Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Grandpa Ed

We lost our dear Grandpa Ed today.

After a long battle with prostate cancer, Edgar Wickberg passed away peacefully this morning at around 6AM. Beloved husband to Ellen, father to Laurel and her brothers, and Grandpa to Miles and Isaac, he will be missed dearly by all who knew him. Rest in peace, Ed. Mwaaaahhh...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mushroom Season!

We love mushrooms. Not the bland white supermarket mushrooms. Wild Mushrooms. On Bowen Island, we're quite lucky to have a decent season in the fall and in the spring. In the spring, you can pick 10 pounds of prime oyster mushrooms in 15 minutes if you time it right. Starting in October, we do a weekly walk to see where the mushrooms are at, and what state they are in. Experience has taught us that if there is a drop in temperature about 10 days or so after a big rain in October, the Bolete mushrooms will always make an appearance. They seem to be a little late this year, but the first week of November shows promise. Walking around Killarney lake today, the Zeller's Bolete (boletus zelleri), so abundant at this time last year, have so far failed to make an appearance. Near the end of our walk, eagle eyed Miles found this clump of boletes, which we have tentatively identified as Lake's Boletus (suillus lakei). These ones, like most boletes, are edible, but not quite the prize we were looking for. Insects are fonder of boletes than most humans, and this patch might have been good last week, but today, the bugs appear to have snacked the best of this batch! We'll see what next week brings...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We Found Some!

Real authentic South Indian food that is. In what is becoming a recurring theme, we seem to counter the negative effects of a dismal bureaucratic encounter (in this case, a curious meeting with the Vancouver Learning Center to confirm Miles' distance education for grade 3. Unresolved as of this writing.) with yummy food that provides both solace and nutrition. In this case, we had a lovely lunch meeting with Chindi Varadarajulu, who is the proprietor of Chutney Villa, a South Indian Restaurant on Broadway just west of Main Street.
Chindi is a wonderful and energetic woman who, in addition to running her restaurant, does regular culinary tours in Southern India. She met with Laurel and I to offer advice and give us some contacts for our trip to Cochin. She will be in Kerala in February, and it looks like she is willing to film some segments with us in the markets and spice farms. She also promised to take us to some off the tourist track places that only the locals know. How cool is that? She seemed to be totally into what we were doing, and was more than happy to help us out. At the end of a delicious lunch (one of the most authentic we've eaten in Vancouver. Hot means HOT!), she gave us both big hugs and wished us well, promising to connect in Cochin. Pretty cool to go from total strangers to friends in the space of an hour and a half! Funny how good food enables that...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rum, Buggery, & The Lash...

Well, not exactly... There was no rum.

Quicker than you can say Roe vs. Wade, our final attempt at procuring a Chinese visa was aborted. A visit to the China Travel Service where we had hoped to have our visas processed quickly (for a small fee, of course), looked hopeful at first. Then the eagle-eyed clerk spotted our proposed date of entry and broke the news to us. If we got a visa now, it would expire before we got to Beijing. Seems like there is a 3 month limit to the darned things. The failure to mention this little fact anywhere on the consular web site will hopefully see the web content manager engaging in a marathon self-criticism session that segues nicely into lengthy "re-education program". He has failed the Revolution in every way. That's two days I'm not going to get back!

Our new plan is to get the visas during our last stopover in Singapore on the way back from India. Should be a breeze.....

All was not lost, however, as we managed to sneak back to reliable Cafe D'Lite for a snack that somehow ameliorated the shame and humiliation that comes with such relentless and systematic violation. Mmmmmm.... Laksa.......

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another Brick In The Wall

A couple more pieces fell into place today. It looks like we have our San Francisco hotel nailed down, as well as the hotels in Singapore and Cochin. We had a delightful response from the aptly named Bijus Tourist Hotel in Cochin in repsonse to my question about their policy of only holding a reservation for two hours on your check-in day.
Dear Sir,
Thank you for your mail and we are keeping two hrs time because there is lot of fake reservation in the net and we cant hold the room at the season time without any responds from the reserved person , in your case we will hold the room and if you can, please make a call to us when you arrived india , so your room is confirmed and dont worry we hold 2 double rooms NON AC on the date 7th DEC -08 to12th DEC-08, We dodnt take any advance payment for reservation and 2 hrs time is given after the check in time and which can be extend if you make a phone call and give your new arrival time .

with warm Regards,
Manager ,
Bijus tourist Home

All that remains now is the vital link between Mumbai and Cochin, and we have a travel agent looking into booking that for us, as we've been stymied at every turn. No one in India wants to take our visa card! If the travel agent comes through today with that final flight, there's a bottle of cheap Spanish champagne in the fridge!

Tomorrow is a big day in Vancouver. We drop off our Chinese visa applications with a "visa consultant" and pay the appropriate bribe. Hopefully our visas will be granted within the week, unless they suspect Isaac of being a Tibetan sympathizer. Then we have a meeting with the Vancouver School Board distance education person to set up and register Miles, so that he can somehow make it to grade 4 next year. Then we have lunch with Chindi Varadarajulu, who is the proprietor of Chutney Villa South Indian Cuisine. We were introduced by my old friend Barry Benson, the "B" in R&B Brewing in Vancouver (the best microbrewery in the city, hands down). Chindi guides culinary tours through India, and has graciously agreed to help us out with some contacts. She will be in Kerala in February, and might even do a stint on camera with us. After that, we pop in to see Laurel's dad, and then try to buy a computer that we can leave in Laurel's workshop so that her employees can fulfill web orders for Naked Soapworks. A pretty typical day in town for us.

I also got a message today from my old friend Masahiko Yoshizawa in Tokyo. He has offered to guide us around the Tokyo fish market. Seeing the Tsukiji fish market is a long standing dream of mine and its very exciting to have he possibility of Masa being our guide. Hopefully, he can fix us up with a reasonably priced place to stay while we're there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Its All Coming Back To Me...

I had forgotten what a study in contradictions India is. It is possible to be overwhelmed by the jaw-dropping beauty of something one minute, and the next you can be screaming (at least inwardly...) in frustration because it seems simply impossible to do even the simplest thing. It can be like driving on the freeway in LA, spotting the church where you are late for being the best man at your oldest friends wedding, and... you can't get there from here.

We've been trying for over a week now to book an train ticket from Mumbai to Ernakulum on Dec 6th. Its an epic 36 hour journey, but it is being made even more epic by the India Rail website, which, after forcing you to look in obscure places for information and requiring you to enter all the contact info (including passport number) for all parties travelling into an online form, repeatedly barfs when you finally enter in your Visa card number, thus forcing you to enter ALL THE INFORMATION AGAIN.

So a reasonable person contacts customer service. The exchange so far, has gone like this...
My wife and I have been without success to book passage on a train using your online system. It is simply impossible, no matter what browser we use, or whether it is done on a Mac or PC. Enabling Cookies, clearing the cache, and all the other standard remedies will not stop your system from freezing up when trying to process payment from a via card.

It is of the utmost importance that we book passage from train station CSTM (Mumbai) to ERN (Ernakulum Town) on December 6th/2008, train number 6381, Kanyakumari Express for the following passengers, AC 2 tier class

Robert W. Bailey - Male - 50 Canadian Passport XXXXXXXX - lower berth
Laurel Bailey - Female - 44 - lower berth
Miles Bailey - Male -7 - upper berth
Emma Conde - Female - 20 - upper berth

Also traveling with us is our youngest son, Isaac Bailey, age 4, whom I believe travels free of charge.

Please process our reservation, and invoice us at this email address, and I will be glad to send you our Visa Card number via email to conclude the transaction.
Well, it looked pretty clear to me... 2 days later I get this response....
Dear Customer,

In response to your mail we would like to inform you that as per the status CSTM station is not in ISL of the train no. 6318 even ERN station has also deleted, Therefore we suggest you to please try to book your ticket in other train.

You may book your ticket in below mention trains & please before booking please check the availability of berth/seats or visit / .
So the response is talking about a different train... They also sent a schedule for the wrong train back. So the war of words escalates...
Thank your for your response.

If you scroll down on this message to my original post, you will see that I was referring to train #6381, and NOT train #6318 as you suggest. I am most emphatically trying to communicate the impossibility of booking ANY train via an internet provider in North America using your e-commerce system, and this is the reason for my customer service request from an individual in your office. I cannot book any train ticket online, and require the assistance of an actual human in order to achieve this. Your response below, while being voluminous and detailed, does not address my concern at all, to wit: booking my family using the information at the bottom of this email for a journey from Mumbai to Ernakulum on Dec 6th. I implore you to please re-read my original email, which I am unable to make any clearer in terms of accuracy of information, please book the journey on my behalf, and then contact me either via email, or by phone (Canada code, in order to process my Visa card.

Regards/Robert Bailey
Perhaps my wording was a tad opaque? There is indeed a fine line between comedy and tragedy. At this point, I think that we are kind of dreaming that we'll be able to book this before we go, but we have to try, as hotels are already booked on either end of this trip leg. My biggest fear is that we'll have to go to the train station in person to queue for tickets, and then be elbowed out of the ticket window by 12 year old girl at the last minute. It's happened before...

At this point we are both feeling just overwhelmed with things to do before departure. Despite working at this for several hours a day, the lists of things to do keep getting bigger as opposed to smaller. Our efforts are being complicated by the fact that Laurel's dad's health is failing rapidly, and our energies are being divided between providing family support and fighting a departure deadline

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Victory For Glorious People's Party!

Looks like our Chinese Embassy issues may be solved. It would appear that they are in cahoots with a travel agency in the same block. After a few phone calls, I found that for a "processing fee" of 15 bucks per person, we can have our visas processed quite quickly without having to waste the pre-dawn hours standing in line for a number, and then waiting in the office all day for our number to be called. Not sure exactly how it works, or if the Chinese Government Web Crawler has auto-detected the negative tone of my previous post, but we're going to drop them off at the agency next week and hope for the best.

To celebrate, I'm making a curry tonight from some of the whole roasted pig we roasted in August, and some of our homegrown tomatoes. A porky vindaloo, if you will. We do an annual whole pig roast each August, and invite close to 100 people. There's a keg of beer, beans, cornbread, and slaw for all. Each year has a theme with accompanying artwork on the invitation. There's been "Day Of Pigs", "Piggy Stardust", "Hog Day Afternoon", "Pjork", and "The Duke of Pork". This year's roast was entitled "Days of Swine And Hosers". The picture you see is the art for this years invite. For our American friends who might not get the visual reference, the 3 miscreants (Hosers) pictured are the Trailer Park Boys, which is a bit of a cult TV show in Canada. Great fun, and highly reminiscent of some the people I grew up with in Burnaby!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Crop Is In...

Tomatoes are done for the season and hanging on the vine to ripen. So far, the deer seem disinterested, a trend we hope continues! We grew several types of heirloom varieties this year. First photo is of one luscious tomato. You do the math. Then we see Miles showing off his new haircut. We made an amazing PUTTANESCA sauce (anchovies, capers, tomato, olives, chili flakes) and some homemade fettucine noodles. So easy, and so good! We'll ripen the rest, run them through a food mill, and freeze them in preportioned dinner amounts. Nothing like a pasta suace from your own tomatoes in the middle of winter... Oh yeah. This year our freezer will be thousands of miles away!

PS - Miles is not now, nor has he ever been an endorsee of Nike. He is not affiliated with the Nike Corporation in any way, and has received no promotional consideration in return for the appearance of the Nike logo in this picture. We got the shirt second-hand at a clothing swap sale, end of chat. We apologize for this profound lapse of political correctness.

Silver Linings

After the abortive attempt to procure Chinese visas, I picked up Laurel from her parents house and we went to one of our favourite hole-in-the-walls to eat. Cafe D'Lite on West Broadway (right next to the Bon Ton, and across from the old Hollywood theatre) is an unassuming little family-run Malaysian/Singaporean place, just the kind that Laurel and I love. You could drive by it a million times and never even think to go inside. Without question, they do the best Hainan Chicken Rice in the city (the national dish of Singapore), and also the best greens and oyster sauce Laurel and I have ever eaten. My personal fave is the Hainan Chicken Laksa, which combines the famed Hainan chicken with two types of noodles, bean sprouts, deep fried tofu, and the most amazing Laksa broth, which consists of chicken broth, coconut milk, and a paste made from dried shrimp, rau ram, garlic, chilis, and a host of other yummies. Laurel prefers the Fish Ball Laksa. If you've never had a laksa, you owe it to yourself to check this place out. Don't tell too many people, or I'll be pissed if I can't get a table next time we visit! The pic I've supplied is not actually from Cafe D'Lite, but it's very very close! We can't wait to get back to Singapore in December so that we can sample as many variations on this amazing dish as we can. Last time we were there, we had a clam laksa for 2 bucks that blew our minds....

Cluster**** at the Embassy

Went to the Chinese Embassy yesterday to try to get a visa for our Chinese leg of the trip in June, where we plan to visit Beijing for week. Previous to yesterday's visit, I dutifully called the embassy to make sure that I had all the proverbial ducks in a row (mmmmmm..... duck....), and was assured that all I had to do was show up with my documents, and it would be a breeze. Never trust a disgruntled office worker. When I arrived at the embassy at 10:30 AM, I should have known that something was up when I spotted the Falun Gong protesters set up with their banners outside the door. I walked past them without incident to the second floor office, and I was horrified to find about 300 people in the office, all of whom seemed to know significantly more about the process than I did. A handwritten sign on the central pillar said "No Numbers Today", which I interpreted to mean that the "take a number" system had been abandoned. Encouraged, I wandered over to the shortest line I could. Strangely, the LED sign said "221", which I thought was odd, because the of the message on the other sign. A tired looking guy in a chair saw that I was perplexed, and he asked if I had a number. I looked down at his, and it said "217". He had yet to be served. This did not bode well for any organizational system I was familiar with. "So you need a number?", I asked. "Oh yeah, nothing happens without a number". "Well how does a guy like me get a number?" "Well", he said, "They hand them out in the morning at 9AM, and when the numbers are gone, they're done for the day. You've got to get here at 4 or 5 AM to line up." Now the cryptic message on the pillar became horrifyingly clear. They were done for the day. Another line snaked around the perimiter of the room. This was for people who were picking up their visas. An officious looking man in a dark suit, obviously a card carrying party member, was handing out slips of pink paper. I approached him and explained the problem. "Go to that counter!" he barked, pointing at one that only had 4 or 5 people in it. When I got to the window, the woman behind the bulletproof glass told me that without a number she could do nothing. The reason for the bulletproof glass soon became apparent. As she was explaining this to me, a middle-aged Chinese woman literallly tried to elbow me out of the way and she actually pushed her papers through the opening in the glass as the woman behind it was still talking to me. Barely resisting the sudden urge to knee a complete stranger in the crotch, I just gathered up my stuff and left. Another approach, perhaps one involving bribery, may have to be considered.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Been to

Well, the Indian use of English is not quite as fractured as the examples at, in fact the Indian vernacular is often quite elegant. The funny thing about it for us is that it just seems so antiquated. Its almost like steeping back in time 100 years. We received this email from a hotel in Mumbai today as a response to a booking query. Here it is..


With reference to your email, we wish to state that we can offer 1 Double roo with twin beds Or with single large bed as well. we charge Rs. 220/-+10% tax for extra mattress for extra person.

The total cost of your stay will be approxemetely Rs.2904/- excluding breakfast.

1 double room for 1 night = Rs.2420/- inclusive of tax
2 extra mattress = Rs.484/- inclusive of tax

If I close my eyes, I can see the Peter Sellers style finger pointing in the air combined with the head wiggle that is used for a variety of purposes. And this is a very mild example. We promise to post more extreme examples as we stumble upon them. Readers of this blog are also encouraged to email us back if my own grammar is in need of correction! My wife isn't always looking over my shoulder to fulfill that function. It is with great affection for the culture that I draw your attention to these little linguistic foibles. Anyone who has ever heard me attempt to speak French can attest to the fact that I am no cultural supremacist. My friend Christophe nearly shoots foie gras out of his nose when I try to ask him to pass the salt in French....
As an update to the octopus adventure, I took an entire tentacle to Miles' grade 3 class today, as I was invited for show and tell to retell the tale. I brought some ponzu sauce, and a cutting board and knife, and after grossing out a good portion of the class by waving the tentacle around (we also got a picture of Miles with the tentacle hanging off of his face like the dude from Pirates of The Caribbean. I pray no Disney lawyers read this...), I sliced up little bits and invited the class up for a dip and a slice. Some liked it, some were disgusted, but nearly everyone gave it a shot. A few girls hung around for thirds and fourths! I freaked out one little guy by suddenly shaking the tentacle and yellin "IT"S STILL ALIVE!!!!!". He jumped about a foot in the air and then fell over backwards, much to the class' delight. I must be evil... Much fun. Poor Miles, though. I can hear the recess talk already. "Your parents are WEIRD!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Doc Octopus

Last night we were the recipients of a magnificent culinary gift from Posiedon. A 10 pound Pacific Red Octopus got pulled up in a prawn trap just offshore from our house. This is only the second time this has happened, but this monster was quite a bit bigger than the first. I had to bring it home in a black plastic garbage bag and place it in the sink. It was still quite alive at this point. I was amazed as it gradually assumed a colour as close to the stainless steel sink as it could, all over a period of about 10 minutes. I then had the unsavoury task of dispatching it with a knife, and the instant I did, it flashed bright red all over its body. Disturbingly, it continued to move and make vague attempts to climb out of the sink long after its head had been removed. I simmered it up, and we're going to have some for dinner with ponzu sauce, spinach, and tofu. I'm going to give some to my chef friend Christophe, and he's going to attempt some octopus bacon. This was not an adventure for the squeamish, but it's pretty important to be in touch with your food chain. If you're going to eat it, be prepared to go beyond the styrofoam trays at Safeway!


We all went to the Travel Clinic for our innoculations on Monday, which was an adventure, to say the least. After a lenghty and somewhat dizzying consultation with the doctor, where we were presented with enough information to make us want to stay indoors with the shades drawn on Bowen Island, much less India, we took our turns rolling up the sleeves and taking one (3 actually) for the team. Laurel took Isaac in first, and it looked like it was all going smooth until.... HUUUUGE SCREAM.... crying..... HUUUUGE SCREAM.... crying...... HUUUUGE SCREAM.... The entire waiting room counted three needles. Miles of course, was very brave and did not even whimper. He even went so far as to say that he enjoyed it, because it felt kind of "nervy". Let's hope that this is not a harbinger of things to come... Laurel and I both got tetanus shots, and have had difficulty with our left arms for a couple of days, although it seems to be diminishing. All I know is this: I haven't spent so much money to feel so crummy since the 80s!