So Apparently Running isn’t the Worst Thing in the World

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Lovely view during a lovely run

In early March, I had another nightmare about the car accident and again realised how lucky I was to have legs that still work. With approval from the physiotherapist, I started running.

First attempt: I can’t run 200 metres without stopping.

Third attempt: I can’t run 200 metres without stopping.

Sixth attempt: I aim for 500 metres. Now my throat tastes like blood.

You’d think I could run at least 1 km, since that’s how much we had to run in elementary (after-school run) and high school (milk run, Terry Fox run), but hey I’m full of surprises.

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That squirrel ate the tofu out of my pad thai

What was more surprising than me (haha) was how quickly running stopped sucking and became fun. Two weeks later, I signed up for a 5k as something to work towards and installed Strava to track my progress. Since I had 0 Strava friends at the time, I was happy logging the most inane “runs” like the above.

One rainy morning, I went to a Hoka One One event and ran an almost-5k alone around Burnaby Lake.

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Sample pair of Hoka Clifton 3s — so squishy and light

I didn’t end up buying the test shoes, because I’m a terrible person [who needs more arch support], but B-cat convinced me to invest in runners actually made for running… even if they’re not as cute as $20 canvas shoes.

These homely Stinson 3s were the ones I ended up with:

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So much arch support

Now, after one solid month, I can finally run 5 km without stopping and my body fat percentage is down to 17% (vs. 11% to 13% in the early 2010s and 25% after I started dating B-cat).

Running is great. No wonder Murakami is into it.

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Streets in Vancouver smell like magnolia and cherry blossoms

Lest any of this sounds like bragging, I should point out that not only is my 5k personal record abnormally slow, but B-cat had completed a 5k before in jeans and totally wrong shoes and took only half the time.

He also looked gorgeous doing it.

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“I wasn’t expecting to run,” he says.

Raku Teabowls and Some Bitterness

My three rakuyaki teabowls
My three rakuyaki teabowls

B-cat and I finished a four-week pottery class at the Shadbolt Centre. Most of our four classmates were retirees who had sold at least a few pieces of pottery; we were the only beginners.

The theme was Japanese-style teabowls, with raku firing as an option. Here’s the process:

  • Kneading white clay into air bubble-free logs
  • Slicing logs into 200-gram to 1-kilogram segments
  • Throwing clay into teabowls on pottery wheels
  • Carving feet & signatures into bottoms
  • Waiting for bisque firing
  • Glazing and decorating bowls
  • Raku firing bowls (or waiting for the electric kiln)

Popular as it is, rakuyaki doesn’t produce food-safe results, so B-cat and I sacrificed our smallest (i.e. least useful) and homeliest creations to it.

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Copper highlights on my bowl

With the class starting at 10 am to 1 or 2 pm, B-cat and I were late to all but one. Maybe that was why the instructor, a retired teacher, disliked me. (Or was it because I half-joked it was “cheating” when he helped with my first bowls? Or the opposite — that he felt my first bowls were largely his handiwork?) I first noticed this in the second class and would forget and be reminded each following class.

Although his face lit up whenever he went to B-cat’s side to chat or answer a question, the instructor frowned and repeated, “What?” whenever I asked something*. B-cat and I both mumble, but I did my degree in English and he has a slight language-related disability, so our respective speaking doesn’t account for the difference.

*I’ve read a study that suggests white people, given voice samples and photos, have more difficulty understanding speech when they believe the speakers are non-white, even when the belief is wrong. It’s subconscious. I’ve never encountered this ’til now, but it makes sense here.

My rakuyaki bowls
My rakuyaki bowls

The instructor praised every piece B-cat made, including one that B-cat rushed and then half-jokingly destroyed, and complimented/encouraged our classmates in a normal way. He literally never said a single nice thing about my work.

Before you think I’m a needy, narcissistic Millennial, let me point out that my mother never praised me either (haha) and my father was strict but fair. I’m a newbie — I expect to be bad at pottery! I don’t need unwarranted praise or constant attention, and I don’t need everyone to like or be interested in me.

But when an instructor refuses to say anything encouraging or even respond when I compliment his work or compliment someone else’s work to his face, it’s a bit much.

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After bisque firing & glazing, before raku firing

After the third and fourth classes, I mentioned this to B-cat, who said, “No way! Mine are the worst. You make beautiful bowls! He loves yours!” He’s kind and optimistic like that.

After the last class, B-cat said, out of nowhere, “You were right.”

“What do you mean?”

“I tested him today. You were right. What’s wrong with him?”

That day, we raku fired our bowls and used them in a tea ceremony hosted by the owner of O5 Teabar. This Vancouver tea shop is where the instructor of our Japanese tea ceremony class at Nikkei Centre buys her maccha. During the firing, B-cat pointedly complimented one of my teabowls to the instructor.

The instructor said, “Hn.”

Later, during a lull in the tea ceremony, I was studying the crackled glaze of my bowl (it looked like sugar) when the classmate beside me complimented it while turning to our instructor on her other side.

The instructor said, “Eh.”

B-cat washing the charcoal off a hot raku bowl
B-cat in a borrowed sweater, washing charcoal off a hot raku bowl

The traditional Japanese art of rakuyaki (楽焼) involves hand-forming clayware which are fired into burnt-looking pieces and cooled. In the art of tea, prized bowls are “rustic” and round, with simple ornamentation. Fancy bowls and ones which flare out from base to rim are more Chinese in origin/influence.

In Western-style raku, teabowls are more elaborately decorated and colourful. The bowls are taken red hot out of the kiln and placed in sawdust, newspaper, etc. for burning before being quickly cooled. Only small, exposed areas become black.

B-cat removing a bowl with tongs
B-cat removing a bowl with tongs

We were the first to use Shadbolt’s new raku kiln, which looked like an oil drum with a top that moved by pulley. I wasn’t allowed near it because my stupid knees were exposed (unaware of the fire hazard, I thought a long-sleeved cardigan, long socks, and closed-toe shoes would’ve been enough… They certainly were for the weather!).

While the others slaved over the fire, I helped make newspaper rings and take pictures. Once the bowls glowed like molten glass, “we” picked them up with tongs, tucked them into the paper nests, and turned trashcans over them. After a once-over with a torch, the bowls went under the hose.

B-cat taking a bowl out of the flames
B-cat taking a bowl out of the flames

Rakuyaki teabowls are porous and fragile because of the clay types, firing temperatures, and crazing (tiny cracks). Although Shadbolt’s glazes are lead-free, I wouldn’t drink from these bowls again.

It was an interesting experience, though. The other faculty members at Shadbolt joined us for rakuyaki and tea, and they were experienced and helpful. If only one of them had taught our class instead.

Foot of the bowl
Foot of the bowl

It was neat how different the bowls were.

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One bowl from each student & staff member (B-cat’s is 2nd from left, mine is 4th)

After the tea ceremony — more an extensive tea tasting — we filled out evaluation forms. Because the instructor was present in the small room the entire time, and because my problem was with the way he treated me as a student rather than the way he taught, I left positive feedback.

B-cat did the same, but he had actual complaints about the teaching: he felt the instructor didn’t know more about teabowls than anyone else with Google search, he felt put off by the “teabowl styles” handout the instructor printed from a random website, and he didn’t like how, when asked technical questions, the instructor always said, “Just do what feels nice. There are no rules.”

Decent advice for a master or monk, sure, but not for someone starting from scratch.

The green topcoat was green on another bowl but blue on this bowl because I applied it as an undercoat
The green topcoat was green on another bowl but blue on this one, where I used it as an undercoat

I enjoyed the class with B-cat. We made 29 teabowls together instead of buying generic Chinese-manufactured ones, and my friends were already asking where they could enroll. I grew up by Deer Lake, literally one row of houses from Shadbolt, and always loved taking art classes there.

The rest of our bowls will be ready by Sunday.

For the curious, here are B-cat's rakuyaki bowls
For the curious, here are B-cat’s rakuyaki bowls

And don’t worry about me, I felt a little better every time the instructor said ra-KOO for raku (pronounced laku) and kay-OH-lin for kaolin (pronounced COW-lin) clay. You can’t imagine my glee when I discovered that the stamp he used to sign his pieces, the one he got in Japan but didn’t bother to learn to read, says “u” (う, pronounced like an incomplete “ooh”).

It makes a short, meaningless sound, just like him!

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Die Bart Die: Die Fledermaus at Vancouver Opera (and a Bonus Play)

This is late as I’ve been preparing for a trip to Germany (Staatsballett Berlin, yo), but in March I saw Vancouver Opera‘s production of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.

I’ve loved opera since I first took opera studies in the SFU English department, and the first opera I ever saw in person was Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with VO, 10 years back. (Turned out not to be quite my thing, being a comedy.) I even subscribed to their 2013/2014 season.

But since one of VO’s reps — let’s call her Francine — hassled me last summer, I’ve borne a bit of a grudge.

Over the course of a few weeks, Francine called half a dozen times demanding to know if I would resubscribe. I hadn’t yet looked at their 2014/2015 lineup, but she offered no information (unlike the other rep who phoned, just once). When this crotchety CS genius caught me at work/sleep, she’d keep talking, and sounded disbelieving and offended when I offered to call VO back when ready.
Each time I picked up, Francine increased in volume and aggression, until finally I received a call that was literally, “Are you gonna subscribe or not?”

When I complained to VO during the intermission of one of the operas, they gave me an address to email. And then never responded. Thus completing the circle of excellent customer service.
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San Francisco Opera being an 18-hour drive away, VO is unfortunately the only good live opera around, so for Christmas I got B-cat tickets to Die Fledermaus.

This year they encouraged pictures to be taken (and shared online) at the final bow

It was good. We both prefer tragedy over comedy, but it was good.

[This opera is ollld. Do you really need a spoiler alert?]

Die Fledermaus, which I’ll forever remember as the opera Rachel missed in that episode of Friends (the one in which Ross meets Emily) is a comic opera about a man, Gabriel von Einstein, skipping his week-long prison sentence to go to a ball, at which he encounters his wife Rosalinde and maid Adele in disguise. The ball is held by the Prince so that Falke could publicly make a fool out of the latter’s pal von Einstein, as revenge for another prank involving a bat (the titular fledermaus) costume.

[/spoiler]

With several of VO’s operas the previous year, and with all student operas I’ve seen, weak (?) voices seem to be a problem. i.e. Some of the singers are unable to project, and are drowned out by the orchestra. Is this a thing?

Aside from first faltering minutes of Joyce El-Khoury’s Rosalinde, who soon warmed up beautifully (and the Prince, who is too minor a character), there are no voice issues in this performance. Not quite as smooth is the insertion of jokey references to Vancouver places and people — VO touts this as being set in “Viennacouver” — but the jokes aren’t bad, and Frosch, the drunken jailer who delivers most of them, is a hit with the audience.

B-cat and I especially liked David Pomeroy‘s Alfred, Rosalinde’s enthusiastic foreign lover, with his wonderful voice and energy.

Vancouver Opera’s next and last production of the season is Sweeney Todd, with performances on April 25, 26, and 30, and May 1 to 3.

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Plus:

Two weeks after the opera, I took B-cat to Arts Club Theatre Company‘s production of The Foreigner at Shadbolt.

Written by American playwright Larry Shue, The Foreigner is a farce about Charlie, a shy, cuckolded Brit reluctantly vacationing at a country resort in the US where the other guests mistake him to be something very rare: a real foreigner! They discuss private matters in front of him, try to teach him English, etc. Add a pair of no-goodniks with Klan ties who try to cheat the lodge owner out of her property, and hijinks ensue.

B-cat and I have been lucky in that each play we’ve seen this year has been better than the previous, and The Foreigner is the best yet. Except when Charlie’s bowing and hai-ing get way too Mr. Yunioshi for comfort, and except when the portrayals of the Klan and bigotry truly terrify — ironically, considering my only complaint (unless the awful Japanese stereotyping was intentional…) — we laughed and laughed and cried and laughed. As did everyone else.

tempArts Club‘s next next production is Farewell, My Lovely on Granville Island. It’s a private eye tale based on a Raymond Chandler novel I haven’t read. I won’t be able to see it, but you should if you have the chance.