Saturday, April 28, 2012

Out of Left Field

This week, the announcement came out that 870 000 photos of New York would be available to view online by people like you and me.  And once it was announced... boom!

Due to overwhelming demand, the New York City Municipal Archives Online Gallery is unavailable at present. Maintenance activities are underway to address this issue.

Proof that everyone loves New York.  Did I mention that the photos date all the way back to the 1800's?  Here is a link to see just a few of the photos.

I've never been to New York, but I love old photos.  Look at this one.  I love seeing that bridge being built.  The men building it would have no idea how amazing it is, would they?  That bridge is 104 years old!  And we can see it being built!  Amazing.

Earlier this week, I came across this article.  It basically says that there are 2 stories about 2 different baseball stadiums in America; the Shrine of Fenway Park in Boston and the abandoned field of Tiger Stadium in Detroit.  It is interesting to contrast the value put on both historical landmarks.  I understand that Detroit has been struggling through things, but you can go out and play on Tiger Stadium right now.  In Boston, word has it that tickets are almost impossible to come by.  Both stadiums were built 100 years ago.  Both have had historical events take place over the years.  Yet, because of the way things are, they are not of equal value or significance.

Actually, it's very sad.  Why is it sad?  Because that bridge those guys built in New York is still useful, but that baseball stadium that people loved so much on Michigan and Trumbell is gone.  Gone for good.  It's dead.  And it's kind of a cool thing that if people work hard enough they can make such beloved places last for so long.  To see one of them get torn down is to see love die.  It's no wonder why Billy Beane tells us in Money Ball that, "It's hard not to feel romantic about baseball."

And here I am, being romantic with this photo:

Diamond Park in Edmonton, built in 1907

This photo was taken just down the hill from the Hotel MacDonald.  1500 ghosts fill the seats to watch their beloved Edmonton Eskimos.  You can almost smell the smoke swirling up from their cigars towards us.  Diamond Park, built in 1907, was in fact 5 years older than Fenway.  Diamond Park was one of Fenway's big brothers!  Unbelievable!  The other interesting fact here is that the baseball field still stands to this day.  Really.  The stands are gone, of course, but the site is still a baseball field.  Big Brother lives on!

When I was young I went to my fair share of Edmonton Trapper games.  In fact, the crowd sitting beneath the camera at Diamond Park is actually looking towards the direction of the site of what would eventually be John Ducey Park.  John Ducey Park (originally Renfrew Park) was built in 1935 and made it all the way up to 1995, around the time when I was eating peanuts in the seats.  

In '95 they built Telus Field where JDP used to be.  Telus Field is a cool place, it has it's own 'Green Monster' in center field that no one has yet to hit a home run over.  It's state of the art, it's right there, in the shadow of Big Brother and sitting on top of John Ducey Park's grave.  Not that I'm bitter or anything.  It's named after a corporation, it's baseball team plays in the Golden League, which had it's season cancelled because of a lack of interest.  So, at this very moment, there is no baseball in Edmonton.  Very lame.  Telus Field sits and waits.  

Even if the Edmonton Capitals get back to playing next season, the Golden League looks pretty lame.  It's not affiliated with any Major League teams, like the way The Trappers were.  I actually think I heard that The Capitals (dumb name) have try-outs every Spring whenever they actually play.  Seems like D League, as in not much is happening at Telus Field this decade.

What am I trying to say?  History is a funny thing.  It can lead you to strange places on the Internet where you end up staring into a grainy photo of what could be someone-you-know's great, great grandfather sitting down to enjoy a ball game.  

I hope they get that New York site up sometime soon.  I'm sure to spend hours looking into the images of New York, literally through the centuries.  What a weird and crazy world we live in.

Meanwhile, In Xining, another 1000 old-style apartments got torn down this week so they can put up safer and uglier apartment complexes

Oh, and Barbara is watching Midnight in Paris while I type.  Hemingway is making fun of Owen Wilson and I can't help but stop to feel sentimental.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

China Things

In an effort to give my photos more 'exposure', I have decided to create a little theme encompassing the things around this city that I have come to appreciate.  Of course, contemplating the interesting things about this place will prove to be beneficial as well.

The things I choose to take photos of are chosen for different reasons, some of which are for no significant reason at all.  If you are familiar with this place then maybe these photos will mean something to you, too.  Or maybe not.  Click on the photos to get a better view.  Go to my flickr account for more viewing pleasures right here.

Ramadan parking lot

Fireworks in your face

Readily available, including at the Lete Hostel

Hot Pot Chips

XBox and Qing Dao

Giving your kid the airline safety card and justifying
it as a reasonable and fun way for him to pass the time.

Purchasing mediocre import products because they are on sale.

People bugging my kids.  I used to hate this but now I don't mind and
in fact, my kids hate these situations more than I ever did so the issue
of keeping these people from overwhelming the boys kind of takes
care of itself.

Really good China grown coffee beans.

I came up with this idea only a few minutes ago, so it is safe to say that my next entry will involve much more planning and care.  The XBox and beer is something of a 'combo of meaning' and I hope to explore more themes like this one in the future.  As for now, sit back, sip on something beveragey, and enjoy these photos free of charge.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Inside the game

After 3 weeks, the gym class at Qing Hai Minorities University seems to have embraced the Canadian Cultural phenomenon known as Street Hockey.

I played street hockey a lot as a kid.  My brother will tell you that I played a lot of street hockey by myself, but that is only because he was too busy playing Atari to come out and play with me.  You could say that I was a throwback, a boy out in the open air with the wind in my face and piles of hockey dreams in my head.  Bryce was a slave to modern technology.

Winter 2009 - Annual Derman Street Classic

Every Winter when we go back to Canada we play at least 1 game of street hockey.  We'll always have a few guys show up.  We're out there with rickety nets, old half-broken sticks and a tennis ball, but we always  have a lot of fun.  We've had people in their 20's and people in their 50's out there playing.  It's inclusive.  You don't need skates or Rollerblades or anything, just a stick and some heart.

Gym Class

And maybe that's what we've got here on the Plateau.  It's just a bunch of people wanting to try something new, something other than basketball and soccer for a change. 

This past week we had 11 guys show up to give it a try.  The big guy on the left is really good.  He's from Inner Mongolia and has some field hockey experience.  I'm trying to get him to use his size a bit more.

The dude on the far right has shown up every time and he's pretty good.  In fact, it wasn't fair this week to have both of those guys on the blue team.  They did pretty well.

The coach has a blast (as you can tell by the photo, he's the one to my left).  He's a good teacher, always stopping to give a few tips here and there.  They work on passing a lot, which is nice. 

Let me tell you another funny story about the coach:

We are all gathered around and I said, "Okay, I want to invite you all to my apartment to watch a hockey game.  Maybe sometime next week?"

The coach replied, "Wow, thank you, thank you.  Hey, everyone, shake his hand.  Shake his hand."

Everyone proceeded to shake my hand and we worked out a time.  

Funny guy.

Next week we will watch some of 2006 Stanley Cup Final game #5, Oilers vs. Hurricanes.  We all remember that one, don't we?

Regarding the class, I don' t really think this will or needs to go beyond just having a good time once a week.  There really isn't anyone else to play at the moment; though, I did meet a guy last week who plays roller hockey with a bunch of Muslim people in another province.  Maybe we can set up a tournament sometime.

As for me, as I've made pretty clear thus far, I'm just happy to be playing.  The fact that people are actually showing up is a plus.  I'd love to work it up to 2 nets and 2 goalies, playing the whole length of the parking lot.  But as for right now, things are going well.

It's funny, but my love for hockey has grown ever since I left Canada.  I'm glad that it's grown to the level that requires that I start playing street hockey with locals.  Maybe in 10 or 15 years street hockey will be a normal thing for people here.  It's not that I'm trying to impose my culture on anyone.  It's just that hockey is so fun that it needs to be shared with the people around you.  Me and the Mongolian, Me and my brother, and Wayne and Garth.

Other brother Barry and me after a game

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Home Made Goalie Pads

Last week, I got 2 foam cushions made at the foam lady's down on Qi Yi Lu.  Do you have a foam lady in your town?  Too bad.  For the past few days I've spent a few moments here and there looking at them.  I didn't scratch my chin and say, "hmmmm..." out loud, but I said it in my heart.  How will I turn these lumps of comfort into goalie pads?

I've had success making passable sticks and a net, but this time I kicked it up a notch.  Here is the finished product:

I have to say that these are some handsome looking goalie pads.  Not only is the size nice, but the color takes me back to the days of Andy Moog and all of those cool dudes in the 80's.  Here's what I did:

1.  Get the pads made for 10 bucks.  She put zippers in them when I didn't ask for them, but they came in handy in the end.

2.  Buy 4 dog leashes for a dollar each.  They have the buckles and adjustable straps that  I was looking for.

3.  Open the zippers, slit some holes in the foam, and loop the leashes around the foam.  Then I used duct tape to renforce the foam and shape the pad a little here and there.

Yesterday, we tested them out.  The foam held well but the straps were a bit too loose even when I tightened them so I'll need to tweak that a bit.  I am pretty confident that the duct tape will hold up for a while.  I jumped around a lot and when down a few times and they felt pretty good.

The foam and covers were 60 RMB.  The duct tape my dad brought out last year.  The dog leashes were a dollar each.  So, we're talking 14 bucks and a nice pops for a home made set of pads.

Here's a shot in action.

In the next post I'll talk about how the students are doing so far after playing street hockey for only the 3rd time.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Movie Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I found this movie extremely boring and incredibly boring.

Barbara and I sat down to watch this snoozer around 8pm.  By 820pm I was ready to call it a night and lay in bed to reevaluate my life and, more specifically, my movie watching hobby.  We turned it off and watched an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.  (more on that show in a later post)

This movie is about a boy who loses his dad in 9/11.  The boy has Asperger Syndrome, so that is why this movie is supposed to be interesting.  I understand that it could have been interesting, but I just couldn't get over how much explaining and thinking this kid had to communicate to us.

Quite simply, this movie is too slow.  For the 20 minutes we watched we listened to 19 minutes of the kid talking about life.  If I wanted to listen to a kid talk about life I would sit down and ask Miles about his day in Kindergarten.

The point at which I laughed out loud was when the kid did the old switcheroo with his mom's answering machine.  The kid finds out that his dad died from his dad's messages on the answering machine.  He crawls under the bed.  His mom comes home and, in a panic, asks him if there are any messages.  He says no.  I say, "Yes, there are.  There are at least 3.  Go ahead and check.  They're right down there in the kitchen on the answering machine.  Your husband was downtown, you say?  Well, if I were you, I wouldn't take your kid's word for it and I'd go check the machine."

But no, apparently she goes to sleep without checking the machine because later that night the kid goes out and buys a clone answering machine and switches it with the real one.  Then he hides the one with the messages in his closet so that he can keep the memories for himself.  So, the mother never finds out what happened to the dad.  Why didn't she go and check the freaking answering machine!  Your kid has Aspergers!  He's not always telling you the whole truth.  Your husband had a cell phone!  Go check the machine!!!

We got past that part and moved into another silly section.  What you have is the kid trying to track down someone named 'Black'.  His method, understandably as a kid, is to look in the phone book.  He finds 700 people with the last name Black.  So, he goes door to door and, as it turns out, everyone with the last name 'Black' is really nice and welcoming, no matter what the situation.  I'll have to remember that the next time I visit New York.

I might be exaggerating.  We might have watched 45 minutes of this.  It was heavy on the cheese.  I think that they assumed that we'd like it just because someone died in 9/11.  I didn't really feel it.  I felt like they didn't really go all the way and just figured that we'd feel it.  Thus, when the kid is wandering around trying to figure out the meaning of his life, I am stealing glances at Barbara trying to figure out  the best time that I can try to convince her to turn it off.  I found it, we did and I am happy about it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

3 on 3 hockey at Min Da

Part 4 in the ongoing "Hockey in China" series.

Well, this time I don't have too many photos, but i have a few funny things to mention about the 2nd time I got together with a gym class at the University to play street hockey.

First of all, 'hockey' in Chinese is 冰球 (bing qiu), which literally means 'ice ball'.  So, when I try to tell people what we are doing, I say something like 路上冰球 (lu shang bing qiu), which would mean 'ice ball on the street'.  Of course, there is no ice, but at least we have a ball and a street.  I asked the student from Inner Mongolia what he would call the sport we were playing and he said that he simply did not know.  So it is without surprise that, while a group of Chinese girls walked by, 2 of them shouted out 'zhe shi shen me?' which means 'what is this?'.  Yes, what is this, indeed?

Well, we ended up playing a 3 on 3 game with me as the goalie for both teams.  It went really well.  The coach, who has some hockey knowledge, preached passing and teamwork (always a good way to go) and things were really fun.  I loved it!  I might have been smiling too much, but it was fun.  One guy kept raising his back-hands into my chest and saying sorry for it.  I told him no problem, and in fact, great shot!

-------------- -------------- ---------- ---------

I must pause to say that Coach Jia is the University coach that helps me.  He is Tibetan and I have known him for at least 5 years, since we play basketball a lot and he is the coach.  He is a lovely man, but also quite crazy.  There is just something goofy about him.  While we were playing he noticed that a young man, maybe 25, was trying to get his attention from the end of the parking lot.  So, we stopped and the man came forward.  The following was their conversation, translated for your convenience:

"Can I help you?" said coach Jia

"I'm looking for a sports coach from this University."  replied the man.

"Oh, what's his name?"

"Ming Ji Suo"


"Ming Ji Suo."

"Oh, oh no, he's... he's... (raises hands together to his head like a laying it on a pillow) he's in Heaven.  He went to Heaven."

"No, that can't be."

"Yes, this is not something to joke about.  He is in Heaven.  Where have you been?!  Have you been gone for a year?"


"He's dead.  He died."

At this point you could see that the young man was stricken with confusion.  He looked around at us, we all just stared back at him.  Then he looked up down the road to where, as it turns out, his father was standing.

"What?"  Yelled the father.

The son ignored him.  "It can't be him."

"No, he's dead." The coach confirmed.

After a few moments of awkwardness of us all just standing around, the coach asked the unthinkable:

"Wait, what's his name again?"

The man answered. "Ming Ji Suo."

"Oh, oh, oh, oh.  Ming Ji Suo?  I thought you said Ming Ji Guang.  Ming Ji Suo is at the other campus, just 2 bus stops down."

Holy crap!  Half of the guys laughed.  I couldn't believe it.  The confused man asked for more specific directions and then went on his way.

The thing is that he wasn't joking.  He really didn't hear the guy right.  How you go on telling a guy that his friend is dead without being absolutely sure that you've got the right guy is beyond me.  It was insane.

------------------ ------------------ -------------------- -------------------

After reading my hockey blogs, my friend here in town told me that she had a hockey stick for me.  I really didn't know what to expect, but I was very excited and grateful to get any sort of hockey stick.  Well, here it is:

Kazakh stick; maybe NHLer Nik Antropov used this when he was a kid

It's from Kazakhstan.  She used to live there and it is actually from before the fall of the Soviet Union.  It's a little piece of Eastern Europe hockey history, and I can't bring myself to use it (it's also very small) so I hung it on the wall.  Pretty cool, right?

--------------------- ------------------ -----------------

Finally, this week I undertake making goalie pads.  I went down to a little shop that makes foam mattresses and got the lady to make these beauties:

Cushions for goal pads.

It cost me 60 RMB, or about 10 bucks.  When I was little I always thought that the arm cushions on our couch would make great goalie pads.  Now, the dream is coming true!  I asked for no zippers, because I don't think I'll need them, but she put them on anyways so maybe it will be a good idea to wash the covers once in a while.  I am going to go out tomorrow to look for some buckles for them and I will probably use duct take to form them into pads.  As usual, I will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Making a hockey goal in China

This is part 3 of my Hockey in China series.  I want to give you a quick look at how I made the net.

PVC pipe from the local hardware store

As with most things in my life, I looked to the Internet for guidance.  I knew that people had made their own goals as a way of saving money, but as far as I can see, never out of necessity like I've had too.  The main thing that people are using is PVC pipe, and since that is commonly used here for the heating systems in most apartments, PVC pipe is easily accessible.  The store is a 5 minute walk away.

The frame

The Internet provided me with a lot of designs, but I disliked all of them since most of them were more of a triangle rather than a rectangle.  Basically, I like the depth at the top of the net that I made.  What can I say, I've got to teach these Chinese guys 'top shelf', right?

So, the above is my design.  It is regulation size (6 x 4), and it stands pretty sturdy.  That being said, it's still a little wobbly.  I probably could have gone with thicker PVC.  I think I used 1 1/2 inches.  Should have gone to 2 inches.  The PVC pipes and connectors cost me 200 RMB, or about 31 bucks.

Once again, my faithful father-in-law sent out the actual netting.  Though, I am sure that I could have used fishing net.  Either way, it's pretty easy and simple (and fun) to make a hockey goal here.

As you can see, the net takes up a lot of space in my little office space.  Thankfully, once I take it down to the University, I will have a place to store it.  It would be a pain to carry that thing back and forth every time.  Not to mention all of the curious looks I would get.


Of course, the connectors are crap.  At least one of them cracked while I was assembling things.  In the end, I used duct tape (also sent out from Canada) around all of the connections.  I figured that it made things a little less permanent than if I had used glue.  If I need to tear it down at any time I can do it pretty easily with the tape.  So, that's about it.  Pretty simple.  Lacing the netting around the pipe was tedious, but not too bad.  

This past Tuesday was a holiday here in China (Tomb Sweeping Day) so we'll have to wait until next week to use the net.  I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

As far as the NHL playoffs go, I am going to be rooting for the Senators.  Not because they're Canadian but also because they are.  Basically, they are a rebuild team that rebuilt in 10 months.  Someone should tell the Oilers that you don't need to wait 6 years before you can actually win games.

Also, gotta love Alfredsson!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Making Hockey Sticks in Western China

This is Part 2 in the Chinese Hockey series.  Today I will go over how I made sticks*.

The main thing I needed to get cracking on was hockey sticks.  You need them to play.  Without them you are just playing some sort of miniature soccer game with a tennis ball.

I had the blades sent out a while ago, like 4 years ago when I first tried to get hockey going, as I mentioned here.  In that first attempt, 7 of the 10 sticks broke.  This was disheartening.  This time, I made a key/simple modification that I believe will allow the sticks to survive a little longer.  More on that later.

buying the wood Photo by D_Hendersen
This is me getting wood.  Okay, well that's how it is.  We went down to the outdoor hardware market and purchased 15 lengths of this crappy wood they use to make saw horses and to install doors with.  The wood cost 70 RMB, which is about 11 dollars in Mr. America.  We packed this up and lugged it home.  Buying the actual wood is one of the more annoying parts of the process as the market is far away from my apartment.  I needed to get my friend Dustin to take me over there in his new vehicle.  I felt bad about putting this dirty lumber in his new car but I'm over it now.

wood on the floor

This is the wood on my apartment floor.  Yes, that's right.  No joke.  As you can see by comparing the width of the wood with the bike tire, it is much too thick for a hockey stick.  So, I whittled away on the stuff enough to fit it into the blades.  Surprisingly, I found that an exacto-knife worked the best.  After exactoing them a bit, I used sandpaper for that soft, silky smooth finish.

This is where the modification comes into play.  Well, I guess it's more of a sacrifice in comfort than a modification.  By making the stick fatter, I hope to make it last longer.  I used to carve them down to a normal stick width, but as I said earlier, they broke.  Even though these fatter sticks are a little more awkward to hold, I am confident that they will last at least a little longer.  Here's a closer look at how much I needed to whittle away from the stick.  

The problem I have is that although our apartment is comfortably layered with carpet, cutting and carving at the wood in the apartment is a big problem involving slivers of wood and dust and the watchful eyes of this woman:

Lovely wife Barbara

Her beauty is almost equally matched by her wits, cleanliness, and comradery.  It's a good thing to keep this lady happy, so after a while I moved my little operation out into the stairwell.

The sticks in action photo by D_Hendersen

And that's about it.  I'll keep you posted on the durability of the sticks.  So far, after just one session they seem to be holding up alright.  Tomorrow is session #2, so we'll see how things go.

Tomorrow, I will show you the net I made.

*I should mention here that as I will be talking about 'wood' and 'sticks', many of you perverts will automatically come up with your own jokes, one liners and 'that's what she said' type stuff based on what I am talking about.  Please hold all of your smarty pants remarks in until the end of the article.  And then, if need be, please post them in the comments.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hockey Afternoons in Western China

Here I am.  I am in the middle of China.  I am surrounded by Chinese people and Chinese things.  Yesterday night I saw a man try to fill up the tire of his Volkswagen with a bike pump.  He chose a speedy method, up and down really fast, but I knew that it wouldn't work.  Strawberries can be bought on the street, a long with puffed rice and milk being scooped out of an old, dirty iced tea bottle.  Although it only takes one idiot to kill a pedestrian, I must comment on the fact that the traffic light in front of our complex is getting more attention these days; cars are actually stopping at it.

Yes, here in China you mix the good with the bad.  No matter how much a guy like me tries to blend in with things, I will always be a tall, bald, white guy from Canada.

One of the ways people have figured out how to live here is to do stuff that they are familiar with.  We now have coffee shops and pizza and Thai food.  It's the little things such as these that help Westerners like me enjoy a little break every once in awhile from my imaginary life as a Chinese person.

All that to say, ladies and gentlemen, we now have street hockey!  A few years ago I tried to get hockey going and it kind of worked for a bit, but after the sticks started breaking and the interested people started leaving town, the early morning street hockey games died out.

At the first session.  Photo by D_Hendersen

These days, I have what everyone needs... a man on the inside.  My man is the basketball coach at the University I used to go to.  He saw me carrying some of my home-made hockey sticks down the road and stopped me in my tracks.  He grabbed a stick and moved around the sidewalk, sliding this way and that, and finally taking an imaginary shot at the bus stop.  He asked if we could play sometime.  I said pretty please.  Fast forward a few months and here we are.

I am now teaching street hockey every Tuesday afternoon at the University.  Last week was the first week.  We had 6 sticks, a tennis ball and 2 pylons for a goal.  6 guys showed up, representing 5 different minority groups!  It was quite a diverse group.  Yet, I know that after a few more weeks we will all share the same language... the language of love... the language of Hockey!

After our first class I knew that I needed to build a net.  So, I scavenged the Internet and found out that people make nets out of PVC pipe all day long!  So, I got some pipe and made a net.  It's a little wobbly, but it will work.  Next week I will have some foam cut to make into goalie pads.  My father-in-law is sending out some more stick blades and street hockey balls.  Things are happening.

Of course, what I would really like is real equipment.  I plan on writing in to a few companies to see if we can get some donated.  Basically, I am in a town completely ignorant on hockey.  Supporting this cause would go a long way in supporting hockey in China.

In fact, the coach told me that they used to play ice hockey down by the river on the fishing ponds.  Seriously.  He said that they started in the 1960s, but eventually all of the equipment broke and since getting hockey equipment out here is nearly impossible (it's expensive and hard to find even on the Internet) the games they were playing eventually died out.  What an opportunity we have to bring it back!

It's all quite romantic, really.  This dusty, forgotten town out on the Tibetan Plateau, full of soccer and basketball players, introduced to the sport that their hearts have loved all along without them knowing it.  The sport of dreamers.  The sport of hockey.

As of now, China's hockey team is ranked #39 in the world, just behind New Zealand.  Ladies and Gentlemen, together with me, you are about to take the first step on the way up to at least #36.  Can we make that our goal?  Together?  Dreaming?  Me and you?

During our first class the coach pointed out that hockey is great for your heart.  All that running around, with the sun shining down, is very good for you.  I agreed, being out here away from my culture, hockey is very, very good for my heart.

So, this week, with the NHL season winding down, I will be posting about the new Spring hockey class starting up here in Xining.  I'll take you through the steps that it takes to make hockey happen here in China, from collecting the supplies, to whittling away at wood to make the sticks, to walking out onto the basketball courts and asking people to play.

Stay tuned.