The Way It Is

“Said, hey little boy you can’t go where the others go,
‘Cause you don’t look like they do…”

from “The Way It Is”, by Bruce Hornsby and The Range

I grew up in a brand new subdivision of Richmond BC in the late 50’s and 60’s. Our house was a split level, one of many that were built around that time. As more families moved into the neighbourhood, new friendships were formed, especially among the youngest of us.

When the weather was good, my friends and I played outside all day, every day. In the evening, each kid’s parents would take turns yelling out the kitchen door that it was time to come home.

Right across the street from my house was the elementary school with a park, a couple of baseball diamonds, and a wading pool.

It was a great place to grow up.

Many of my neighbourhood friends were Japanese. This was mostly due to the fact that we lived quite close to the oldest subdivision in Richmond, Steveston, which included a large community of Japanese fishers and their boats. Some Japanese families were descendants of a group of immigrants who originally came to Steveston years earlier because of the fishing. Steveston borders on the Fraser River, so a lot of people I knew back then worked at the cannery, if they didn’t have a boat or a tackle shop.

I’m not sure that I paid much attention to the fact that some of my friends were Japanese. Sure, sometimes their parents would put different food on the table and decorate their dwellings with items I hadn’t seen before. As a result, the kids in my neighbourhood learned about other traditions, and ate sushi long before it was fashionable. But my house had different food too; Danish food, and flags everywhere because my parents were Danish. So “different” seemed par for the course in our ‘hood.

I got a tape recorder for my birthday once, and I was busy taping everything I could think of. I still have some of the old cassettes. On one of those recordings, my friend was over visiting and you can hear my Mom and Dad and I teaching her a Danish lullaby. Then you can hear her teaching us a Japanese song, a little song about a turtle, which we all sang together. “Moshi, moshi, kame yo!” That tape is a treasure.

Every July 1st, Steveston played host to the Salmon Festival and Parade. There was a lot of food, especially salmon, of course. There was the parade itself, and plenty of entertainment going on all day. At one of those festivals, I remember joining in with some other girls and learning a Japanese dance on the lawns of the local Buddhist church.

On another occasion a friend’s father invited me to go fishing with the family. He drove us all in his big camper to the Stanley Park seawall, where he showed us the fine art of smelt fishing. We swam out into the water, pulling ourselves along the fishing net, plucking the tiny silver fish off the net and bringing them back to shore. I got stung by a jellyfish, but all in all, it was great fun.

And then something else happened in Richmond. During the 70’s we started to see a lot of East Indian families move into our neighbourhood. That’s when I first became aware of this thing called “racism”. One East Indian family moved into a house only a block or so from where I lived. There was a boy, maybe 10 or 12 years old at the time, who lived in the house right next to them. He made sure they knew he didn’t want them there. He yelled profanities at them and threw dog excrement on their home. I felt so bad for them. Where did all that hate come from?

Recently, I watched a Frontline documentary called “A Class Divided”. The first part of the story took place in 1968, just after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., when a teacher, Jane Elliott, decided to talk with her third grade class about discrimination and racism in light of King’s death. But she soon realized that just talking with her class wasn’t really getting them anywhere. These kids came from neighbourhoods that were not very diverse, so they couldn’t really relate to the idea of discrimination.

Instead, Ms. Elliott came up with a two-day “Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes” exercise for her class, basically giving preferential treatment to the kids in the class with blue eyes on the first day. The next day, she reversed the process and the brown-eyed kids got the special treatment. The children’s reaction to each other under those circumstances was unsettling.

Frontline brought them all together years later to talk about how that exercise changed them, which it did in profound ways.

In the past few weeks, anti-Asian violence has become more prevalent, mostly against women. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it really hit home for me when one of my oldest friends, who still lives in Richmond, told me that she was fearful of going out in public, not because of COVID, but because she feared for her safety. She was starting to get dirty looks from Caucasian people, as if it was suddenly okay to treat her that way.

The truth is, of course, that racism has always been around. And we are not born with it, it is taught. Some of my childhood friends may have experienced racial insults, or worse, without ever talking about it back then. But this little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl had been oblivious to it.

In a perfect world, kids would grow up in diverse neighbourhoods similar to mine with adults around them who encouraged their interaction with each other. I am forever grateful that I was so lucky.

Out For A Walk

Steveston Fishermen's WharfImage via Wikipedia

One day when I was about 12 years old, I was about to be sent home from school because I had come down with the flu.  The nurse at the school tried to call my mother at home, but there was no answer.

I knew where she was.  She was out walking.  I didn’t realize at the time that the reason my mother had taken up walking was because of her cancer diagnosis;  she was out almost every day walking anywhere from two to four miles.  It was the only time I ever saw her wear pants and running shoes.  When I was five years old, my Dad’s car kicked the bucket, and since we couldn’t afford another one, we went without a car for about five years.  My Dad was a bus driver, so we either walked or took the bus anywhere and everywhere for those years.  The three of us walked to the neighbourhood grocery story every Friday evening and packed home the week’s groceries.  It was just our routine.  As a kid, Dad loved walking or hiking everywhere either alone or with a friend, and often walked up the famous Grouse Grind on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, long before it became cool to do that!  As he got older, he never stopped walking, and would often choose to walk rather than take the car. 

Many years later I was out on my usual walk when I suddenly remembered my mother’s walks, and realized that we had both chosen the same activity as a health benefit.  At first, walking was something I did occasionally, especially when I was in Richmond visiting my family.  The boardwalk by the Fraser River in Steveston is a lovely walk, but my little Fernwood neighbourhood here in Victoria is also a pleasant route. These days, I try to walk four times a week and as the weather improves sometimes I walk pretty much every day.  In the last few months I’ve focused on it even more, especially after reading a few stories on the benefits of walking for at least half-an-hour at a time.  It keeps your weight in check, of course, but I’ve always thought of it as the most obvious form of exercise a human being can choose.  We were made to walk.

My sister runs.  I hate running.  It always feels like my innards are being pounded into mush, never mind the crunching sound my knees and hips make when I have to dash across a street to avoid a car, for instance.  I gloated to my sister once when I found out that at a certain distance, running and walking burn the same amount of calories.  Take THAT!  Yeah!  She just looked at me with her little smile, knowing full well that she’s in better shape than I am, regardless of any of my proclamations.  Good thing she’s OLDER so I can at least rub that in.  I win 🙂

A couple of months ago I found an article all about walking.  I found out that your weight x distance = the energy consumed by walking, so I immediately opened Google Earth and used the distance tool to calculate how far my usual walks were taking me and how many calories I was burning.  Hmmmm.  Okay, so not that great.  I fiddled around a bit and adjusted a few blocks this way and that way and came to a new route that would burn more calories.  The other caloric element that wasn’t taken into consideration was the fact that I live on a hill.  No matter which way I go, I eventually have to go uphill to get home again.  That boosts the caloric numbers too, so I decided to find the street with the steepest grade, just to make it even better. The first time I attempted that street, I was wheezing by the time I had only gotten a quarter of the way up.  Holy crap.  Half way up and my legs were aching and my heart pounding out of my chest.  When I reached the top, outside of being completely winded, I had a hot flash.  Sheesh.  But I did it.  And I’ve incorporated that street into most of my daily walks since.  It’s gotten somewhat easier, but it still kills me.

Aside from gardening and golfing, walking is what keeps me sane and centred.  There is the physical benefit, to be sure, but the emotional and mental benefits are just as important to me, if not more so.  Some days when it’s wet and cold out there, it’s hard to get motivated, but once I am out the door, I immediately feel better.  Even though I go at a pretty good clip, I pay attention to trees and birds and gardens and to the people I often see on a regular basis.  I always say hello or good morning and serve up my best smile.  By the time I get home, I’m stress-free and at peace with the world.

When my cat became ill and started to lose his kidney function a few months back, I found a vet that was within walking distance so I could incorporate the visits to pick up his specialized food and medication.  And these days, instead of hopping in the car to go to the bank or to the grocery store, I stick on a backpack and walk it instead.  Fortunately we have a mall fairly close to us that has pretty much everything we need.  With some encouragement, I occasionally convince my husband to walk with me there and back, but for the most part I walk alone and enjoy every moment.

It has been on my mind in the last while that I should one day take you on a small, pictorial tour of my walk, just to show you some of the interesting sights I have come across.   If I can ever remember to take my camera with me, I will do just that.  Maybe you’d enjoy taking a walk with me :-).


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