Finding New Traditions

6 years ago, I ran the Xiamen marathon. 5 years ago, we all went for a fun run in Jhubei, and in years past, we either spent an afternoon drinking coffee at our favourite coffee shop or hiking in the mountains.

When I was younger, New Years’ day was a time for family, with large gatherings for dinner. Later BBQ’ing in the snow was thrown in the mix. Most of our elders have passed, and the cousins are dispersed and disconnected, so family gatherings are a thing of the past.

Since returning to the Island, we have been searching for new traditions, and nothing has really stuck. We are lucky that our kids are still close and willing to spend time with us, particularly if a meal is involved.

The day started with a dip in the water for Camren. I may summon the courage to join him next year. Next, we discussed attending one or more Levee’s but making small talk with strangers is not always something I enjoy beyond superficial social niceties. Levees are more for extroverts.

After a bit of reading, it was time for a chilly run in the rain, followed by a feast of pork dumplings, which led to the kids reminiscing about their place of birth.

It was, all in all, a fine New Years’ day, much quieter than years past, but that is a feature of Island life, not a bug.


A different challenge

It’s getting difficult running to work as the temperature gets colder, what with the windchill when I cross the bridge and my general aversion to cold. The views remain as nice as ever.

My goal for running in winter is to stay upright, nothing more.


A Short Break

A wonderful Christmas was had, but there were no other plans for the holiday other than trying different pour-over recipes, running and reading. I had hoped to finish a couple books. We may have a trip to Nova Scotia at the end of the week, but that’s more work than pleasure.

I sat at the kitchen table this morning trying to think of some activities that didn’t involve shopping or spending money, and I came up blank. I don’t find the Island the most exciting place in winter, and there isn’t enough snow to try killing myself on skis. Almost all family we would have spent time with have passed away or moved to distant locales. So what is left is idleness or light work. I’ll always pick doing something over doing nothing.


Humanity vs. Efficiency

From Peter’s blog:

Humanity vs. Efficiency
I don’t understand the role of this Bridging humanity and efficiency video from Health PEI — is it marketing? celebration? politics? education? — but it’s well-produced, and uncommonly clear for health system communications. Dylana Arsenault should be put in charge of talking to the public.

I see it as a damning indictment of our healthcare system.

When Dylana states that only 1.6% had their operations deferred with a smile, it undermined the whole premiss of the video. That statistic has a person attached, a person who likely had been waiting an egregious amount of time for surgery.


Not a beach day

Not for me, at least. The first photo was taken a few hours earlier, a week ago, when the weather looked far more seasonal than it is today. Tonight high winds and rain are in the forecast, which almost inevitably means the power will be out. After Fiona, I lost my mind and ordered a solar panel and battery to keep our devices charged. This, although not having power for such an extended time, meant we spent every evening together playing board games. The first time in years. A solar panel won’t be very effective in the dark or when it’s raining.

I post these photos almost daily to Instagram as I take a break from my run. A distance that used to serve as a warm-up is now a work out.


More Contact Info. Needed

Just when I thought all fundamental problems with designing for the web had been solved, I come across a significant misstep on the part of the Charlottetown Police.

Last week Sheryl and I were working late and driving up University avenue behind an obviously grossly inebriated driver. Luckily he did not go over 30km/h, but he was utilizing both lanes to make his way north.

I decided that a call to the police was in order before this driver, who turned out to be an older man who probably shouldn’t be driving in the first place, killed someone or himself.

I don’t have the police department on speed dial, so I searched my mobile browser for the Charlottetown Police, which led to their Wikipedia page, and, finally, their website. Nowhere on their website could I see the word contact. Nor could I see a phone number. This is all in plain sight on their desktop version.

So I hesitantly called 911, and we followed the driver as I gave directions to the police dispatcher. By this point, the man had left his truck at Swiss Chalet, failed to navigate the glass fence around the front of the restaurant, hit his head, and got back in his truck. Then driving over the sidewalk, he went up University until he turned right at the Sobeys, where the police quickly arrived to pull him over.

I have no idea what the proper use case for the 911 service is – I assume it’s for someone breaking into my house with an assault rifle kind of emergency.

What I do know is that no one thought that a person would want to contact the police via their phone. And may want to find their number via a simple Google search. Particularly someone who might have middle-aged eyes and be under stress or time constraints. Seems like an obvious situation to design for to me.


A Great Start

This view is the start to my work day. Its getting cold and once the snow starts it’s not always possible to find traversable sidewalks in Charlottetown, especially across the bridge, so I am enjoying this view while I can. It’s also a good way point for my run/walk routine as I reacquaint my body to running once again.


The Complainer

When I was in grade school the teachers used to report that I complained too much, a habit that hasn’t really abated now that I am older. In fact, it’s likely increased since we moved back to the Island with my common refrains about how everything here costs far more than where we lived before or larger Canadian centres as well. I also have a gift for exaggeration.

We have been lucky enough during this period of increased prices to be affected primarily by the increased cost of fuel. Sheryl drives to Souris for work. That effect has been minimized by lots of carpooling and the fact that I run to work every day. As we buy food based on cost, and not by whim or habit, we have managed to keep our grocery bills within acceptable increases. Variety has taken a hit and I miss some fresh foods.

But with a swimmer in the house and most meets being off-Island there seems to be no escaping the high cost of travel.

Camren has a meet in Montreal in December and the team has decided to not go up together – in part due to the bus rental costing $11,000 – and in part due to some parents surprisingly enjoying driving in Northern New Brunswick in winter. I don’t. They all have large SUVs and being kind offered to allow him to ride with them. But alas he needs to be there earlier, he and one other swimmer qualified for a couple long-distance races which occur before the others arrive.

The only way to get him there is to fly. Unfortunately, the cost of flying out of Charlottetown has reached the level of ludicrousness. The price I was given for a return flight for the both of us was not far off what we would have paid to fly from Taiwan and return in years past. We often talk about returning to Taiwan, so out of interest, I checked those prices out of Halifax as well. They are double.

Porter has some far more reasonable fares out of Moncton, but they leave at 6:30AM, which in addition to paying the bridge tax and gas, means an incredibly early start to your day.

It’s pretty hard to justify all this for a single race.

Our savior may be Aeroplan. I have accumulated enough points that he and I could fly there with only a small service fee. I had planned on using these to fly us all someplace warm in Asia, but with the high costs of travel that doesn’t seem possible in the near future. I have little faith in Air Canada but I’ll hope that when we get to the airport they will actually have a seat on the plane for us.


Writing Workshop

I’ve been attending a writing workshop held by Doug Malcolm at the Charlottetown Learning Centre these past weeks. I had no real goal in attending other than getting help with the fact that “I write all the time and yet I have no idea what I am doing”.

These classes are the first time since the pandemic that I have sat around a table with a group of strangers. How novel to sit around a table with a group of people and discuss something of interest!

I haven’t learned anything related to writing yet, though the paragraph writing exercise he had us do did lead to the story Chef Shan and the Cabbage Rebellion that I released on Stories Pod. Having to read something written on the spot was terrifying.

This is a great chance to discuss writing and to learn how others think via their writing. Last week no one showed up, which I assume is a common problem (and a reason I wouldn’t put on a workshop myself), but I hope the meetings continue. It’s a welcome break from my routine.


Home or a house

I admit that I never entirely understood housing as an investment, preferring perhaps the idea that you buy a house because you want a home.

One of the many reasons we left Canada so many years ago was a desire to not follow the rules of what I refer to as the game – all the things you need to participate in until you can no longer. Buy a car(s), house(s), insurance, and investments, and stay in the same place and job so that you can retire and then live. We traveled, did interesting work with interesting people, and sent our kids to cool schools instead. I guess some could do it all, but when I was in my 20s I didn’t see how.

Before we can home, we thought of buying a house. We got approved for a mortgage but they wanted 50% down because our income was from “the FarEast”. Buying a house sight unseen seemed risky. Even when I said, here is a tiny one for 100K, we demurred (one of those just sold for $350K with nothing more than new paint).

We lived in a bubble in Taiwan for much of our time there – I had no idea what was happening here and what other people did to live their lives. I could see whole cities being built in Taiwan and China, only later to realize that they were beautiful ghost towns. People would buy real estate as an investment. Renting an Airbnb wasn’t a thing in my experience. The result was that it created soulless districts that eventually looked overgrown with weeds and unkempt. It also drove up the price of housing so that now in Taiwan, young people can’t afford to buy, and they delay having families until the last possible moment.

Unlike many of our family and friends our age, we are asset poor but experience-rich. It has been at times a difficult choice to make.

This is a long-winded way of saying that it’s fine, and in my view desirable for a community to say that homes within that community should be for those who want to live in them. Empty homes suck the life out of a city. Surely there must be other easy investments for those with the leverage to buy multiple dwellings.

There is a municipal election in Charlottetown and Stratford. The two main candidates in Charlottetown are comprised of the incumbent, who at every opportunity deflects responsibility for all matters to other levels of government (except arenas), and a pro-landlord and likely by extension pro-short rental candidate. As such, I doubt we will see meaningful change unless more grassroots groups like Charlottetown Mutual Aid rise up to force those old white men like myself to make change. They are too invested in their current way of thinking to do so by themselves.


Survey culture strikes again

I’ve lamented on many occasions the reliance on surveys, especially poorly formed ones, to gather data to guide public policy or to direct business strategy. Their use is not always misplaced, but they have become so easy and prevalent everyone thinks that simply gathering data of any kind is enough, no matter if what they are gathering is irrelevant quant., when it should be qual..

But never in my wildest dreams would I expect an organisation to use a survey to determine whether or not the respondent receives aid so that they can buy food. Aid that was specifically donated so that people could receive it. What makes matters worse is that no where in the survey, to the best of my recollection was it explicitly stated that this would inform future aid.

This leaves me wondering, can this Provincial government do anything right? The most effective organizations are those who understand the people and the problem, not those sitting comfortably warm in their second or third home, far from the problems at hand. Thats why grass roots organizations, like Charlottetown Mutual Aid, who are actually talking to people, and use a no questions asked approach to dispensing aid, are far more effective.


Fiona Day 3

We are back in our studio on Victoria Row, marvelling at the fact that when you flip a switch, a light turns on. We also have somewhat limited Internet access.

I ran around our neighbourhood in Stratford yesterday and it was sad to see so many lovely trees felled by the strong winds. Some utility poles were snapped, and lines down, so I don’t expect we will have power anytime soon. It’s amazing that so much of our critical infrastructure is strung between teetering wooden poles.

We have a limited social network on the Island but people we have met have been kind – my colleague gave us a 5G hotspot on loan, so that we can keep in touch with the outside world.

We do have some packaged food left and some fuel to heat it with, so we should be good for a couple more days. Hopefully by then other options will appear.


A Weekend Off

I’m sitting here in my kitchen, safe, warm and dry, drinking a lovely single origin from Peru that I brewed on my camp stove.

We’ve been through all kinds of natural disasters from the 921 earthquake, which leveled mountains and towns, to yearly typhoons which blew everything off the island not battened down. Being prepared for such things is something we are accustomed to but we’ve become somewhat complacent since returning to this gentler Island, and as such when we heard that this was going to be a “historic” hurricane we were caught somewhat unprepared.

Our food stores had expired and we were a bit short on fuel for our camp stove. The disadvantage of living in a place that relies entirely on electricity for heat, lights, and cooking is that once that disappears, modern life becomes less … modern.

We’ve done fine so far, we made food ahead of time and we have enough power banks to keep devices humming for days.

But what good are these devices if you can’t use them? This is perhaps the greatest surprise of this whole experience. Never in all the calamities that we’ve lived through, have we been unable to communicate with the outside world. In PEI, and other parts of Atlantic Canada, cellular service has been unavailable. According to some reports 911 service is unavailable as well. It took hours for me to finally check in with my 91 year old Uncle and the call failed half way through. What if he needed help?

Luckily we have a radio stored away in our survival kit so that we could listen to news updates. The CBC was having a hard time initially staying online as well.

We’ve now been without power for 36 hours. I think the CEO(?) of T3 Transit explained it well on radio the criticality of our electric infrastructure – you can’t even get fuel without power to the electric pump. It’s surprising how few backup systems there are in place.

We were greeted by the Mayor of Stratford yesterday as we went for a walk to survey the damage and realized that the town hall was open. He and other staff kept the coffee hot and made sure people could charge their devices and use Wi-Fi to communicate with others. It’s wonderful to see that level of care for the community.

I had a zoom call today and no way to reach out to say I was unable to attend. So I went to Town Hall again to see if I could either join the call or send an email to say I couldn’t. Unfortunately their network was overloaded with the hundreds of people looking to connect to the outside world and charge their devices. Instead we connected with neighbors over apple pie and coffee. We’ll go back later for a hot shower.


IRAC Vs. Renters

The recent announcement by IRAC to dramatically raise the allowable rental increase on the Island for the coming year affects us – we rent. Thankfully we won’t be left homeless or miss meals like others might, but because our money has limits it might mean no restaurants, which is already a rarity due to the high cost – low reward aspect of eating out in Charlottetown. It will also have an effect on charitable giving. Yes our rent is already that high.

Housing as an investment is weird here in Canada, at least from my inexperienced eyes.

In Taiwan, my experience was that people viewed real estate as an easy investment, an appreciating asset that could either be sold or used later in life. But they wouldn’t rent the house with the same regularity that you see here. Being a landlord was too much of a hassle, and often times we would have to convince landlords that we wouldn’t cause their asset to depreciate.

In Canada, it seems landlords use various means to mortgage a house, then have renters pay the mortgage, while they gain not only the value of an appreciating investment but also a profit from the renters.

The Taiwan model I witnessed resulted in whole districts being built with beautiful buildings, but no one living in them.

The Canadian model seems to create a return to a kind of serf – lord relationship.

In Taiwan it was understood that we could find another place to live with relative ease. So if we had a landlord with unrealistic expectations, or who was uncooperative, we would simply move. Adequate supply makes the relationship more equal.

Canada has no supply, and as such you have no recourse.

One of our many mistakes in moving home was not buying a house before we arrived. It seemed too risky with no steady income, and we wanted more than just a house, we wanted a home. Of course those houses have doubled in value in the past few years, but we didn’t have a crystal ball, and we knew nothing of real estate in Canada.

We are in a better position to buy now, we are more settled, but the question that we keep wondering, is this investment worth it? It was 4 years ago, but now at 2x the cost? It seems everyday the answer inches closer to no, but renting on the Island is not tenable over the long term (for many reasons), so that may mean a move to somewhere else. Somewhere with a functioning medical system perhaps, maybe Europe this time, instead of Asia?


Workplace Progressives

I had a visit with the optometrist this week as I had some concerns about my left eye which had prompted a visit to emergency a few years ago. Luckily all is well, and though we discussed how getting older is a nuisance, my vision has actually improved compared to the past.

This is an ongoing example of health care that works. I make an appointment that works for both of us, I talk to the doctor about my issues, she does tests, gives a recommendation, and passes on some info to the specialist for future followup. Unfortunately, this is also a private and paid practice. It’s also expensive.

The other problem I have been having is I can’t make out the menu items on my computer monitor. Apple’s UI has been increasingly lacklustre in their pro apps, and deteriorating at about the same rate as my ability to see small text clearly at about an arms length distance. It drives me crazy and has an effect on my ability to work.

The optometrist’s recommendation was a pair of “computer or workplace progressives” which focus on the mid and short range of vision. Very promising. She was more than happy to introduce me to the optician who then gave me an overview of the frames available, which all have the same starting price, and what my final cost would be. The total cost for this visit was to be approx. $850. Glasses for driving would be an extra expense.

I didn’t buy the glasses.


Blue skies

Taken from my Instagram feed, where I post a lot of blue.

If asked what I appreciated about living here, I would point to the blue sky. Returning here for summer vacation when we lived in Asia I would always marvel at the puffy white clouds, the clean air and the blue sky.

With all the bad news lately, Prince Edward Island seems like an increasingly unlikely place to choose to live, but that blue sky has the remarkable effect of washing away a lot of the negativity.


Learning Centre

The new learning centre is wonderful. Finally, Charlottetown has a place where you can meet, greet, work, read, and spend an afternoon while enjoying excellent coffee and treats. I’ll be there frequently, especially as the weather gets colder.


Blue skies

On days like this I think it’s best to not know just how nice it is outside – a benefit of having a basement office. Now that I know it’s difficult to focus on todays banal work knowing that I should, or could, be outside enjoying our short warm season. But if I did take the afternoon off, what exactly would I do? Hiking perhaps. Maybe I need to take up golf.

My daughter says that I have lost the “chill vibe” that she says we both used to share. We used to spend the afternoon in a coffee shop, she would drink tea, and I cup after cup of coffee. And share cheese cake. There is no where in Charlottetown to do the same, though The Shed comes pretty close with its excellent beans.

I can’t just sit and do nothing, and find relaxing perplexing. I didn’t travel to take a break, I traveled to experience things. My body continues to resist the punishing nature of road running, so I guess long bike trips around the Island might be the experience I need on afternoons like this.


Favorite stretch

I take a picture of this stretch of Victoria Row most days that I walk over to The Shed for coffee. It’s possibly my favourite stretch of road in all of Charlottetown and I only wish most of the downtown area was closed to monster trucks and open to those who can and like to walk (or bike).


My apologies

After living a lifetime in places where you taped your windows shut and enjoyed machine filtered temperature controlled air, it was a relief to return to a northern climate where you cooled your house by opening a window. Except for our bedroom.

In the summer it could be 21°C outside, 23°C in our living room but 28°C in our bedroom. And the temperature would rise from there.

So this year we bought the loudest air conditioner I have ever witnessed, the portable kind since there is some ordnance against in window air conditioners, no doubt to avoid air conditioners falling down on peoples heads like the rain (something that I never heard of in earthquake prone Taiwan).

When we installed it last night I remarked that this would spell the start of the wettest and coolest summer since we returned. And sure enough it’s rainy and cool this morning.


Like a fine wine

I can think of no better analogy to describe the cup of coffee I had at The Shed on Monday. After a weekend of drinking coffee from the likes of The Java Moose and The Second Cup it was particularly refreshing to taste coffee’s true potential.


Commute view

Sheryl spent a few days in Truro this week which meant I was without a car, so I took the opportunity to run to and from my office in the downtown. It’s not really that long a walk either.


A New Place

I dropped into The 5th Wave this morning as I was determined to spend time drinking coffee amongst the backdrop of people and their chatter after being stuck inside for so long. My first stop was The Shed but I swear it has been closed more often than open whenever I have dropped by this winter.

The 5th Wave has the advantage of a convenient location and an interior set-up conductive to staying for longish periods that make for a pleasant experience. It’s bright and geared towards a younger clientele; more Japanese minimalist than College bookstore. The music in the shop is front and centre, which is almost always a mistake, as it was at The Shed, and many other places who don’t think of audio as an integral part of their experience.

Yesterday when spending time at The Shed I remarked that their drip coffee tasted better than my pour over. It was quite good, and their pour over is even better. Buying black drip or pour over defines to me the character of a coffee shop. That’s what I ordered today at The 5th Wave. Their drip is a med-dark roast with a flavour profile not unlike many other slightly upscale coffee shops like Receivers. It wasn’t distinctive or great, but it was fine. They don’t do their own roasting and much of the flavour of coffee is dependent on freshness, so they are perhaps at a disadvantage in developing a uniquely flavoured product.

I’ll come back for an expresso again in the near future, and would certainly prefer spending time in their bright environment than say the darkness of the Victoria Row Receivers or Alambé Coffee.


Optimism

After our last set of restrictions from the CPHO I wrote a missive about what I had hoped to do to maintain my sanity midst the never ending deluge of negativity (and rage) that seems to accompany life on the Island of late.

With the exception of getting outside, I still am not a fan of winter, I’ve read a few books, exercised far more and have paid increasing attention to the food I eat.

I’ve also disconnected from most of social media, with the exception of Instagram, the Internets greatest source of unrealistic body image expectations.

Despite this I’ve found it increasingly difficult to maintain a positive attitude. I’m generally not what you would call a positive person on the best of days, but the current environment makes it hard to maintain my usual salty/not salty equilibrium. Let alone make the kind of change needed to transform myself to having a more positive outlook.

Peter linked to Charlie Angus On Getting from Darkness to the Light which helped for a moment.

I think all I can do is acknowledge the negativity, move on and keep achieving the goals set in front of me, and hope that the sun of Spring and Summer bring with it a greater sense of optimism.


Literacy

When you sit and wonder how so many people can believe what they do with regards to all matter of topics, but most importantly these days, public health, it’s important to first ponder the following statistic:

“For years, we have seen data that says 46 percent of Islanders struggle with the basic literacy required to work and thrive in our knowledge-based, digital society,” – source

“In 2003, it was estimated that 40,000 (nearly 43%) of PEI residents who were 16 to 65-years old had literacy levels below the desired level of coping (Statistics Canada, 2003, p.107)”

The problem doesn’t seem to be improving.

Now couple this with the algorithms behind social media platforms manipulating people with disinformation and we can come to a possible understanding of why we are where we are.