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