Fifty 4 Fifty: Embracing Life as a Mid-Century Modern

I’m turning fifty this year, hence the reference to the Mid-Century Modern—that’d be me, the ‘Mid-Century Modern’ woman. This post is a bit of a departure as it’s about me and not the child, her world or my interaction with her world. But mothers are people too so I thought it wouldn’t be too intrusive to do this one post about me.

Chrissie's Classical Guitar Recital

Chrissie on stage

This past weekend, whilst listening to my brother play classical guitar,  I had a brilliant (well I think it is) idea. In honour of my fifty years on the planet, I’m going to do fifty things (#fifty4fifty)—new things, things from my bucket list, family things, travel things, learning things, seeing people things, friend things and new people things. It’s a pretty open field but I wanted to make it achievable and fun. It’s also significant that I thought of this in January but not exactly in time to do a New Year’s resolution as my track record with those is not inspiring or even worth discussing.  Seeing as I’d like this to be a positive endeavour and not a drag, I’m doing it for my 50th birthday year only, though I’d consider round two if I make it to 100. Secondly, it’s strictly a one-off for two more reasons: I get bored easily and lack staying power; and secondly because the hashtag would become downright cumbersome and typographically hideous in year two (#fifty-one4fifty-one).

The Mid-Century Modern reference is a nod to my age and hopefully, my state of mind—not any sort of personification attempt to see life through the eyes of a Mid-Century Modern home trying to fit in with its traditional suburban neighbours because that would be weird, narcissistic and probably dull. I love Mid-Century Modern architecture because it was a departure from the accepted design (or lack thereof) aesthetic but in a good way, not just change for the sake of change. It was inspired by (among others) the Bauhaus movement, the work of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe and resulted in the creation of physical space that reflected the sociological and idealistic values of modern thought in terms of art, architecture, politics and culture. Houses were meant to fit into their natural setting and invite the outdoors in by using post and beam structure, open spaces and large windows. It’s one of my favourite styles and if forced to make this a metaphor for my life…“In this fiftieth anniversary of my birth (the ‘mid-century’), I hope to expand my mind and my experiences by seeing, doing and thinking things that break out of, or directly contradict (the ‘modern’), my customarily held behaviours, beliefs and values (the ‘traditional’).” And that’s about as academic as I’m capable of these days seeing as I can’t really remember even getting my BA in Philosophy much less anything I learned.


Being try-hard math geek without the requisite intellectual abilities, I enjoy the symmetry of numbers and 5 figures big for me—beyond the actual number 50. My birthday is May, 5th, 1967 (yes, Cinquo de Mayo though I didn’t know about that until I was in my late 20s). It would have been more symmetrical if it was 1965 though my parents weren’t actually married (though they did date for NINE YEARS before marrying) or even 1955 but my mum was only fourteen and didn’t yet know my dad. However, using my personal interpretation of numerology (which isn’t a real science anyway is it?) it does work if I use 05.05.67 because 5+5=10; 10+67=77; 7+7=14; 1+4=5! I don’t think this is entirely correct but I’m taking artistic license here. This lack of symmetry in the year of my birth is made up for by the fact that it’s Canada’s 150th birthday this year which brings an extra ‘5’ to the party.



Celebrating Martha's birthday 2008

Lunching with Tracey, me, Mel, Misha and Martha

Though I enjoyed the guitar concert immensely, I can’t give total credit to the creative power of music for the idea. I had two human inspirations. The first one is my friend Martha who turned fifty last October and decided to go out once a week. Now Martha doesn’t just ‘go out’ she crosses the bridge and goes downtown and beyond. To jazz clubs and bars.With interesting people. It was downright inspiring and I’d like to join her one night and go to a jazz club. That’s Martha on the far right at her birthday lunch back in 2008. (Gasp)

Photo by Rod Pasch

Best ballet pic ever. Photo by Rod Pasch

My second inspiration was my sister-in-law Becky, lovely wife to the aforementioned classical guitarist brother. Becky decided that she didn’t want to organize social events and outings this year as she spends her entire day as the head archivist at the City of Burnaby organizing stuff. So she has committed to say ‘yes’ to all invitations that come her way. In the event of a lull in outside invitations, she has put my brother in charge of organizing their social life which initially horrified my mum and I, as it would be fair to say that my brother leans toward quieter side of things in social situations involving more than five people. A bold move on her part, however he has taken on his new role with enthusiasm and success. Who knew?
That’s my favourite photo of Becky taken by her dad, Rod Pasch, back in the day.

After these personal tales of inspiration and bravery, I have decided that I too can do some different things. New things, maybe even with new people. Like I said, nothing crazy. There will be no bungee jumping or skydiving because I’m just not that interested. I’m going to focus on doing those things that I always thought would be great ideas or fun outings, things that I saved the brochure for but never got around to doing or things that are just a little different or perhaps out of my comfort zone.

Back to the math world…fifty new things divided into 12 months means four new things per month with 2 bonus events available for months of exceptional inspiration. Being a practical person, I retroactively deemed a few events in January as worthy of the list.

  • On January 2nd I went out for drinks and appies with my oldest and dearest friend Leah who was in town from Toronto to celebrate her 50th and her other friends who I don’t really know well at all. In fact, I mostly know them only by the things they’ve done together and the odd Facebook post. It was cool to hang all together and get to know them too. #fifty4fifty #newpeople
  • On January 15th, my mum’s birthday, I went to the Steveston Seafood House for dinner. I spent a good deal of my teenage years working here (age 13-19). I made lifelong friends, earned a lot of money and learned a lot about life in general. It’s different now and when I thought about how old the former owner and managers would be, it was also slightly horrifying. #fifty4fifty #nostalgia
  • On January 21, my friend Mel (a Mulgrave mum and one of our ‘ladies’) was in town and we went to Black and Blue for dinner and drinks. Normally not my scene at all because it’s across the bridge and cooler than I can pretend to be. I realized that a) it’s hard to be cool when your clothes are not;  b) I need to wear more make-up as the ‘fresh-faced’ look refers to youth, not clean skin; and c) expensive and unique cocktails, leather seats and Dine Out Vancouver make for tragic service. Back in my day, we would have been fired. However, a good time was had by all AND a nice young man bought us shooters. (OK he was the boyfriend of one of our children, but still.) #fifty4fifty #newplace
  • On January 22 I went to a classical guitar concert to see my brother play. My brother plays both the acoustic and electric guitar and has done since he was six (more than forty years) and periodically performs on stage. I haven’t seen him play for quite a while so we all decided to go as a family and watch. It was a fantastic concert with an amazing roster of talented guitarists. I kept thinking about the 10 000 hours thing…I think my brother has practiced that much in the last ten years, never mind his whole life. And there were nine performers who had all clearly done their 10 000 hours. Their dedication was inspiring. I don’t think I’ve done anything for 10 000 hours except maybe sleep. Or maybe write if you count university…. Anyway, this concert also inspired me to consider attending the VSO. Stay tuned. #fifty4fifty #musicappreciation #family

So that’s where it stands right now. I have lots of ideas for the next 46 things but I’m not going to include them because I don’t want to jinx it. Don’t worry, I have no plans of posting every single thing I do. I’m keeping a list and will do a lovely re-cap blog at the end of the year 😉
(Note the positive attitude #newyearsresolution #trytobelesscynical)

The Other Mother

The Graduate Rockridge 2016Almost everyone who knows me, knows that the child graduated from high school in June and moved to New York in August to pursue a modeling career. And for those of you that don’t, she graduated and moved to New York to pursue a modeling career 😉

I’ve received mixed responses from people when I tell them what Karis is doing—and any parent of a recent grad will know exactly what I mean. You cannot get through a conversation where post-high school plans are not discussed. Reactions to Karis’s modeling plans run the gamut from barely veiled disapproval to genuine excitement and support. I’m pretty sure a lot of people are silently thinking, “Thank GOD I don’t have to deal with THAT,” relieved that their child is safely ensconced in some temple of higher learning—though I feel compelled to point out that this is a costly endeavor with no guarantees either.

I’m not going to waste a whole lot of time on the haters (especially since I’m pretty sure most of them don’t read my blog) but suffice to say that yes, we thought long and hard about this; no, this was not a spur of the moment decision because she got bad grades (she did quite well thanks very much); yes, we have been planning this with her mother agent Liz Bell of Lizbell Agency since she was fourteen and no, she is not working illegally as a slave or forced to go to nightclubs to earn her keep. Though that does happen. Just not if you’re with a proper agency. And most people do ask me if I know about that.

Karis has a US work visa and a social security number and it’s all quite above board. The majority of her costs are covered because she is working with people who believe she has a very good chance of success which is what Liz has told us from the beginning. In the early days I demanded that Liz “be honest” and “tell me what you really think” in terms of Karis pursuing modeling as a career. At which point Liz gently reminded me that this was her business (and not some obsessive hobby that she spent ALL her time on) and that if she thought Karis should pursue academics instead of modeling she would most certainly let me know in a timely manner. #gotit #secretlyhopingshewouldsayno

Anyway, I digress. Many people have asked me how this whole modeling thing works and I will attempt to address this in a variety of blog posts, hopefully in a logical order. Well, it will be logical in my mind at least. To begin at the beginning, we must start with the Mother Agent.

Karis has wanted to model since she was eleven. I was initially skeptical for most of the reasons any parent would be skeptical—it is a recipe for eating disorders, exploitation and superficiality—and she was too short and too shy anyway. And she had braces and a lime green retainer. Furthermore, it seemed a strange choice for a child who didn’t particularly enjoy or demand to be in the spotlight. However, she persisted and I reluctantly started looking at local agencies when she was thirteen. We submitted photos online to Lizbell Agency as instructed. And heard nothing. Ultimately, a mutual friend (thanks Karen Delaney-Wolverton) contacted Liz and we got our meeting.

After the meeting, Liz told us Karis needed to be at least 5’8” and preferably 5’9” and to contact her again when Karis was fourteen and had her braces off. One month after Karis’s fourteenth birthday (no, she still hadn’t forgotten about it), we met again with Liz and signed with Lizbell Agency that week. We did look at other agencies but chose Liz for a variety of reasons:

  • Liz is a former international model and knows the industry.
  • She is well-connected and has current relationships with agents and casting directors in New York and Europe (Milan, London, Paris). This is important.
  • She is a mother herself (bonus points from me) and understands that this is your CHILD, not a commodity (well, she’s a commodity too, but also your child).
  • Lizbell Agency is a boutique agency meaning each model gets a lot of personal attention.

TIP #1: If you have ANY connections at all to a modelling agency, use them. Agencies are inundated with photos and don’t always get a chance to have a close look at all submissions. Alternatively, check out social media channels (mostly Instagram and Snapchat these days) for open calls for new faces as it is a sign they are actually looking to sign new models OR if there is a live scouting event GO. It’s a great opportunity to actually get a face-to-face meeting with the agent…not always an easy feat.
TIP #2: Do your research. Ask friends for recommendations. Almost everyone will know someone whose daughter is a model and they’re usually happy to answer questions (I’ve met with four parents of ‘prospective’ models). Local photographers, stylists and make-up artists (MUA) are also a great resource as they often work with agencies to develop new faces and have some fairly good intel on the local agent scene. That being said, meet with agents, ask questions and consider your ‘gut’ reaction as you will have a close relationship with this person for a long time and you need to be able to work together.
Tip #3: READ THIS E-BOOKThe Guide for New Faces It only costs about $2 and is very informative about the modeling industry. Also follow their blog as it’s chock full of relevant information and plus they’re Canadian! I found out about this from a Scottish model while I was in Tokyo with Karis.

fullsizerender-19Also, funny story. After I found out about them, I followed them on Instagram. They posted a photo of one of our favourite restaurants (Mamma Luisa’s Table owned by an Italian guy who only speaks Italian and Japanese) in Tokyo which was just around the corner from the model apartment we stayed in. So of course I commented on the post which initiated a dialogue and ended up with me writing an article for their blog.

But what IS a mother agency you may still be wondering and why is it different than any other agency. Basically pretty much ANY agency can call themselves a mother agency in relation to a specific girl. It means that they ‘discovered’ and developed the model and arranged or facilitated her being launched with other agencies in other markets worldwide. A Mother Agent usually has input (in consultation with the model and her other main agency) on career direction and choices and has a ‘mother(bear)-like’ relationship with the model in that they will protect their model’s interests.

Once a model is signed with their first agency—AKA their Mother Agent—the agent will work to develop the model over a period of years. This involves education about the industry (meetings or handouts from the agency), walking lessons and photo sessions (known as ‘creatives’ or ‘testing’) to get images for a portfolio. The agent will take what used to be known as ‘Polaroids’ but are now ‘digitals’ or ‘digis’ in a basic outfit (tank top and jeans or shorts) and bikini shots to post on the website. Digitals are also taken without makeup as it is necessary to see the bone structure and skin clearly. (Before I knew this, one of the shots I submitted was Karis with stunning makeup done by a senior MAC artist. I thought it was lovely, but they want to see bone structure. Live and learn.) Models will also have their measurements taken for height, bust, waist and hips. *Not even going to open this can of worms as any discussions of weight and measurements in the modeling industry results in a highly charged emotional discussion. It’s a personal decision.*

However, I will offer this advice, if your daughter (or son) has any issues at all around eating or body image, do not even think about allowing them to model. The industry is not kind. Karis regards fitness and healthy eating as part of her job: much as a university student needs to study, she needs to stay in shape. I think this is probably the healthiest way to think of something that could, and often does, go badly awry for many models.

Images above are from a short video Karis did with Liz for Fashion One

To develop a model, you need to think of it as a training program—it is not a way to make easy and consistent money, especially in Vancouver. When you factor in your time as the parent (and yes, it will take up YOUR time driving to castings, shows and shoots), parking and money spent on clothes you will NOT be in the money at the end of the year. If you cover your costs in the first year, consider that a roaring success.

That being said, in Grade 11 and 12, Karis did make a decent amount of money, though this is not really the name of the game. Learning how to model, how to walk, how to deal with clients and agents, building confidence and interpersonal skills and learning how to manage your own correspondence is the goal of modeling during high school. The secondary goal for some girls is building up a portfolio that is comprehensive enough to support a Visa application to pursue a modeling career in the USA after high school graduation. (That whole paperwork thang is another story. OMG. The trees that died for Karis’s career.) Anyway, throughout the years, Karis has done many creatives; fashion shows for Blanche MacDonald, LaSalle College, Eco Fashion Week and various charities; Lookbooks (fancy word for ‘catalogue’) and campaigns for local designers all in the name of honing her modeling skills and creating content for her portfolio. See below for images.

TIP #4: Do not ever pay anything for modeling or personal development courses or to ‘join’ an agency. A good agency will work with new models to teach them the business and will have relationships with local photographers who will do creatives/testing in exchange for images to develop a portfolio for free. The only thing we pay for is a small annual fee to maintain Karis’s portfolio on the LB website and for any comp cards, printing costs or courier charges. We also buy a basic model wardrobe, some of which is suggested by Liz (would likely vary from agent to agent) and some items that are necessities.
Basic Necessities: Model bag, portfolio & comp cards (provided by the agency) black thong and strapless bra; nude thong and strapless bra; black and nude bras with no padding and no underwire (bralette); black bikini; plain black heels, casting outfit #1 (usually something simple that shows the lines of your body like a tank top and jeans); lip gloss and cover-up; hair elastic and hairbrush.
Options: plain nude heels; ankle boots with low heel; casting outfit #2 (simple black dress).

Now you’re probably wondering WHY an agency would bother to develop new faces and act as a Mother Agency especially since I’ve pointed out that it takes years and if the model isn’t earning much money, the agency certainly isn’t either. Cost/benefit analysis = FAIL.

It’s true, scouting and developing a model takes a lot of time and does not pay well. Most US and Canadian agents charge 20% of the model’s fee and 20% on the client side…so if a model earns $1200 in a year the agent will make $480 and the model takes home $960 before tax as (N.B. models file taxes as a contract worker not an employee). That’s not much money when you consider the time and administration necessary for new models.

The payoff for a Mother Agent is when one of their models starts working internationally and earning real money. And that is because the Mother Agent receives an ongoing commission, paid out of the booking agent’s cut (in that particular market) for every job the model does. If you have a good eye, good relationships with international agents and you train your development girls well, a Mother Agent can make a decent income from ‘her’ models who work internationally.

Before you decide you’re going to rush out and open a modeling agency to get a jump on this passive income stream, let me tell you that being a Mother Agent is not easy. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are but you have to develop a lot of girls in order to produce a working model.

Many things can go wrong. Some girls hate it; some aren’t good in front of the camera; some choose sports or dance or school; some are unable to deal with the insensitivity of the industry as a whole; some girls do not grow tall enough or cannot maintain their measurements in a healthy way; some parents change their minds and a myriad of other reasons can make a girl opt out of modeling.

Even if a model makes it to that magical gatepost of graduation and is launched in New York and internationally, there are still no guarantees they will be successful or even if they are successful, if they will continue to work. Modeling is HARD work and many girls give up before they achieve their potential because they’re too homesick, they miss their boyfriends or they simply can’t manage the lifestyle because of the uncertainty and inconsistency associated with the industry.

All these girls—the development girls and the working models—represent hours, weeks, months and years of time invested by a Mother Agent who has no guarantees and no compensation if a model decides to quit.
Also as a side note, if you like to sleep regularly and through the night, being a Mother Agent is not a great career choice. When your models are working in Europe, most of the frantic emails about options, jobs and other incidentals occur from 11pm -9am PST. It’s easier when they’re in New York #justsayin’

Models can, (and usually do), have different agencies in different markets worldwide unless you are signed with an agency with a global network like IMG or The Society/Elite Worldwide. The Mother Agent is the link to all the agencies representing a model and they all need to work together once a model gets busy in various markets. When I say the Mother Agent is the ‘link’ it also means that they have developed and continue to nurture relationships with the bookers at these agencies (not necessarily the agency themselves, though sometimes this is the case). THIS is the most important thing. Someone could be the most organized and well-intentioned person ever but if they have no key relationships in the industry, they aren’t able to secure the best contracts for their models. So as you can see, a good Mother Agent is invaluable as their particular experience and skill set is not easy to come by…I don’t think there’s a course anywhere for this. Their key relationships aside, they are are also meant to provide input and suggestions to ensure that the model is casting for, and getting work that reflects their ultimate career goals.

For example, consider the following scenario: A model is in London doing editorial work (not much pay if any, but good exposure). She gets an option (an option means that a client is interested and is inquiring as to availability, but does not guarantee anything) to go to Paris for two days to work on e-commerce (well paid, no prestige); an option to do an editorial in London for a top designer (no pay, product in kind=free clothes); or a trip to Singapore to do a fashion show for a local designer (paid, plus expenses and clothes). All the dates overlap. How do you prioritize and choose?

This is not as easy as you might think as it is not solely about the money. A mother agent would sort through these options with the model’s main international agent which, for most Canadian girls, would be an American agent, ideally in New York and the agent in the particular market. Now back to the options, there are factors to consider for each one that range far beyond the money.

  • Who is the client? Sometimes it’s about building relationships for the future more than the money or prestige. Perhaps the designer or casting agent likes the model and may want to work with her on a lower profile job before offering something bigger.
  • Who else is on the job? Sometimes it is strategic to place a model in a job that doesn’t seem like much in terms of prestige or pay but it may be an opportunity to meet a top stylist, photographer or Makeup Artist (MUA).
  • What is the exposure? If an editorial is unpaid but is in a decent publication with a large social media following it might be worth considering. Sometimes flight and hotels are covered and sometimes models are paid in kind (clothes). Sometimes not.
  • On the downside, money and potential relationship-building needs to be weighed against the reach/exposure of poor images on the market. Because once you’re noticed, Models.com keeps track of everything you do. Which is GREAT. Providing that all the work you do is of the same calibre…otherwise, you’ll become known for lower-level work and it’s hard to work your way up again. Probably impossible.

So as you can see, decisions are rarely straightforward and this is where the importance of a well-connected and up-to-date Mother Agent cannot be overstated. All these options must be designated 1st, 2nd or 3rd or just a flat out no; however, the industry is small and one must also take care not to offend anyone. Because they’ll never forget that either. The importance of having a Mother Agent that can collaborate intelligently and strategically with other agents is a career necessity.

Liz with her girls in NY

So the Mother Agent is like a mother…overworked and unappreciated and always tired. Having to deal with other parents who may or may not be crazy (Not me of course. I am eminently reasonable #bahahaha) but still having to be polite. Ultimately though, the Mother Agent is fiercely on the side of her models in navigating through the crazy, unpredictable but potentially rewarding fashion industry. #thanksLiz


Any feedback, comments, corrections and questions are welcome 🙂

GLOSSARY: (There will be a short quiz in the next post)

  • Mother Agent
  • portfolio
  • creative
  • testing
  • Polaroid(s)
  • digitals /digis
  • Lookbook
  • comp card
  • bralette
  • commission
  • bookers
  • option
  • casting agent
  • stylist
  • MUA

Surviving the Pemby Fest without your mother…

Pemby...the day after pemby aftermath

So…I allowed Karis to go to the Pemberton Music Festival without me. Not that I would EVER go to anything like that as I am unwilling to put up with hardship for any music by any band ever, but I did have a clever friend who allowed her child to attend provided they stay at the family home in Whistler. She sold the girls on the idea of clean, cool beds; electricity, running water, toilets and food; and the ability to have a good night’s sleep before heading out to do it all over again the next day. She was within a reasonable distance should anything go wrong and also saw them daily to make sure nothing was going wrong that they weren’t telling her about (they are teenagers after all). She wouldn’t have allowed them to camp anyway but I’m not completely sure the girls knew that. Like I said, clever. Admirably so. Sadly, I don’t currently have a home in Whistler and didn’t actually think of this in time to rent one…perhaps next year if they attend this heinous event again.

So, my first and only child set off with two friends on Thursday morning at 5am. And yes, they can now drive themselves which is another worry entirely. The previous few days were busy with trips to the store to get various supplies and foodstuffs, doing laundry, borrowing camping items and packing. Karis was a lot more interested in selecting her ‘music festival’ wardrobe and getting stick-on tattoos, glow-sticks and coconut water than the wet wipes, Vitamin C/Immune support tablets, LED lanterns and bug repellent that I thought would be useful and practical.

The three girls had a tent, foamies and sleeping bags; a couple of coolers and food and beverages; water bottles and towels. I heard there was food for purchase so I wasn’t overly worried as I figured she could buy food with cash or using her ATM card. They were lectured on the importance of staying hydrated, using sunscreen, wearing a hat and trying to get some sleep. They were also instructed that they MUST contact us in the morning and evening when they were back in the tent. No exceptions or excuses as one ‘team member’ had a portable charger so they could ALWAYS be reached. We told them we expected them to behave like Navy Seals…”No man left behind.” Ever. For any reason.

It appears that a good portion of the population of not only their high school, but the North shore in general were at the festival. I did have a couple of ‘boots on the ground’ as well–the aforementioned Clever Mum; a young lady I’ve known for years who has just graduated university and several of the security staff. Not that ANY of this made it any easier being at home and not actually knowing too much about what was going on. I think the growing up thing is a process for both parents and teens. I was unsettled the entire weekend. Karis told me, when she returned home, that she would not allow her children to attend until they were older. Nice. Thanks honey.

I don’t envy the festival organizers. It’s an enormous amount of people to manage and they did have some great ideas in theory that did not withstand the rigours of reality and 30+ degree heat every day. They did provide garbage and recycling though I’ve heard mixed reviews about the availability. I also heard they were charging $4 for garbage bags at the end which seems so counter-intuitive that I can’t even comment. There were some logistical issues though. For instance, the parking lot for the general campers (read the plebs) was over an HOUR’s (apparently 2km) walk in 32+ degree weather. There were golf carts everywhere but not available to help people with their gear. Why wouldn’t they offer rides for $2, particularly in the heat? Another rule that I understand logistically but feel is unfair, is the parking hostage situation. You are not allowed in or out of the parking lot once you arrive so, You can visit your car and get things from it but you can’t move it or sleep in it, making you essentially a captive in a large hot field for 4-6 days.

In this large hot field (cleverly marketed as the ‘festival grounds’) organizers provide showers, cooling stations, food, phone charging stations and FREE water! What they neglect to tell you is that it is easily a 2 HOUR+ wait for a shower (costing $5); over 2 hours to charge your phone (and often longer as the chargers aren’t available and you can’t bring your own; and up to an HOUR at the water stations which are blessedly free if you live long enough to reach them. Basically you are waiting for pretty much everything and in the blazing heat with no shade. One of Karis’s friends got heat exhaustion…fever and shakes. The only alternative is the Alouette River though festival goes are “highly discouraged” from going because it is fast moving and dangerous, and I suspect also because it’s free. Karis and her friends made the 40-minute trek to try and cool off and escape the heat and dust for a while.

The cost of food is a complete gouge job ($8 for 2 sliders, $10 for a burger, $8 for a cup of lemonade–no alcohol, just lemonade); which is in incredibly poor taste considering many of the attendees are young people who have likely spent most of their money on the ticket. As I mentioned before, the hour plus walk from the car to the campground makes the idea of carrying coolers full of food impractical and unappealing. The parking lot hostage situation prevents you from driving to Whistler or Pemberton to re-stock and you are not able to leave the parking lot and re-enter. Karis and her friends did leave the parking lot to go to Whistler for food and medication. They were denied re-entry but went in through an unattended exit. If that hadn’t happened they would be in a pickle as any cars that are parked anywhere near the festival are towed and it’s $500 to retrieve them.

The pictures of the grounds on the news now show it absolutely chock-a-block with abandoned items and garbage. I suspect many people simply bring tents, coolers and sleeping bags that they are happy to leave behind, perhaps from yard sales or something. I do feel for them as the last thing I’d want to do is hike BACK to the car in the heat after 4-6 days of hell; however, it’s no excuse for that mess.

I think the festival needs to step it up a bit here as they did have many good ideas in theory but not in practice as there were simply not enough facilities for the amount of people. More water stations. More chargers. Cheaper food choices. They DO have shuttles and golf-carts on site for the VIP campers and the shuttle bus pass holders. Perhaps they could consider offering rides between the parking lot and campground for $2 to help move stuff?  Perhaps they could have festival volunteers walking the campgrounds on the last days and finding out who is planning on leaving tents, coolers or sleeping bags and tagging them to be picked up and donated to a homeless charity or re-sold as they are now doing for university dorm furniture (http://www.postlandfill.org/new-campus-program-trash-treasure-tulane-university/). Perhaps they could hand out free garbage bags (and not CHARGE $4) and offer anyone with a filled bag a ride to their car or pay them $5 (cheaper than $80 per ticket for clean-up). Just a few tweaks could make it a lot better. Just sayin’.

In terms of my child, yes, she’s growing up and probably learned a lot from the experience. She survived, as did everyone else’s children. I try daily to NOT be the dreaded ‘helicopter parent’ dooming my child to a life bereft of coping skills and an almost certain outcome of anxiety, depression and failure but some days it’s harder than others as life just seems a lot harder than it was when I was young…. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nation-wimps/201401/helicopter-parenting-its-worse-you-think

Change is the only constant.


Admittedly it has been 23 years since I was last in Tokyo and my memory is a little foggy, but I have noticed some changes since I was there last. I’m sure there are noticeable changes in ANY society is 23 years, but the ones I remember are things that were always curious or different or noteworthy to me, even back in the day.

Smoking: Tokyo used to be one big smoke pit. Not only was it legal to smoke everywhere (as I’m sure it was in many places in 1991), but it seemed like more people smoked. It is still legal to smoke outdoors but only in designated and gated-off smoking areas. There doesn’t seem to be any public indoor smoking areas that I saw, but I’m not completely ruling it out. There is still smoking allowed in many restaurants and it seems that many people will still smoke…even right under the non-smoking sign.

Booze in vending machines: Sadly this is no longer the case. Apparently the law was changed to help reduce underage drinking. I have fond memories of the various booze dispensing vending machines in my old neighbourhoods. Of particular note was the vodka machine. It sold only vodka (can’t remember if it was Russian or Japanese but I’m thinking Russian) in a veritable plethora of sizes ranging from airplane miniatures to a large plastic jug with a handle. It was quite affordable and eminently drinkable. There were also many machines that sold beer–brand specific or just any type of beer–and sake in jars, bottles, cans (heated or cold) and casks. Magnificently convenient though I do understand why they had to stop this practice. You can now buy alcohol at any convenience store or grocery store. The only form of ID is that you must tap a button on a touch screen acknowledging that you are at least 20 years old. I can’t help but wonder if the Japanese are too polite to question you…especially if you’re a foreigner.

Height: The overall average height of the Japanese people has risen significantly in my experience. Or else I’ve gotten shorter which is also a distinct possibility. Regardless, people are taller. When I was here last, I went to galleries and museums at least once a week. The crowds never bothered me as even if they were five people deep, I could always see over everyone’s head. No, I didn’t wear heels. I am still taller than the majority of women but not all the men anymore. I also saw some distinctly tall children. Very few overweight people though. I suspect this is because most people have to walk or bicycle every day. I’m finding my car and driving to be painful. I miss walking, even if it was 40 degrees.

English: There is MUCH more English spoken and written now. In the subway and on the trains, most signs are in English and on the major subway and JR lines, all the station announcements are also made in English. This makes life MUCH easier. There seem to be more English speakers around as well. Japanese students all study English beginning in high school but they are taught only to pass an exam and often by non-native speakers. They have impressive grammar skills but lack the ability to converse. This seems to still be the case as most of the people I had conversations with learned their English abroad.

Costs: I was in Japan just before the economy really and truly dumped. It was still the land of milk and honey. I made ridiculous amounts of money as a hostess ($500/night for about 4 hours and 45 minutes work) and as an English teacher ($75/hour up to 8 hours per day). No, I didn’t do anything morally suspect as a hostess unless you count bad karaoke–we weren’t allowed to drink, smoke, eat or cross our legs. If you were up for doing anything morally suspect you could make huge amounts of cash. I brought home enough money to pay for university AND to fund school in the south of France and travel around Europe the following summer. Things were expensive though and I saved money my last six months by working 6 days a week so I didn’t have time to spend anything. Food and lodging were more expensive in 1991 than I paid in summer 2014. Clothing was actually cheaper in many cases this time around as we were there during the sales. Some of the best stationery products in the world are significantly cheaper and heaps better than what we can get in Canada. It goes without saying that green tea–matcha powder which I pay $10 for a small package–is much cheaper. Even Haagen-Dazs ice cream is cheaper. I looked at a few real estate papers and it seems that house prices are down…still really expensive, but that old urban myth about crumpling up a US$100 bill as small as you can and dropping it on the floor in Ginza and having it represent the actual value of the tiny bit of space it covered seems to not be the case anymore. Despite all the news to the contrary, the economy on the surface is still functioning as the sheer number and variety of consumer goods available is mind-boggling.

The Long Road Home…

From top...our interminable taxi ride with the blind driver; last views of Narita, last meal (coke float and sashimi) and the fabulous bird's eye view camera from the plane!

From top…our interminable taxi ride with the blind driver; last views of Narita, last meal (coke float and sashimi) and the fabulous bird’s eye view camera from the plane!

I’m sure many of you may have guessed from the radio silence that we were travelling and are now back in Vancouver. I do have more things to post about Japan so I’m not ending the blog…I’m extremely long-winded (I’m told by my daughter) and five and a half weeks was not nearly long enough to say all that I had to say 😉

So we’re home. Getting home was a trial. Normally I have things fairly well planned and organized but there were things out of my control on this one. First of all, we bought our tickets on CheapOair. Not my first choice…actually pretty much one of my last choices, but I have to say it was fine AND a great deal. We flew Cathay which was fabulous (more on that later) but at first I couldn’t confirm our tickets on the Cathay website with the locater number from CheapOair so I was freaking out. CheapOair actually emailed me back and confirmed the flight and told me how to get on the Cathay site. Next, I couldn’t print a confirm as Karis’s computer was not downloading files to ANY flash drives (yes, I did buy a new one, didn’t work) so I had no printed confirms. Wanting to cover all my bases, I emailed the boarding passes to myself and Karis; downloaded the PDFs and screenshot each one.

Karis’s agency made reservations on the airport limousine, paid her fare and the cab to get to the bus and provided a map and instructions in Japanese for the cab driver. When I lived in Japan before, it was almost impossible to get a taxi to stop for a foreigner and you had to have a map and/or instructions in Japanese as there are no regular street names or addresses. I had all of this. Also, one of the bookers happened to be at the apartment as we were leaving so he helped load the car and explain (again) to the cab driver in Japanese exactly where the hotel was…literally a 5 minute drive from our apartment. Anyway we did everything exactly as instructed but we didn’t count on a cab driver not be able to find the hotel! With Japanese instructions, a map and a GPS! Though perhaps the fact that he kept looking at the map with a magnifying glass should have been my first clue. We missed the limousine bus. Luckily I still had my Japanese phone and called Yusuke at the agency and he talked to the cab driver but it was too late. Yusuke was trying to find another bus and was going to book us on the Narita Express which is a high-speed train. I explained there was no way this would work as we had too much luggage to manage on our own because it involves changing trains and going through the station. He then spoke to the driver again and told us he would drive us to Narita. At this point, I didn’t care as there was no way we could miss this flight. Cab fare to Narita is about $300.

So we’re driving and driving. Both Karis and I have to pee, like crazy. We finally get to Terminal 1 (as per Yusuke’s instructions) and Karis sprints out to go to the bathroom. The driver and I unload the car and I ask him the fare…on the meter it says 29000Y. He keeps repeating, “chigau, chigau, no fare.” I finally understand that he means not to charge us because it was his fault that we missed the bus. I insist on giving him 10000Y which he reluctantly accepts and bows until I enter the terminal building. I looked back and he was still bowing.

After the bladders were taken care of, we look for Cathay. And notice that it’s in…Terminal 2. Yusuke sent us to Terminal 1 because our original flight home was on ANA which is in Terminal 1. Sigh. Two floors down to the bus stop; load up the bus with our five suitcases, one carry-on bag and two purses; ride to Terminal 2; disembark with our five suitcases, one carry-on and two purses; wait 15 minutes for an elevator to the departures level–they’re always full because people are loading up on the floor below so we can never get on. We finally break protocol (serious thing in Japan) and get on an elevator going down and don’t get off just to we can ride back up again. Otherwise we’d still be there waiting. Finally arrive at Cathay which is glowing like a beacon in the distance. I love Cathay. The opened up a desk to serve us, printed our boarding passes, checked in four huge overweight bags for free, all with great professionalism, kindness and speed.

A quick visit to the cell phone return counter, a snack and a pit stop to buy Hello Kitty pens and we’re on our way.

Longest flight ever. The food was great (for airline food), great service, personal TV screens, free blankets, pillows and headphones. And my very favourite thing…they have a camera on the bottom of the plane so you could watch the take-off and landing. I’d definitely fly Cathay again…but it was a bit frustrating to fly BACK to Hong Kong, then to Vancouver over Japan. Our direct flight was a little over 9 hours…this was over 21 hours. I was ready to jump off the plane about 3 hours into the second flight….

One step closer to the nunnery. Ueno Park, part 3.

Ueno TempleApparently there are many temples and shrines in Ueno Park. This one, Benten-do is the only one I had the actual strength to visit. Based on the fact that it had a big gong in the building, I figured it was a Shinto shrine. Shinto is a general respect for all the gods…sort a pantheistic approach and co-exists easily with Buddhism in Japan.

Upon entering, there is usually a fountain to purify yourself. You are meant to rinse your cupped hands, one at a time and then your mouth. You must transfer the water from your cupped hand to your mouth, not directly from the ladle as that would make the ladle impure for everyone else. Spit the water on the ground. I don’t see people spitting that often…must be one of those customs that is going by the wayside.

You can light incense and put it the sand in the incense-burner thing (Japanese name unknown). You light it (buy it first) and then wave it around to blow out the Ueno temple 2flame but not actually blow out the flame. The smoke is believed to be powerful and healing and people usually waft it towards themselves.

When entering the main building, the offering hall, take off your shoes if it’s indoors.  Actually, you have to take off your shoes at a lot of places that are indoors in Japan, particularly temples and shrines. Approach the Offertory box and throw your coin in. If there is a gong that’s when you ring it to get the attention of the gods. Then you bow twice (some say this is when you make your wish in your heart), clap your hands twice, bow again and pray for a bit.

If you are at a Buddhist temple, there is no gong and you shouldn’t clap as you are praying to the Buddha to help you attain salvation/nirvana not to a group of gods. I guess is that Buddha does not like to be summoned by clapping or loud gongs.

There are very cool little bookmark-like things as well as things that look like cell phone charms. These are called O-mamori and are good luck charms that can be quite specific types of good luck (new job, success on exams, health, wealth, marriage, baby etc). There are also fortunes you can buy called Omikuji that are good or bad luck. Traditionally you would leave the bad luck ones at the shrine thereby ridding yourself of the bad vibes whilst the good luck ones were taken home…but apparently you can increase or multiply your luck by leaving a good fortune at the shrine (which is what I did). The wooden plaques are called ema and you write your wish on the back and hang it on a special spot at the shrine. So there you have it…what to do at a Japanese shrine or temple should you happen to run across one 🙂


Flashbacks…but not enough

Ginza panoramic

I went to Ginza today. Thought I’d check out my old stompin’ grounds and see if I could find the place I used to hostess at. Shocking I know…that I was a hostess, not that I was trying to find it. Not sure what the hostess scene is now but back in the day there were a few ways of being a hostess. Roppongi, Ginza or the Asian clubs. Obviously the Asian clubs were out for me. The girls there were mostly Japanese, Korean, Thai and Filipino. Interestingly they made the least money.

If you worked in Roppongi in the dance clubs the hours were long and the base pay was lower than Ginza but you made GREAT tips if you could play the game…a whole lot of acting and schmoozing which means your customers ask for you at the door, they ask you to dance and they buy bottles of booze to leave at the club with their name on it. If you were involved in any of those transactions, you got a fee every time. If you were good at the game you could make $500-$1500/night. I knew this was not my scene as I had zero acting skills and would never be able to pull it off–also lots of drunken fools grabbing you. You’re not allowed to slap them. They would fire you.

Then there was Ginza. A rabbit warren of clubs, that were literally the size of my kitchen, stacked on top of each other in the office buildings surrounding Ginza station.This is where I worked. The clubs were more like a private clubs…they were very small and had regular clients. You couldn’t get in to many of them (including mine) without an introduction. I got to know most of the clients very well. I even met some of their families and stayed in touch with a few of them. It was all very much on the up and up. When my mum came to Japan, they had her over for tea before the evening started. I made $500/night working from 7ish-11:45 (had to catch the last train home). I had to sit and make polite conversation if the clients wanted to or else just sit and look pretty. We had a strict dress code. They had to approve all our dresses. Close-toed shoes. Stockings. Nails done. Make-up and lipstick. No eating. No crossing your legs. No drinking. No smoking. Nothing remotely vulgar. It was like going to a Swiss finishing school. No one ever touched me or groped me. There were usually three of us. We all spoke a fair amount of Japanese but we never let on…so we could understand pretty much everything they said about us which was amusing. Hey it was boring just sitting there. We spoke bad French amongst ourselves so we could talk without anyone understanding us, though we had to be careful when they brought in European businessmen. Sometimes clients would take us out for sushi after the club closed but they had to take ALL of us including Mama-san and her daughter Mariko-san. They also had to drive us home afterwards or pay for a taxi or limo in addition to paying for our sushi, the cover charge for the restaurant (usually a few hundred dollars per person) and pay Mama-san for our time. This was back in the heyday of Japan before everything crapped out. I think I was there on the last gasp and I started to see some of the impending financial doom near the end of my time there which would have been the fall of 1991. But when I was there the saying was that if you took at $100 bill and crumpled it up as small as possible and dropped it on the ground, the tiny amount of space it covered would be worth $100 USD. Not sure if that’s still the case. There’s still a lot of money in Ginza if you look at the stores but it’s a bit run down. I’d be interested to know how the club scene is but not really sure how I’d find that out.

My quest was unsuccessful. I wish I’d thought to read my journal and note down the instructions on how to get there for the job interview. I was hoping I’d have some sort of epiphany of recall when I got to Ginza station and I did a bit. I remember the Sony building and this weird bakery with cream puffs–Mama-san loved them and used to send ‘the boy’ out to get them whenever she wanted a treat. However, when I went down the back roads they all kind of look the same. There are tons of new stores too; it’s changed a lot since 1991. Also, I doubt they’re still in business…Mama-san would be close to ninety and Mariko would be in her 60s. It would have been cool to see it though….

All those signs are ALL for clubs. They're stacked on top of each other. The one picture of me in the mirror looked a bit familiar...but I'm not sure. The club I worked at was called 'Olive' because it was Mama-san's favourite colour.

All those signs are ALL for clubs. They’re stacked on top of each other. The one picture of me in the mirror looked a bit familiar…but I’m not sure