Day 273 - Harvey

Day 273 - Harvey (1st person I approached)
September 30, 2014 - It was a nice sunny afternoon, so I thought I’d walk over to a local park where I’ve met a couple of strangers before. On my way there, I spotted Harvey sitting by himself, on a bench outside a pizza place, enjoying what I took to be his lunch. When I introduced myself, he responded with a very warm and genuine ‘hello.’ I told him what I was doing and he started to smile as he realized why I had approached him. He happily agreed to chat.

 

Born at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver’s downtown, Harvey grew up in East Vancouver (British Columbia - BC).

“I was an only child. That never bothered me at all. I grew up playing with my friends and having lots of pals in the neighbourhood. It was the days of going out and playing and coming home when the street lights came on. There were always friends around,” he said. 

 

Harvey went to one elementary and one high school.

“I did okay in school. I was accelerated in elementary. I did Grades four, five and six in two years. That created it’s own problems. I was then younger than everyone in my class. I felt a bit immature and a bit of an outsider. It’s not something I would recommend for everyone. I don’t know if it did that much good. I was quieter and shy. Who’s to say I wouldn’t have been that way without being put ahead a year? I advanced in high school as well. School was quite easy for me, I kind of breezed through it. I went to David Thompson Secondary School in East Van. It had just been built and was open a year, maybe two before I got there. The school board had drawn some of the most exceptional teachers to work there, to cater to the East Van population. I really had exceptional teachers that made school a great experience. I was very fortunate,” he said.

 

Harvey went to university right after graduating from high-school.

“I went to UBC (University of British Columbia) with the intention of going into Forestry. When I was fifteen I started working in logging camps at summer time to save for my university education. I once spent twenty-eight days in camp on Nootka Island. It was an amazing experience. Hard work, but one of those life opportunities that looking back, I consider myself lucky to have had,” said Harvey.

“When I finished high-school, my father sat me down and told me ‘If you’re going to school, then you can stay here. And if you’re going to work, I’ll help you pack.’ He wasn’t being in any way mean or cruel. My parents always encouraged me. They instilled in me the value of making the most of life, taking responsibility for that, and working for things,” he said.

“I studied science in the first year of university. You needed that to get into forestry. Then somewhere in that first year, I discovered Engineering. I switched programs after my first year. And then spent another four years getting my degree in Engineering. So I was at UBC for five years,” he said.

 

“I found people in BC to be a bit arrogant at that time. There was an attitude that nothing east of the rockies existed. The way I looked at it was, there were some two or three million in BC (at that time), and about twenty-seven million east of the Rockies. There had to be  a reason that many people lived east of the Rocky Mountains! I got a job and moved to Hamilton, Ontario. That’s where the steel company I was going to work for was located. I spent three years as a metallurgist making steel there,” said Harvey. 

 

“To be honest, I didn’t really care much for Hamilton, or Toronto for that matter. If you wanted to go for a hike, you had to drive somewhere. I missed how nature is on the doorstep here in BC.” His boss from the steel plant got a transfer to another plant in Montreal and asked Harvey to go with him.

“I probably would have come back to Vancouver if he hadn’t asked me to go to Montreal. I fell in love with that city! It was 1973 and the political situation was very lively in Quebec at the time. Many of the anglophones were leaving as I was arriving. I felt like a fish swimming upstream,” he said laughing.

“But the people, the energy. there is no place like Montreal. There’s a joie de vivre that exists there like nowhere else,” he said, nostalgically. Harvey spent seven years in Montreal.

“Eventually the call of BC was too loud to ignore,” he said.

 

Coming back to Vancouver, Harvey and a business partner started their own small engineering firm.

“We’ve been doing that since then. Thirty-four years now and going strong. I still work, but I’m working for myself, and still have the same business partner too. I’m lucky,” he said. 

 

Harvey married in 1972.

“I’ve been married for… that many years.” We both laughed rather than do the math right away.

“Yeah, forty-two years,” he agreed.

“We have two kids. One of each. My son is in the military and lives in Yellowknife. He recently met a love, and so we hear from his less these days. And that’s ok. My daughter is downtown. She’s working through some things. She’s had some issues with drugs and alcohol. You can’t make anyone get through these things. You have to be there, love them, be patient and let her make her way. It’s tough. We love her. She’s doing what she can.”

 

I took Harvey’s picture and thanked him for chatting and sharing his story with me.

“Oh, you know there is one other thing that I’d like to tell you. This is kind of unique and special, I think. I mentioned to you that in school, I always had lots of friends and pals to play with from the neighbourhood. Well, every year, in August, there are a group of us that still get together. Six couples. It started a number of years ago with a fellow I’ve known since early elementary school. He and his wife lived in Oliver. So my wife and I would go visit. Then another couple joined us, then another, and so on. In time, our children came along. Soon it became less of a holiday for the friends in Oliver having to accommodate all of us. Now we rent a big house in the Okanagan area and we all spend a week or so together. There would be tents for the kids, lots of food and fun. It’s an annual event now. They’re like my brothers and sisters. I’ve known many of them all my life. How nice is that?” #notastranger

Day 272 - Phil

Day 272 - Phil (6th person I approached)
September 29, 2014 - Today was another media inspired day. I received an email from Francesca, an enthusiastic young woman who is a Broadcast Journalism student. Francesca is in her second year at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology). She asked to interview and follow me during the process of meeting and chatting with a stranger. We met at the BCIT downtown Vancouver campus this morning, along with her cameraperson Brad, who is also a BCIT student. As it was raining quite heavily, I set about meeting someone in the campus building. Lots of students and seemingly on a Monday morning, most are there for classes and studying, not socializing. Everyone was either cramming for an exam or on a short break in-between classes.

 

I saw Phil from across a large concourse, putting on his coat. I hurried towards him to ask if he’d be willing to chat. Apparently I had Phil at ‘The Stranger Project.’ He graciously agreed to not only chat, but willingly sit and be filmed while we chatted. Video cameras have a way of putting people off, usually!

 

Phil was born and raised in Vancouver.

“I’m the second oldest of four kids. I have an older sister, then a younger brother and a younger sister. My parents had each one of us three years apart. Very orderly. I liked being the second child, I think it was the best really. The oldest had already broken the ice, and I wasn’t the baby of the family either. I think it was the right place to be,” said Phil laughing.

“I definitely had some responsibilities as well with being second oldest. Looking after my younger siblings, particularly the youngest, my little sister. I never changed a diaper or anything but I spent time with her.”

 

All four children went to the same French Immersion schools.

“Our parents were both immigrants from England and they knew Canada was a bilingual country. They figured it would be useful to speak a second language. Which then made it easier to learn a third language. I grew up in a home-stay environment. We always had home-stay students in the house, mostly from Japan. I was able to learn some Japanese while growing up, with their influence,” he said.

“I think we lived in a bit of a bubble. I never considered how we were growing up to be much different than other kids going to an English speaking school. My best subject in school ironically, was English. I’ve always enjoyed it. I had a great teacher who just made it that much more enjoyable. And art. I loved drawing cartoon characters. There were always doodles in the margins of all my notebooks,” he said. 

 

Phil graduated high-school and went to UBC (University of British Columbia) right after.

“I studied English, it just seemed a given. I also did peer counselling while I was in university. It’s a service made available to all students, where they can go to talk about whatever they might be having an issue with. As peer counsellors, we were available to listen to, and help students find appropriate resources to assist them,” said Phil.

“It was a four year undergrad program. I took five years, having taken a year off to travel in my third year,” he told me. 

 

Phil went to Australia and New Zealand.

“I had relatives there, and I had a fascination with the Maori culture. I think in part, the interest was driven because it was such a contrast from my own life,” he said. Phil was able to spend time with some Maori families and get a first hand experience of their cultures and way of life.

“It was incredible,” he said.

“But no, I don’t have any traditional Maori tattoos. Yet. It’s on my bucket list,” he said making a checkmark gesture in the air.

“I worked while I was there also. To say I worked in construction would be an overstatement. I was given either a pick or a shovel and that was my work for the day,” said Phil, smiling humbly. He finished his degree at UBC when he returned to Vancouver.

 

“I did a number of things once I finished university. I was also very interested in theatre and drama. I had a friend who was working at Douglas College (Burnaby, BC). She invited me to put together a course aimed at using theatre and drama as a teaching tool in the classroom. I did that for a couple of summers,” he said. Phil was also working in ESL (English as a Second Language) schools.

“At that time it was difficult to find work as a teacher. Japan was inviting people over on contract to fill teaching positions. I went to Fukuoka, on the northern tip of the lower island. It was like the Vancouver of Japan,” said Phil. His experience as a child growing up with home-stay students had served him in good stead.

“I spent three years in Fukuoka, and met my future wife there. We got married when we came back to Vancouver. On my birthday I had arranged a party at our house. All of my friends showed up and I told everyone we were waiting for one more guest. Then a Justice of the Peace arrived and we surprised our guests by getting married. I definitely won’t ever forget my wedding anniversary!” Phil joked.

“We have one child, our daughter. Looking after my little sister when I was younger had come in handy. It’s helped me to understand my daughter a bit more. She will be two next month,” he said, proudly.

 

When Phil came back to Vancouver from Japan, he enrolled in the Broadcast Journalism course at BCIT. The very course that Francesca who was filming our chat is taking. They talked about mutual instructors and the program in general. It was exciting (and coincidental, although we were at a BCIT campus) to have a student and an Alumni on either side of the camera, both actively involved in The Stranger Project. 

 

Phil mentioned a few ‘unique’ jobs he had while in school. They included organizing ghost tours, and working at the Museum of Anthropology. Since graduating from the two year Broadcast Journalism course, Phil has spent a lot of his time working in Language schools.

“I started working here at BCIT just this year. That’s why I’m on campus. I work with international students in a program that BCIT offers to help them adapt to academic life in BC. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now. There’s a great opportunity to have a positive impact on the student’s experience while learning.” #notastranger

Day 271 - Meagan

Day 271 - Meagan (1st person I approached)

September 28, 2014 - I caught Meagan on a break from work. She checked the time on her phone before agreeing to chat with me. When I said we could chat for five minutes, or maybe six, she was good to chat.

 

Meagan is the oldest of two girls, born in Calgary, Alberta.

“I had another sister. She was born with hole in her heart and she died when she was six months old. I was about four years old at the time. I don’t really remember this happening. That’s the saddest part for me. The not remembering,” she said.

“My mother had another cild. I think as a way to move forward. She’ll never get over losing a child, but she moved forward. I’m extremely close with my little sister. It wasn’t always that way. I’m six years older than her. She was definitely an annoying little sister. Then when I was about sixteen or so, I was getting more patient and she was growing up as well, and wasn’t so annoying to me anymore. And now we are very, very close,” said Meagan, with a big smile. 

 

“I didn't like school. I wasn’t that good at any one thing in particular. I dropped out in the first semester of Grade twelve. Then I went back for the start of the second semester, but it just wasn’t for me. I’m not one who learns by sitting in a classroom,” she said.

“I even tried going to an alternative school. One that caters to students that have dropped out, or gotten pregnant, just don’t fit into the regular school system. But no, it didn’t work and I never finished school. I left.”

 

After leaving school, Meagan got a job working with a large chain of coffee shops as a barista.

“I did that for a while and didn’t like what I was doing so I quit,” she told me. Meagan’s parents had divorced when she was sixteen.

“That was hard. It was tough to watch my mother go through that. She had been unhappy for a long time. I suppose in the end it was for the best, but it wasn’t easy. I was living with my mother, and I wasn’t working. I sat around for about a year doing nothing. My mother wanted me to find a job, so I went to live my father,” said Meagan. That didn’t work out so well, and Meagan went back to live with her mother again.

“I went back to work at my old job. It’s like a bad boyfriend that you keep going back to.”

 

A few months ago Meagan moved to Vancouver.

“I’m back at school again,” she said, almost flabbergasted.

“I’m going to (make-up) school. I want to get into film work. I only came to Vancouver for that reason. I knew when I came here, I’d be going back to Calgary as soon as I can,” she told me.

“I don’t like it here. At all. I hate it. People are too busy. No one knows how to drive. I just don't like it. As soon as school is over, I’m going back. I’m leaving the day after graduation,” she said. 

 

Meagan has been in the make-up course for two months now and is enjoying what she's learning.

“I have a job to go to when I get back to Calgary. My father works in the film industry, so he’s got something lined up for me." She stood up and told me she had to go back to work. The ' bad-boyfriend job' extended to an outlet here in Vancouver. I took her picture and thanked Meagan for her time. I told her I hope she enjoys the rest of school and her time in Vancouver. I also warned her about Vancouver’s reputation for panic when snow is even mentioned in the weather forecast. #notastranger

Day 270 - Devonna

Day 270 - Devonna (5th person I approached)
September 27, 2014 - It’s often said that you get back what you put out. I had some hesitation today about going out, period. I had a bit of a stomach ache, but I needed to get some stuff done, and meet a stranger. I’m committed to this. I wonder though, if my apprehension translates into people’s hesitation and ultimately non-interest in speaking with me. The first two people seemed to ponder it for a moment or two before telling me no. The next two flat out said no. I went for a good stroll before approaching Devonna. She told me she was waiting to meet her mother, but we could chat while she waited. Note to self: fake it ’til you make it.

 

Devonna is the youngest of four children, born and raised here in Vancouver.

“My brother who is closest in age to me is thirteen months older than I am. Then my oldest brother is twelve years older and my sister is fourteen years older than I am. My father was married and had the two oldest kids, before getting divorced. Then he married my mother and had my brother and me. Even though we have different mothers we all grew up together and got along well. The age gap between the oldest two and my brother and I meant they were doing their own thing as we were growing up. But we’re a blended family and everyone is very close, especially as adults,” she said.

 

“I went to elementary school and high school here in Vancouver. I was into the social aspect of school, but not so much the academic side. I was always involved in sports, baseball and things. Not competitively, just for recreation. I loved art in school. Anything in the arts really,” said Devonna. From the age of twelve she started working in her family's hotel and restaurant business.

“I’ve always worked since then, all through school,” she said. 

 

After graduating from high-school, Devonna started applying for university.

“I joked that I wanted to live someplace warm where there was sunshine everyday. So I applied to the University of Hawaii, and I got accepted! My parents where quite happy because it took me away from the guy I was seeing at the time. Totally the wrong guy,” she said laughing. 

 

“I took general studies for that first year. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I had only intended to be in Hawaii for a year. It was definitely a slower pace of life there, and I missed home. After my year was up, I transferred to UBC (University of British Columbia) and continued my studies there,” said Devonna.

“I declared my major as Sociology in my second year. I was also taking one class in Art History. Then I started to take more and more art history classes. I ended up doing a double major,” she said. Four years in university and Devonna had a double major undergraduate degree in Art History and Sociology.

 

“When I finished at UBC I went to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) and took a diploma program in Interior Design. I didn’t really like the program though. It just wasn't what I was looking for,” she said. Devonna had travelled to Europe on family vacations while growing up and had an appreciation for the art galleries and architecture that she saw.

“I went on a vacation with a group of friends while in university, and we spent some time in London (England), and I fell in love with it. After leaving BCIT, I decided to go to London and study there,” she told me. Devonna studied Interior Design and Architecture. After completing the year long diploma program, she returned to Vancouver.

“I could so easily have stayed there. It was hard coming back home. I had a good group of friends there. My brother lives there so I stayed with him in Clapham. I really enjoyed my time. It’s a tough city to live in though. And I needed to get home and tuck into things and get started with my career. I had spent so many years in school, it was time to work,” she said.

 

“I work in the family business. I have a team of five people that work with me, and I do all of the interiors and design for our hotels and restaurants. We have locations across Canada and two locations in the UK (United Kingdom), so I still get to go to England for work,” she said, smiling.

“I only work for our company. I don’t have time to take on other clients. And I don’t really want to work for anyone else. I’m pretty much the master of my own domain. I’m able to do my job the way I see it. Sure working with family can have it’s own challenges. We are all different people, but when we do have differences, we resolve things with respect. We work very well together,” she said. 

 

I asked Devonna what she see’s for the future.

“Well, I’ve got the career all in order now. I see myself always working. I’d like to start thinking about having my own family. I definitely want to have kids. I’m in a great relationship with a wonderful man, so we’ll see.” I mentioned that she seems to like where she’s at, with what she’s doing now.

“Yes, I’m extremely happy. I love what I’m doing, and I'm passionate about it.” #notastranger

Day 269 - Adam

Day 269 - Adam (1st person I approached)
September 26, 2014 - Adam was sitting by himself listening to music. Although, at first I couldn’t tell if he was listening to music or talking on the phone. When I approached him, he smiled and put a hand up which I took to sign he as on the phone. But no. It was a sign to hang on while he turned the music off. Adam was listening to a new album from the American metal band ‘Body Count’ fronted by rapper Ice T. He took his earphones out as I explained what I’m doing, and agreed to chat with me.

 

Adam was born and raised in Kamloops, British Columbia (BC).

“I have a twin brother and three older sisters. My twin is ten minutes older than I am. We’re fraternal twins, so we look more like brothers than twins. We’re very different people as well. He was very involved in sports in school and I was more of the black sheep. We each had our own different circle of friends. I was social and experimented a bit with alcohol,” said Adam.

“I did alright in high-school, but I did better when I went to college,” he told me. 

 

After finishing high-school, Adam got a job working for a company that makes scratch-and-win lottery tickets.

“I worked in the production area where the clear shiny coating was applied to the paper. There were so many different stages. And so many different chemicals and things that go into the making of lottery tickets. We wore gloves, but you’d get holes in those. I got a pretty bad rash from the chemicals I was working with. I did that for about a year,” he said. 

 

“I moved down to Vancouver, and went to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology). I took an eight month Electronics Technician course. I figured I should be doing something with my life and I sort of randomly picked that because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. Adam got a job after finishing the course, repairing electronic equipment used in fishing.

“I worked in that field for a few years. It was like a desk job, sitting all day doing repairs. I felt like my bubble was starting to get rather small. I needed to do something more stimulating,” he said.

 

Going back to school, Adam enrolled in a sciences program at Langara College, in Vancouver.

“I started my undergrad degree knowing I wanted to work in healthcare. That meant eight years of schooling,” he said. Adam stayed at Langara for two years before moving back to Kamloops.

“I finished my undergrad at Thompson Rivers University. My sister is a Dental Hygienist and was working for this incredibly nice guy. He was an oral surgeon, and he allowed me to go in for a few job shadowing days and observe his work. I really liked what he was doing,” he said. After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Sciences, Adam started to apply to Dental Schools. He applied to three schools in the USA, and a number across Canada as well.

“I went to the University of Toronto (UofT). In dentistry it’s not a Master's or a PhD program. There used to be two different classifications. You could do certain things with one, and not the other, but now they’re all rolled into one. It used to be Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). I went the oral surgeon route, “ he said.

 

“I was in a long term, long distance relationship, and when I graduated I moved back to Kamloops and moved in with my girlfriend. I was planning on buying a practice,” Adam said.

“The relationship didn’t work out. I also realized that I didn’t want to buy the practice as I had originally planned.” Adam moved back down to the coast and started working in a practice in Coquitlam.

“I wasn’t so happy working there. A friend of mine from dental school told me about an opportunity in Merritt (BC). That’s where I’m working now. I do a lot of work with members of the First Nations there. I’m glad to be doing something that I feel good about. I work there during the week Monday to Thursday and then I have my place down here in Gastown (Vancouver). I was carrying a large student loan debt. It was up at almost two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand (dollars) by the time I graduated from dental school,” he said. 

 

“Dentists make pretty good money. But I also struggle with certain aspect of the industry. Stuff like a patient that shows up with the start of a cavity. As a dentist you can encourage the patient to change their habits and through proper brushing and flossing, and monitoring the progress, that tooth can actually remineralize. There isn’t always a need to do a filling. But many dentists will do work that doesn’t need to be done. I don’t want to ever be that kind of dentist. That’s why I decided not to buy a practice just yet. It takes a lot of money to hire staff and run a practice. But I don’t want to be a dentist who makes a lot of money from people that can’t afford to pay for work they don’t need. Or even for work they do need,” said Adam. 

 

“I’ve probably got about another year before I can pay off the student loans. Then I’m thinking of taking some time and perhaps traveling for a while,” he said.

“Sometimes I feel like my youth is closing in on me. I’ve got a bit of a medical situation that I’m working through right now. I’ve got some pain that I’m dealing with, mostly in my neck, because of my work. I’m thinking that taking some time off and traveling would be good for me. Perhaps do some dentistry in countries that need support. It’s not as easy in the US because you need to write their exams before you can practice. But in the UK, Australia and New Zealand I could practise. Or even better yet, doing some work in a country that needs some help. I’d like to do something that helps people.” 

 

We spoke a bit about tattoos as well. Adam told me that he has two.

“I have one down here,” he says, pointing to the back of his right arm.

“It says ‘therapy.’ When I was doing my undergrad, a group of us would get together for drinks once a week or so and we called it therapy, so I got that. I also have another tattoo that I got recently. A good friend of mine from dental school committed suicide a month after we graduated. Dentistry as an industry apparently has one of the highest suicide rates. Every time I hear that I think of him. So I got this tribute piece to my friend,” he said. Adam lifted his shirt and shows me the tattoo. It is a strikingly beautiful shade of navy blue. An illustration of two characters, done on his ribcage.

“The Dean of UofT gave us an Anaesthesia lecture with this picture in his presentation. I liked the image and kept it. It had three characters in the original image, but I just got two of them doe, as a tribute.” Adam wasn't sure who the artist was that drew the original illustration. I came home and did some research. It was drawn in the year 1900, by Hans Tegner, a Danish artist, as an illustration for a children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen, called “Aunty Toothache.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - the tattoo illustration - http://bit.ly/1uutffy

 **Fact Check - ‘Aunty Toothache’ - http://bit.ly/1olMfFI

Day 268 - Marli

Day 268 - Marli (4th person I approached)
September 25, 2014 - Today had a bonus adventure included with going out and meeting a stranger. A lovely woman named Jen from Shaw TV Vancouver asked if she could join me, and film a segment about The Stranger Project 2014 for Go! Vancouver, a local magazine program (to air in October; I’ll post more info). It seems that people become less willing to talk when being filmed with a video camera. So I was pleasantly surprised when Marli, who was the fourth person I approached, agreed to chat, albeit a bit shyly. She was sitting on a bench under a tree, on the seawall in Coal Harbour. The idyllic view overlooked the water, Stanley Park and the north shore mountains. We were soon chatting like old friends, oblivious to the camera filming our conversation.

 

Born in Peterborough, Ontario, Marli grew up in Oshawa, which is about forty-five minutes east of Toronto.

“I’m the middle child. No. No I'm not, see I'm nervous and making up the story here. I’m the youngest of three. I have an older brother and sister. I think we were typical of all siblings, fight in childhood, get along as adults,” she told me.

“Does anyone really ever like school? I didn’t. I liked all the fun things, Drama, Music, Art. I was bullied in school, so it certainly wasn't always fun. I was different. I weighed a little bit more. I was gay. I mean, I was picked on and bullied for all the typical things that kids bully other kids for. The usual mean kid stuff. But it made for a difficult time,” said Marli.

 

After graduating from high-school, Marli decided she wanted to travel.

“I drove across Canada to the west coast and fell in love with Vancouver,” she said. “I mean look at it, what’s not to love?” as she gestured towards the north shore mountains.

“I’ve never been to the east coast. I’ve not ever gone much further east than Oshawa. I just keep getting drawn back to the west coast, and Vancouver. This is my fourth or fifth time here.” 

 

Marli eventually made her way back to Oshawa and decided to go back to school.

"I went to Durham College and studied PR (Public Relations). The course was three years long. When I went into it, I figured it would be something I would like to do, but by the end of the course, I knew it wasn’t for me. But, it was such a broad program and I learned so much. About myself and about communication and photography. So many things that I use in my life. It wasn’t a complete waste of time,” she said, wholeheartedly.

“I had been living at home while going to college - it’s cheaper! And I worked three jobs to save money and get by. I worked hard that three years, and managed to save some money,” she said. Through social media, Marli met a woman that had taken the same course at Durham College a few years before Marli had.

“We became good friends and she contacted me one day and offered me a job. She was working for Celebrity Cruises, and I got a job working as a Front Desk Attendant. Like being in a hotel, but at sea. It was amazing, I got to see some great places and I was getting paid to travel,” said Marli. 

 

“I’ve spent most of my time traveling. I’ve been to forty-five countries so far. I’ve just come back from a year in Australia. I had done some work with Contiki Tours. They were kind enough to let me pick up a few tours in Australia, so I could make some money as I travelled. That was probably my toughest trip. It was the first time I had travelled that far, by myself. When you travel alone, you have to make all the decisions, yourself. I had to find my way around and figure things out. It was tough and liberating at the same time,” she said.

“South America is one of my highlights. But that changes all the time as well. If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, the answer would have been different. But I loved the people in South America, the culture and the natural beauty,” she said.

 

I asked Marli what was next for her.

“That’s a really great question. One that I ask myself every day. I just came out to Vancouver to visit with some friends and I’m heading to airport in about fifteen minutes to go to Alberta. Someone had asked when I was in Australia how I liked Montreal, because they had wanted to go there. I had never been, so I did spend few days there recently, and I was amazed. I’ve spent so much time traveling all around the world. I think for my next big trip, I’m going to explore Canada. There is so much beauty and such diversity to see right here in our own country. I want to learn more about my home,” said Marli. 

 

“I’m not in a relationship, in part, because it’s hard to find someone that wants to travel the same way I do. That has the means and the time. I work hard and live frugally to make it happen,” she says with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Traveling has definitely helped me to become more outgoing and open. I've learned to communicate better - you have to when you’re traveling. So many people wait until they’ve retired to travel. I don’t want to do that. I think if you wait, you potentially limit yourself. You’re less likely to travel to say, Egypt or India, or places that might be more challenging to visit. Everyone should travel though. I think travel is vital.” #notastranger

Day 267 - Susan

Day 267 - Susan (1st person I approached)

September 24, 2014 - Susan was sitting in a quiet green space, just off the beaten track. You can see a section of the north shore mountains between the buildings, from the bench she was sitting on. She had a few bags of groceries on the bench next to her, and it appeared that she was having a little mid-afternoon break. I approached Susan and asked if she would chat with me. She said that my project sounded very interesting and gave an enthusiastic

“Yes of course I will.”

 

“I was born in Haida Gwaii, or the Queen Charlotte Islands (British Columbia - BC) as it was called then. We lived in Sandspit (BC) but my mother went to Queen Charlotte City to give birth as that was the nearest hospital,” Susan said.

“And then she brought me home on a little ferry boat.” Queen Charlotte City is about twenty-six kilometres by land and boat to Sandspit. Susan’s father was an air traffic controller at the small airport located in Sandspit.

“I have an older sister and brother, and a younger sister. My sister is fourteen years older than I am, my brother is twelve years older and then my younger sister is two years younger. So there was quite an age difference between us as kids,” she said.

“We moved around a fair bit. In part for my father’s work, but mostly because my mother liked to move,” said Susan, with a cheerful smile.

“We also lived in Ashcroft, Richmond and Vancouver. Then we moved to Prince Rupert and lived there for a few years. I remember Prince Rupert more than the earlier places. We lived there until I was nine,” she said.

 

“My mother, along with my younger sister and I, moved to Hemel Hempstead, in England when I was nine. My parents were separating and the older two stayed here in Canada with my father. My older sister was in university and their lives were established here. I got to meet all of my other relatives that were in England, and we stayed with my uncles, my mother’s brothers,” she said. Before leaving Canada, Susan had excelled in school and had been moved ahead by two grades.

“In England, they figured there was no way I could have possibly had a better education in Canada, so they moved me back a grade. Adjusting to school in England was difficult. The children singled me out for being Canadian and it was a challenging adjustment to make,” she said.

“I had won two awards, one in Canada and one in England for my penmanship. Then my teacher decided that I was holding my pen incorrectly. I was to be held in detention until I learned to hold it the way the teacher deemed to be correct,” said Susan.

“Well, my mother even took me to the Doctors, I shall never forget it. We sat in the Dr’s office and he asked my mother why we were there, then he pulled out his pen. He held his pen even worse than I did. My mother’s face was all flushed. Looking back, it makes me laugh,” she said.

 

Susan did well in school, finishing her regular secondary schooling with six ‘O’ levels. These were subject-based qualifications conferred as part of the General Certificate of Education (GCE).

“I was then to go Dacorum College in Hemel Hempstead as an advanced preparation for Oxford or Cambridge University. I had been studying Latin as well, it was required for entrance to Oxford and Cambridge. The college would be an opportunity for me to experience learning at a higher level. I’d complete further exams and then go on from there in two years,” said Susan.

“My mother had remarried and she and my stepfather decided to come to Canada for a six week vacation. It was nice to see my siblings and my father while we were here. When we returned to England, I had missed the start date for college. I was told I could wait and enter college the following year,” she said.

“Instead, I got a job working in a solicitor’s office. My mother had moved to Nottingham and I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Hemel Hempstead. My little sister had been asking me to come live there, and eventually I did move to Nottingham. I got a job working in the civil service (government) working in social services,” said Susan.

 

When she was twenty years old, Susan moved back to Canada, arriving in Vancouver.

“I had really thought about staying in England. I have all my relatives there and I had quite a large circle of friends, but I decided to come back to Canada. My older sister and brother both had their own families and it was nice to have a chance to spend time with them. And of course, to be nearer my father again,” she told me. Susan has spent many years working in Community Development.

“I was engaged a couple of times, but never got married. I’m very involved within my neighbourhood, she said. Susan helps to organize two of her communities largest annual events. The Collingwood Days Festival is a week long, neighbourhood multicultural fair. Susan is also invoked in the organization of the Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival. It’s a harvest festival, and a Lantern Parade that culminates in the community celebrating nature and abundance. There is a tea garden with musical performances, and entertainment. (*Fact Check - See links below).

 

“I like to be involved, to be a part of the community. I volunteer a lot and do what I can, to give back. My mother is in her eighties and still active and involved. We do things together and it’s a great way to be connected. That’s very important to me, to feel connected, to my neighbourhood, and the community. It’s really the best way that I feel I can make a difference. And helping others, helps me as well.” #notastranger 

*Fact Check - http://www.collingwooddays.com

**Fact Check - http://bit.ly/Zeb1lu

*** Fact Check - http://www.askcentre.ca

Day 266 - Craig

Day 266 - Craig (1st person I approached)
September 23, 2014 - The Universe keeps unfolding and giving, especially if we take lessons from it. This morning, I had two choices; clean the coffee maker and make coffee, or walk across the street and buy a freshly brewed cup of coffee. And put cream in it. The choice was easy. As I crossed the street, I saw Tom from Day 10 sitting on his morning bench, with a friend. I chatted with Tom for a bit and he asked me what number of stranger I was on today. Tom’s friend Craig smiled and asked if I needed a stranger for today. I hadn't really intended to do anything other than get my coffee and head back home. But I remembered the last time I was in this situation - with Tom and his friend Barbara, as I wrote about on Day 206 (*see link below). I declined talking to Barbara that day, and three weeks later, Barbara had passed away. So I took the opportunity to explain to Craig what I was doing and he was all good to chat, and have his photo taken.

 

Craig was born in Ajax, Ontario.

“I’m the oldest of three, the only son. There were definitely times when I had to be the big brother and look out for my sisters. My father was a raging drunk. He and my mum split and we moved to Enniskillen (northeast of Toronto, Ontario). That was where she met my stepfather. He was the one who raised us, pretty much. My father was never around,” said Craig.

“My stepfather was an ex-cop and was always on a power trip. He would destroy our bedrooms and then demand we clean everything up. He made us write lines when we misbehaved. Military discipline,” he said.

“I was a pretty badass kid. I started using drugs and alcohol at thirteen. One night my sister and I missed curfew. She was eleven, and I was thirteen. We had gone to a party. Our stepfather called my sister and asked if she had a death wish. He wouldn’t let us in the house when we got home. We spent the night at a friend's place. The next day my mother brought us some clothes and said she was sorry. We couldn’t go home. My little sister ended up in foster care, and I went to a group home,” he told me.

 

“I failed Grade eight, so I had to repeat it. I did okay at most subjects, but I struggled with English. I just couldn’t get that. So I repeated Grade eight, I passed and then went to Grade nine. That was the last grade I completed,” said Craig.

“I ended up living on the streets for a few years. I was fourteen then, until about seventeen I guess,” he said. Craig got into crime, stealing cars, robbing people and selling drugs.

“By fourteen I was smoking weed, doing coke, acid, smoking crack. I OD’d on Ketamine. I was rolling a spliff (joint) and I had the K in a vial and I was tapping some onto the joint. I guess I tipped too much in and my body couldn’t process it. I went limp. I could feel all my body just, like folding up. That was rough,” he said, with an air of incredulity.

“I was in and out of Youth Detention in my teens as well.” 

 

Craig moved to Toronto when he was seventeen, and got a job working as a crane operator at a dry dock.

“I was studying for my GED (General Educational Development) exam. I didn’t go back to school, I just studied on my own. I spent about two years doing that before I felt I was ready to take the test,” he said.

“Oh, and you know what happened, this is a funny story. Damn Social Studies. I got down to the last section of the exam and it was Social Studies. I was filling in my answers on the answer grid and I ran out of space. That meant that somewhere on the answer grid I had skipped a question. So I had to remember all of my answers, erase everything and fill out the answer grid again. I couldn’t afford to miss any questions. I never liked that damn Social Studies,” he said shaking his head. I believe the word he formed with his mouth was ‘fuck.’ He pulled out a short joint from the front pocket in his hoodie, lit it and smoked as we chatted.

 

Craig passed and got his GED.

“While I was working at the dock, I started to learn to weld as well. From about seventeen to almost twenty-one, I was drinking pretty hard-core. It was beer as soon as I got up, until the end of my day. I woke up one morning and realized I had already become my father. I gave up alcohol cold turkey. And now I maybe have a beer once or twice a year. That’s it,“ he said. 

 

“I got my own apartment when I was twenty-one, and started going to college to get my certificate to become a welder. It’s a good job and pays well. I liked it too. I got everything I need for my ticket except for overhead. I got my flat, horizontal, vertical and I just need my overhead. I just can’t find anyplace to test for just overhead,” said Craig.

"I was running drugs then as well. I didn’t do business from my apartment. And I was seeing this girl who was from Vancouver. She came over one to my place one night and I was really high on rock (crack cocaine). She told me she wanted to move back to Vancouver and asked me if I wanted to go. I was thinking about it, but because I was so high, it was taking me some time to process and think about. She asked me again, and I just said ‘yeah, sure,’ and I moved out here with her,” he said. That was almost seven years ago. He carefully put the remaining small end of the joint in his hoodie pocket and pulled out a cigarette, and lit that. 

 

“I’ve been homeless for most of the last seven years, living in social housing. Right now I sleep in a dorm room with 26 beds in it,” said Craig.

“I try to keep myself busy, working odd jobs. I was working in a warehouse hauling bags of rice around. But I hurt my back. My body is beat.” He has been in jail dozens of times, for petty crimes and misdemeanours.

“The last time I was in jail was for failure to comply, related to a probation I was on. But then they realized they had it wrong, thank goodness, and they let me go. I’ve never been to the Pen though (Federal prison)." 

 

Craig had a child with his girlfriend four years ago.

“She chose drugs,” he said.

“We had this decent place. I'll be a man about it, I put my hand up right here and now and tell you, I was doing drugs on the weekends. I would get some rock on Friday, get wasted, then go through two days of withdrawal and Monday morning I was back at it. No problems. Then the landlord decided to sell our place. My girlfriend had been putting cash away for a while and had over two grand that she kept in a sock in the bedroom. I told her we could use that money to get a new place and make things alright. She went and got the cash and told me that she gave up and just wanted to get high. She decided she’d rather do drugs than get a new place. Our daughter went into foster care, and that was the end of our relationship,” he said. I waited until Craig wanted to continue speaking. 

 

“I don’t do any more of the drugs, except for smoking weed. I figured why was I doing all this shit that was getting me in trouble. My body is falling apart. I’d rather just smoke weed, which isn’t illegal. I’m a drug addict yeah, but I can get high from pot. It’s a different high, but it doesn’t hurt me like the other drugs did,” he told me. His pain was palpable.

"I’d like to get my welding ticket and find regular work."

 

I watched Craig reach into what seemed to be a magic pocket in the front of his hoodie. A loose joint, perfectly rolled had come out. Then a loose cigarette without a tear in it. Then his left hand looked like it was wet. He licked his finger.

“Milk,” he says. He reached into that pocket and pulled out a small round container of milk. It was leaking a bit. I watched him gently place it on the bench next to him. He carefully reached back into the pocket and pulled out an egg. I was amazed. Then he pulled out another egg, which he placed on the bench next to the milk. I think I might have said ‘What the fuck’ out loud. His face lit up, with one of those smiles that goes from ear to ear and makes ones eyes close tightly. I told him he had a great smile.

“Yeah, I know I do,” he said, with no ego whatsoever. He’s certainly heard it before. 

He is no longer in contact with any of his family.

“That’s not my choice.” #notastranger

*A story for Barbara - http://on.fb.me/1oJMYoP

Day 265 - Jake

Day 265 - Jake (1st person I approached)
September 22, 2014 - Jake was running up a down escalator when I first spotted him. He had an enthusiastic, childlike smile on face, especially when he made it to the top. A definite look of victory. I congratulated him and kept walking. I had someplace to be, and then I turned around, deciding I could be a bit late. I asked Jake if he would chat with me.

“Sure but I’m just waiting here to do an interview for a job. So if that happens, I’d need to end it,” he said, in a carefree, easygoing manner. He also has a friendly Australian accent. After asking for permission, I took his photograph to make sure I had that part done. There was an instant comfort with Jake. 

 

“I was born in Australia. In New South Wales, on the far south coast,” he said.

“In a town called Nurooma, about five hours away from Sydney. I have one little brother. He’s five years younger than me, but I’ve not seen for a while because of travelling. When I was eighteen and left home, he was only thirteen, so we’re not that close. I’ve got a good relationship with my parents though.” All of Jake’s primary and secondary schooling happened in Nurooma.

“School was mostly about the sports for me. I did a bit of everything, but the main two would be surfing, and rugby league. I didn’t compete or anything, it was always recreational,” he said.

 

When Jake was eighteen, he left home and moved up to Sydney.

“It was good to live in a bigger city. I got a job working as a landscaper, and doing maintenance. I stayed there for about two years. Then I moved on to Brisbane on the Gold Coast (about ten hours north of Sydney). I went to uni (university) there. I studied Paramedic Sciences. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I figured that would be interesting. It wouldn’t be a job in an office and every day would be different. The program was three years and I graduated with an undergrad degree in Paramedic Sciences,” said Jake. 

 

After finishing university, Jake went traveling around Europe.

“I went by myself, but I met up with some friends that were also traveling, and I spent some time with them. I did most of the trip on my own though,” he said.

“Then I moved back home. I got a job and saved some money. I was working in a theme park. I did maintenance and operated some of the rides,” he said, with a smile that told of fond memories.

“I did that for about nine months and saved as much money as I could and then I went traveling again.”

 

Jakes next adventure took him to Central America.

“I usually have a goal when I go on a trip. My goal is to travel to meet people, see things and surf. I always try to find places that have good surfing available. I was mostly going between Mexico and Panama. Then I went to California for three months. I have friends that live there and I stayed with them. And surfed. I usually manage to get work in hospitality jobs, that helps keep me going,” he said.

 

“I came to Vancouver because I was able to get a working visa for Canada. This part of the trip is about being near a mountain. I plan to spend the winter snowboarding in Whistler, so Vancouver was an easy choice. I’ve never lived anywhere that had snow like they have in Whistler,” he said, with a big grin. 

 

I mentioned that he could always go to Tofino for surfing as well. “No,” he said immediately,

“It’s too cold. I just came from Central America. I couldn’t handle that kind of cold!”  And with that, Jake’s next interview arrived. #notastranger

Day 264 - Andrew

Day 264 - Andrew (3rd person I approached)
September 21, 2014 - A somewhat symbolic day today. The last full day of summer, and it was gloriously warm and sunny. Almost October and still comfortable enough to wear a teeshirt and shorts outside; such bliss! Today also marks one hundred and one days left of The Stranger Project 2014. So many thoughts and feelings about that. But, another time.

 

Andrew was sitting outside a coffee shop, looking at his phone when I approached him. I told him about my project and asked him if he would chat with me.

He agreed to chat, telling me “I’m not doing very much right now.”

Andrew was born in Edenfield, a small village of about two thousand people, situated in the Rossendale district of Lancashire, England.

“It really is a tiny village. I mean unless you’re from there or have been there, you’ve probably not heard of it. I lived there until I left to go to college when I was eighteen,” he said. 

 

There was no primary school in Edenfield.

“I had to go to the next village to go to school. That was only about two and a half miles away, in a village called Ramsbottom. I would take the bus there and back again,” he said. Andrew was raised a Catholic, and the school he went to was a church-funded Catholic school.

“It was a rather frightening, Dickensian experience. Students would get the strap to maintain discipline, and it was strict and stuffy. We went to church every Sunday, and I had confirmation and all of that.” He is the eldest of three children, with a younger sister and brother.

“I am five years older than my sister and about seven years older than my brother. We weren’t particularly close, in part because of the age difference,” he told me.

 

At that time in the English school system, students did what was called the ‘Eleven plus.’  It was a test which, based upon the results, determined the path the secondary schooling would take.

“I did well enough that I was either going to go to another Catholic secondary school, or a grammar school in yet another village. I knew enough about the Catholic school that I told my parents I would not go there. I don’t recall the name of the order of priests that ran that school, but they were, essentially, right bastards,” he says in a gruff whisper.

“I went to a grammar (public) school in the village of Haslingdon, on the the opposite side of Edenfield from Ramsbottom. It was about the same distance away, and was in a breath-taking location, It was like something from an English novel” he said. 

 

“I wouldn’t say I was a particularly good student. I listened in class, but I didn’t do any homework. I guess really, I found it quite boring. But I did well enough, getting eight ‘O’ levels (subject-based qualification as part of the GCE, General Certificate of Education),” he said. Andrew stayed on at school, going to ‘sixth form’ as it was called. Sixth form represents the final two years of secondary education, usually ending at age eighteen. Many students in England leave school by age sixteen.

“I was Captain of the football (soccer) team, and a Prefect,” he said. ‘Prefects’ are considered student leaders and role-models in fifth and sixth form, chosen through a rigorous selection process by the school’s faculty.

 

After completing his ‘A levels’ (GCE Advanced level), Andrew went to Keele University, near Newcastle, in the north of England.

“I did what would be similar to a double major, or dual honours as it's called. Studying Geography and American Studies and completing both programs in four years,” he said. He then went to work as a computer programmer for the British Ministry of Defence, in northern England.

“It wasn't a particularly exciting job. Run of the mill computer programming, fairly standard stuff. I was there for five years. Then I went down to London (England), and went back to school to get my Master’s degree,” he said. 

 

Andrew studied at the University of London and after getting his Master’s in Geography, he continued on and got his PhD, also in Geography.

“I had always liked Geography. After getting my Doctorate, I went to work at Liverpool University. I was there for almost twenty years, before coming to Canada,” he said. While teaching, Andrew had also being conducting extensive research and was branching into demography; working out the mathematical formulas for service delivery of health care for senior citizens.

“There wasn’t a dedicated field in Gerontology at the time, so the demography sort of combined Geography with Gerontology.”

 

During the course of his time at Liverpool University, Andrew had developed teaching and research links though collaborations with numerous universities, international organizations and governmental agencies around the world.

“I was offered a position with SFU (Simon Fraser University) and that brought me here to Vancouver,” he said. Andrew was appointed Professor and Director of Gerontology Research Centre at SFU. 

 

“I’ve been looking at the service delivery models for seniors health care.” We spoke about the differences and similarities of healthcare standards and delivery between the USA, Canada and England.

“Canada has a service delivery equivalent to, or at least somewhat similar the US. There just isn’t enough of it. Britain has far more service delivery, but not to the standards of Canada or the US,” said Andrew. 

 

We also spoke about accents.

“Coming from the Lancashire area where I grew up, there are so many different accents. I can tell where someone is from just by the way they speak. It might be different than someone who lives say, five miles away from them. When I’m in England, people know by my accent that I’m from the north of England. No one here in Canada can tell the difference,” he said. 

 

And then Andrew looked at his watch, stood up and said

“I’m sorry, but I really have to get going!” I quickly took his photograph and thanked him for his time. We shook hands, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. #notastranger

Day 263 - Story removed

The Stranger Project 2014

October 17, 2014.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a message from the person I had written about on September 20, 2014 (Day 263). The message asked that for personal reasons, their story be removed. 

Twice before, for different reasons, I've been asked to remove the photograph. My first and most important mandate is to be respectful of the people and the stories that are shared with me. In this case, I thought long and hard, and have decided that the correct thing to do in this instance, is to remove the story completely. 

As in life, not everything goes as we hope, and it is how we react to the things that DO happen, that impact and measure the final outcome. Along the journey of this project, I have learned to be more fluid with my expectations, with outcomes and that not everything that happens, is about me personally. 

When I started this project, I would have said I was already fluid, easy-going and open. Looking back, I see that there has been significant growth for me, in many areas of my life.

This is how Day 263 unfolded. I honour it, I respect and cherish the opportunity to have met another wonderful person, and I want to be mindful of their needs, more than my own wants. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
Colin

 

Day 262 - Josh

Day 262 - Josh (6th person I approached)
September 19, 2014 - It was an early evening of people willing to chat, but not so willing to have their picture taken. One kindly gentleman even proceeded to tell me his father’s life story. I admit it was fascinating and all the more difficult to break in to say thanks, and continue on my way. 

 

It took me about an hour to find Josh, sitting in a delicatessen eating, and alone. He was in one of my reliable spots for meeting people. Josh told me he had finished work for the day and was grabbing something to eat before going off to meet his girlfriend. He had the time, was willing to chat and let me take his photograph.

 

Born in Wakefield, England, Josh grew up in Rotherham, a large town in South Yorkshire, England.

“I have one sister who is three years older than I am. She was born profoundly deaf. I learned to sign before I could talk. We used to have arguments and I’d yell at her, but just in the same way I’d yell at anyone. I didn’t make it different because she was deaf,” he said.

“She went to boarding school, so I only saw her on the weekends. The school was for deaf children. They encouraged the students to learn to use their voice. The teachers refused to use sign language. So even though my sister couldn’t hear her own voice, she learned to speak and lip read. Sometimes she’d speak loudly and I’d have to tell her to speak quieter,” said Josh.

 

“I didn’t really like school, but I had fun while i was there. I went to the same school my father had gone to. Some of my teachers had also taught my Dad. He had a reputation for being a bit of a rogue. I think I got painted with the same brush before they even knew me. But I managed to live up to the reputation,” said Josh with a large grin and a sparkle in his eye.

“After I finished secondary school and got my GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education) I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I went to college and studied law,” he said. Josh spent two years in college.

“I didn’t really like law, but I went to the University of Leeds and continued studying it anyway. I figured I might as well continue with it.” After another four years in university, Josh got his law degree, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.

“I think it’s quite common in England because education is free, so students go to school because that’s what everyone does,” he told me. While in university, Josh lived away from home.

“Leeds is close to Rotherham, so I would go home and see my parents every other weekend. After university I tried moving back home, but it just didn’t work,” said Josh.

 

“A friend of mine from university was moving to do a report as part of his degree. He decided he was going to write about Vancouver, and asked me if I wanted to come along. In the end, there were six of us, all friends from university who came to Vancouver. We all got a house together at first, but eventually we all moved to our own places. Everyone is still here though,” he said. That was over a year ago.

“I started looking for a job right away, and got hired as a glazier. I’ve been doing that ever since. I really like Vancouver. It rains just as much in England. The only difference being the intensity. In England is just kind of showers a bit. Here in Vancouver, the rain seems more intense, almost torrential at times,” said Josh.

“I do really like it here though. I’m going to be applying for permanent residency. I like the security of that. My parents have been here to visit and they think it’s wonderful. They miss me, especially my Mum, it’s tough for her. I am a bit of a mummy’s boy. My auntie and uncle were here for a visit a few weeks ago and they said I’d be mad to leave,” he told me.

 

Josh has been dating his girlfriend for almost a year.

“We met through a friend. It was a blind date and we hit it off. She was working as an art instructor,” he said. As I took Josh’s picture, he mentioned to me that he wanted to follow my project on Facebook.

“I think it’s great that you speak to people. I wish I did that more. I tend to live in my own bubble,” he said. I told him that with his lovely English accent, I was sure almost everyone would enjoy talking with him.

“Really? Most people here seem to think I’m from Australia. I even met an elderly British lady the other day. She’s been here for almost thirty years, but she’s still British. She thought I was from Australia as well.” I said that I knew immediately he was from England. We shook hands. “Thank you,” he said.

“It was a pleasure talking with you.” Absolutely charmed. #notastranger

Day 261 - Justin

Day 261 - Justin (4th person I approached)
September 18, 2014 - I had kind of a rough start to the day today. I left home earlier than usual, intending to go for a good walk and shake it off. I knew that meeting a stranger would turn things around, if even just for the time that I was looking for and chatting with, a new stranger. I’ve said this before; in my belief system, the Universe always gives me what I need. And sometimes, for me, the lesson isn’t always ‘right there’ either. Occasionally it takes time to settle in.

 

The first two people I approached both politely told me they didn’t want to chat. I spent a few minutes talking with Sharon, the third person I approached. Her only hesitation in chatting with me was that she was waiting for a telephone call, and didn’t know how long the call would take. We were sitting at the water’s edge in False Creek. It seemed like an ideal location to let go of some of the ‘stuff’ I was holding onto from this morning. I asked Sharon if she’d mind if we started to chat and she had to take a call, could we continue with the conversation after her call? Her phone rang. I sat a reasonable distance away to allow Sharon her privacy. She ended her call quickly, telling me she put the call off so that we could chat. Amazing. Then I found out that she wasn’t comfortable with having her picture taken. Nonetheless, it was a nice to have met someone willing to accommodate chatting with a stranger. I continued on my walk.

 

Justin was sitting on a bench, reading a book. He had his book in one hand, a phone in the other, and there was a bike leaning against the bench. He said he would chat with me, and he also let me know that he only had about ten minutes left before having to be somewhere. I was sure we could chat within that time. Then his phone rang.

“I’m sorry, I have to take this call, but hang on, don’t go away,” he said. His call lasted all of ninety seconds and then, Justin and I started to chat.

 

“I was born in Toronto (Canada). I have one younger sister. We got along okay. I think like most siblings, we’re closer as adults then we were as kids,” he said. When Justin was about ten years old, his parents separated.

“It was pretty tough on me, “ he said.

“My little sister and I lived with our mother. In conversation with my mother later on, she told me that she took out a lot of her angst on me,” said Justin. His parents got back together a year after separating.

“They tried again. That lasted for a year before they split-up and got divorced. My sister and I went to live with our Dad. That was a really hopeful time. My father spoke about us being a triangle and spending time together, the three of us. But he soon wanted to turn that triangle into a square,” he said.

“It got kind of chaotic at home. My father’s partner had two daughters. With the three of them and my sister, I felt like my life was being controlled by women,” he said, wit alight smile.

 

At the age of sixteen, Justin saw a video about Tibetan Buddhism.

“I remember feeling so elated,” he said.

“My parents hadn’t really gone to church beyond what was required of them as kids. I think that was just what their generation did. I didn’t have any information about religion or spirituality. I was curious.” He was with his mother for a weekend visit, and he told her of his interest in Buddhism.

“A good friend of my mother’s had some information, like a pamphlet, about a Buddhist Centre in downtown Toronto. She gave it to my mother for me to read. I went to the centre to check it out. It took about an hour and half by bus and subway to get there, but I started going a couple of times a week,” he said. When Justin was seventeen, he left home and went to live at the Buddhist Centre.

“I didn’t really ask my father, It was more of a ‘this is what I’m going to do’ conversation. I had a job and transferred schools and lived at the Centre and completed high-school.” Justin lived at the centre for six years. At this point in our conversation, he had to head to his next destination. We shook hands and I took his picture. I asked if I could walk with him and chat some more. He walked his bicycle as we chatted.

 

“About two years before I left (the Buddhist Centre), I started to think about what else is out there. I was comfortable where I was, and I felt I needed something more. I spent time looking around and doing research,” he said. After living at the Buddhist Centre in Toronto for six years, Justin left.

“It was difficult to leave. I had been there a long time and I had established very strong connections with the people who were there. I was nervous about opening my heart to others in that same way, after that.” His research lead him to Plum Village, a Buddhist Temple, located in Dordogne, in southern France. (*Fact Check - see link below). It was founded by Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhát Hanh in 1982.

“I didn’t speak much French, but there are at least 13 different languages spoken in the Temple. With English being an international language, it gave me an opportunity to help others with their English. I spoke enough French if I went to the store or needed something, I could get by” he said.

“At the centre in Toronto we had a dress code, but didn’t were robes. I just dressed in the appropriate colours. When I was at Plum Village, I became an ordained Monk and then I dressed in robes,” he told me.

 

Six years after arriving in France, Justin left the monastery.

“It was becoming very large. We still did retreats and education and I enjoyed it. I was happy that so many people were coming to the temple. What I was looking for was changing and I wanted to go deeper, more intra-personal and focussed. That was difficult with it becoming busier,” he said. 

“I was looking to find a smaller more intimate setting. I came across a retreat on Denman Island (British Columbia - BC). I had a few telephone conversations with the people there at the retreat. It was important to feel a good connection. I had also looked at a location in Missouri (USA), but I decided against that. I made plans to come to BC and visited the retreat on Denman Island,” he said. Justin spent the next winter in Toronto with friends and family, and then made the move to Denman Island. He spent six months there.

 

We were out of time and Justin had to get going. I asked him what happened after his time at the retreat on Denman Island.

“My life changed and went in a completely different direction at that point. I fell in love, and got married. We have a four year old child,” he said as he got on his bicycle.

“I’m a community mental health nurse now.” I thanked him for his time and told him where he could find this story. We said goodbye and he rode off. 

 

I caught up to him at the next traffic light. We spoke about my project while waiting to cross the street. The light changed, and as he hurried away on his bike, he turned around and said “Thank you for asking me to talk. I enjoyed it.” And with that, my rough start to the day seemed lighter. #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://plumvillage.org

Day 260 - Katelin

Day 260 - Katelin (1st person I approached)
September 17, 2014 - I saw Katelin sitting by herself in a coffee shop. I went in, walked over and introduced myself. Katelin has very good eye contact, and never once looked away from me while I told her about my project, and asked if she’d chat with me. She told me that she didn’t mind chatting or having her picture taken.

 

Katelin was born in Richmond, and has lived in Surrey her entire life.

“I’m an only child. I really don’t mind not having any siblings either. I’ve always gotten along with my parents, so it was okay just being the three of us. When I wanted peace and quiet, I knew I’d find it at home. I liked being the only child. Except when I got in trouble and wished there was someone else there to take some of the attention away from me,” she said with a laugh.

 

“When I was in Grade six, my parents enrolled me in French Immersion school. They felt that I would be more challenged and that learning another language would benefit me later in life,” said Katelin. She continued going to French Immersion schools for the rest of her elementary and high-school grades.

“I started swimming lessons when I was very young, and then started competing when I was about ten years old. Through the swimming club, I got into water polo. I became an elite competitive water polo player. I travelled all around Canada and the United States competing. I never made the (Canadian) national team, but I was on the provincial team,” she said. By Grade eleven, the water polo training and competing was beginning to have a negative impact on her schooling and grades.

“It was difficult to keep up with all the training and school work. I didn’t really care for school that much, but I knew I wanted to graduate, so I gave up water polo,” said Katelin.

 

When Katelin was about fifteen years old, she remembers hearing George Harrison (of the Beatles) singing on the radio.

“I’m sure it was probably my Dad listening to it on the radio in the car. But I liked the music. I started to look into George Harrison’s work and the lyrics. He had an interest in the Hare Krishna movement, and I did some research and became interested in Krishna Consciousness myself. I went and visited a temple and it just felt right. I knew that there was something there for me,” she said.

“I’ve been practising Krishna Consciousness consistently for about four years now.” I asked Katelin what her parents thought of her religious convictions. She smiles and looks up toward the ceiling, telling me that her parents just want to make sure that she is ok.

 

After graduating from high-school, Katelin started studying psychology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (formerly Kwantlen College).

“I’m in my fourth year now. I’m looking to become a counsellor. I want to help others and offer support and guidance. I’m thinking about going into couples therapy. I want to help regular people as well people who are also involved in the Hare Krishna movement,” she told me. Katelin works part-time as well as going to school.

“I work for (an airline) as a customer service agent. I sometimes have to speak French in my job and I wish that I had kept it up. I feel like I’m a bit rusty because I don't speak French regularly, but I can usually make it through,” she says.

“I have to tie my hair back when I’m at work, but otherwise, it’s not an issue.”

 

Katelin has travelled to Austin, Texas a few times in the past few years to attend Krishna gatherings.

“It’s usually a lot of chanting, singing, prayer and meeting people. I had been watching some videos about Krishna online, because everything is available online.  I came across one video and I knew that the man I was listening to is my Guru (spiritual guide). I wrote to him and we began corresponding. He lives in Germany and only travels to the US once a year. So I’ve gone down to Austin, Texas to meet with him,” she said. Katelin also met her current boyfriend while in Austin.

“He’s an English teacher and is also practising Krishna Consciousness. The long distance is definitely tough. I’ve been down to Austin to see him a few times and he has been up here to visit me as well,” she says. We talk about the challenges of dating someone with a different belief structure.

“I’ve tried it, but it just didn’t work,” she tells me.

 

Katelin will have completed her undergrad degree next summer. I asked if there is any conflict for Katelin making a living as a counsellor while practising Krishna Consciousness.

“No, I don’t think so. I want to be a counsellor because I want to help. I’ve always wanted to help others. Materialistic things aren’t important to me,” she said.

“I’ve been looking at continuing my studies and going on the get my Master’s degree. There’s a program at Saint Paul University in Ottawa that is focussed on Counselling and Spirituality. I’m considering doing that. Of course it’s hard for anyone to say what the future holds, but this is the direction I’d like to go in.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - Saint Paul University  http://bit.ly/1pkaFyJ

Day 259 - Kara

Day 259 - Kara (1st person I approached)

September 16, 2014 - Kara was sitting alone, having something to eat when I spotted her. I was just about to approach her when I saw Jazlynne from Day 86. We stopped to have a quick chat. I found out that she had broken her foot “chasing my dog through the house in the dark” and was just getting back to work after two months off. She seemed rather philosophical about it, telling me

“I didn’t even go to get it looked at until a day later. I was surprised I needed a cast!”

 

Kara readily agreed to chat with me, quickly moving her bag from a chair so that I could sit down.

“I was born in New Westminster,” she told me.

“At Royal Columbian Hospital, and we lived in Langley until I was five years old. Then we moved to Kelowna, where I grew up.” Kara has one younger sister.

“Yeah, I think like most sisters do, we fought as kids, but we’re close now,” she told me. “I was only five when we moved to Kelowna, but I remember later missing the connections I had with friends in Langley. That, and I remember thinking out house in Kelowna wasn’t as pretty as the one in Langley,” said Kara, with a smile.

 

“I always wanted to be one of the popular kids in school, but I wasn’t. I was fairly shy, and it wasn’t easy for me to let people in enough to get to know me. It’s just the way I was. I liked to read a lot. Fantasy books in particular, like the Harry Potter series. I also really enjoyed poetry,” she said.

“In Grade twelve I started to feel more comfortable and confident and found it easier to make friends. Part of was the ‘party-type’ environment that goes along with Grade twelve. I was a good kid and never got into trouble. But in Grade twelve I would go to  bush parties and that made it easier to make friends,” said Kara. She told me a bush party is literally a party out in the bushes, with campfires and lots of youth. In Kelowna, one doesn't have to travel far to be in the mountainous bush area that surrounds the city.

 

Right after high-school, Kara went to university.

“I did two years at UBC (University of British Columbia) at the Okanagan campus, and then transferred to the Vancouver campus. I wanted to be a counsellor, so I did my undergrad in Psychology. The social psychology classes were some of my favourite,” she said.

“Then I realized that I would be better suited as a teacher, so after getting my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, I took upper level English for a year.” Kara explained that as an equivalent to third and fourth year of an undergrad in English. She was bale to apply her psychology degree credits which allowed her to go into ‘upper level’ English. She then spent another year completing teacher training.

“I was in university for six years in total,” she said.

“In third year when I transferred down to the Vancouver campus, that was my first time away from home. It was liberating and I felt free. It was fun. I lived on campus and was responsible for myself, and cooking my own meals.” Kara lived in residence on campus for that year.

 

“Then my father got a job offer and my family moved to Vancouver,” Kara said. Her father is a school principal.

“I went to private schools for elementary and high school. My father was the principal of my high school. I don’t know that he was any tougher on us. He definitely didn’t want to be the principal with the ‘bad children’ in school. My sister and I were both well-behaved.” Kara’s father had been the principal of the high-school in Kelowna for seventeen years before moving to Vancouver. We talked about the experience of attending private schools throughout her education.

“They were Catholic schools, and whir their were some kids that came from wealthy families, there were also kids who were subsidized my the church. It wasn’t an elitist, rich-kids-only environment. My parents went to the school I went to, so they were older buildings and some of my classes had thirty-five students. I don’t think it was all that different, really,” she said. I asked Kara if she is religious.

“Yes, I am. Going to a Catholic school definitely helped form part of that. I spent time in my teens looking deeper into what that meant to me, and asking questions about the way things are in the world. I do have my faith, yes.”

 

After six hers in university, Kara is now a certified teacher.

“There’s not really a lot of jobs out there these days. So I widened my job search and just started with a private school as a Special Education Assistant. I work in the classroom with the teacher and my four is to support the children with learning and physical disabilities. There’s also a young fir that is blind and I work with her as well. The teacher does all of the report cards and oversee’s the class, and I’m there as support. I’m excited to have this opportunity,” she says. Kara’s mother is and Education Assistant in the public school system. When I tell Kara that she should and must be very proud of herself, she smiles and tells me,

“That’s what my mother says as well. I am proud of myself, yes.” #notastranger

Day 258 - Fraser

Day 258 - Fraser (1st person I approached)
September 15, 2014 - I spent a few hours at the beach today. It seemed almost ceremonial; today might have been my last day of summer, so I went to the beach. I walked from Spanish Banks to Jericho and then to Alma St to catch the bus home. It’s a long walk and has become part of my solo-beach days ritual. There’s a small park at Alma and Point Grey Road - Hastings Mill Park, where another ritual takes place. Here I sit on the grass, remove my socks and shoes, and deposit the accumulated sand from from my shoes. I spotted Fraser sitting at the far side of the park and so made my way over to ask him if he would chat with me. He readily agreed to chat, and I left a good portion of beach sand in the grass as we spoke.

 

Fraser was born at BC (British Columbia) Women’s and Children’s Hospital. He grew up in Lion’s Bay, a small residential village, north of Vancouver, between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish.

“I have one sister who is three years older then me, and my little sister is ten years younger than I am. And no, my parents aren’t divorced or anything, that’s just the way it happened,” says Fraser, laughing.

“Actually, there’s a funny family story that goes with that. Our parents sat my older sitter and I down and said ‘You’re going to have a  little sister.’ Apparently I was fine with having a little sister, but couldn’t believe that my parents had had sex. My mother said I thought that was disgusting. I remember parts of that conversation,” he says, smiling and shaking his head. 

 

The three children were close growing up.

“I have a great relationship with my little sister. She’s ten now and is very competitive with me. I started doing Jiujitsu and Mixed Martial arts in high school. My little sister has taken it up and is close to being a black belt. She loves telling me about every new thing and move she has learned. Her goal is to become a professional martial artist,” he said. Then he looked down at his chest and stomach, and said

"Clearly I'm not doing martial arts anymore." I said that not everyone had to have a six pack stomach to be fit.

"Yeah! You're right, look at Steven Segal!" We both had a good laugh at that. Fraser is both very funny, and very charming.

 

“I was diagnosed as dyslexic when I was about six years old. I didn’t really like school, and of course that didn’t make it any easier,” he said.

“I also started to get anxiety attacks. In Grade six I went to a Waldorf school (*Fact Check - see links below). The teacher used to bring crystals to class and light a candle. That’s how we started each day. We did a lot of art in class. There was still school board standards taught, they just found unique and appropriate ways to deliver the content,” he said. Fraser went to the Waldorf school for three years, from Grade six until Grade eight.

“There were some days when there were about forty kids in the class and they’d be from Grade twelve down to Grade eight. It became a distraction for me. I felt that I needed to be in a more structured environment by then. So I went to a public high-school. It wasn’t any better. I did what I had to do to get through school, and graduate,” he said.

 

After completing high-school, Fraser wasn’t in any hurry to go to college or university.

“My older sister was in third year university and she had gone to Australia for a year long program. I went to Sydney to visit with her, and spent days at the beach. We took a trip to Tasmania and then when we got back to Sydney, the rest of our family joined us and we travelled around Australia. I was there for about two months in total,” he said.

“I came back to Vancouver and wanted to travel again. I had been taking scuba diving lessons while I was in high-school and was pretty good at it. I had all of my certifications except for the one that would allow me to teach scuba diving. My aunt and uncle live in the Caymen Islands, so I went there for four months and did about 100 dives with an intern program. It was a great trip, even though my Aunt was a little ‘out there.’ We went out one Friday night, she had gotten all dressed up and I thought we were going out for a few drinks. Turns out we were, but it was a wine tasting at a liquor store in the local strip mall. She was incredibly frugal. There were so many stories like that. But I survived,” said Fraser. He came back to Vancouver and got his scuba diving teacher's certification. 

 

“I thought teaching scuba diving would be great. However, it was really hard to find a job doing that. Everywhere that I had applied to were only offering ‘on-call’ jobs. So that wasn't any good,” he said. Fraser had worked a few summers in Lion’s Bay doing his own landscaping business.

“Everyone one there has a yard and it’s a small community so I did really well out of that. I spent the summer last year doing landscaping and made a good amount of cash. As we got closer to September, my mother was asking me what I was going to do about going to school, or finding a full-time job. I told her I was going to go to Germany for Oktoberfest. She wanted to know how I’d pay for that. I told her how much I had saved,” he said. Fraser went to Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and France.

“I was backpacking and had an amazing time. All I could think of was how cool it would be to have a  job travelling around like that!”

 

When he returned that winter, Fraser took job working Security at the shipping docks in North Vancouver.

“I got my security certification and worked nights on the weekend. At home, we hadn’t watched television since I was about fourteen years old. We just watched movies at home. So working nights in security, I got caught up on a few years of television programs,” he said.

“Sometimes I’d hear the radio calling “The ship at wharf whatever has lost it’s rope. And it would be ‘right, I’m working here,’ and I’d have to go and do something. I realized that I was going to have to go back to school, or come up with another game plan. There’s only so much television you can watch while getting paid,” he said.

 

Before Fraser put his game plan into action, he went to the Pemberton Music Festival.

“That was so good, and I met this girl there, we hung out and really just enjoyed the music and the atmosphere. Some of my friends had been talking about the Shambhala Festival. One night after coming home from being out late, I went online and bought tickets. I went with the girl I had met at the Pemberton Festival. It really is a very different experience. I can see why people go year after year. I definitely will be going again next year,” said Fraser. Shambhala Festival is a music and arts festival, that accepts no corporate sponsorship. It relies heavily on the community of festival goers and volunteers to pull it all off. This year, over ten thousand people attended the five day event. (**Fact Check - see links below.)

 

Two weeks ago, Fraser moved in with his older sister. They live in the Kitsilano neighbourhood, on the westside of Vancouver.

“I just started back at school as well. I had lived in Lion’s Bay all my life and commuting from there to go to school would be difficult.  I didn’t get into UBC (University of British Columbia) so I’m going to Langara College. I’m doing general studies for now. Most of my classes are in history,” he said. I really don’t know what I want to do in the future yet, so that’s why I’m just doing general studies. I’m giving school a chance, but I don’t know if it will be something I want to do. Time will tell.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://www.vws.ca/about/about-vws/
**Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1s4weuV

Day 257 - Ed

Day 257 - Ed (1st person I approached)
September 14, 2014 - I had a meeting downtown this morning and then met a friend of mine for coffee afterwards. On my way home, I walked past the Pacific Central Station. It's the ‘transport terminus’ where busses and trains arrive and depart from, on the way in and out of town. It happens to sit on the edge of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. There’s a large park out front of the station, and it always seems to have a varied mix of people of all backgrounds. i headed to the park to see if i could find someone to chat with.

 

I saw Ed sitting by himself, on the grass under a tree that had intermittent sun and shade as the branches moved gently in the wind. I wasn’t sure he would even respond to my approach, but he told me he would chat if it was only for a couple of minutes. We had a bit of a conversation about taking his photograph. I told him that if he was uncomfortable with any of this, we didn’t have to chat or take his photo. Ed sat scratching his arm as he thought about it.

“Oh sure, okay, but only if it’s for a couple of minutes.” Ed has a very strong and loud, and I do mean loud, voice. Another character trait I noticed almost immediately was that Ed repeats everything he says, at least twice. As I don’t take notes, this worked in my favour to help me remember things! 

 

We chatted a bit about how nice it was to be sitting on the grass, and the coolness of the shade of the tree on such a warm day.

“I was born in The Hague, in the Holland,” Ed tells me, loud and clear.

“Holland, that’s in Europe and The Hague is there, in Holland. That’s where I was born. The Hague, in Holland.” He has one older brother, who lives in Amsterdam, and a younger sister who lives in North Vancouver.

“We were a very close family growing up. My father could sometimes be quite strict, but my parents were kind and loving,” he says.

“We moved to Canada in 1960. I think we came by boat. Let me think. Yeah, we. We did, yes, we came by boat. At least I think we did. Yes, yes we did, we came by boat,” he said.

"I remember I was excited on the trip.” His repetition didn’t come across as a lack of memory, as much as these being things he hadn’t thought about for some time. He seemed to just want to get it right. When I asked Ed how old he was when he came to Canada, he wanted to figure it out without appearing like he didn’t know. We determined he was seven.

“I didn’t go to school until we came to Canada. We lived in Surrey,” he said. Without any lapses, he told me the full name of both his elementary and high schools, and exactly where in Surrey they were located.

“I really liked Maths, Science and Social Studies. I liked figuring things out in maths. Science and social studies I liked because I wanted to know things. I was good at them. I liked Maths, and social Studies. Science too.”

 

Ed left school after Grade ten.

“I couldn’t find work for the longest time. I just hung around home most of the time. I lived with my parents. I was unemployed for a few years. Then I got a job with Parks working in landscaping. I did landscaping at Bear Creek Park in Surrey. I laid turf, and gardened and did maintenance,” he said proudly.

Ed remembers doing that job for “about three years maybe. Yeah. About three.”

 

As we were talking, I could see from the expression on Ed’s face, that someone was coming over towards us. I heard a woman’s voice,

“Hello, would you care for a sandwich?” I turned around to see a woman with two plates stacked high with home-made chicken sandwiches. They were massive, and Ed politely says

“Yes please, if you have one to spare.” Her name was Kathleen and she wanted nothing other than to hand out healthy sandwiches to people sitting in the park. I could see from the one in Ed’s hand that they had large pieces of fresh chicken, tomatoes, piled with lettuce and cucumber, and mayonnaise. It warmed my heart as I watched Kathleen walk away towards another gentleman sitting about ten feet away and offer him a sandwich.

"Thank you!" Ed says as Kathleen moves further away. "Thank you for the sandwich!"

 

“Oh, I did deliver newspapers too. I had a newspaper route. I delivered The Columbian (the first newspaper in British Columbia, out of New Westminster - *Fact Check - see link below). I did that for a while before working as a landscaper at Bear Creek Park,” he said. Ed was sitting holding his sandwich and waiting for me to ask him more questions without talking another bit. I told him to go ahead and eat. He took a bite, finished what he had in his mouth and sat and waited to talk some more. After working for a few years in landscaping, Ed got a job working in a pipe manufacturing plant.

“I don’t actually know how long I worked there for. It’s been while since I’ve even thought about any of this. It was so long ago. I know I worked in a pipe manufacturing plant though. That I do know,” he said.  

 

“That’s about all I remember,” he said. I asked what the last job he had was. He took another bite of his sandwich, then wiped the corners of his mouth and sat thinking.

“I worked at Army & Navy in New Westminster. In New Westminster, at Army & Navy. I was in shipping and receiving from 1978 until 1986. Shipping and receiving. I should never have left that job,” he told me. I mentioned that as a kid, my mother used to take me to that location to get school supplies.

“I worked at the New Westminster store. Is that where you went?” He seemed pleased we had that in common. “I never should have left that job.” 

 

Ed hasn’t worked much since then.

“I’m currently unemployed. I’d like to be working. I’d like to have a job, but I don’t. I’m unemployed just now.” He lives in an SRO (single room occupancy) hotel on Powell Street in the DTES.

“I’ve been there for a few years. It’s just a room. Just the one small room,” he says pointing in the direction of his home. I ask what he does with his time, to fill his day.

“Well, I don’t do much. I’m sitting here waiting for the sun to go down a bit so that it will be cooler, then I’m going to go home and have a nap. But it’s nice to sit here on the grass.” 

 

Ed tells me he doesn’t have many friends and that he spends most of his time alone.

“I’d like to stop drinking,” he says putting the last piece of his sandwich in his mouth. He finishes what he's eating before continuing to talk.

“I want to stop drinking. But then I get my cheque and I start drinking and then, that’s it. I’d like to stop though.” I'm certain that Ed is sober while we are talking. I ask if he does anything to make extra money.

“No, I don’t collect bottles or go binning. I'm unemployed. I don’t do that. I just walk around,” he says.

“I don’t read. I like to listen to music. I like country and western music. i like music a lot. Country music.”

 

Ed goes on to tell me,

“My sister lives in North Vancouver, with her boyfriend. I really don’t know what she’s up to these days. We’ve sort of lost contact. My Mum and Dad live out in Surrey. They’re in an old peoples home now. They used come down and visit me. In my room. It’s just over there,” he says pointing in the direction of his home.

“But they’re old now and don’t walk very well, so they don’t come to visit me. And I don’t go out to Surrey anymore. I don’t know when I last saw them. I don’t see them anymore.” 

 

I thank Ed for chatting with me, and ask if I can take his picture.

“Sure,” he says. Ed looks right at the lens. The sun and shade from the tree overhead are moving across his face, so I take a few pictures. I ask him if he wants to smile for the picture.

“Like this you mean?” His expression doesn’t change. I tell him that's great and show him the last shot I took. I shake his hand and stand up and thank him again.

“What is your name?” he asks.

“Oh, well thanks Colin. It was nice talking with you. Thank you. Thanks Colin!” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1s2Q1uB

Day 256 - Tyler

Day 256 - Tyler (1st person I approached)
September 13, 2014 - I spotted Tyler outside a coffee shop, He was sitting in the shade, reading a newspaper when I approached him. I noticed that as I was explaining to him what I was doing, he folded and put down the newspaper. I took it as a sign of good manners, and a willingness to chat. I was correct on both counts!

 

Tyler was born in Uxbridge, about an hour’s drive from Toronto, in south-central Ontario.

“I have an older sister and a younger sister. There is about twenty-two months between each of us, so we’re close in age and grew up very close as well,” said Tyler.

“My father was the first person in his family to go to university. He went on to get his Master’s degree and became a school principal. Education was important in our family. I know for sure that I could have been a problem child growing up in a rural town in Canada. But in our house we were taught respect. We were raised to have good manners. Jeans were something that you wore for play time, after the school work was finished. The amount of television I watched in a day was measured equal to the amount of time I put into practising piano,” he said. 

 

Tyler did all of his schooling in Uxbridge.

“I was always more of an outdoor kid. I played hockey, baseball, soccer, and football. The class ahead of mine was the first one that were able to go into French immersion. But it was like my peers were from a television show. I felt like I was surrounded by some of the most intelligent, good looking people around,” he said. After graduating from high-school, Tyler went to university.

“I did that because it was what was done. I went to Lakehead University. Out of all the schools I looked at, it was the one that was the furthest away from Uxbridge while still being in Ontario. I wasn't running away, I just wanted to be somewhere different from where I had lived all my life. And it was on Lake Superior so the outdoor activities were great,” he said.

“I was looking at becoming a Park Ranger, studying Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism. I was taking Psychology as well.” Tyler lived in residence on campus, his first time away from home.

“Surprisingly, I managed to pass my exams, despite the amount of classes I missed. I discovered rock climbing while I was there too. I did lots of that. But after the first year, I decided that university just wasn’t my thing. My parents aren’t what I'd call strict, but it was my first time saying ‘I think this is what I’m going to do,’ and then I quit school,” said Tyler. 

 

“My uncle was living in northern Ontario and had a construction company. He offered me a job working with him on a few houses he was building. My father is Canada’s worst handyman. Seriously. His tool kit consisted of a hammer and a screwdriver, so I had no idea about construction. My uncle taught me everything, and it seemed like it took me a long time to learn. But after a while, it felt like I was a natural and I felt like I had found my thing. I really enjoyed building,” he said.

“I had a girlfriend and we had talked about travelling. It was my first ‘real, mature’ relationship,” he said, using his fingers to make gestures implying italics.

“I wanted to go to Australia, and she wanted to go somewhere else. In the end I went to Australia,” he said.

“It was amazing. I spent about eight months there, smoking pot and wearing very little clothing. That was a great trip!” After Australia, Tyler headed back to northern Ontario. 
 

“I went back into construction, and got some more experience with a few other companies. I managed to work my way up and began working in management as a supervisor,” he said. In time, Tyler moved south and worked in the Toronto area.

“The construction industry was in a down turn and I was in between jobs. I had applied to go back to school and got accepted. I was satisfied knowing that I had what it would take to go back to school if I wanted, so I was okay to pass on that opportunity,” he said. 

 

“I always knew that I’d like to live in BC (British Columbia) at some point. I got offered a job in Revelstoke, working on a major project that was planned to take a number of years. That was my move to BC,” said Tyler.

“I did that for a while. I didn’t want to stay forever in Revelstoke though. It was good, but it was another rural town. One day, I was sitting at my computer with my resume open and I landed on a website for windmill construction and installations. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the job opportunities and found one that seemed to fit my skill set. The deadline date had already passed three days before, but I thought ‘why not’ and sent my resume. A week later I had interviewed and then went through the necessary checks and got a job offer,” he said. Tyler has been working in the power-generating windmill industry for a few years now. 

 

“I’ve travelled around with the job, from Alberta, down to California and some time in Palm Springs as well. I work on some of the largest and highest installations of windmills going,” he said. Tyler works on a project-driven schedule. He is in a longterm relationship.

“My girlfriend isn’t sure where she wants to end up and that’s okay. We’re on the same page. But if she asked me to stop travelling for work and stay home, I would. I’m thirty-eight now and thinking that it might be time to think about settling down.” Tyler had been waiting for his girlfriend while she was in a dentist’s appointment. She texted him to say she was finished.

“I don’t care for the things that come easily. It's the things you have to work for that mean more.”

 

“Looking back, I know that my childhood was an unusual one. It was unusual in that it doesn’t happen anymore, or, it’s not common place. My parents are still married. They live in the same house I was born in. We we’re like the Cleavers. I knew it was different than my friends and others around me. And I’m grateful for that.” #notastranger

Day 255 - Lawrence

Day 255 - Lawrence (5th person I approached)

**NOTE Sept 13, 2014 - I received a message yesterday from Lawrence asking me to remove his photo from this story. Out of respect for his personal wishes, I have done so. This is how this story unfolds.


September 12, 2014 - A couple of people that I approached today gave me glimpses into their lives, but didn’t want their picture taken. It always works out okay, because ultimately I meet the person that I’m meant to talk with. It still amazes me though, how polite people are (almost one hundred percent of the time) when declining.

 

Lawrence was born in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.

“My mother’s brother lived in Vancouver (British Columbia), and when I was five years old, we moved here. I have a few picture-like memories of living in Manila, and then being on the plane. Landing at the airport and meeting relatives that were there to pick us up,” he said.

“My parents are Chinese, and spoke a lesser known Chinese dialect, that is close to Taiwanese. When we moved to Canada, we all spoke English as much as we could. My parents thought it would be better if we all learned together. They had jobs and needed to speak English. I grew up speaking English at home and at school. I took a Chinese language class in elementary school, but it was Mandarin. The language my parents spoke was closer to Cantonese, so I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I didn’t continue with that class for long,” he said, smiling.

 

When Lawrence moved from elementary to high-school, he went from a public to a private school.

“I think a small part of it was the elevated status, but it was, for the most, that my parents thought I’d get a better education. It was interesting because we had been going to an Anglican church before I went to the private school, which was Catholic. It allowed me to learn about another religion. I became more aware of religion, and I ended up taking more of a step back and looking at what elements appealed to me, and what didn’t. I believe in a higher power, but I’m not what you’d call religious,” he said. 

 

“I was a typical Asian student in high-school; good at Maths, Sciences and PE (Physical Education),” he said, laughing at himself.

“I remained friends with the people I went to elementary school with and I think that our educations were fairly similar. In fact, the public school offered more elective classes because there were more students. We didn’t have, say, automotive class or workshops in private school,” he said.

 

After graduating from high-school, Lawrence went to Langara College.

“I was working towards getting into human kinetics, combining study of the human body and sciences. Because of the grades required to get into kinetics, certain classes weren’t available. I didn’t want to keep taking just one or two classes each semester. I did that for about two years and then changed my focus,” he said.

“My course counsellor suggested nursing, which I had never thought about. Looking back, it all happened for the best. I’m glad the way things went.” Lawrence spent another three and a half years studying to become a Registered Nurse.

“In my second year I did what is called ‘working student nurse’ and worked at St Paul’s Hospital (Vancouver). It was an incredible experience to get hands-on learning and to shadow nurses on the job,” he said.

 

As a registered nurse, Lawrence has focussed his attention toward working on the cardiac ward. “It was something as soon as I had exposure to, I knew I wanted to do. That’s one of the great things about nursing, there are so many different directions a nurse's career can move in,” he said. When I had approached Lawrence and asked him to chat, I also asked if he had enough time to chat. He told me that he was in no hurry and was just working on a few work-related emails and some paperwork. I was curious what he would be doing at a coffee shop that related to his nursing, so of course I asked.

“Well, a friend of mine is involved in training through Langara College. I was contacted and asked to help out for four months, training some student nurses. So I’m just making sure that I’ve got as much organized as I can. I want to be prepared and make sure it’s a good experience for the students,” he told me. Lawrence will be helping guide seven students who are just beginning their second year of nursing college.

“I did some one-on-one training in the hospital before. This time it’s seven students, so it’s a different challenge. It’s only for four months, and I figured it would be a great opportunity to help out. Just as people helped me when I was a student in school, I want to help too.”

 

Looking forward and thinking about his future, Lawrence says he may at some point move into Patient Education.

“When someone is a patient in hospital, there’s so much going on for them. They're getting all kinds of information, and the emotions are often in high gear. They don’t always take in everything they need to know. Patient Education is sitting down with a patient and going over what they need to know, ideally before they get discharged. Medications, therapy, follow-up. Making sure they have the information they need and can take some time to think of the questions they might have,” he said.

“At St Paul’s, it's a well run system. I’ve seen some other hospitals and it can get pretty chaotic and things fall through the cracks," said Lawrence. 

 

"I love working at St Paul’s. Not only because it has such a great reputation, but as the mission statement says ‘Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself.' That goes to everyone. The staff are a family, a tight team that really care about one another and about our patients.” #notastranger

Day 254 - Alexandra

Day 254 - Alexandra (1st person I approached)
September 11, 2014 - Occasionally, I can spot someone and in my gut, somehow, I know that person will chat with me. I’ve been wrong a few times but I’m correct more often than not. I spotted Alexandra sitting near one of my favourite people watching spots. She was talking on her phone. I avoided sitting right next to her, thus making myself a subject of her conversation, and sat down about twenty feet away and waited. Not a tactic I’ve employed before, and I did tell Alexandra that I had been creeping her. Fortunately, she laughed! And more importantly, still said she’d chat with me.

 

Born In Mission, British Columbia (BC), Alexandra has lived there all her life.

“Mission is a great place to grow up as a kid. My parents had seven acres of land and we had lots of space for dirt bikes and ATV's (all terrain vehicles). We made up our own games,” said Alexandra.

“My father is a logger and he leased most of our land to the farm next door for their use. We couldn’t have used it all, but we certainly had lots of space to play as kids.” Alexandra has one older sister and one younger brother.

“We were all close growing up. I think in part because of the way our parents raised us, but also because living in a rural kind of area, we often only had each other for company. I might have had a bit of the middle child issues, but for the most part, we were good friends growing up,” she told me.

 

“School was ok. I just wanted to get through it. My mother drove us there most days. She was very involved with our schooling as well. She was on the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), and then she was PAC President (Parent Advisory Council). She’s a school Trustee now. My mother was definitely involved with our school,” said Alexandra.

“In Grade twelve I took two photography classes, and fell in love with photography. The class was using film, so I was learning not only about taking picture’s, but also how to develop and process the film. I really liked that class.” Alexandra’s grandfather and an aunt had been interested in photography as well.

“I’ve been around photographers for years,” she said.

 

After graduating from high-school, Alexandra wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

“I had applied to a couple of different schools and got accepted to both of them. One was to study for Business Management. I went for about a week and then left. It wasn’t of any interest to me. The other school I didn’t even go to, I just turned down the acceptance,” she said. Alexandra got a job working at a fashion clothing retailer.

“I did that for a year or so while I figured out what I wanted to do. I applied to go get into a digital photography course at the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts, which is also called VanArts (*Fact Check - see links below). The program was a year long,” she said. After graduating from VanArts, Alexandra still didn’t know what direction she wanted to take her photography in.

“There's a small independent country-type grocers out by where we live and I got a job there. I did that for a couple of years. Then I got a job working at a heavy maintenance centre,” said Alexandra. I had to ask what that was.

“They have a contract with the Military to do heavy maintenance on aircraft, specifically Hercules and Super Hercules aircraft. I do the paperwork and administration for the military work we do. It’s a great job and I really like working there. My sister works there now as well,” she said.

 

Alexandra has started showing her photography work.

“I just participated in the Portobello West show that happened at the Olympic Village. I sold a few of my pieces and it was just a great opportunity to network and get some of my photography work out there. I’m more of a landscape and arts photographer as opposed to portraits or people. I don’t photograph people,” she said.

“I work three days a week at the heavy maintenance company, so that gives me four days a week to get out and do more of my own thing. I’m came to Vancouver today because a client asked me for a specific type of photograph, so I came into town to get that shot.” (**Fact Check - see links below.)

 

Five years ago, at the age of twenty, Alexandra and her sister, who was twenty-two at the time, bought a house together.

“It’s in Mission. One day perhaps I’d like to move to Vancouver, but everyone has told me how lucky I am to be a homeowner already. I’m happy to be where I am right now. Our little brother recently moved in as well. That took a little bit of adjustment and setting some ground rules as we went along. But yeah, I know it’s kind of weird and doesn’t happen very often, but the three of us have moved out and are all roommates now. Some people think it’s kind of weird. But who wants to be normal?” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://www.vanarts.com/about-us

**Fact Check - http://portobellowest.com/about/

***Fact Check -   http://www.acarterphotography.com