February 28, 2015 - Liz

February 28, 2015 - Liz (1st person I approached)
As someone living with depression, I accept that there are up days, and there are down days. The more work I do, the greater effort I use to understand and recognize why I feel the way I do, the better the chances of less down and more up days. It can also be fine just to simply acknowledge where I'm at. Nothing else. 

 

The same can also be said about living with the human condition. Something we all have to do. My biggest mistake in the past few days has been allowing other people’s opinions, to bother me, personally. Years ago, I used to have certain people in my life tell me I was ‘too sensitive.’ It used to devastate me and I felt I needed to toughen up. One day, refusing to accept someone else's unsolicited opinion, I turned it around - ‘I think actually, you’re too cold and unfeeling’ I said.

“Don’t tell them you’re going to change, do it, and let them see the difference,” I read once.

 

I went out early this morning hoping to see Tom, my buddy from Day 10, 2014. I got to Tom’s bench, where he always sits, and there he was - the calm in my morning. We had a nice visit, sitting in the early morning sunshine, just chatting. Tom likes to watch European soccer, and Canuck's hockey. He plays a daily game, counting how many cabs from which cab firm he’ll see - the winning company being the one that gets to three first. Tom also introduced the topic of how helping other people, helps us individually. He is my soothsayer. I came home and loaded some new music on my phone and headed out for a long, leisurely walk. After three hours of walking along the seawall to Kits Beach and over to north False Creek, I was feeling much more balanced. I also took dozens of photographs along the way, which always makes me feel good. I arrived back home, and felt fortunate to have my morning unfold as it did.

 

I saw Liz strolling along the seawall when I was at Kits beach. I stopped and asked her if she would chat with me. She answered

“Yes, okay, as long as we go and sit in the sunshine.” We found a bench nearby and I explained what my project was all about. Liz told me she would be happy to chat, depending on what the questions were. As always, I explained I'm not an investigative reporter. We would only chat about whatever Liz felt comfortable talking about. 

 

Liz was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia (NS).

“On the other side of the country, and I’ve made it all the way across, with many stops along the way,” she said, smiling.

“I had one older brother who has since passed away. We got along when we were young, yes. But then we were separated for about twelve years or so. We reconnected later as adults.” I asked if it was due to their parents divorcing.

“Something like that yes,” she replied. One child went with each parent. “I don’t actually know who got the better deal in the end. But that’s what it was,” said Liz. 

 

“School was hard. I did some of my elementary school in Sydney. Then we moved to Halifax for a while. I think I did some of my elementary schooling in Montreal as well. I can’t recall exactly, it was so long ago. But we lived in Montreal and that’s where I went to high-school,” she said.

“No one ever stopped to ask me how I was doing. We moved around so much it was hard to keep up with school. I went to an English speaking school. My French wasn’t so good, and it didn’t get much better, which is a shame. I could have been bilingual. But school was tough.” 

 

After graduating and working at different jobs, Liz went to Business College.

“I was told that’s what I should do, and so I did. I was there for two years, and after completing the program, I got a job in a lawyer's office in downtown Montreal. I did that for a while, and worked in a couple of offices,” said Liz. She married and had a daughter.

“My husband had four daughters when we got married, so I was their stepmother. With our youngest daughter, we had a family of girls.” Her husband passed away when their daughter was sixteen years old, from a lung disease.

“He had been sick for about eight years. At first we could still do everything, including going on vacation. We just had to make sure there was an oxygen tank in the car. But it progressed over the years,” Liz told me.

“It was a very difficult time for everyone.”

 

“We were living in Calgary. I didn’t know what to do next, after my husband passed away. I decided to go to university. It was like I came to one day and looked around me, and I was sitting in a rehabilitation therapy class,” Liz said.

“I spent the next twenty five years working in rehab therapy. I tried working in rehabilitation centres. For example, I worked with a young girl with Downs Syndrome helping her to get integrated. I didn’t enjoy the setting. It wasn’t very satisfying, and sadly, the pay was really dreadful as well. I mean, no one goes into that line of care to get rich, that’s for sure. And the system is set up differently in Alberta compared to British Columbia. Or so I understand,” she said. Liz explained that the pay scale was determined based on the circumstance or ability of the patient that one cared for.

"It forces people to put other's into categories, which is really unfortunate."

 

“I went on to get trained to have my own care facility, in my home. It was set up like a room-mate situation. I had two ladies who came to live with me in my home, and I looked after them. One woman I cared for had a brain injury after being hit by a drunk driver. The other woman who lived with us had CP (Cerebral Palsy). I learned so much from the people I cared for. Living with the people you’re caring for, they become like your own family. When I retired, it was difficult to say goodbye,” she told me. I said I thought that people would have been fortunate to live with and be cared for by Liz, based on her spirit and energy.

"I was the one who was lucky," she replied. 

 

I asked what I thought might be a rhetorical or hard to answer question, wondering if Liz could say what it was she learned from her patients. Without a moments hesitation, she replied.

“Oh patience and tolerance, with a doubt,” she said, exhaling loudly.

“To see what people with a disability, whether it can be seen or not, have to put up with daily, is something you can’t help but learn from.”

 

Liz has been in Vancouver for about six years.

“I always knew I’d live on the west coast. This is home. Two of my step-daughter’s live here, and one of them has two children. And I recently became a great grandmother,” she says, beaming with pride.

“My daughter did live here. She had done everything she needed to complete her PhD, except for writing her thesis. Then she got an incredible job offer that took her to Winnipeg, and now she is in Toronto. I told her opportunities like that don’t happen twice. Take the job. She’s been very fortunate.”

 

I took Liz’s photo, and typed my website address into her phone for her.

“I’m on Facebook, but I don’t use it that much. I’m not the most tech savvy, but I do what I can,” she said. I thanked Liz for her time and for talking with me.

“It’s been my pleasure,” she said with a smile.

“I like talking to people. We need connection in our daily lives. Talking to people and hearing stories about other people is an important part of life. The connections we make. I suggest you even go and find someone else to chat with after me!” #notastranger

February 27, 2015 - Kendra

February 27, 2015 - Kendra (5th person I approached)
Sunshine, during the lunch hour means many people sitting outside want to do so quietly, just basking in the brightness and warmth. I saw Kendra sitting on a bench in the middle of a park, reading something on her phone. I introduced myself, and told Kendra what I was doing and asked if she’d chat with me. She agreed. We shook hands; she has a firm handshake that connects well. It’s one of those things I always notice. A good handshake is important.

 

“I was born in Toronto, in Etobicoke,” she said. Kendra is the second of three children. She smiled when I noted she is the middle child.

“I have an older brother, there are two years between us, and a sister who is four years younger. I was the mediator. I tried to keep the peace between the two of them,” she said, smiling.

“We had the typical sibling fights. I was closer with my sister, but I always looked up to my brother.”

 

Kendra went to school in Etobicoke.

“I went to an arts high school. I worked hard and had to audition to get into the school,” she told me.

“I was interested in drawing, using pen, or pencil. Whatever I could get my hands on, some acrylic, I never enjoyed oil paints, did a little bit of sculpture. I liked watercolours.” 

 

I asked if the school was like the movie “Fame” which I guess shows my age, Kendra didn’t know what the movie was. After telling her what it was about ( a performance arts school), and how much she should watch it, she said that it sounded exactly like her school.

“There were always kids singing and dancing in the hallways. Drawings and art lined the walls above the lockers. All of the doors had murals painted on them. The mural on the library doors looked so much like a painting, that people would walk right past it. They couldn’t tell it was the entrance to the library,” she said.

“Of course there was lots of singing and dancing especially near the time when a school show was in rehearsal. I couldn’t take ‘Footloose’ after a while!” she said, shaking her head. I’ve never seen ‘Footloose.’ (I’m not a huge musical fan. Too many songs.)

 

The family moved to Vancouver when her father got a job working on the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“He worked in telecommunications, so he started long before the games. I was halfway through high-school when we moved here. I was sad to leave my friends behind in Toronto. But at the same time, I had always want to come to BC (British Columbia) and the west coast. I tried to stay in touch with my friends in Toronto. They had mostly all switched to Facebook, and I was late to the Facebook game, so it was all via email. It’s tough to write an email when you just want to tell someone what you’re doing and they’re all on Facebook,” she told me. 

 

“My new school wasn’t an arts school. But it had a good sports program. I liked that,” said Kendra. After graduating from high-school, Kendra went to Emily Carr (University of Art & Design).

“I took the foundation program the first year. It was kind of tough. That’s where they want to get you to think in a more creative way about everything. There was a lot of things that didn’t appeal to me. Then I tried a foundation course in animation. I didn’t think I’d like it because I couldn’t see drawing the same thing over and over again. But I really enjoyed it, and that’s what I continued to study,” she said. Kendra graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration degree.

 

“There wasn’t much work and no one was hiring (in animation) when I graduated,” she said.

“So I went travelling with a friend to the UK (United Kingdom). We spent most of the time in Scotland. I lived in Edinburgh for a while. Then I got a job on a sheep farm, near the edge of the Scottish highlands. It was a family working farm. In exchange for helping out, we got free room and board. They also taught animation there. I met another student who was there, she was from Finland. Back home, she had a herd of reindeer. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to become involved in animation, or go back home to the reindeer. We made a film about the Sami people and reindeer. Sami people are to Finland what First Nations people are to Canada would be the easier way to describe that,” said Kendra. They spent two months making the film, and then stayed on at the farm for another month for the experience.

“I drew a lot of reindeer,” she told me, laughing.

 

“My mother’s family are from Lithuania. With me being in the UK, my mother took it as an excuse to go see where her family are from. It had been on her bucket list for a very long time. I met my mother and sister there, in Lithuania. We toured around for two weeks, saw where the family home had once stood, and a nearby fjord my mother had heard about,” she said. A relative of Kendra’s who lives in Lithuania is a travel agent and she had set out their itinerary.

“She knew my sister and I are both interested in the arts, so we saw a lot of art museums and galleries,” Kendra said.

 

After two years living in the UK, Kendra came home to Canada.

“I came back via Toronto. I wanted to see my grandparents, and they still live there. They’re both from Lithuania and met in Toronto. I had to tell them about my time in Lithuania. I got to visit with my brother who lives there as well,” she said. 

 

Back in Vancouver, Kendra took a year “to recover from travelling,” she said.

“I worked for a while teaching snowboarding at Seymour Mountain. Good thing it wasn’t this year, that’s for sure,” she said, referring to our warmer than usual winter and the serious lack of snow on the mountains.

“And now I’m working at (a local) animation studio,” she told me.

 

"Well, I guess I should probably get going,” she said. Kendra had to get back to work. It turns out that she was on her lunch, enjoying the sunshine, sitting quietly, just basking in the brightness and warmth. She offered me her hand, thanking me for the chat.

“Good luck with your project," she said, as we shook hands. Another firm handshake, that connected well. #notastranger

February 25, 2015 - AN UPDATE - Frans

February 25, 2015 - AN UPDATE - Frans
One year, one week and one day ago, I first met Frans. It was back on Day 48 of The Stranger Project. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk with me for the project itself, but he was intrigued enough to insist we go for coffee (he also insisted he pay). We spent over an hour talking that day. Of course, by the end of our chat, he relented and gave me the okay to share his story. (*Fact Check - see links below.)

 

We’ve kept in touch and have become friends. Frans was one of several ‘#notastranger's’ who came along to hear my talk at TEDxRCW last October. I got a message from him this past weekend, saying it had been too long since we’d chatted. He invited me to meet him for lunch today.

 

We talked for over two hours. All about education systems around the world, some politics, and maybe a bit about my project. We also chatted about his three children and good food. (I highly recommend ‘Fable’ on West 4th Avenue - I had the grilled cheese and pulled pork sandwich, with homemade tomato soup - comfort food heaven!) Frans was telling me about a French restaurant that he goes to with his wife and three daughters. Two of his children are in a French emersion elementary school, and the children get a kick out of chatting in French with the wait staff.

 

As I headed home, it struck me that people around us in the restaurant might have guessed we’d been life-long friends. The time flew by, with lots of laughter and lively conversation. Yet, just over a year ago, Frans was as a complete stranger, who I approached and, asked him to have a conversation with me. It was a wonderful afternoon. He not only paid for lunch, Frans also gave a donation for the funding of the documentary ‘Not A Stranger.’ He told me, “I was in Indonesia when the Indiegogo campaign ran, and I really wanted to make a donation. Can I still give you some money?” he asked. How could I say no to my friend?

 

I walked home from lunch, in part to ease the feeling of gluttony that was lunch, but mostly because I enjoy walking. I turned onto Cambie Street, and I ran into Don, who I had originally met on Day 165, back in June of last year. On December 17th, (Day 351) I wrote about an emotional encounter that I had with Don. I had bumped into him just moments after he found out that his brother had passed away, in Edmonton. I was the first person he told. Don was grief stricken and didn’t know for sure what he was going to do. His first reaction was a want to go get drunk. Don is an alcoholic. We sat and talked for a while that day. Eventually he decided to go see a friend of his who works at a nearby church. She would be his comfort. 

 

Today was the first time I’ve seen Don since his brother died. I asked how he was, and he replied “I’m alive.” I was happy to hear that he had just gotten back from Edmonton, after heading there and spending a month with his sister and her family.

“It didn’t offer me any closure. Not really. My brother’s still dead. But I was glad to have time with my family,” he told me.

“It’s nice to see you,” said Don.

“Thanks for asking how I am.” A day of friends, checks and balances. #notastranger #notastranger

*Fact Check - Frans Day 48 - http://tinyurl.com/py3emqr
**Fact Check - TEDxRCW - http://tinyurl.com/lygkhml
***Fact Check - Don's original story - http://tinyurl.com/q6oekbh

February 24, 2015 - Yusra

February 24, 2015 - Yusra (3rd person I approached)
I’ve never really had the same relationship with sleep that most people do. It’s also another factor of living with depression; the sleep cycle can be fragile. I'm one of those people that enjoys getting up early, whether I need to or not. I love the silence of 6am. 

 

Sunday night (technically Monday morning) I went to bed late - like 3am, and I woke up at 7am, and that was me for the night. Consequently, last night, by 11pm, I was exhausted and falling asleep on the couch. I didn’t write - I intentionally decided that if my body wanted to go to sleep early, I would do just that. And I slept until 7:30 this morning too. So today’s story originated yesterday, I just didn’t get around to writing it.

 

Yusra was sitting on a bench near Science World, when I first saw her. She had a few bags with her, and it looked like she was packing up her belongings and getting ready to leave. I’ve intentionally never spoken with anyone who ‘appears’ under the age of eighteen or so. I don’t want to make any parents angry, nor do I want to come across as inappropriate. Looking ahead, should I see someone with an adult, or parental figure, then maybe I’ll ask them both to chat. So far, it’s not happened. I wasn’t sure at first if I should ask Yusra to chat, based on how young she looks. But I took a chance, and she agreed to chat with me. I later found out she is nineteen.

 

“I am from Saudi Arabia,” she told me.

“I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and grew up there.” She is the ‘smallest’ of seven children.

“Oh yes, I was a little bit spoiled. Having older brothers and sisters, I had lots of attention. It depends on the customs of the family if the boys are raised differently than the girls. In my family, no. We were all raised the same. I was closer to my sisters than my brothers,” she told me. There are four girls and three boys in the family. Yusra’s father is a civil engineer and her mother is a professor teaching clinical biology.

“All of my family have gone to university. Not because my parents made them to do it, because they wanted to,” said Yusra.

 

“In school I was an ‘A’ student. I went to a private school for my elementary schooling. Then I switched to a public school. My cousin was going to this school, and she wanted me to go there also, so that is why I changed to a public school. I continued to be an ‘A’ student," she said with quiet modesty. 

 

“I went to University after high-school. I want to study Architecture. It is what I knew I wanted to do since before I went to university. This class, it was so very difficult. I had to work hard for this, to study for architecture,” she said. 

 

Yusra had come to Vancouver in 2010 with a brother and sister.

“They were coming here to go to school, and I came her to visit with them. That was my first time here,” she said.

 

“After my first semester in Architecture, it was so much work. But I still got ‘A’s’ in my classes. I only went for one semester then I came back to here in Vancouver,” she said. I asked how long she has been in Vancouver for.

“Just three days now,” she smiled.

"My sister has gone back to Jeddah, she has finished university now. But my brother is here, so I am staying with him.” Yusra is going to school while she's in Vancouver.

“I am studying English. I’ll be doing that for six months. Then I will go back to Jeddah and university to finish my architecture. That will be in five years that I finish,” she said, with a big smile. 

 

I asked Yusra how her parents felt about her wanting to come to Vancouver after one semester in university.

“They were alright. They are sad a little bit. They are all alone now. Everyone has left the house, it is just them. But they are happy to me for learning English,” she said. I complimented her on her current English skills and noted that she would only be improving her English, not learning it from the beginning. She laughed.

“It depends on the teacher,” she said. She has been learning English in school since kindergarten.

 

“I don’t know exactly what I want to do in Architecture. I haven’t had the exposure to it that I will get through learning,” Yusra told me.

"I will like to design residential buildings. Houses." She said she thinks Vancouver is a beautiful city, with some very nice buildings. I sensed she might have been too shy to voice her full opinion. I told her we have a lot of glass, but there are some nice buildings here. I explained ‘Vancouverism’ to her. The concept of an urban building with a low, mixed-use base, and a large narrow tower built over it. This style originated here in Vancouver. It's now known in the architectural world as ‘Vancouverism.’ Yusra looked around and was able to identify a couple of buildings based on this school of design.  

 

I took her photograph and showed her the picture. She made a note of The Stranger Project Facebook page and thanked me for asking her to chat. I remembered not to offer my hand to shake. She gathered her bags and we said goodbye, Yusra adding

“Good luck with your project. Have a nice day.” #notastranger

February 22, 2015 - Lee

February 22, 2015 - Lee (4th person I approached)
I was at the always busy Granville Island Public Market this afternoon, and approached a lady sitting by herself. She smiled when I told her what I was doing and said I could sit and chat with her. However, when I told her that I would want to take a photograph, she told me she would have to decline.

“I’m proud to say, for myself, that to date, my photograph is nowhere to be found online. I hope to keep it that way,” she said with a pleasant smile. 

 

The second person was waiting for a ride, so she didn’t have time to chat. I hadn’t even gotten my introduction out to the third person I approached when I recognized Mandy, whose story I heard on Day 58 last year. She was enjoying some quiet alone time, watching the sunset. We had a quick chat, and then I left her to enjoy her sunset time. 

 

Lee was sitting on a bench overlooking False Creek. I asked him if he would chat with me, and explained what I’m doing.

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” he said, moving a walking stick that was leaning against the bench. He was smoking a joint, and I told him not to let me stop him. 

 

“I was born in Kelowna. I’m the second oldest of five children. We grew up on a farm, so there were lots of chores to do. I had to help milk cows and feed the animals. There’s always something to do when you live on a farm,” he said. Lee also helped his mother with caring for his younger siblings.

 

As we chatted, I noticed a seal popping it’s head out of the water, about thirty feet away from where we were sitting. We stopped talking and watched the seal swim around, keeping it’s head out of the water.

“I started to break-in horses when I was in my teens,” Lee told me.

“People started paying me to break-in their horses. I did that quite a bit while I was still in school.” I said that he must have a good affinity with animals. Lee seemed to downplay that notion, and I countered that it takes skill to break-in a horse, it’s not something that just anyone can do.

“Yeah, you’re right. It takes patience. And understanding. You do need to have a way with horses, for them to trust you. You’re right.”

 

“I graduated from high-school, in Grade twelve. I always thought school was a riot. Until the time to graduate got near, then it became a panic. I panicked getting ready to leave, and I panicked at the thought of not being in school anymore,” he told me.

“I got into my own little business. I was getting cattle fit for showing. I was feeding and grooming cattle. Then I took some on the road for shows. I spent six months travelling from one side of the country, right across, ending at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto),” he said. Lee travelled for six months, with cattle shows. 

 

The seal popped it’s head out of the water directly in front of us. Lee saw it and pointed, and I turned my head just in time to see it dive back under the water.

“I got a job building trailers for long haul trucks after doing the cattle shows. That job took me to southern California for about six weeks. I did a few other things, and then got into the flooring industry, and did that for thirty-five years,” Lee said.

"Look, there it is again,” he said, pointing towards the water. The seal had popped it’s head above water.

“Hey boy, come on back,” he said loudly in the direction of the seal. As he said that, the seal turned it’s head around and looked in our direction.

“I think they know my voice by now,” he said.

“I’m down here all the time.”

 

“I got married, twice. I have a son from my first marriage, and then a step-daughter from the second. My first wife left and took off with our son to Florida. She didn’t want to be married to me anymore,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“I don’t hold any ill-will toward her. None at all,” he replied when I asked.

“No, she did what she had do. I didn’t get to spend as much time with my son. He would come and spend time with me. I always knew that one day he’d come back. Now he lives here and we’re good and close.” I asked if he was still married or in a relationship.

“Only with me, myself and I,” he said, laughing.

 

A gentleman approached Lee, saying ‘Hello, long time no see. Where’s the other parts of you?’ Lee laughed, telling the guy that his wheelchair (the ‘other parts’ ) had broken, and he was waiting for Health Canada to give him a replacement. He’s been waiting for over a week now. I told Lee’s friend that I didn’t know Lee, but that I was asking him about his life. ‘Oh, he’s got some great stories, that’s for sure,’ he said. The two said goodbye, and as the man walked away, Lee bid him farewell and “go safely.”

 

“About ten years ago, I was diagnosed with CIDP (Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy). I had been experiencing symptoms for quite a while before the diagnosis. But I thought it was from doing flooring for so many years. My blood cells are attacking one another, and all of the joints in my body are deteriorating. That’s why I use a wheelchair. I can manage to walk, but I can’t go any distance,” he said. That explained the walking stick leaning on the bench next to us. 

 

I asked if marijuana helped ease the discomfort.

“Well,” he said.

“I don’t know if it actually does, or if it's just in my mind that it feels easier. But it does help me to feel better, yes,” he said, smiling at me.

“I’ve used cannabis for probably close to forty years. I’ve got a prescription for it now. And I have a federal permit to grow marijuana as well. If I needed to.”

 

Lee had started to rub his hands together, and the sun had gone down.

“I’ve got to get going here pretty quickly, it’s getting colder out and that isn’t so good for me,” he said. We sat long enough for Lee to tell me about a great trip he had a number of years ago, to see a friend that lives in the Philippines.

“I stopped in Japan and Hong Kong along the way. I was there in the Philippines, with my friend for Christmas. We had Christmas dinner while sitting in his pool. It was a great trip. I spent six weeks with my friend, and two months in total, travelling,” he said.

“I’ve always been a bit of an adventurous spirit.”

 

I had taken a photo of Lee early in our conversation, because the light was fading. I thanked him for his time and we shook hands. He had a comfortable, yet firm handshake. I stood up and Lee used his walking stick to balance himself as he got up from the bench. He had been sitting on a plastic grocery bag, which he picked up and put in his pocket.

“Well, It was very nice talking with you,” he said.

“Have a good night. Stay safe,” he said, as he slowly moved towards home. #notastranger

February 21, 2015 - Caleb

February 21, 2015 - Caleb (5th person I approached)
Spring-like weather while it’s still winter, sunshine, blue skies, flowers blooming. Saturday. In Vancouver, there’s a lift that happens when all these things come together. I intended to walk to a small park over towards the east side of Vancouver to look for today's story. Although I did try my luck a few times along the way. The first person I approached was wearing pyjamas and a housecoat, sitting in a shopping mall, eating a sandwich. I was certain there was a story there, but he wasn’t willing to share it. The second person I had approached once before, and she told me then that she didn’t have time to chat. Today, I didn’t even get far into my ask before I was told, in a strong voice, to respect that she wanted nothing to do with me, and to move away. Lesson learned. The next two weren't able to spare the time. They both wished me well in my search. To the park I headed. 

 

I walked around the perimeter of the block-long playing field, and went in from the opposite corner that I’ve used before. I saw Caleb sitting on a bench, writing in a small notebook. On another bench nearby was another gentleman, watching some children playing on a swing set nearby. As I got closer, I decided to see if Caleb would chat with me. I said hello and got no response. Then Caleb looked up and quickly removed his earphones, which I hadn't seen. He listened while I told him what I was doing. He smiled and put his journal aside, telling me he’d be happy to chat. 

 

Caleb was born in Toowoomba, about 130kms west of Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia.

“The population is about one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand people. It’s one of the larger inland cities in Australia. Most are located closer to the coast,” he told me. Caleb is the oldest of three children, with a younger brother and sister.

“We got along as kids, and then we didn’t as we got older. Typical sibling stuff. But I find now as we’re getting older we get along better.”

 

All of Caleb’s primary and secondary schooling was done in Toowoomba.

“I was a bit of a rebel when I was around thirteen or fourteen. I went to a Christian school, for primary and secondary. By the time I reached my teens, my friends were all kids who went to the same Christian school, so I never wanted to change schools,” he said. 

 

“My parents are both Christian and we went to church. I guess part of the rebel thing was a way of reacting towards the religion. A way to say to my parents 'I’m not like you, I’m different.'” 

 

Caleb said that growing up with religion helped him be more open to spirituality.

“I believe in a God. I’m not going to say Him or Her. I know that most Christian’s have a solid idea of who God is to them. I see God as a more spiritual form. I spend a lot of time out in nature, and that's where I feel most connected. I’m still working through my own ideals of that,” he said. 

 

“I used to dress differently, and I got kicked out of the house a few times when I was about thirteen or fourteen. My parents wanted me to live more the way they thought I should, and I wouldn’t. I was rebelling somewhat against my parents, but I was trying to find my own identity as well. They’d say if I didn’t change that I could go live somewhere else. That was fine with me. I’d go stay at a friend’s house for a couple of weeks until my parents would tell me to come home again. It was a nice break, and a chance to feel independent.” Eventually his parents accepted that Caleb was his own person and allowed him to live his own life. 

 

He finished Grade twelve at secondary school.

“I had already said I wasn’t going to go to Uni (college) before I graduated. I had been working in a retail job during school, and I worked there after I finished school,” he told me.

“I left home and moved to Brisbane. After almost twenty years in Toowoomba, I wanted to try living in a bigger city. I got a job and I’m still living and working there,” he said. 

 

Caleb pulled out a pack of cigarettes and asked if I minded if he smoked. It actually surprises me, pleasantly, how many people ask if I mind if they smoke while we’re chatting. I’m an ex-smoker; I quit on my fortieth birthday, so I’m the worst kind - reformed! But we were outside, so it doesn’t bother me. Really.

 

Caleb is on a month-long vacation here in Vancouver.

“I’ve been here for just about a week-and-a-half. A good friend of mine from Toowoomba, moved here. He and I were in a metal band in school. I played bass back then. Anyway, we had talked about doing a road trip from Vancouver to LA (Los Angeles). I booked my plane ticket so we could do that trip.,” Caleb told me. About a week after booking his trip, his friend told Caleb that he wouldn’t be able to make the road trip after all.

“He said he and his girlfriend were going to stay here in Vancouver for a while longer and make some more money. I had already booked the flight, so I decided to come out here with no agenda. Except that my return flight home departs from LA,” he said.    

 

“I’m staying with my mate and his girlfriend in their one room studio apartment. It’s a little cramped with the three of us there. I’m sleeping on a mattress right next to their bed,” Caleb said a little sheepishly. I asked how he was enjoying his trip so far.

“Well, to be honest, this week has been a little stressful.” He was quiet while he gathered his thoughts.

“It was my birthday last Sunday. (He turned twenty-one). We went out and I got pretty drunk. My friends left, but I stayed out.  By the time I got home to their place, well, this might sound weird. But I guess I got sick and a bit messy. My friends weren’t too happy with me. With everything that’s going on, they're trying to plan this trip, the small studio apartment and everything, it's just too much. They’ve suggested I find somewhere else to stay now,” he said. 

 

This is Caleb’s first trip this far away from home.

“I travelled oversea's with my parents, but this is my first trip alone,” he said. We talked about what it’s like to be travelling, and to be carefree and celebrating. I assured Caleb that there wasn't a halo over my head. Without comparing my many drunken escapades, I assured him I knew what he was talking about. He mentioned that he had met a girl who was living here and she was from Melbourne, Australia. She had tad him if he needed a place to stay he could go there. I encouraged him to make the most of the adventure he is on and go for it, including travelling to LA. I mentioned The Bolt Bus, a cheaper way to travel. While they don’t go to Los Angeles, it would still save him some money, and keep the adventure going. He's considering a domestic flight once he's over the boarder, thinking he might go via Portland. 

 

I took his picture and thanked him for his time. He had written the name of my project down in his journal, so he could check it out later. We shook hands and I told him I had enjoyed chatting with him.

“No, thank you,” he said.

“I was just writing in my journal before we started to talk. This is my day to write down the things I’ve done so far and keep a journal of my trip. That’s why I’m sitting here in the park. I don’t have a sim card in my phone so I’m not able to call anyone back in Australia to talk to them about what’s going on. I was literally writing in my journal that I wished I had someone to talk to. And then you came over to me, and asked me to chat.” #notastranger

February 20, 2015 - Hugh

February 20, 2015 - Hugh (3rd person I approached)
I could just say I fell asleep on the couch. Which I did, but only for a little while. Long enough however, to throw me into procrastinate/no-I-can’t/not-gonna mode, and then I went to bed. So I didn’t post anything yesterday. This story originated yesterday, but is my post for today.

 

Hugh had no hesitation whatsoever in agreeing to chat with me. There was a real sound of pride in voice when he told me

“I was born in Halifax (Nova Scotia).” He said it with an authority that made it sound like there was no other place to be born.

“I’m the oldest. I have two sisters. I had to play the big brother role from time to time, protecting them,” he told me. When I asked what he was protecting his sisters from, he replied simply,

“Life.” There is ten years between Hugh and his youngest sister.

“We weren’t that close as kids. They were younger, and they were girls. I always wanted to have a brother. I always said to people I’d gladly trade two sisters for one brother,” he told me.

 

“I was really good in school. Got top marks and liked to learn. My favourite subject was girls,” he said, smiling.

“I played hockey, and I liked boxing. My father was into boxing and he was good at it too. He taught me how to box, and I got real good at it.”  I asked if his father ever used boxing as a form of discipline.

“Never,” he said immediately.

“I had the fucking best childhood anyone could ever ask for. My parents were wealthy, we never wanted for anything and I knew I was loved. So much love. I got my first Shetland pony when I was five. Got my first motorbike when I was eight and got my first rifle when I was nine. There was never anything that I wanted or needed that I didn’t get. We were spoiled rotten as kids. And like I said, we were much loved,” said Hugh.

 

“I wanted to be an oceanographer, or so I thought. I wanted to be like Jacques Cousteau. I got into Dalhousie University." His father died when Hugh was in his late teens. “I got a call to get to the hospital, urgently. My father had a blockage in the main vein in his right thigh. I got to the hospital in time to hold his hand. He told me he loved me, then died. It was devastating, especially because he hadn’t been sick, Hugh said.

“I started at Dalhousie but after about five or six months I was tired of sitting in a classroom. A buddy of mine asked me to go to Cozumel with him, to go diving. I told my mother that I was sorry that she had paid the tuition and everything but that I was leaving. My parents had always supported me in doing what I wanted to do. They never stood in my way,” he said. Hugh has been returning to Cozumel ever since. 

 

He started to work in construction, learning to become a finishing carpenter.

“I got damn good at it. I never had to look for work, I was always hired on a name request basis. I made good money and I liked what I did,” he said.

“I’ve never been out of work, when I wanted to work. Look around the skyline here. There’s cranes everywhere. If you’re not working in construction, it’s because you don’t want to work.”

 

Hugh has been in Vancouver for almost thirty years. Throughout our conversation, he referred to what some might call a ‘bad guy lifestyle’ without giving any specifics. I asked him why he chose to move to Vancouver.

“I lived on a couple of the (BC Coastal) islands for few years. I decided it was just better to stay here when they started to write a book about us,” he told me. When I asked who they were he was vague, and told me the title of the book was ‘The Road To Hell.’ His look was as ominous as the title. Asking him what the book was about, all he said was,

“What do you think it’s about, based on the title?” Hugh never indicated what his involvement was, and never suggested anything more than being a bit of a 'bad guy.' (*Fact Check - see link below.)

 

As happens with most of the people I chat with, the conversation changed quickly, from feeling like an interview to an open, easy  conversation. When this happens, I often have to be mindful of chronological order. That’s kind of my tool for remembering the story, as I don’t take notes. A lot of my chat with Hugh was based around individual stories and recollections of his. Some more personal than others.

 

Six months before his father died, Hugh had gotten a woman pregnant.

“My father told me that if I was going to live like a man, I had to act like one. He insisted we get married. We didn’t love each other and I had only slept with her twice. But that’s what my father insisted we do. It didn’t last, and my father died shortly after we got married,” he said. They had a daughter.

 

Years later, Hugh tells me he was sitting in a little coffee shop in Vancouver.

“This pretty woman comes in and she sits next to me. We started chatting and she read me my horoscope. She nailed it. There was such a connection between us. I was heading down to Cozumel three days later. I was gone for almost four months and when I got back, we got together again,” he said.

“It was love. She is so very special, and was the great love of my life. We had so much fun together. I have a son with her.” In all, Hugh has two daughters living on the East coast, and his son.

“I’m sure there’s a few kids running around Central America, too,” he said.

“Every time I’m there I expect to see a young person that looks like me.”

 

Last year, Hugh had what he called a “medical situation.” He spared some details while still managing to make me wince.

“I started to feel a pain in my balls. I got really worried when they started to swell, and when they were the size of baseballs, I went to the hospital Emergency room. The Doctor who saw me didn’t seem to be too alarmed or interested in my situation. He made a mark with a pen on the inside of my right thigh, and told me to come back in twenty-four hours. I couldn’t believe it. The pain was almost unbearable,” he said. I was now sitting with my legs crossed.

“I went home and lay down. The pain got worse and so did the swelling. Four hours later, I had to go back to the hospital. I practically crawled along the hallway, on my elbows and needed help into the taxi that was waiting for me. I had two grapefruits in my pants,” he said, deadpan serious. I was rocking back and forth by now.

 

When he arrived at the hospital, he was seen by a different Doctor.

“He got pissed with me that I hadn’t come in sooner. When I told him what had happened, he couldn’t believe it. He told me I had an infection and a possible blockage in the veins in my right thigh. The same place where my father had the blockage that killed him. I got wheeled into surgery almost immediately, and asked if there was anyone I wanted to call,” said Hugh.

“What do you say? ‘Hi, how are you? I might die, do you want to come to the hospital?’ I didn’t call anyone. I was seriously ill. The doctors were astonished, but I made it through and got better,” he said.  

“I lost one of my boys and the other is still huge, but I made it through. I’ve thought about having Homer Simpson tattooed on the one that’s left, it’s that big.” I gave a spontaneous, loud laugh when he said that. Hugh looked at me and said

“Yeah. that’s funny isn’t it?” His face was still deadpan, and I thought I had upset him. I apologized for laughing, but he was fine.

“No. It is funny, I know. At least, it's funny now.”

 

“I’ve done almost every single thing in my life that I’ve wanted to do. I had an incredible childhood. The fucking best ever. I’ve travelled, I liked the work I did. I've had great love in my life. I have three children. Life has been good. There’s only a few things left that I want to do," he said. 

 

"I want to build a house in Cozumel. A place that my kids and grand kids can go to for a break. Or to stay, I don’t care. The only rule will be that it can’t be sold. It has to stay in the family. That way, I’ll never leave there. If the kids are there, it means there will always be a little piece of me running around Cozumel,” Hugh said. 

 

The other pressing item on his bucket list is to get dentures.

“I spent thousands on getting veneers and my smile looked great. Then two guys broke into my place and tried to rob me. They had a metal bar, and I had the years of boxer training. They didn’t get anything but beat-up, and they smashed my teeth out.”

 

Hugh is not currently in contact with any of his family or children.

“Something happened a few years ago, and I pissed everyone off. I miss my mother, that’s for sure. I always was a bit of a mommy’s boy. She still lives in Nova Scotia,” he said, woefully.

“The thing is, the longer I wait, the harder it gets to make that call. I know I need to do it, and I will. I just don’t know what to say. But I will make that call, and soon.” 

 

“There’s a school of life that I follow now. ‘Be as good as anybody, and worse than none’” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1LmItIZ

February 18, 2015 - A question for you

I’ll be back with another story tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, I have a question for you.

- Would you like to be on a confidential, never shared, sold or traded mailing list, to receive updates, maybe a newsletter, or special announcements?                             

If “YES,” please send your name and email address in an email to me - easton@thestrangerproject.ca - please do not post your personal information here

PS the photo above is one I took on Monday evening of the incredible sunset, from my balcony.

thanks for your time!
Colin

February 16, 2015 - Sharing & Gratitude

February 16, 2015 - Sharing and Gratitude
I spent some time today in meetings, working on a few details for the future of The Stranger Project. As and when I’m able to share the outcomes and fruit of my planning and labour, I most certainly will. 

I also met with Kate Green, the Producer/Director of the documentary ‘Not A Stranger.’ The documentary is Kate’s vision, it's her telling of the story of my journey over the last year. We have a wonderful connection and an open, honest dialogue. I trust her implicitly. It gives me great comfort to be guided by her creativity and passion. I’m definitely not a film-maker. 

The Stranger Project has become a mainstay in my life. I’m grateful for, and humbled by all the support I’ve received in the last 412 days. The comments that are written, the private messages that are sent, emails I receive, the stories that get shared and reposted - are all greatly appreciated. 

There are wonderful things happening, and I have some big plans ahead. I hope that you’ll stick around to share in these. Of course, the mainstay of it all is to continue to find and share the wonderful stories of the people I get to chat with.

I’m taking steps towards being able to commit even more of my time to The Stranger Project. Not only meeting people and telling the stories I’m hearing, but pushing the ripples that these stories create, even further out. 

Just as this community has grown organically, I strive to have the energy carry forward in the same manner. To help, support, and nurture wherever and however possible. Some stories shift our perspective, some may change our outlook. There are stories that have made us shed a tear or two, and others which have brought laughter and joy. 

Isn’t that what community is about? Living and sharing. Being interested and interesting. Being cared for and caring. Growing together. Thank you for changing my world. #notastranger

February 15, 2015 - Doug

February 15, 2015 - Doug (1st person I approached)
Doug was sitting on a low concrete wall, a guitar case open on the ground in front of him, his guitar in his arms, strumming. On a  sunny afternoon, it was a safe bet that he wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. I told Doug about my project and asked if he’d chat with me for bit. He wanted some more information about where the story would be posted, and what I would do with his story. I answered by telling Doug why I had started this endeavour, and where I post the stories I've collected. We talked about how telling the stories of others that can help shift perspectives of people reading them.

“Sure, I’m in,” he said, enthusiastically. 

 

Doug was born in Edmonton, Alberta.

“I was born in Edmonton, but we lived about thirty miles away. My Dad worked on the (oil) rigs, which meant we moved around a bit. The families used to move wherever the work was, because back then transportation wasn't the same as it is nowadays,” he said.

“I went to nursery school in Montana, when Dad was down there working on a job, but then we moved back to Edmonton.” He is the oldest of five children.

“We were and still are close as brothers and sisters.” 

 

As the oldest child, Doug helped out whenever he could.

“My parents separated when I was seven, and my mother had all five of us by herself. So I certainly helped out with the kids. That was a tough time, them getting divorced. It went on for a couple of years,” he said. Doug’s father remarried and his stepmother had two children of her own.

“My father was spending time with all of us. He wanted us to go live with him,” Doug told me.

 

“I just lost my baby sister. Chipmunk was fifty-five. We lost her to cancer,” he said. When they were children, they had gone on a camping trip with their father and his wife. With his stepmother’s kids included, there were seven children in all.

“My little sister was sitting on a log and there were a couple of chipmunks running around. She had what looked like little chipmunk teeth herself. And I started calling her ‘Chipmunk,’ and it stayed with her throughout her entire life,” he said, smiling fondly. “We called her Chipmunk or Chippers, for short.”

 

All of his schooling was done in Edmonton.

“When I was in Grade eleven, a good friend of mine had gone to San Francisco, and came back a hippie. It was big at that time. He told me he was going to meet a bunch of people in Banff and wanted me to go. I was a week away from my final exams in school, for grade eleven. I told my friend I couldn’t go, that I had to stay because of school,” said Doug.

“He told me education was a waste of time and that I should take off with him. So I went to Banff for a week. I still passed my exams. I had a pretty high IQ and was a good student. But I never went back to school for Grade twelve after that.” Doug became a hippie, telling me he fully embraced the lifestyle. 

 

“I worked so many different jobs, I wouldn’t know where to start," he said.

"But I certainly have lots of stories from all the things I’ve done over the years,” he said, laughing. Doug met a woman named Patty and got married when he was twenty years old.

“She was a hippy as well. We had a great time. Then when I was twenty-seven, I went to the University of Alberta. I was doing a lot of reading and becoming interested in philosophy, and that’s what I wanted to study,” he told me. Two years later, his wife persuaded him to move out to the countryside.

“I left university, we left the city and went to live in the countryside. We started our family, and had two gorgeous daughters,” he said. 

 

I could see pride all over Doug’s face, and hear it his voice when he spoke of his daughters, both of whom live here in Vancouver. His oldest daughter is a successful makeup artist, and his other daughter is a senior radiology administrator at a large local hospital.

“They’re good people. And they’re both such strong women too. They loved growing up in the countryside,” he said in complete admiration. 

 

Doug told me that he had come to Vancouver in 1967 for the first time and fell in love with the city.

“I had come back quite a few times over the years, and I always said that one day I would live here.” When his teenage daughters started to get interested in the Alberta cowboys and farmers, Doug sat them down for a talk.

“I said that I hoped before they made any commitments, that they’d go live in Vancouver, sometime. I suggested going for at least a year, to see what the world was like outside of rural Alberta,” he told me.

He and his wife Patty divorced after twenty-seven years of marriage.

“Patty and the girls all moved out here to Vancouver together. Now they’re thirty-five and thirty-four and I’ve still not got any grandchildren!” he said loudly, and laughing.

 

Doug had gone back to college when he was in his late thirties.

“I got interested in marketing and advertising, and so I went to college for a couple of years,” he said.

"There was a lot of writing involved. So much writing. I remember that the school invested in some 512k computers that Apple were selling to schools for cheap. Oh man, I loved that. They had a word processing program. Some of the others at school didn’t like that we were using them, but I loved it,” Doug told me. He continued with his writing after that, and went on to become a freelance journalist.

“I've been into photography for some time. I would travel around and cover different events and because I could take pictures and write, I managed to actually support myself working freelance. That was hard to do back then,” he said. 

 

“My Dad was fixing up their house, getting it ready to sell. He suggested I go live with them for a few months and help out with the work on the house. I spent some time with my parents. That was when I decided it was time for me to make the move to Vancouver,” he told me. Doug has been here for eight-and-a-half years. 

 

“I had some karma to deal with when I first got here. But I love it, and I’m not planning on going anywhere else,” he told me. His sentiment was easy to understand, especially today. It was one of those special Vancouver days when a tshirt and light jacket were sufficient. We sat in the sunshine chatting, looking at the blue skies over the mountain tops. And the rest of the country is experiencing record low temperatures.  

 

For the most part, Doug's retired now.

“I picked up a guitar about three years ago. I’ve always liked music and I decided that I wanted to learn to play,” he said. Doug taught himself.

“It’s actually going pretty well. I’ve even been doing some singing, and, I sound okay!” he said, sounding surprised.

“I spend time down at the Carnegie Centre, in the Downtown Eastside. There’s a couple guys I know down there who are involved with the music program they have. They suggested I try singing. I told them I didn’t know how to sing. It didn’t seem to matter. Turns out I sound pretty good,” Doug told me.

“I told my (oldest) daughter that I was taking up singing. She said ‘Oh Dad no, please don’t!’ Then she heard me and now she’s my biggest fan!” #notastranger

February 14, 2015 - Andrea & Dair

February 14, 2015 - Andrea & Dair (1st couple I’ve ever approached)
In truth, I had decided I wasn’t going to write a story today. And not because I'm bitter about being single. I'm not bitter. I am single. I had a lazy day of social media, editing photos and involuntary napping. But I had to go and get some groceries. As I was getting ready to head out, I figured that if I saw a couple that looked like they were dating/married/shacked-up, I’d maybe see if they'd chat with me.

 

As I got close to the grocery store, I saw Andrea and Dair walking into the shopping mall, but they were some distance ahead of me. They were holding hands, so I figured the odds were good that they were a couple. I did a quick walk around to see if I could spot any other couples. I turned to look behind me before heading up an escalator, and spotted Andrea and Dair again, at the other end of the little mall we are in. When I got up to the second level, I could see them walking towards to escalator I had just gone up. I quickly took the other escalator down, and they had stopped to look into a florist's window.

 

I approached them and told them about my project. I explained that as it was Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be nice to chat with a couple. They were still holding hands. They looked at one another for mutual approval and both said they were happy to chat. 

 

Andrea is from Colombia. Dair is from Brazil. I asked him what his name meant and he laughed and said

“Nothing." His grandmother had named all her children with names that began with the letter ‘D.’ He told me that the name Odair meant something, but his grandmother dropped the ‘O’ and named his father Dair. He is named after his father, and is Dair Junior. 

 

Andrea speaks Spanish, and Dair speaks Portuguese.

“We usually speak English,” Andrea said.

“But Dair has taught me some some Portuguese and he speaks a little Spanish, so we sometimes speak a little of all three language. If we can’t understand something,” Andrea looked at Dair and smiled. 

 

They met at school.

“We are both in animation at the Vancouver Film School,” she said. They were friends first and their relationship grew out of that.

“We would see each other every day. The school is open twenty-four hours a day. We would talk to each other a lot and became friends,” she said. I asked if they knew who was the first of the two to actually start to like the other in a romantic sense.

“I think it was you,” Dair said to Andrea.

“I thought you liked me,” she replied. They both laughed.

 

With the school work keeping them in classes late, Dair would walk Andrea to her bus stop.

“There was one time he walked me to my stop. I thought he was going to kiss me. I could see the bus coming and I turned my head to see where the bus was. The bus came and Dair waved goodbye as I got on. I was so upset, I thought he had tried to kiss me but I had turned my head. I felt bad that he would think I didn’t want him to kiss me,” she said, ever so sweetly.

 

Once again, Dair walked with Andrea to make sure she got on her bus safely.

“I will tell you my version of what happened,” Andre said to me.

“We had walked as far as he needed to walk me, then he would turn and go back in the direction which we came from.” She took the initiative and leaned in and kissed Dair. I looked at him and he had a big grin on his face, and just a little perspiration on his brow. He thinks it happened on another corner. I asked Dair what he thought when she had kissed him.

“I was so happy, but I didn’t know what to say. So I smiled and said 'Goodbye,' and turned and walked away. But I was really happy!” They each had a huge smile on their face. 

 

I asked how long they have been dating. They looked at each other and replied in unison,

“One year.” It was so adorable.

“We had been friends for a while,” said Andrea.

“Things just seemed to happen naturally,” Dair told me.

"We had been talking at school and spending a lot of time together. We started dating, we figure sometime in February last year,” said Andrea.

“So we took out a calendar, and we marked that it was February 14th last year that we actually started to date. Today is our one year anniversary!” I wanted to hug them both. I didn't. There are no coincidences.   #notastranger

February 13, 2015 - Say Hi To A Stranger

February 13, 2015 - #SAYHITOASTRANGER
I had the opportunity to meet an entire group of strangers today. The great folk behind the “Say Hi To A Stranger” community; Kaare, the founder of this social movement, and some of her amazing team of volunteers. The event was created here in Vancouver, with the aim to dispel what some perceive as Vancouver’s bad rap of being a cold city. They’re doing this by “Sparking friendly conversations with warm Hellos!” (*Fact Check - see links below.)

The team had invited me to join them at one of their ‘Check-In’s.’ At scheduled times throughout the day, they’re meeting with people at locations around Vancouver. The idea is to show up at one of the locations, and say ‘Hi’ to other strangers who are there, thus starting a conversation.

They volunteer street team were there to support the initiative, standing on the street, engaging passersby in conversation. 

As it happens, Allan, a dear friend of mine rode past on his bicycle, and he stopped to say hello. The universe with all it’s usually trickery intervened; it turns out that Allan and Kaare have met a few times over the years, and have a few mutual friends. But the surprise of this chance encounter went even deeper. Allan told Kaare that he had recently being thinking of trying to connect with her, in a professional capacity! And here they were, randomly meeting one another at this #SAYHITOASTRANGER event! We clearly don’t even need six degrees of separation. 

If you’re planning on getting out and about this weekend, be sure to check out the links below. Take some time and connect with the street team at one of the Check-In locations. The event is happening Saturday and Sunday. If you can’t make it to one of the meeting places, then consider taking the initiative on your own, and #SAYHITOASTRANGER, wherever you might be! #notastranger


*Fact Check - http://www.sayhitoastranger.com/schedule/
** Fact Check - https://www.facebook.com/sayhitoastranger

February 12, 2015 - Viviane

February 12, 2015 - Viviane (1st person I approached)
A great conversation needn’t be a tell-all scandal, politically motivated, or even a sign-of-the-times-statement. It doesn’t have to move one to tears to be enriching. If there’s no soapbox to climb on afterwards, we can still walk away better for the time spent chatting.

 

I intended to catch Viviane’s attention by walking past her and turning to approach her from the front, so she could see me. However, she looked down just as I said ‘hello’ and my darn outside voice clearly made her jump. Way to go, Colin. I startled her, another of my fears, especially as it can make a person defensive enough that they’ll say no to an invitation to chat. I apologized, and Viviane had regained her composure and told me it wasn’t a problem, with all the warmth of a loving grandmother.

 

I told Viviane about my project and asked if she might be willing to chat with me for a little while

“I don’t see why not,” she said gently. We walked about fifteen feet from where we were and sat down. Viviane organized her cloth grocery bag on a chair next to her, placed her purse on the floor at her feet, and put her umbrella on the table, so as to not forget it. She folded her hands on the table in front of her, looked at me, and smiled. 

 

“I was born in Toronto,” she said. Her voice was soothing, and soft enough to have me actively listening. I was craning my neck ever so slightly to ensure I didn’t miss anything.

“My father was from France, and that’s where he met my mother. I don’t recall why she was there,” said Viviane.

“I believe my father inherited some money, I don’t quite remember what he did for a living,” she told me. 

 

“I have one brother, who was six years younger than I am. We weren’t particularly close, no. That’s likely because of the age gap between us. When I was a teenager he was still a youngster," she said, shaking her head. Viviane told me she didn't have any extra responsibilities with being the older of the two children.

“In fact, I don't recall having any responsibilities at all,” she said with a little chuckle.

 

Viviane went to a private school, the name of which, while sounding Catholic, was not.

“I have no idea why I was sent to a private school. I don't recall much of my school years at all, to tell you the truth. It was so many years ago, really. Such a long time.” She went to university for about a year, studying general arts.

 

“And then our family moved to what I always called Pucket Sound, down in the United States. Though I was informed it was actually called Puget Sound,” she said with a hearty laugh.

“That place off the west coast,” she said, waving her hand dismissively.

“I did not care for it at all. No.”

 

“I was married for many years, but if you ask me when, I’m afraid I don’t think I could tell you. It must have been for something like for forty years or so,” she said.

“My husband died very suddenly. There was no warning and he died at a time when he certainly had no right to die, but he did. That was about twenty years ago now,” she told me.

“We were living in Richmond at the time.” Viviane sat quietly, thinking while holding her chin in her hand. I could see she was thinking about a memory, her eyes narrowed and then she lit up.

“I was a consultant for the Richmond School Board, I seem to recall,” she said.

 

I mentioned that I had gone to Garden City Elementary (in Richmond) for a short time when I was a kid.

“Oh I remember that school, it was one of the few elementary schools I visited in my work. I spent most of my time travelling to high-schools. But I do remember going to Garden City. Yes,” contemplating the memories some more.

“I haven’t thought about any of this for so many years! I remember that I liked the work, and it was a good job. I just don’t remember exactly what I did,” she said laughing.

 

I told Viviane I hoped she felt comfortable enough to be honest, that if she felt uncomfortable answering my questions, she could tell me. Viviane responded immediately.

“Oh if I didn’t want to answer a question, then I would absolutely tell you.” I didn't doubt her.

 

Her husband and she had two daughters, and she now has grandchildren. “One of my daughters lives... what’s the name of that complex?” she said looking at me.

“Oh, anyway, it’s seven blocks from my house. My other daughter is an actor, so of course she goes where the work takes her,” she said.

“Depending on where she’s performing I go and see her. I believe she'll be doing a play in Calgary soon, and I'll probably go visit her there.”

She has lived where she is now for the last twenty years, since her husband died.

“When he passed away, I thought about returning to Toronto. My son-in-law drove me in to the city here. I didn’t know my way around Vancouver back then,” she said. He showed her a place in Vancouver and that’s where she has been ever since.

“I’m not in assisted living, goodness me, no. I’m quite capable of taking care of myself,” she told me. Again, I didn't doubt her.

 

I asked Viviane if there was anything that stood out that she didn’t like how it had evolved, or anything that she was happy to have lived to see.

“That’s very interesting you know. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that. There have been so many changes in my lifetime. You just kind of, go with them all.”

 

I told her I wanted to take her photo and she somewhat hesitantly said

“Okay. I suppose, if you must.” I casually mentioned that we had talked about it when we first started chatting.

“Did we? I’m not so sure about that, I don't recall saying that you could take a photograph.” I looked at her and she was smiling. She was playing with me!

 

I took her photo, she wasn't happy with the outcome.

“Dreadful. That’s just dreadful.” I told her I found her to be beautiful, inside and out.

“Dreadful,” she repeated.

“There just are so many things I don’t remember, I’m sorry.” I said there was no need to be sorry, and not to worry about it.

“But it does worry me, if I can’t remember these things," she said, scolding herself ever so slightly. I asked if she knew where she lived, and we both laughed,

"Oh yes, don't you worry, I know exactly where I live!" I told Viviane that our chat had been enchanting and that I was so glad to have met her.

 

“It really has been many years since I’ve thought about some of those things. I don’t think you realize just how long. I’m in my nineties,” she said. That surprised me, she’s so extremely spry and energetic.

“I’m 92. Or, I might be 91. Something like that.” #notastranger

February 11, 2015 - Ram

February 11, 2015 - Ram (an update)
One of the first, and surprisingly to me, one of the very few ‘hater’ comments I’ve read about this project came early last year. A local radio station had posted a story about The Stranger Project on their Facebook wall. It had come from a local television newscast. One of the radio station's listeners claimed that my project would likely go nowhere, and that there was no way I’d ever maintain contact with anyone (with a few select profanities thrown in for punctuation). It said more about that person than it did about this project. As I said, it was one of the very few negative comments I’ve read. 

 

I’ve kept in touch with probably about fifty (rough guess) of the strangers I met last year. Some have become good friends, some check in via Facebook, and many others I see while I’m walking about town. I had decided at the start of this year I’d like to include an occasional update about some of the people I’ve met through this project.

 

I first met Ram back on Day 145 (May 25th) last year. (Fact Check - see link below.) I often see him around and we wave and say hello. He’s usually coming from, or heading to the gym when I see him. On occasion we’ll stop and have a quick chat. Ram recently retired, telling me that the company he worked for had closed down. Retirement came a little earlier than planned. 

 

I asked Ram what he was doing with the extra time.

“I’m able to get out more, and walk around. I’m still going to the gym. I’ve been spending some time fixing my up my place, as well. Doing some painting and decorating,” he said.

"It’s an adjustment, but I’m doing okay.”

 

He was born in Malaysia and had grown up in Kuala Lumpur, moving to Canada when he was seventeen years old. When Ram and I had spoken that first time, he told me about experiencing racism not long after arriving here, and that he hadn't encountered that before. Someone had suggested he start going to the gym, gain some weight and people would stop bothering him. It worked to a certain extent, but he still heard people talking abut him while on the bus, he could see people staring, that kind of thing. 

 

Ram’s son is coming home today after spending six months in Montreal.

“He told me that he witnessed his first experience of racial prejudice,” Ram said. We had spoken about racism the last time I bumped into him. 

 

My stepfather is black and has been my mother’s best friend since I was four years old. They’ve been married for almost forty-six years. My stepfather got pulled over while driving a few months ago, for no apparent reason. He was asked for his identification, yelled at by the police officer and then told to drive carefully. I told Ram about how infuriating it is. Knowing what an incredible human being my stepfather is, and at seventy-three years old, he’s still dealing with this bullshit. 

 

“Yeah. I’m going to talk to my son about it,” said Ram, regarding his son’s experience. We talked about the importance of his son not internalizing what he feels, and to be able to talk about things, so that he doesn’t hold it personally. Here we are, decades later, and it still needs to be a conversation. 

 

Fortunately, I had a solid role model that helped me to understand that there are ways to turn negatives into positive. I was taught to respect people, to know when to speak out, and to have a sense of awareness about others. Ram’s son has had the same influence. 

 

Tonight, Ram will sit and have a conversation with his son about racism, and his firsthand experience with it. His son is nineteen; the same age Ram was when he first experienced racism. #notastranger

Fact Check - Day 145 - Ram - http://on.fb.me/1zwqzuH

February 10, 2015 - Toon

February 10, 2015 - Toon (2nd person I approached)
I spent some time today checking out coffee shops. And a small strip mall. It was in the last coffee shop that I saw Toon (chew-nn). She was sitting alone, with a coffee, a delicious looking piece of cake, and reading on her phone. There’s something ‘daring’ about going into a coffee shop with no intention of drinking (more) coffee. I sat across from Toon, which was a first. I usually just walk around like I’m looking for someone, and I am, I’m just not sure who that person is. 

 

I sat for a moment before asking Toon if we could chat. When she said yes, I moved to the chair next to her, so as to avoid shouting across a coffee table that we were sat at. Toon told me that she only had about ten minutes before going to work. She also said that her English wasn’t so good. That usually means the person saying it, knows more about grammar than I do. 

 

Toon was born in Bangkok, Thailand.

“I have one older brother and one younger brother. There is two years between each of us. We were close as children. My brothers were never mean, or ganged up on me. We’re good friends,” she told me.

“I was very involved in extra activities at school. High-school was better for me than elementary school. I was more comfortable making friends and being myself. I would spend time with friends, going shopping or just hanging out. I was fortunate to have a good group of friends. We were all good girls,” she said smiling. 

 

“My parents wanted me to go to the school of Law. In Thailand, it is for the parent to decide what the children are to become. I asked my parents and they thought about it. Education is not free, and they paid for my university, so I had to go. My father is a justice,” Toon tells me. She motions with her hands the action of a judge with a gavel, to ensure I know what she means. ‘You are guilty!’ I say.

“Yes, exactly!” Toon smiles with satisfaction at my understanding.

"I didn’t want to do this, but I had to. I went to university for four years and got my Bachelor’s degree in Law.” She tells me her mother is a house-wife, but went to school for accounting.

“My father also has a small coffee shop. There are thousands of coffee shops in Bangkok. It is more like his hobby,. My mother does the accounts,” she says.

 

When she completed her degree, Toon went to Sydney, Australia.

“I had a friend who lived there and I went to get my Master’s degree,” she said. I asked how her parents felt about her leaving home, and moving away.

“They were okay. They told me 'Go!' They said I could look after myself. My brothers, both the older one and the younger one, they are shy. They would not leave. But I am not shy, and my parents knew I would be alright. They say ‘Go’ and I did,” said Toon. 

 

She studied Operations Management in university in Sydney.

“I only had to study for one year to get my Master’s degree. I was finished with Law school. I did not want to do that in Australia.” Toon worked three part-time jobs to pay her way through school. “In Thailand people are lazy and only go to school. I needed to work to manage my life. I worked in a small Thai restaurant, and a coffee shop. And I was a camera photographer's assistant.” She spent three years in Australia before returning to Bangkok.

 

“Back in Thailand, I worked for a little while in a restaurant, and I loved that,” she said.

“I decided that I wanted to become involved with food. I have a good friend who lives here in Vancouver,” she said, laughing. I was puzzled and asked why she was laughing.

“Because it seems I go to places where I know a friend. But really I do have a very good friend here. I am study now at a culinary school of arts,” she said, sounding contented.

“I have been here to Vancouver for three months. I like it. Except getting used to carrying an umbrella every day. I don’t understand this. It rains so much here.” She is working part-time at a pub on Granville Street.

“I’m only a line cook, but it is a popular place. I like the work.”

 

I took a few photos of Toon, and without my glasses on, had to get Toon to make sure there was a good one there.

“No, my eyes are closed,” she said, laughing again. Good thing I showed the photo to her. I noticed that a tree in front of the coffee shop had been elaborately yarn-bombed, in a Valentine's Day theme. I pointed it out to Toon, who was either not interested, or wasn’t going to say she didn't understand it. I asked if she was planning to stay in Vancouver.

“I am at school for one year. But I think I would like to apply to stay,” said Toon.

“I do like it here. Even with the rain.” #notastranger

February 09, 2015 - Paul

February 09, 2015 - Paul (1st person I approached)
Everything comes with a price. I was invited to join a couple of friends for a spontaneous ‘brunch’ near my house today. I got ready and went and met them, at a local cheap and cheerful restaurant that does a good all-day breakfast. It was an unexpected visit with friends, that was filled with lots of laughter, and decent food. I decided to venture out to find today’s story immediately after saying goodbye to my friends. It was raining off and on, so I went to check out one of my frequent indoor venues.

 

I saw Paul eating while looking at his phone. I introduced myself and told him about my project. He agreed to chat with me, and let me take his photograph. I sat down and as I was explaining why I had started the project, it happened. I was talking quite fast, and, I spat on him. A tiny particle of something flew out of my mouth. I'm sure it was breakfast related.

 

It was one of those slow-motion moments, where you’re looking right at the other person, it happens, and then all eyes start moving down towards the same spot. I froze. This is one of my personal pet fears. An ‘oh-my-gawd-that-didn’t-just-happen’ moment in life. I couldn’t apologize fast enough, or profoundly enough. Paul took his napkin, wiped his arm and made no mention of it. For a mini-micro-nano second, I considered fleeing outside. But of course, I didn’t. I had already told him who I was. I worked through the embarrassment. And blamed it on, my beard?

 

Paul was born at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Once a suburb of Vancouver, Surrey is now one of Canada’s fastest growing cities.

“I have an older brother and a younger sister,” he said. Paul told me that he had just seen an article, which he didn't read, talking about ‘middle-child syndrome.’ I gave him a quick rundown and he didn't seem to feel it applied.

“If I had to choose whether I was more outgoing or quieter because of being the middle child, I’d say I was quieter. But really, I don’t think it has anything to do with me.”

 

“We moved to the (Vancouver) Island when I was about one-and-a-half. We went there because of my father’s work. We lived in a small town, just north of Nanaimo, called Lantzville,” he said. Lantzville is a coastal town on the east side of Vancouver Island, with a population of about four thousand people. 

 

“I went to an elementary school in Lantzville. It was a great place to grow up, a small town, playing outside. You'd hear someone’s parent calling them in for dinner and you knew it was time to go home.” Paul’s parents are both from Malaysia, where the catholic religion is predominant.

“There wasn’t a catholic school in Lantzville. My parents were fairly strict and religion was a part of my childhood. I remember going to an evening religion class at church. Then around the time I was finishing elementary school, I stopped going, and never went back,” he said.

“Being a darker-skinned kid of Malaysian descent, I stood out in the small town, for sure,” said Paul.

 

“My grade one teacher was really nice. I remember her being friendly and feeling welcomed. It was a good introduction to school. My grade six teacher was the one that no one cared for. Then I had to take the yellow school bus to get to high-school in Nanaimo. I did okay in school, in terms of my grades,” he said. 

 

“After I graduated, I went to Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University). I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My father and both my brother and sister were into the sciences, so I gave that a go. But it wasn’t what I wanted. I dropped the science classes and took a bunch of other things; history, geography, English,” he said. 

 

"I had met someone that was a nurse and then became a paramedic. It was one of those times where, as a teenager you think ‘yeah, that would be a good thing to do. Maybe I’ll go into the medical profession.’ I did a few years at Malaspina, doing general courses. I applied to the Alberta College of Paramedics but I didn’t get in. I came over to Vancouver and went to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology), and took the nursing program,” Paul said.

 

The diploma program to become an RN (registered nurse) was two-and-a-half years long, at BCIT.

“I got a job as a nurse after I completed that. I had worked for about a year-and-a-half, and I just felt burned out. A friend of mine was living in Japan, teaching English and making $10US per hour more than me. And, he was having a great time,” said Paul, incredulously.

“So I went to Japan.” 

 

Paul was in southern Japan, and found work teaching conversational English, privately.

“I ended up getting a job as a homeroom teacher in a private school. That really was much more than I had planned on doing. I had to ride on the school bus forty-five minutes to get to the school. It was a lot more responsibility than I wanted,” he said.

“I stayed in Japan for three-and-a-half years.”

 

Coming back to Vancouver, Paul felt he wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to nursing.

“I tried it out again for a little while, but I really didn’t feel like it was what I wanted,” he told me.

“There was a nursing upgrade degree program at UBC (University of British Columbia). It meant that I could go from a diploma in nursing to a degree, by going to university for a year. I figured I’d get the degree, and then figure out what I wanted to do,” he said.

 

“I met a woman who was working in the Downtown Eastside (DTES, a Vancouver neighbourhood with a large population of residents living with addiction and mental health issues). She took me all around the neighbourhood and showed me what kind of work was being done there to help the community. I applied to work in a detox centre. There was a box that I ticked on the application. It said I was willing to have my application go to other agencies in the neighbourhood,” said Paul. 

 

“I was offered a job as a nurse at Insite.” Insite is the only safe-injection site in North America. People can go there to inject their own drugs, in a clean and supervised environment, with qualified nursing and counselling staff. They offer resources for people wanting to get off drugs, as well as health checks and referrals to other support agencies. To date, more than 2300 overdoses did not result in death. (*Fact Check - see link below.)

 

Paul worked at Insite for one-and-a-half years.

“I joined a team of nurses that went out into the community. We worked mostly in the SRO’s (Single Room Occupancy hotels), where the residents need daily care and support. We would set-up a clinic in one of the rooms. I did that for six years. It was tough work. Probably one of the toughest things I could imagine doing. Sitting there surrounded by cockroaches and insects. The smell from crack pipes, cigarette smoke, alcohol, vomit, urine, and all the other things that come along with it. People’s emotions, anger, frustration, rage, despair. You name it. And the stories that people had to share. Everyone has a story, that’s for sure.”

 

“Six years doing that, and I had to change direction. I needed to step back and take care of myself," he said.

"I’m working in a mental health clinic in East Vancouver now. I’ve been there for almost two years. I’m still in a nursing role, but in more of a capacity where I'm overseeing care. We’re administering support. I’m not changing dressings or things like that.” 

 

I couldn’t help but tell Paul what great work he’s doing, and that I hoped he was proud of what he does. He’s making a difference, every day. And now he can say he got spat on, too. #notastranger 

*Fact Check - http://www.communityinsite.ca/science.html

February 08, 2015 - Phoenix

February 08, 2015 - Phoenix (4th person I approached)
I had hoped the first person I approached would chat with me, but alas, she said no. She was a little elderly lady, wearing a golf visor, sitting in McDonalds, enjoying a burger, fries and a cup of tea. Doreen told me she wasn’t feeling too well today, and that she wanted to just be left alone. Then she asked me questions for the next seven minutes. She told me all about going fishing in Port Moody, getting angry with a cyclist riding too close to her on the sidewalk, telling her son she ‘lost it’ with the cyclist, and that she had a sore back. Doreen apologized for keeping me and wished me a good day. She was so sweet, and really put a smile on my face.

 

When I approached Phoenix, she was sitting on a couch, and there was another woman sitting nearby. Usually I would avoid going toward someone with another person so close by. I don’t want to limit the conversation should the person nearby be able to hear what is being said. But, for whatever reason, I set my aim on Phoenix, and asked her to chat with me.  She had a time limit due to a scheduled phone call she had to make, but told me she could chat for a little bit.

 

“I was born just outside of Glasgow, in Scotland,” she told me. Most of my family are Scottish and I went to high-school there, and so I always feel a connection with anyone Scottish.

“My father is from Goa (India), and my mother is from Germany. They were both international exchange students, that’s where they met, in Scotland,” Phoenix said. 

 

“When I was three years old, we moved to Toronto. There was a drive to have people immigrate to Canada. My mother saw a poster of the woman paddling her canoe down a treed river, and thought that’s what we’d have in Toronto,” she said, laughing.

“My grade six teacher saved my life, I really do believe that. I was very introverted, and he spent time with me, helping coach me out of my shell.” It was easy to see that Phoenix had been greatly influenced and was grateful for the connection with this teacher.

“I would go visit him every year and kept in touch for as long as I could,” she said.

“There was another teacher that influenced me as well. In grade eight, she pulled me and another student aside and told us we both should pursue our writing skills.”

 

“I went to university in Toronto and Ottawa,” Phoenix said. She worked part-time to pay for her education. Between getting her bachelor’s degree and going on to study for her Master’s, she had a son.

“I got my undergrad degree in Journalism and Political Science. Then I got my Master’s degree, in International Affairs,” she said. Phoenix was working through some mental health issues at the time, and experienced stigma during her years in university.

“I had one teacher who didn’t think I had what it took to get my Master’s. He didn’t think I should even be in the program.”

 

There was a relative in Phoenix’s family that she had seen dealing with schizophrenia.

“I knew from what she went though that I never wanted to be in that situation, and taking medication for the rest of my life,” she told me. After completing her Master’s degree, Phoenix was in Washington DC (USA).

“I had been working in an Embassy,” she said.

“I was walking down the middle of a transit corridor, somewhere that I shouldn’t have been. I was picked up by police and ended up hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for a month, in Maryland.” Phoenix lost custody of her son and became homeless. 

 

“I spent a couple of years traveling across Canada and the US. I had a friend that I used to spend holidays with on Salt Spring Island. She lived here in Vancouver,” said Phoenix. She was spending time in the DTES (Downtown Eastside) sleeping in doorways. It was her friend from Salt Spring Island that helped Phoenix find her way forward. 

 

“I spend most of my time volunteering at the Carnegie Centre (DTES). It’s so good to be surrounded by people who understand mental health issues. I’ve gotten a great deal of support, and know so many people there.”

 

Phoenix is a writer and advocate for mental health and wellness.

“As an immigrant, a woman, a person with dark skin and someone with mental health issues, I’ve experienced stigma and prejudice,” she said. Phoenix is a member of the Carnegie Writers group, who meet every week at the Carnegie Centre. (*Fact Check - see link below.)

 

Phoenix looked at her watch, and told me she had to go make that phone call. She asked if I wanted to wait, but I declined. I took her photograph and thanked her for sharing her story, and for being willing to share so openly.

"I’m going to call my son. He’s living in Ottawa,” she said, smiling. I asked if they had an appointed time for a Sunday call, to make sure they connected.

“Yeah, we do. But not only for Sundays. We speak every other day.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - carnegiewriters.wordpress.com

February 07, 2015 - David

February 07, 2015 - David (1st person I approached)
I noticed David coming out of a grocery store. I kept walking and when I looked back, he was just a few feet behind me. I stopped and waited until he was right next to me. I said hello and told him about my project and asked if he would chat with me.

“Well, what kind of things do you want to know,” he said, slurring his words a bit. I could smell alcohol coming from him, but he seemed to maintaining himself quite well. 

 

I told him that I hoped we could chat about where he was born and what his childhood was like and all the things that got him to where he was today.

“I was born and I’m here now, talking to you. Done!” he said. He was laughing when he said that though, so I stuck with him. I explained that in talking to a different person everyday, I feel it gives an insight into people we might not otherwise get to chat with.

“If you’re doing something that might help homeless people, then sure. I’ll talk to you as long as you want, no problem,” he said.

“I don’t do drugs, but I am an alcoholic,” said David. I told him I’m a sober alcoholic and he asked how long I’ve been sober for. When I told him sixteen years, he gave me a great big smile and said “Congratulations man, that’s great!”

 

We walked outside and passed a display belonging to a fruit and produce stand. David took one large white potato, telling me he was hungry. We found a bench to sit on. It wasn’t raining, but the bench was wet. David took the sleeve of his jacket and wiped a section of the bench for me to sit down. He then sat down without wiping the bench for himself. 

 

“I was born in Penticton (British Columbia).” I asked if he had any brothers or sisters.

“Nope, it’s just me. No brothers, no sisters, no aunts or cousins. I don’t even know who my mother or father are,” he said.

“I spent all my childhood in group homes and foster homes. I got moved around a lot. So many times. So many homes. I wasn’t a bad kid, really. I don’t why they always moved me, but they did.” All David knows is that at least one of his parents were First Nations. 

 

“I went to a bunch of different schools too. I went to a couple of schools right here in Vancouver. I made it until about Grade nine,” he said. David was taking bites of the raw potato as we talked. Whenever I asked him a question, if he was chewing, he would point his finger up, in a ‘hold on’ gesture, and finish chewing before answering. He is missing several front teeth, but seemed to manage to bite and chew the potato without any issue.

“I stayed in foster homes right up until I left school. The longest I was ever in one home would probably be weeks. No longer.”

 

David started drinking when he was twenty-two years old.

“I was dating this girl. We had a lot of fun together. We’d drink together and have lots of sex and sometimes I’d miss work to spend time with her,” he said.

“I was working at a few local malls, as a security guard. I had gotten some warnings about being late, and missing time from work. This one day, she wanted me to stay home with her. You know, when you care about someone, and you’re dating, you have a responsibility to do what you can to look after them. I did what I could to help her. Bought her booze, took her out, we had great sex. We laughed. Usually I only cared about having sex; I didn’t care about the women, but I liked her. But I couldn’t take anymore time off work,” he said. 

He left for work and his girlfriend decided to drive to Kamloops, where her family lived. She was killed in a car accident on the way.

“She was pregnant. At first she never told me, and I didn’t know. But she eventually did tell me. She was pretty far along. They tried to save the baby, but couldn’t,” he said, looking straight ahead.

“One of her friends called to say she was gone. Her and the baby. Gone.” I thought David was crying, he was looking down and had stopped eating the potato. I asked quietly if he was alright.

“Yeah,” he whispered. 

 

“I lost my job. I just kept drinking. I lost everything. My girlfriend, the baby, I had no family. I drank. Then I lost my home. I’ve been homeless for years. I have a homeless shelter that I stay at, but it’s not a home,” he said. 

 

He starting coughing, and it I know sounds odd, but it made me smile. I could see the little boy in him, even though we determined he was a few months older than me. It was a gentle ‘stop-the-world-I’m-gonna-cough-again' kind of sound. He leaned forward with each singular cough. He put his hand over his mouth with each sound that he emitted. and then put his hand back down. Then up again, cough, then down. I wondered if he remembered I was sitting right next to him. He was so focussed on his cough, cough. 

 

David spends his days collecting empty bottles and cans, and returning them to use the money to buy alcohol.

“Beer, I like to drink beer,” he said.

“I smoke a little bit of weed too. I used to do hard drugs, but not any more,” he said. 

 

He told me that he once overdosed on heroin and died. “I woke up in the morgue, even had a tag on my toes," he said, lifting his foot and pointing to it.

“It was like a dream. Laying there, I thought I was dreaming. I had died and come back. I gave the hospital staff a fucking heart attack when I started knocking on the window so they’d let me out!” he said, laughing so hard, he sent little bits of chewed-up potato to the sidewalk. “I quit drugs right then. Cold turkey,” David said. 

 

“I was in jail a few times. Usually for fighting. I guess I can be pretty violent, if I’m provoked and need to be. Just last night I was charged with uttering threats to a security guard at the airport,” he said. David told me he had gotten on a train downtown, and intended to get off at the King Edward station, which is four or five stops away from downtown Vancouver. He said he must have fallen asleep, and they woke him up at the airport, the end of the line. He was told to get off the train.

“I didn’t know where I was. I don’t ever go to Richmond. I call it Ditch-mond, on account of all the ditches it used to have.” We talked about that for a bit; I spent some of my childhood living there, and remember the huge ditches that were all over Richmond.

“So I go wondering around and sat on a bench to figure out how to get back on the train. I'm in the airport. I got a ticket for uttering threats. My conditions were I’m to stay away from the airport. I’m to stay out of Richmond, and I’m to stay away from the train. I found my way back and took the train, from the airport, out of Richmond and got off at King Edward Station,” he said, victoriously. 

 

“I’m going to go to court for this one. I don’t have to. I mean I’m one step ahead of them. I didn’t tell them where I live, because it’s a shelter. But I’m going to go because I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t utter threats to anyone. All I did was fall asleep,” he told me. I asked him if he had a lot of his belongings with him or anything on the train.

“Nope. I don’t have anything. I’ve got my eyes on a new shopping buggy, but this here is all I got,” he said, showing me a small, flat backpack.

“And the clothes I’m wearing. That’s it.” 

 

I asked if I could take his picture. I took a couple of photos and showed them to David.

“Hey, you got me!” he laughed.

“Can you send me one of these pictures?” He pulled a flip-phone out of his pocket.

“I can give you my number. Will you send me a picture?” I took down his number, which he fired off at me, and said I would send him one when I got home. I asked who he called with his phone.

"No one. I like to have it though, in case I need to call emergency services. Who do you call with yours?” he asked. I told him I rarely talk on the phone and that the only person who ever calls me is my mother.

“At least you have a mother. You’re lucky. I don’t have anyone. I don’t have a family. I have drinking buddies, but I wouldn’t call them friends. Alcohol is my family. It’s always there.” 

I told David that I could imagine that it was hard to be in that situation.

“Well,” he said.

"I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.  No one makes me drink. I’m an alcoholic because I choose to drink.” I told David that in my experience of getting sober, I realized that I often wanted to blame everything that was wrong in my world, on everyone but myself. 

 

He looked at me with that shake-your-head kind of smile.

“I’m fifty-two years old. I have to accept responsibility. I’m responsible for my life, nobody else is.” He held out his hand to shake, and asked me my name again.

"I'm sorry, I don’t remember your name. But good for you for being sober, that’s great. Really. And thanks for talking to me.” He gave me a final fist bump, and I walked away. He stayed there, sitting on the bench, finishing his potato. #notastranger

February 06, 2015 - Vern

February 06, 2015 - Vern (4th person I approached)
I realized today that the numbering convention that I used last year for this project, really doesn’t apply in the same way this year. There’s no point in counting the days of the year, because as I‘ve already demonstrated, I’m not writing every single day this year. Going forward the posts will be sorted/recorded by date.

 

I encountered some refreshing honesty today while out looking for this story. The second person I approached, a young woman, listened to what I had to say, and hesitated before answering.

“I, uhm, well I’m not having a good day and I’m really grumpy, but if you tell me what questions you want to ask, I’ll do what I can to answer them.” I said it would be a five or ten minute conversation, and that if she didn’t feel like it, we didn’t have to chat. She apologized and told maybe it would be best if I found someone else. I told her that I hoped her day would get better, and thanked her for being honest with me. Perhaps even just sharing that she was grumpy might have helped, even just the smallest bit. She did give me a big smile and laughed.

“I hope it gets better too,” she said. “I just have to work at it. Thank you.”

 

When I approached Vern and asked if he would chat to me, he said he would, as long as I didn’t have twenty questions to ask. Darn it. I explained more about my project, and what I’m doing, and he smiled, saying

“Ok, go ahead, pull up a chair.

 

Vern is third generation Canadian, born in Vernon, BC (British Columbia).

“My father is first generation Canadian, but my mother is second,” he said. The Japanese have terms for the different generations.

“My grandparents were ‘Issei’ or first to immigrate. My father was 'Nisei,’ meaning a child born in Canada whose parents were born in Japan. I am ‘Sansei’ or third generation, on my mothers side,” said Vern.

“My full name is Vernon,” he said, with a huge beaming smile.

“After my hometown. I have one younger sister. We didn’t really get along as kids, too much sibling rivalry.” His grandparents used to own a tailor’s shop on Pender Street, for many years before the war.

“They were sent out of Vancouver and interned in Vernon during the second world war,” he said.

 

His father was a Buddhist Monk.

“He taught me to read and speak Japanese. But I wasn’t that good at it as a child, not until later at school.” The family moved to Toronto when Vern was five years old.

“My father worked in a photography lab, developing film. He taught me how to do it. He was a technician, not an artist. When I was learning, he would blindfold me. He made me practise taking film he had already processed, out of the canisters and winding it on to the spools for processing. I learned to do that perfectly without ever seeing while I was doing it. I never forgot how to do that,” he said. 

 

A year later, in 1950, the family moved to Karatsu, on the island of Kyushu, in Japan.

“There was a rebuilding of the country going on after the war, and we went as part of the Rebuilding Program. School was difficult for me. I didn’t wear a uniform and I really stood out from my classmates. They knew I was from another country. I got picked on a lot for that. We lived there for six years,” said Vern.

“Then we moved to Tokyo. Oh, what a beautiful city. After the war, when everything was being rebuilt they were making it all the best it could be. But once again, I got picked on at school. This time for coming from Karatsu, which was known as the poorest prefecture (district) in Japan. The kids called me ‘country boy.’ This was when I was going into my junior high-school,” he said. 

 

Vern told me about a festival that's held in Karatsu. The 'Karatsu Kunchi,' which means ‘festival,’ has been held in Karatsu  every year, for four centuries.

“It is a celebration of life, and involves these fourteen floats, or hikiyama. They're pulled with ropes by teams of men throughout the town,” he said. Vern drew a diagram of the hikiyama for me to fully understand their great size and dimensions. Some of the hikiyama are seven metres tall, and he oldest one still in use, is two hundred years old. The Kunchi regularly draws up to half a million spectators over the three day festival.

“It's a major tourist attraction now. I believe my father knew all about it, and that's why we went to live in Karatsu,” he said. Vern made sure I knew how to spell ‘Karatsu’ and ‘Kunchi,’ imploring me to look them up online when I got home. I’ve done my homework! (*Fact Check - see link below.)

 

“We moved back to Toronto, and I left school in about Grade ten,” he said.

“I did really well in school, in languages, of all things. I loved Latin and Greek. They seemed similar to me, and if you know one part of a word, you can soon figure out the rest. I had a teacher that encouraged me, which helped as well. I enjoyed those languages, they had a system and structure that made sense to me,” Vern said. 

 

“After I left school, I worked in a few different jobs. Then I went to commercial art school. It was very technical, and I learned how to do a lot of different things. But I never actually used any of the skills I learned when I went to work, after art school. It was very different from what I would have been studying, had I taken art in university,” said Vern. 

 

He got a job working in a photography studio, and used some of the skills that his father had taught him when he was a child.

“Across the hall from the photo lab was a printers studio. I became friends with the man who owned the studio, and in time, I learned how to do off-set printing. That’s what I did for work after learning from him. I was pretty good at picking things up quickly. It’s a process,” he said. Just as with languages, Vern made sense of the process involved in printing. 

 

“I was living in an attic room in Toronto by this time. The sidewalk out front of the house was very narrow, and from my third floor attic room, it was like I was on the edge of the street. There was a tennis court in a park, right across the street from the house. I would sit and watch the park and the people playing tennis. When it wasn’t being used, I’d go and practise hitting a ball against this wall at the tennis court. I discovered a hockey rink next to that, and it was never in use. I started hitting the tennis balls against the wall going all around the rink. I had much more room to practise,” he said. 

 

I wasn’t exactly sure why Vern was telling me this seemingly random tale of learning to play tennis.

“I had a discovery moment, between that narrow sidewalk, the tennis court and the low wall of the hockey rink. It was academic, a spatial thing,” he said. I proudly told Vern that I have really good spatial perception. I gave him an example; if someone wants to know how much stuff they can pack into a car, I’m good at maximizing the space and figuring out how to fit everything in. Vern smiled at me. 

 

“I’m thinking more along the lines of a space, time, continuum. It was more of an intellectual discovery,” he said. Suddenly we were talking mathematical equations and theory. I asked what he did with this discovery, and where it led him to.

“I got it patented, but it’s not published yet. I’m working on a way to use it, in relation to my painting,” he said, bringing us back to art. 

 

I asked Vern if he still did anything arts related.

“I have painting supplies, I just don’t have any canvas,” he said. He told me about some sculptures that he has carved out of soapstone.

“But I don’t really spend that much time as an artist anymore. I spend most of my time using my brain and keeping it active.” He gestured to the newspaper in front of him, where he had been working on a Soduko puzzle.

"I like to figure things out."

 

Vern moved to Vancouver in the 1990’s.

“The weather. My aunt was living here as well. I like it here. Except for the fact that I often have Korean people coming to me, speaking in Korean asking how to get somewhere, or what bus to take. I’m Japanese, not Korean,” he says, laughing.

“You know what else I find funny about Vancouver? Most of the sushi places are owned by Chinese people. I think only about ten percent of sushi restaurants are actually owned by Japanese people.” 

 

I asked Vern if he ever married or had children.

“No, my sister has kids, and her kids have kids. That's enough for me. My brain is the child that I look after,” he said, with his big beaming smiling going from ear to ear. #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1v7ueOS

Day 36 - Ken

Day 36 - Ken (1st person I approached)
February 05, 2015 - I never know who is going to agree to chat with me. I’m glad that I’ve become comfortable enough to get to a place where I no longer take an inventory of someone before approaching them. Ken had no socks on, and was wearing sandals. It was raining. But in Vancouver, if you let the sandals in the rain stop you from talking to people, that would cut down the number of opportunities. The same goes with people wearing shorts all year round. Outer wear, like the outer person, doesn’t necessarily give an accurate insight into a person.

 

Ken was sitting outside of a local coffee shop, inside a mall. As soon as I asked him if he would chat with me, he agreed. There was no resisting my taking his photograph either.

“I was born in Edmonton (Alberta),” he told me.

“I have one brother. I’m the eldest, he’s three years younger. He was like a buddy when we were kids. Most of the time, anyway,” said Ken, with a gentle smile on his face. He was taking a sip of his coffee in between each question I asked.

"My brother and I, we hung around together as kids. My father went hunting and fishing, but he never took us boys. He went with his own buddies," said Ken.

 

“Yeah, I went to school in Edmonton too. Elementary and high-school.  I finished school, and got my GED (General Education Development) certificate.” I was having difficultly hearing Ken, he’s very soft spoken. No matter how many times I asked him to repeat something, he delivered the answer in the same calm, even tone. I asked him what his favourite thing about school was.

“The weekend,” he replied. This time his smile was quite a bit wider, and there was an element of youthful cheekiness that flashed across his face.

“No, I didn’t care for school,” he said.

 

His father worked in construction as a plasterer, and after graduating, Ken went into construction as well.

“He didn't get me a job or anything. We never worked together. I worked as a labourer when I started out,” he told me.

“Then I got into working with concrete. Pouring it, later on.” 

 

In 1986, Ken moved to Vancouver.

“The weather. That’s why we moved, mostly,” he said.

“It was me and my family. I was married by then. I met my wife in Edmonton, and after we’d been married for about six years, we had our daughter. Then we moved here. I continued working in construction,” he said. About six years later, in 1992, Ken and his wife separated. 

 

A blonde woman approached the table where Ken and I were chatting. She told me she was a friend of Ken’s. I explained my project to her, and that Ken and I were chatting about his life. I said we wouldn’t be much longer. She offered to walk around and come back, but I invited her to have a seat. She asked Ken if he minded if she stayed.

“No, that’s fine,” he said, taking a few hurried sips of his coffee.

 

I asked how Ken and his friend knew each other.

“From the hospital. She’s looks after me,” he says.

“I live in the hospital and she comes out for walks with me and makes sure I’m okay,” says Ken, smiling. He’s in hospital with mental health issues. I tell him that I’ve availed myself of the services at that same hospital, as an outpatient. I let him know that part of the reason I had started this project, was as a way of working through my own mental health issues with depression. His face softened, he looked right at me and said,

“Oh. Really?” We talked about people being quick to make judgments about others and mental health issues. I ask Ken how long he’s been living at the hospital for.

“I don’t know exactly,” he says.

“A long time.” He doesn’t remember if he went to the hospital by himself to seek support or if something happened that put him in hospital. 

 

His friend suggests that Ken tell me about what he likes to do. She tells me that sometimes the medication he takes effects his short-term memory. She says to Ken 'Why don't you tell him about your writing?' Ken looks from her to me.

“I don’t write,” he says.

“Not like a writer. I like to read books. I like reading about mysticism,” he tells me. His friend stands up and excuses herself, saying she’ll be right back.

“I got into reading about mysticism after I had finished with all the partying. I had done that for years and a girlfriend at the time was a Christian. That’s how I got interested in it,” said Ken.

“I wouldn’t say drugs were really an issue, It depends how you define an issue. I used to smoke marijuana, but I don’t think of that has a hard drug,” he tells me. I tell him that it sounds like he didn’t do hard drugs, like heroin.

“Yeah. I did heroin. For a short period of time. I guess you could say I had a born again moment. I was raised Catholic, but I converted to Christianity. Now, I’m interested in Spirituality. I’m not a religious person,” he says. I tell Ken that I once, as a kid, told someone that I was a prostitute, instead of protestant. Ken gave hearty laugh at that tidbit. That was the extent of my religious upbringing. 

 

“I hope to be moving out of the hospital soon," Ken tells me.

"I’m looking into getting a place of my own. Maybe by the springtime. Not right here in Vancouver, but out in the suburbs. Where it’s quieter,” he says. I ask if he see’s his daughter.

“No, not that much,” he says, finishing his coffee. 

 

I take a few photo’s of Ken. I ask if he wants to smile after I’ve taken a couple of pictures. I get no response. I show him the photo’s I’ve taken. He smiles and shakes my hand. His hand is warm and very soft. I see his friend walking over towards us again. She’s smiling. Ken gets up and waits for her. I thank Ken for his time, and say goodbye to his friend. They smile, turn and walk away. #notastranger