Wendell Clark, 90

My Uncle Wendell, and our last remaining elder on my side of the family, turned 90 today. We were fortunate to have a small celebration for him this Sunday past in Hunter River and published a short notice in the Guardian – a notice in the Guardian seems to be of particular importance to his generation.

I didn’t have a particularly hard youth, but summers working on his farm, throwing bales of hay in blazing heat high up in a loft, taught me the privilege of choosing a different less arduous path. A staunch Liberal since birth, his biggest thrill today was no doubt a call from Ottawa from his MLA.


Breaking Free

Yesterday after a short 7k run, a CrossFit session which I could hardly keep my eyes open for, we got in the car for a day trip to Nova Scotia. I’ve been cooped up here on the Island for a seeming eternity and I was expecting some feeling of euphoria akin to breaking free from the bonds of prison. Our pandemic time on the Island has represented the longest we have gone without a trip to somewhere in over 20 years, making a trip to anywhere off Island seemingly exotic. And looked forward to.

It was clear sailing all the way through with little in the way control points throughout the whole trip. A pit stop at the Aulac Big Stop reminded us of the time we are still in, as people walked about wearing masks, some going well out of their way to avoid contact with people. Returning to the Island we were asked for our PEI pass, and sent on our way. Though they were wonderful, I wish this part of the process was more akin to showing a bar code on a card in Apple Wallet that would immediately clear us to go. It took time.

There was no grand feeling on my part however, as I slept pretty much the whole time I was in the car. I’ve realized for awhile that I am exhausted; I’m more forgetful, irritable, and more prone to mistakes. But the fact that I could hardly keep my eyes open for most of the day indicated to me the depth of the problem.

Despite this, there were moments when we shared laughs, and the kids had a chance to act like siblings everywhere. We ate well, including some lovely fresh strawberries.


Giving

I just completed my 89 year old uncles income taxes (2 weeks later than promised) and am humbled by the amount of money he gives to charities that matter to him. And he does that on an income that is less than we pay in rent every year. He splits a box of Kraft dinner over multiple meals so he can afford to do this. Often a meal is a biscuit and tea. Selflessness like this is rare in our world today.


HK Disney, 2007

In 2007 Catriona and I flew to Hong Kong, and after I finished my business at the TECO office, spent a day at Disneyland. We had a perfect day and all the pictures I have are of her smiling and me a ball of sweat – the temperatures were likely over 35°C. I was at that time extremely over protective of her, and had a fear that she would wander off on her own, never to be seen again. Hence I had her wear that foolish card around her neck with all her personal info. in 2 languages.


Off to UPEI

Catriona and her Japanese teacher.

Catriona is off to UPEI in the fall to study modern languages. We had given some thought to sending her abroad but the pandemic here in Canada has changed so many plans, and UPEI should give her a more gentle start to adulthood.

She has studied and had interest in a number of languages. Chinese is her mother tongue, with English spoken at home, and while in Taiwan she studied Japanese, Taiwanese, and Hakka. She took a class or two of French in high school, but the results were primarily passing a test vs. any real understanding of the language.

She didn’t take a linear path to attending UPEI in the fall. When we first arrived on PEI we were discussing goals and I mentioned that McGill had a Chinese program that she might be a good fit for. But teenagers apparently have a mind of their own and she stated that she was going to be a surgeon, and that languages were no longer her interest. So began a painful 2 years of her taking sciences and math. She did well in math, but sciences less so.

With the prospect of a 4 year struggle finishing a science degree she quickly changed her mind and will start with the program offering at UPEI. And unlike her younger self when she stated that she was going to move to Alaska as soon as she could, she seems inclined to stay close to home, for now. And for that we are grateful.


Family

This photo was sent to me recently to me on Facebook and reminds me of how supportive many colleagues and friends were during our early years in Taiwan.

Pictured is Sheryl and I, a very small Catriona, and the trio of friends who became my family in Taiwan. My Taiwan sister, Mother, and brother. Camren was still in progress. We were fortunate to have even more sisters and brothers who didn’t appear in this photo.

I often talk about how living overseas developed a kind of resilience, or self-reliance that we would never have developed if we had stayed in Canada. Taiwan’s government was efficient, and at times fair, but the farther the government was from our lives the better. If we lost our jobs, no help was coming, and in fact you would be required to leave the country quickly. If you wanted to retrain for another career, you pay for it yourself. There were no-one of the social or business supports that so many enjoy here (and interestingly, because we were away for so long there is no government support for us here either).

But we did have support from wonderful people for so many of the years that we lived there. Even after I left ITRI, where I met many of our Taiwan family, the support remained, and we have been in regular contact since.


Lunch in elementary school

For the later part of elementary school we took Camren out of local private school to attend the Science Park school with Catriona. This was how they spent part of the lunch hour, eating at their desk, like many of their parents who would eat at their desk while at work. They start preparing them for work life early.

At lunch time most students had a hot meal prepared at home. Box lunch’s could be delivered, but they were, in elementary school at least, infrequent. Not all kids ate well of course. Parents are overworked in Hsinchu, and often squeeze as many hours of sleep in as possible. Last minute trips to the convenience store for whatever was available at breakfast, sometimes somewhat healthy, often times not, was common.

This was their first big adjustment upon moving here. Eating fresh whole food here at school time is difficult. Food allergies rampant, industrial and fast food preferred. At Birchwood they have a whole cooler devoted to chocolate milk. They have microwaves at the schools, but the kids complained of long line ups and the inability to have time to eat and socialize.

The new healthy food program has helped us divert their diet from the monotony of the sandwich, and all its carbs and salty meats. But we do miss the ability to be less restrictive with our food.


Years pass

It doesn’t seem so long ago when I was holding our daughter Catriona in the kitchen of our house in downtown Hsinchu. Now she is in full-blown teenager mode, with all the frustration that entails, and applying for University.


Precarious placement

This is often how I find Sheryl’s devices, no matter if a phone, iPad, or in this case a laptop, they are always precariously placed on the edge of things. I don’t know exactly what this means, but miraculously none, in the many years I have noticed this phenomenon, have fallen off.


Send help

One of the unfortunate aspects of having everyone in the house for long periods of time is that we then need to share in each others taste in music. Camren has been listening to these 2 songs incessantly for the past week; music he discovered from his other obsession Brooklyn Nine Nine, a TV show I really don’t understand. Luckily Catriona keeps her love of KPOP largely to herself, though lately she has been sending me playlists of what might be considered MANDOPOP.


Happy 13th

This past Wednesday was my son Camren’s 13th birthday. As per tradition the day started with pancakes and ended with cake. Gone are the homemade special cakes with seemingly massive amounts of chocolate on top. That tradition has been temporarily replaced with an ice cream from DQ, but will likely return in the future.

I’m pretty proud of his ability to adapt to life in this foreign land, and looking forward to watching as he develops into the interesting man he is sure to become.


Camren and Barrack

This likely one of my favourite videos I have of Camren. His language skills developed later than what we might have expected which produced some pretty cute (and sometimes difficult) moments during the first couple of years.


Goodbye old friend

This isn’t the best photo of her but it’s indicative of her patience for silliness. Other photos of her.

I lack the ability to express what it means to say goodbye to Lulu, our lab of over 10 years. We first met her as a stray in Taipei, and we rescued her by the time she was already about 2 years old, with all kinds of disagreeable habits learned. She didn’t immediately get along with our lab mix Elsa, which was also a rescue from the streets of Taipei, but they fast became sisters and have never been apart since.

She was the most gentle dog you would ever meet, she would gently suck peanut butter off your finger or gingerly take a piece of food off your hand. Never a growl. Never a bite. All she wanted to do was to be constantly by your side or at your feet.

She was playful, cuddly, and full of love. No matter my mood she would be there. She was my daughters companion too, and would wait eagerly for her to come home or wake in the morning. She had many annoying habits, but they seem irrelevant now.

A few months ago she started walking with a limp and after a couple days I took her to the vet, thinking it was a problem with her paw. I couldn’t see anything but perhaps she had a sprain, something she had experienced in the past. As it turns out she had a growth underneath her shoulder where right where all the nerve endings meet. As luck would have it this growth turned out to be a rare form of cancer with a terminal prognosis. We could operate and go through chemo, she would lose her leg, but it might give her another year or it might not. No one ever knows. Partially the decision was practical, the prescribed treatment was very expensive, with no guaranteed outcome. But mostly it seemed extremely aggressive, I didn’t want her to struggle and be in pain, so perhaps it was best to just to accept that this was her time.

We have given her 3 months of the best treatment we could give her. She ate her favorite foods and was pampered like a baby.

Today I had the unfortunate task of helping her “cross the rainbow bridge”. She was nervous at first but she trusted me to the end, following me into the doctors office where we said our final goodbyes before she went to sleep.

I think we will all miss her forever.


When you have no wifi or TV

Taken one summer at the then family cottage in Canoe Cove. That summer we had no TV or internet so we had to find all kids of creative uses for our time. Mostly we read, played outside and went to the beach, but sometimes we would record silly little videos like this.


Who is this kid? My son wakes up at 5am to be at swimming practice at 5:30. After an 1 1/2hr of practice he is home for breakfast. After breakfast he sits and works on his science project. After an hour, he decides to go play basketball with his friends. After an hour passes on the court he comes home to ride his bike to work on a group project with his classmates. He has another swimming practice at 4. Amazing boy.


Family Photo

family portrait 2016

I generally avoid the camera to about the same degree that I avoid the microphone. Both leave me uneasy as I don’t enjoy the camera and can’t stand the sound of my voice. The effect of which is that most of the photos around our home or in the home of our extended family are ones I have taken of the kids. Few home movies either. It’s unfortunate because we have little record of the passage of time, nothing to share with family who live far away.

Luckily Sheryl finally convinced me this past spring to have a photo session with a photographer and despite my initial inability to take off my art directors cap, many were pleased with the results. The above is one of my favourites due to it’s relative spontaneity.


Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative.

When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.

But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.

Dr. Teresa Belton


Things to do in Charlottetown when it rains: Tourism PEI says ‘nothing’

The weather has ben extremely cold and wet in Prince Edward Island thus far this July. A far cry from the 36˚C temperatures we had in Hong Kong last month. We’ve been at a loss for activities with the kids. We can have fun in the cottage playing, reading, and doing crafts but it would be great to get out and do something – we can do these other activities at home anytime.
A quick call to Tourism PEI revealed the following recommendation: go to McDonald’s on University avenue. Not the advice we were hoping for.
With some pressing the representative suggested the Confederation Centre library and The Guild on Richmond street but they didn’t have any information on exactly what and when they had something geared towards young kids.
Needless to say it’s a bit disappointing. Weather here is seldom ideal, you would think some enterprising person would think of activities for families when bad weather hits.


Flying home

We left Siangsan district in Hsinchu on the 4th for the 26 hour trip to Truro, Nova Scotia. Driving to Cannoe Cove in Prince Edward Island is a further 2-3 hr drive which we did the next day. The newly named Taoyuan airport is as efficient and uncomplicated as ever. Unlike many airports elsewhere they tend to do without the usual orgy of shopping and fast food and focus on getting people in and out as quickly as possible.
Our first stop was Vancouver. They also seem to try to reduce time in transit but through the use of automated check-ins and baggage check. I know this is popular for many business passengers but I appreciate dealing with humans on long haul flights. The whole process is dehumanizing enough.
I think partly I wanted to vent t he fact that Air Canada had closed the check-in gate near arrivals forcing us to walk across the whole airport with luggage and children in tow.
I was a zombie when we arrived in Toronto for our brief layover and only recall the horror of how expensive everything was. I’m still getting used to just how much more people pay for fresh food (if you can find it) here in Canada.
We arrived in Halifax early, stayed over night in Truro, and have been recovering at the family cottage in Canoe Cove. I’m going to be here for at least 3 weeks, working half days, reestablishing ourselves here for the future, and spending some quality time with the kids.


Catriona’s first attempt at photography

daddy.jpg
Catriona took this shot with one of my Lomo’s while she was following me around on photo shoot here in Hsinchu. She’s only a bit over 2 years old. I think she certainly deserves to have her own camera for Christmas – what a delight it will be to see the world from her eyes. I do look big to her, as she constantly reminds me. She might just be the next Rodchenko. It’s fun.