to attend!

November 21 2009


Date: 21 Nov 2009, 8:15 PM

Location: UBC Woodward Instructional Resources Centre, Lecture Hall No. 2, 2194 Health Sciences Mall (map)

Arthur Erickson Memorial Lecture in Architectural Excellence

"Megascale, order and Complexity"

Mr. Moshe Safdie is an architect and urban designer who has won numerous awards including the Companion Order of Canada and the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Institute of Architects.

Admission to lecture is free.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November Rain

November + Vancouver = Rain

If you're looking for the bleakest, gloomiest, rainiest time to be in Vancouver, drop by for a visit in November. The stats don't lie!


While we've been having cold temperatures, rain, and overcast skies for the last few days now, this upcoming week is supposed to be particularly brutal in terms of wind and rainfall. Just talking to my Mom on the phone, she said the news is forecasting more rain this week than we've had in the entire month. And when November's the rainiest month out of the entire year, you know it's serious.

Here's the forecast according to Environment Canada:

Note the "rainfall warning" and "wind warning" - a clue that the weather's expected to be pretty hairy this week!

Friday, November 13, 2009

And the snow season begins!

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Just yesterday afternoon I was admiring the fresh snow on the local mountains, so it should be no surprise to me that two of Vancouver's North Shore mountains will open for the ski season today! It's only November 13th (a Friday the 13th at that), so it means early ski season conditions, but what fantastic news for winter sports fans!

Cypress Mountain's Easy-Rider Chair (accessing Runway) and their cross-country runs are open from 9am until 4pm.

From there you could head on to Grouse Mountain which opens at 4pm until night. Grouse currently has Paradise Bowl and Greenway Chair open, in addition to their outdoor skating pond.

Mount Seymour (my personal fav for snowshoeing) opens next week on November 20th.

For real-time stats on snow conditions, ski or skate rentals, admission fees, and hours of operation, visit the official websites of each mountain:

Cypress Mountain:
Grouse Mountain:
Mount Seymour:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fire @ Main & Broadway

Sad news for Vancouver today.

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A fire broke out this morning on the corner of Main & Broadway in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Apparently it started at Kishu Island Japanese restaurant but quickly spread to connecting businesses such as Slickity Jim's Chat & Chew, Zocalo, and Lugz Coffee.

These were key businesses in the Mount Pleasant community and they'll definitely be missed. Slickity Jim's in particular was a local favourite for brunch if not for its eccentric mish mash of kitsch.

I just looked at these photos posted on the Vancouver Sun website, and the whole block looks like one big charcoal mess.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Ironic names aside, one of my favourite places in Greater Vancouver is the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Located on Westham Island in Delta, the Reifel Bird Sanctuary is a massive estuary on the Fraser River where you can find a large variety of birds in their natural environment.

I've been coming to the bird sanctuary ever since I was a little girl. My parents and grandparents used to take me here, and now I take my significant other and our friends. It's always super enjoyable and a great way to relax on a weekend. It's a must-see if you're into bird watching or nature in general.

The bird sanctuary's set up with a series of well-maintained gravel paths through the Fraser River estuary ecosystem. There's forest...

...freshwater ponds

Sandhill Cranes, Reifel Bird Sanctuary

...and saltwater marshes

And just to give you a better idea, here's the satellite view of the bird sanctuary. Zoom in or out or just pan around to get a better sense of how it's laid out and where it is in relation to Vancouver, the Fraser River, and the Strait of Georgia:

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Throughout the bird sanctuary there are benches, picnic tables, and bird blinds. There's a lookout tower at the north-east corner of the park which offers a fantastic view. As well, scattered throughout the park are many bird feeders and bird houses.

Chickadees, Reifel Bird Sanctuary

One of my favourite activities is simply feeding the ducks.

For 50 cents you can buy a bag of birdseed and feed the ducks (and Canada geese and other curious waterfowl) by hand.

Feeding ducks at the George C Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Or if you have some unshelled sunflower seeds, you can even feed Chickadees by hand if you stand still, offering the seeds in an open palm.

Right now - autumn - is actually one of the best times to visit. It's now when you'll see an abundance of birds because many of them spend their winters here at the sanctuary. But regardless of the season, one thing is certain - there will always be a lot of ducks.

But we were very fortunate to spot some Sandhill cranes during our last visit. Once in great abundance in Greater Vancouver, they are now very rare and can be sometimes spotted here at the bird sanctuary or in nearby places like Burns Bog. We actually managed to see some of them fly in - the first time I've ever seen cranes in flight. I wish the picture was in focus, but what a sight!

Of course, autumn's always a great time to visit simply because of all its associated sights and smells. The bird sanctuary makes for one of those fantastic autumn environments that you just can't replicate in the city. You have the leaves changing colour...

... the berries fermenting on the branches


Red berries

... and the cedar waxwings gobbling them up!

If you time your visit around Halloween, you'll be able to witness the snow geese migration. Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of snow geese arrive on Westham Island from the Arctic. They rest and feed in the farmer's fields just outside of the bird sanctuary before making their way south for the winter. It's truly an incredible sight. In fact, it's almost comical!

Getting to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary is relatively straight forward. Simply take Oak Street south out of Vancouver until it turns into Hwy 99, and take the first exit after the George Massey tunnel to Ladner Village.

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Once in Ladner Village, there are signs pointing you toward the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island. You can also click on "View Larger Map" just above to see step-by-step directions (including that wonderful Google Street View functionality). All in all it takes approximately 40 minutes to drive there from downtown Vancouver.

There is no public transit to the bird sanctuary, so having a car is a necessity unless you don't mind taking your bike on the bus from Vancouver to Ladner and then cycling an easy 7km through flat farmland.

Note that the bird sanctuary closes at 4pm (although they'll let you stay until 5pm), so do plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get there.

Official website:

: 5191 Robertson Road, Delta BC

Hours of operation
: 9am until 4pm, 7 days a week

Admission: $4 adults, $2 children (2-14) & seniors (60+)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The other Vancouver

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According to this CBC News article, residents of Vancouver Washington had a poll to determine whether or not they'd change their name from Vancouver to Fort Vancouver.


Vancouver Washington (located across the Columbia River from Portland Oregon) is the only other Vancouver in the world.

It's the only other Vancouver in the world and it's located about a 4 hour drive down the highway from Vancouver, BC, Canada. Come on. That's like having a city named Dublin down the highway in Northern Ireland, or a city named Paris in Belgium. Or a Stockholm in Norway. A Seoul in North Korea! A Tel Aviv in Jordan! A Bangkok in Cambodia! I digress.

Vancouver WA was initially settled as Fort Vancouver - a Hudson Bay Company fort, well before Vancouver BC even existed. Of course, Vancouver BC came along a few decades later and stole Vancouver WA's spotlight.

I have a good friend who grew up in Vancouver WA and I can only imagine how many times she'd have conversations akin to

"Where are you from?"

"I'm from Vancouver!"

"Oh, I love Canada!"

"No, Vancouver Washington!"

Even in Washington and Oregon, the northbound highway signs along I-5 specify Vancouver. B.C. as to avoid confusion with Vancouver WA. I can only imagine if you live in Vancouver Washington, you're forever stressing you live in the other Vancouver.

So I kind of like the name "Fort Vancouver". There would be less confusion but the name still stays true to the city's identity and heritage.

I know what you're thinking - Vancouver BC's in Canada and Vancouver WA's in the USA. Most people should be bright enough to figure this out. However, don't be so certain! Ever so often you get some gems.

This is a true story...

A few summers ago I worked at the tourist info center in Vancouver by Canada Place, and a lovely couple from England had just walked off their cruiseship and were in town for a few nights. They needed to find transportation to the Red Lion Hotel (which was booked by a UK-based travel agent).

Well, I knew right away something was strange, as there are no Red Lion hotels in Vancouver, or in BC as far as I'm aware. I wanted to double check they had the right hotel name, so they pulled out their reservation confirmation and that's when I noticed that they were fully booked for several night's stay at the Red Lion Hotel in Vancouver WA.

Needless to say, they were not impressed with their travel agent!

(And yes, I managed to find them a hotel in the correct Vancouver).