Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dean's Appointment Committee

UVic Law

People go to law school for different reasons. We all came to this particular law school for different reasons, and that really shapes what we value in a Dean. We’ve found ourselves in an exciting place - as current students and future alumni, we have the opportunity to participate in a decision that is made only every 5 years. It’s crucial that we make the most of it!

The Dean’s Appointment Committee is composed of 9 members, each with one vote, and a Dean is selected by simple majority vote after a 5 month selection process. The fact that there is only one JD student position shouldn’t reflect in any way that there should only be one set of priorities brought to the Committee. The role of the JD student rep is to represent the entire constituency. Having spoken to many of you, I’ve found that we’re concerned about a full range of things: reputation, tuition, commitment to community, faculty hiring and dismissal practices, admissions. These are our priorities, and we need to better understand them so we can bring a full perspective to the table.

The first order of business for the committee is to create a set of selection criteria with which to assess the candidates. The next is to interview a short-list and to organize opportunities for students to meet the candidates. The last is to vote. Every step is an opportunity for us to be involved.

If elected, my priority would be to find out what we as students want in a Dean, and to make sure that the student consultation process is one that works for you. That may involve well crafted surveys, town halls or opportunities for open dialogue. Having spoken to several of you, I’ve found that many of you want some opportunity to be involved in the process (a survey, a few meetings), but would ultimately want to elect someone who you can trust to be diligent and conscientious. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve found that many of you want a representative who will provide the opportunity to think critically about the identity and long-term direction of the law school, and engage strongly with the process. Both are so valid. I want to make sure that you have the chance to participate as fully as you would like, while representing your interests equally regardless of your level of involvement.

Why would I be a good candidate to represent the student contingency? The first reason is that I care a lot about the quality of our education, and of our law school. During my first year I took every opportunity to participate in curriculum review, and I submitted suggestions for how student engagement in the process could be improved. I also participated in the student feedback process for the interviewing of a new criminal law faculty candidate. When Maxine Matilpi was dismissed I wrote a letter to the VP Academic and Provost expressing my concerns with the dismissal, and its ramifications on student wellbeing. If you’d like to see that letter or the response I received, I’d be happy to share it with you. As JD student rep, I would ensure there’s a strong voice representing the full student perspective.

The second is that I have a lot of experience setting meetings, facilitating discussions, collecting feedback, organizing information and managing the communication of that process.  During my undergraduate degree I was the Finance and Operations Director of a not for profit organization, and my portfolio included the management of several different working groups. In addition to facilitating student consultation, I would keep everyone apprised of the selection process, report on major milestones, maintain a thorough record of consultation that students can access, and make myself available to provide information and to take comments and suggestions seriously. I’d set up a website to house all of this information, so you can access it when it’s convenient for you. I would also have a mailing list that you can opt into or out of, so you can stay updated without being flooded.

The third is that I intend to commit to this position. For student representation to be meaningful, it will involve a lot of commitment from the student representative, and I am no stranger to commitment. This position would be a priority in my schedule, and I intend to spend a significant amount of time reading surveys, attending meetings, facilitating discussions, answering questions, and doing everything that is necessary to represent students fully.

And as for who I am, I’m a second year law student who did her undergraduate degree in environmental biology at Queen’s University. I’m from Waterloo, Ontario, and during law school I also volunteer as a Sexual Assault Response Worker with the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre. Most of my past employment has been in a range of not for profits, and I came to UVic law because I was looking for a small, community focused school that would be supportive and collegial. I’m happy to say that I’ve found a great fit! Some of my favourite things include landscape photography, practicing yoga and eating fried chicken.

Let’s make the most of this opportunity! If this is an approach that fits with your vision for the Dean’s appointment process, I would really appreciate your vote for JD Student Representative on the Dean’s Appointment Committee. Voting takes place online, from this Thursday August 16 to next Wednesday August 22. I hope to work with you in the months to come!

Sharon Zheng

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


It's August! Where did July go?!

I've found that my last few weeks have been a bit rough. I was starting to feel pretty overwhelmed, exhausted, and I wasn't enjoying my time at work or in this corner of the province nearly as much as I had when I started. I was feeling pretty run down.

The other day I started working through this workbook on compassion fatigue that Karen sent me a few weeks ago. Compassion fatigue is (from what I understand) an exhaustion of your ability to feel empathy, similar in symptoms to burn out, PTSD and vicarious trauma. People who work in the "helping profession" are fairly prone to it. I found it really useful to start reading about it, because it gave me a framework to better understand why I might be feeling overwhelmed. 

Thinking about it objectively, I think it's super normal to feel exhausted. A bunch of stressful things were coinciding (still are coinciding!). I feel really good about starting to recognize it though. At Kim's suggestion I bought a sketchbook and some pencil crayons to do some colour sketching and I already feel better. 


This profession is stressful. Working with people who come to you because they're in a dilly of a pickle is stressful.  Being a student is stressful. Trying to figure out what you want to do with your career is stressful. Thinking about how you can explain why you're interested in insolvency law in an interview when you're not actually sure what it is is stressful.

And yet we're not really taught how to manage it, or even to take self care seriously. So here's a question for you:


Thursday, July 19, 2012

My role in Canada's impending demographic mess

$100,000. It is the amount of money the government offers (tax-free) to recent university graduates in long-term committed relationships to help bear the financial burden of having a child. The money is designed to account for the opportunity cost borne by recent graduates who put off entering the workforce (or pursuing further education) when they decide to have children shortly after graduation. And if you do decide to return to school right after having the child, the program will cover and guarantee a child care spot at the university you attend. They might even forgive your student loans.

Obviously, no such program exists. Rather it is the brainchild of my friend KH, who uses it to help demonstrate demographic issues in the high school classes he teaches. The program is full of holes, as any thought experiment designed to promote critical and engaging thinking should. But it will certainly not be the only radical solution proposed to Canada's impending demographic storm. The baby-boomers are hitting retirement age. Health care costs are expected to skyrocket and pension funds are likely to be emptied before my generation can touch it. And the tax base that pays for this stuff is shrinking. Canadians are having less kids and less often. Immigration policies have created a multicultural Canada, but immigration is expensive and sometimes borderline unethical -- see "brain drain".

There are all sorts of reasons young Canadians are not having kids in the same way their parents did. But it is difficult for me to really think about it without first figuring out my own role in all of it. After all, I'm part of that critical demographic wandering through my procreation years trying to balance that desire with other career and life ambitions.

For all intents and purposes, I could have a kid and get along relatively well. I'm 24 years old. I'm healthy. I'm in a serious relationship. I have a supportive family. I'm educated and figure that even in this market I could find a job. My financial situation is comfortable. I like kids and I think I might very well like to have some kids in the future. But why do I not want to have kids right now?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The wacky world of hockey tickets...

Have you ever tried to buy tickets to an NHL hockey game? In Canada, it ain't easy and it ain't cheap.

Over the last year I have jumped deeply into the world of NHL hockey tickets. It is a wacky world. And there is much more going than meets the eye.

Let's first take a look at the pricing of tickets. The average cost of a ticket in Canadian markets varies widely: Ottawa ($56); Edmonton ($60); Calgary ($60); Vancouver ($65); Winnipeg ($82); Montreal ($82); and Toronto ($114). Of course, these are just average ticket prices, so you can often find seats in the upper decks for cheaper than the average price. But even then, lots of Canadians can't afford that. In Toronto, the face-value (that is, the price charged by the Maple Leafs) of upper deck seats rarely go lower than $65. Moreover, lots of teams use outlets like Ticketmaster to sell single game tickets, which likes to charge all sorts of convenience charges, much like you would find for concert tickets.

But this is far from the whole story. In some markets, the likelihood of actually finding tickets at these prices is negligible. In Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto, demand for tickets far outstrips supply. Most tickets in an arena are reserved for season ticket holders, so the remaining single game tickets get swept up very quickly - sometimes you can get lucky finding a single seat by itself or grabbing last-minute seats given up by someone else, including players. Apply the standard rule of economics: when demand outstrips supply, prices will go up.

This has spawned secondary markets. The days of scalpers standing outside an arena offering tickets at a significant markup are gone. The internet is a far more efficient vehicle. Tickets can be found from private sellers on sites like Kijiji, Craigslist and EBay. But like any purchase from a stranger online, you run the risk of being screwed over. They could just give you fake tickets, like some unfortunate Winnipeg fans found out the hard way. More legitimate sites have popped up, including the behemoth StubHub. But the convenience of availability and legitimacy has a price. For major market teams like Toronto and Montreal, ticket prices on StubHub usually exceed face value by 200-300%. And even then, you can't be guaranteed a quality product.

But isn't selling above face-value illegal? Technically, yes. But so is crossing the street on a red light. The enforcement of scalping (selling tickets above face-value) is incredibly difficult for police services. In big cities, already cash-strapped police departments often have bigger fish to fry. Fraudulent ticket charges can grab some attention, but even then it isn't very easy to troll the internet looking for the culprits.

Some teams have taken it into their own hands. The Winnipeg Jets, caught in a frenzy of interest when the team announced its return to Winnipeg, made it very clear that if any season ticket holders were caught selling tickets above face value, their tickets would be revoked. They weren't kidding. Hundreds of tickets have been revoked, including a professional ticket broker in Richmond, Virginia who spoke openly about his intention to sell at a markup - he didn't seem to realize that saying such things on the record to a reporter, my Dad, might have some consequences.

But teams like Toronto don't appear to have much interest in doing so. They really don't need to. The tickets they sell are already bringing significant revenue to the team. Moreover, most of the tickets on the secondary market are sold by season ticket holders. When your team is as terrible and as engrained as the Leafs, a deep investigation of your longtime ticket holders - some since the 1930s - could be a tad unpopular. Indeed, the Leafs actually seem to be in the business of apologizing to their fans.    

Getting your hands on season tickets can be next to impossible. Teams in Canada have waiting lists, but even then, you're in it for the long haul. In Vancouver, the list is currently sitting around 3,300, which is supposed to take 10+ years to get through. The team charges you an initial $150/seat fee to get on the list, and you pay an annual $50 fee to remain on the list - $25 of that goes towards any future ticket purchases. In Winnipeg, season tickets last summer sold out in only a few minutes and the team was forced to cap the waitlist at 8,000. Many of those have since dropped off the list. In Toronto the list is estimated at 4,000, but with a retention rate above 99% you are looking beyond 20 years before getting a chance to grab tickets.

In order to speed up the process, Maple Leafs fans can turn to Personal Seat Licenses (PSL). Season ticket holders can pay a one time fee to the Leafs to purchase a license to the seats, essentially making the seats a legal asset. Depending on the price point of the annual season tickets, the one-time license fee could vary from $5,000 - $40,000 per seat. Apart from the tax benefits of this legal asset (if the seats are under a business' name), the PSL can allow people to jump the 20 year queue. Let me explain: Say you have a pair of Leafs season tickets you no longer want or can afford. You can only transfer the tickets within your immediate family, but nobody wants them. If you decide not to renew them, the next person on the waiting list has the right of first refusal to the tickets. The owner of a PSL, however, has the right of first refusal to the seats on the license. Say you have a friend who loves the Leafs and desperately wants your season tickets. You can purchase a PSL from the Leafs and turn around and sell the license to your friend for a price over and above what you paid the Leafs. For example, you buy a PSL for $10,000 from the Leafs. Then you sell your PSL to your friend for $20,000. You've made a $10,000 profit. Since your friend now owns the PSL, when the seats come available, he has the right of first refusal. No need to wait 20 years.

This method of jumping the queue is becoming ever more popular. There is even a company that brokers these deals.

Thankfully, for most hockey fans the best seats are in front of the TV. And with HD technology getting more affordable by the second, high quality hockey in the comfort of your own home (or pub) is well within reach. But, admittedly, there is nothing quite like being in the arena, caught up in the frenzy of the crowd. Too bad it's so wacky to get your hands on some tickets.

*Chris is Toronto Maple Leafs Season Ticket Holder and the tickets have been in the family since the early 1980s. Here's to hoping they make the playoffs again in his lifetime*   

Thursday, July 5, 2012

More Musings from the Mid-point

I like Karen's post a whole lot, so I thought I'd do the same! Here are some things I've learned so far:

1. Somedays I really worry that I'm making peoples' lives worse. For example, I'll look back at how I handled something, and think "... so I could have done that better ...". And then I wonder if someone's life will fall apart because I didn't do my job better. It's a really big responsibility doing legal work, and I feel that there's a lot of pressure that comes with peoples' trust. But in reality, I really won't make or break peoples' lives. If someone is determined to get something done, they will do it. If I don't provide all the information the first time they'll come back again a second. If someone is determined to not get something done, they won't do it, regardless of how well I do my job. People have agency! We just help. We're not perfect, but that's okay (as long we're not negligent).

2. Trust your instincts and have faith in your work. This is something that my supervising lawyer told me the other day. We have instincts for a reason. A few weeks ago someone (who I had helped a client face in a dispute) came in to the centre to make a complaint about me. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, since I help clients with disputes against a whole host of people who would rather not be confronted with legal action. I didn't think I did anything wrong, but it made me really second guess my actions, which then made me really nervous and feel very bullied. When I spoke with my supervising lawyer to ask if I was in trouble he said "you did nothing wrong - except be too hard on yourself".

3. It's a small world. Sometimes, even a vague description is enough to give away information that is confidential. Especially in a small town! When in doubt, don't talk about it.

4. Just because we care doesn't mean we can. I'm really tempted to say to everyone who walks in the door that I can help them, as much as I can. Unfortunately we turn people away sometimes - for example, the centre's funding covers poverty law, and excludes family law (even though they sometimes intermix). And sometimes we turn people away because what they're asking is too high liability, and should really be done by a lawyer. A lot of the time I just want to wave my arms and say "They can't afford a lawyer!! We're the best service they can get! Can't we just do what we can??". But the answer is we can't. My supervising lawyer asked me why I thought I should help someone with a divorce and I said "because I care!". To which he responded "well so does her hairdresser - doesn't mean they should be providing legal help". Fair enough. But I wish there was more funding to help low income people with family law issues.

5. Life is better when you have evenings off.

6. If you transplant radishes, they will all die. Same for beets. Pretty much any root vegetable.

7. If you make a goal to score one goal during the soccer season, make sure you specify that it's a goal for your team. Or you might score that one goal in your own net. During your last game. And lose 6-0.

8. Despite being the "common law", the law's not intuitive. Just because you have a lot of very legitimate complaints doesn't mean there's a remedy for you. The law's not a mix and match system of "here are the things someone did to me" and "here's what I want as recompense". It's instead a highly complex set of paths and you have to find your way to one of them and ride it to the end. I guess the purpose of equitable remedies is to provide more flexible solutions, but imagine how hard it is for someone to self-represent and argue that they should get an equitable remedy. I mean, I hardly understand what/ where the court of equity is.

9. Self-care is important:


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Musings from the mid-point

I'm halfway through my summer work term and I thought it might be a good time to take stock of what I've learned so far. Most of is it completely unrelated to law.

1. Court forms are long, complicated, and impossible to fill out correctly on your first try. Sometimes the court registry staff takes pity on you and tells you what to change, and sometimes they don't. It's frustrating as a law student, but almost insurmountable as a self-represented claimant. This can be a huge barrier to justice if the claimant has poor literacy skills. This can also be a huge barrier to me ever filing anything successfully. I'm on round 3 right now!

2. I should have taken a computer repair course. I'm pathetic at solving computer problems, but almost everyone else at my work is worse. I'm one of two people who knows how to PDF documents. Any time there's a serious problem, we're all hooped.

3. Secondhand training about active listening from Sharon has saved my butt more than once. When you work in poverty law, a lot of clients have had bad experiences with governments and other agencies. A lot of what they need is to believe that someone is really and truly listening to them...

4. ...but I'm also not a counsellor. As our pro bono lawyer says, he's the worst, most expensive counsellor his clients will ever have. I don't want to hear my client's entire life stories. I'm getting better at cutting people off.

5. When people find out you're in law, they will launch into a long, convoluted tale of woe. They want your legal advice on problems that you can't believe they are discussing with a complete stranger. At parties. At the grocery store. In the checkout line at Home Hardware. For God's sakes, people, I can't solve your problems and I don't want to hear about how your conniving half-sister cheated on her husband and stole your inheritance. Or maybe I do.

6. If you have any money to your name, write a will. Otherwise it's a total mess, especially if I'm the one helping your spouse/kids.

7. People from Penticton don't eat brunch. Or really understand what it is. If I opened up a brunch place here, I would have to advertise the concept of brunch. BRUNCH IS THE BEST MEAL OF THE DAY.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Yoga Retreat and Pow Wow

I saw this tree while hiking and immediately thought of a story that Chris had read once in a book about logging, where a fallen tree heaved back up and swallowed two men who had been resting against its roots

For a place that's so politically conservative, the North Peace (the region in which Fort St John is located) has struck me as a place that is very open to spiritual well being. I think it's something about being so far north. There's lots of oil and gas exploration out of town so I can't say that the environment is "pristine" or "untouched", but there's something about air that's very calm and settled.

Last weekend I went on a retreat with the yoga studio that I practice with in town. For me, it was just as much an excuse to camp, hike and explore the outdoors as it was to practice yoga. I've been on a few short hikes around town but I've been told that it's rather dangerous without a friend or a firearm (or both) due to bears.

I had a wonderful weekend - it was on Gwillim Lake, which is a 3 hour drive south of here. I was in a frantic hurry to get there on time (not a great way to start a relaxing weekend) so I forgot my camera. On the drive down I tried to make myself feel better by saying to myself that it would be a chance to really look around, instead of always looking through a camera. In the words of John Mayer: 

Didn't have a camera by my side this time,
Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes,
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm,
In the mood to lose my way so let me say,
You should have seen that sunrise,
With your own eyes,
Brought me back to life,
You'll be with my next time, I go outside,
No more 3x5s .

Of course I got there and just kicked myself. It was so beautiful. I put off writing this blog post hoping that I'd be able to get some pictures from the other women at the retreat. One had really incredible photos of the lake, and of us taking yoga poses in the water. It looks like I'll have to hassle her a little bit more, but here's a sketch that I did of the lake.

I've never been good at ink sketches, but it shows you the small mountain on the right side. Like James, I did some mountain climbing last weekend! Mine was by accident though ...

I had planned on going on a leisurely stroll around the lake. I wore my birkenstocks - the ground was wet from the rain and I figured that I'd be better off in sandals than hiking shoes. I couldn't find the path around the lake, but I did find a small wooden sign pointing upwards saying "to the top of the mountain". It looked like someone had written it with a sharpie so I figured, this must be a short hike! Like maybe 30 minutes! So I started up. Obviously, the logic was pretty flawed. Half an hour in I had been clamoring up this steep muddy slope holding onto whatever roots I could grab when I realized that I was in for a real hike. I considered going back down and getting real footwear, but I only had two more hours before the next yoga lesson and figured I wouldn't have enough time to go down and back up again. I considered calling it quits, but then I thought, "what if it's only 10 more minutes to the top? I'll sure regret going down if that's the case ..."

After thinking "but what if it's only 10 more minutes to the top?" about 4 more times (and an hour and half into the hike), I came upon a really amazing lookout. I managed to get a few photos with my phone before it ran out of battery:

I got a chance to sit for a while and write a journal entry before going back down. I thought about what an incredible view I had without a proper camera to record it, and what a great hike it was without proper shoes to enjoy it. I decided that it was a lesson in reality. I descended ass first as I slipped and slid my way down. Luckily the yoga afterwards worked out most of my aches and pains - I finished with pretty achey ankles and two dozen mosquito bites but it was pretty wonderful nonetheless.

We had four yoga lessons in total, focusing on hips, heart, hamstrings and solar plexus. There was a great fire pit and a wood burning sauna, which were very welcome on the cold wet nights. The whole weekend was catered by the owner of the only hipster cafe in town, and we were served delicious, hearty vegetation food (and I discovered she was from Victoria when I noticed her drinking a Fat Tug!). One of the most interest parts of the weekend was that one woman offered Reiki sessions - an alternative healing method that uses energy to balance the chakras. I had never heard of it before, but decided to be open to the opportunity. If you're curious, I'd be happy to share my experience!

The weekend seemed to really fly by. Before I knew it, it was Sunday and time to pack up my leaky tent and head back to work. My supervisor told me that good news and bad news always comes in waves, and it seems to be true. Because for once, we had a really calm week. I spent most of it organizing the filing cabinets - not the most enthralling work I've done so far, but satisfying nonetheless (you know the feeling where you shake a file folder and nothing falls out? It's awesome!).

This weekend was mostly uneventful, except that I went to a pow wow today. I find that once the weekend arrives, I'm usually exhausted enough to really appreciate cooking something delicious, watching a movie on my own and just spending time at home. I've really looked forward to alone time up until now. But I think I'm reaching a point where I'd really like some company. So today I decided to go to the pow wow in town.

A board member at the centre where I work mentioned that I would really enjoy it, and she suggested that I go right at the beginning for the grand entry. It was a really great experience - I think there were about 10 nations there in their regalia, and there were many dances and dance competitions. At one point, there was a men's traditional dance honouring the veterans (who fought in Vietnam, WWII) who were present. It seemed very strange to me. One of the dancers sat beside me when they finished, and I asked him if it felt strange honouring veterans who had fought for a country that colonized the first nations. Pretty loaded question huh! 

He gave an interesting answer. He said that the veterans were people who didn't fit in with the soldiers during the war, and then didn't fit in with their bands afterwards. He said that it was kind of weird, but that the focus was to help them through their hard times now.

This struck up a conversation that lasted a few hours. He explained what was going on during the memorial ceremony and different dance competitions, explaining the different movements and rhythms that the dancers were trying to achieve. I asked if I could join in during a circle dance and he said certainly. It was a lot of fun - although he mentioned that in the future, it's customary for women to wear long skirts as a sign of respect. He pointed out that my skirt was too short. I happened to be wearing a skirt that cut just above the knee and immediately felt embarrassed and self-conscious. He mentioned that it wasn't a big deal, but I was fairly mortified and do hope I didn't offend anyone. That will be something that I will be sure to remember next time!

I did remember to take my camera this time and took many great photos. It occurred to me that I didn't ask anyone's permission to post them though, so I think it's best not to. If you'd like to see them though (and perhaps ask about Reiki at the same time, haha!) I'd be happy to show you!

So here we are, coming up onto week 7! Wow, has it been that long already? Let's see what this week brings ...



Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Conquering the Mountain

This weekend I took a trip out to the interior of the country to hike up Mount Ramelau – the tallest mountain in Timor at 9797 feet. My compatriot expats accompanying me on this journey were Charu, Chris, and João, hailing from Canada, America, and Brazil respectively. Charu works with me at the UNDP, and is also here on a Canadian Lawyers Abroad internship. Chris is currently attending the SIPA program at Columbia and is interning at the US Embassy. João, lastly, has been living here for the past five years, works at the International Organization for Migration, and speaks fluent Tetun. He picked us up in his Pajero Junior, a tiny little jeep with little leg room but loads of spirit.

“I love this vehicle because it goes everywhere,” João said on a number of occasions throughout the trip. As we all eventually learned, he was right. It really did go everywhere.

We never actually made it out of town until 4pm. Political rallying through the streets for the upcoming elections brought traffic to a standstill, so we waited it out, filled up with gas, and headed north for the hills once everything cleared up. Along the way, we stopped for coffee at a lookout overlooking Dili and the Wetar Strait. (The cake was delicious.) From there, the narrow road rose through green hills and villages carved into the mountainside. We moved at a steady pace, trying to make good time as the sun set around 6:30pm. But this wasn't so easy. The road often ended and crumbled at parts, forcing us to stop before proceeding slowly over the asphalt, dirt, rocks, or whatever happens to be under your tires. We came up above the cloud line and drove through a village that looked as if it lived eternally in between these clouds – old women walked along the road through the thick fog, carrying baskets of food and jugs of water. When night fell we had only just made it to Maubisi – the largest town along the way before we were to turn northwest for 28km to our base camp, Hatubulico. It would be difficult driving there in the dark, as apparently even during the day the 28km can take up to an hour and a half! Heading towards where we thought this northwest-bound road should be, we asked anyone who happened to appear in our headlights for the way. A man told us that he would take us 10km up the road from Maubisi and show us the turn-off, so we followed him into the darkness, honking every few hundred meters to get him to slow down while we navigated the potholes and boulders on the road.

Village Between the Clouds

When we arrived at the turn-off, he gave us directions and drew a map indicating the main forks in the route and which way we should follow. This map would prove to be indispensable. From the turn-off, after a kilometer or so we came upon a bamboo fence stretched across the dirt road. We tried to determine whether we had missed one of the forks and traveled down the wrong way, but our intuition told us to open the fence and continue along the way. Stepping out of the car and looking up to the sky revealed one of the most amazing skies I've seen for about as long as I can remember. The moon had not risen yet and we were ways away from any light pollution. The sky was filled with galaxies, satellites, shooting stars, planets, even the arms of the Milky Way. It seemed like there was more light in the sky than there was darkness. I got out my trusty Smartphone and booted up Google Sky and spent the next half hour exploring the sky of the southern hemisphere. Mars and Saturn were out that night.

Soon though, we had to keep moving, and we set out down the road, slowly, with our eyes wide open, looking for the right turns to make and avoiding the wrong ones. After a while, doubt and uncertainty began to grow and we began second guessing our previous decisions. How far had we come? What if we had missed a turn? When we noticed in the distance the brief beam of a flashlight halfway up a hill, this gave us an excuse to stop and make sure that we had not gone astray. João and I got out of the Pajero to reach the light and ask for directions to realign us on the right road. João was in front and walked behind the vehicle. I came up behind him, where he was calling out to someone in the darkness who we could hear walking towards us.

“Bon noite”(good evening), João said. “Diak kelai?” (how are you). There was no response – just the sound of rustling grass moving towards us. “Maun (man), bon noite,” João said louder. “Diak kelai?” Still, nothing.

“Go get the flashlight,” João whispered, and I retrieved it from the Pajero and quicky ran back to where João was standing. He now seemed a bit more frightened as the approaching noise was only a few metres way now. “Bon noite maun!” He said. There was still no reply, so I turned on the flashlight and shone it ahead, revealing a small horse standing at the side of the road, eating grass.

As the horse was not very talkative, João and I walked up a ridge with the flashlight in the direction of the light we had seen previously while Charu and Chris waited inside the vehicle. We eventually found a man sitting outside his house with his family. He confirmed that we were indeed headed in the right direction, and wished us good luck. Our doubts were assuaged.

We continued along the road, switchbacking up ridges and making best-guess decisions as to which roads to follow. After about 12 or so more kilometers, we came to yet another fork in the road. This decision was more difficult – to the left the road descended into a valley. To the right it turned upward, but seemed to narrow into parts that looked grown over. I got out of the vehicle and began walking down the more major path, eventually finding myself in some mud as a stream flowed down the trail. But in the distance I could see a few faint lights higher up in my field of vision, as if they were positioned on the side of a mountain. That must be Hatubalico – basecamp. And so we followed the path down into the valley as the road became increasingly rugged. The moon was rising and visibility increased enough to allow us to maintain a steady speed. The road began climbing upwards again, and soon the signs of some huts and even a few lit street lamps suggested that we had made it. Hatubalico – basecamp – the City of Lights. We soon found our Pousada (there was only one road in town), and woke up a man sleeping on the couch in the lobby. It was after 11pm. On the table in the dining room we saw an empty bottle of wine and some dirty plates. A group of Portuguese had arrived here earlier in the day (in the daylight, smartly), who were also due to climb in the morning.

We were starving, so the kitchen fixed us up some noodles. The interior decor was rather interesting – on the walls stuffed animals were hung from nails. We went to sleep as soon as the noodles were in our stomachs under the watchful eye of the nailed up teddy bears above us. The plan was to leave with our guide at 3am in the morning.

Charming Decor at the Hatubalico Pousada
Luxurious Accomodation

Of course, with less than 3 hours of sleep, we missed our 2:30am alarm. I could hear some commotion and Charu talking with the guide, some miscommunication between them, and then minutes later, the sound of vehicles taking off into the night. While we were up and ready to go at 3:00, the group of Portuguese and the guide had left a few minutes early.

However, after the trials of the previous night, we could not be deterred, and we set off after them in the Pajero. That is, at least in the direction we had thought they had headed (“which way did you hear the sound of the engine leave?”). There couldn’t have been too many roads out of town, we figured, and it should have been clear how to get to the trail head. But leaving town we soon found three roads heading in the direction of the mountain. We picked the last one, as we reached it last, and drove for around 30 minutes on the most broken road that we had encountered so far, practically crawling along over rocks in 4 wheel drive, staying as close we could to the cliff face so not as to tumble off the side. Chris chimed in that we should just park, get out, and start climbing up the mountain. I told João that he should find the nearest horse and ask him for directions.

“You know Chris, that’s probably risky,” João replied, while ignoring my suggestion. Despite our sleep deprivation, we still had some sense left in us.

We had enough sense to remember that we had the phone number of the Pousada on us as well as a cell phone. João called them and apologized for waking them up in the middle of the night, explaining we were lost, and asking which was the correct road to the trail head. The manager, patient and helpful, had a better idea: turn around, come back the way you came, and come back to the Pousada – he would find us a guide and who would take us up.

The guide turned out to be the manager’s 14 year old nephew, Rui. He knew precisely where to go and it was not long before we were at the trail head and beginning our ascent. I’m not sure if it was the altitude, lack of sleep, lack of food, or lack of exercise over the past little while, but I found it to be challenging, not so much physically, but in terms of keeping the breath in me. But as I’ve learned with hiking, once you get into a rhythm and past the point of no return, it always gets easier. Sure enough, we picked up the pace to reach the summit just as the sun was coming up. Both sides of the island and the ocean meeting them could be seen from either direction. The view up top was remarkable and well worth the journey. We stayed up at the summit for a while and enjoyed the panorama with blankets wrapped around us (except for myself, who had read about this mountain back in Canada and packed a north face fleece in anticipation of hiking it). We met a man up there who had lived in a small shed at the summit for a year and a half. His job was to guard a small telecommunications tower that sat at the top. The police would bring him rations of food from time to time.

Sunrise on top of Ramelau

Enlightened Security Guard

Descending down the mountain was like a whole other trail, for the way up our only guiding light was the stars and the moon. Now, the scenery was fully in view. After we reached the bottom, we drove back to the Pousada, paid our guide, and got a couple hours of sleep. We were fed stale bread and coffee when we awoke, and packed up our belongings. We parted ways with Mount Ramelau and headed back to Dili in the little jeep that goes everywhere, stopping only for some fresh guava and gasoline on the way back down.

Early Morning Descent

Guavas for the Way Home

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chris and Chris Cycle Galiano Island

Few welcome 5:30 am with open arms. We are no different.

The morning's light shone on a damp road. Not promising. The Ghost of Optimism climbed on my shoulder and whispered that the wet road was only left over from last night's rain. Pessimism jumped up and pointed out that the rain continued to fall at that moment, but I ignored him. After all, Optimism carried a day-old weather forecast and the possibilities of good tidings.

Chris meandered out of his room, eyes barely open. We had been awake only five hours earlier, packing our bikes tightly despite a night alongside ale. Thank goodness we thought ahead. We snacked down a bowl of cereal apiece and were out the door by 6:00 pm. Right on schedule. The ferry was 40 km away and departed in 3.5 hours. Plenty of time, but we had a few stops to make along the way and one never knows what can go wrong on a bicycle.

The streets were empty as we cruised towards Mt. Douglas Park to grab some equipment from Chris' Aunt and Uncle. Chris is only in Victoria for the summer, so he borrowed my other bike and my bags, as well as a tent from a friend. He still needed a sleeping bag and a helmet. Safety first.

Chris waits for the ferry
We ventured along the water before joining up with the Lochside Trail, the bicycle highway to the ferry terminal in Swartz Bay. It, too, was fairly empty. Unsurprising. Things take a little longer to get going in Victoria, especially on a Saturday morning. A smooth mix of paved path, gravel and peaceful residential streets got us to the ferries with plenty of time. A McD's pit stop supplemented our bowls of cereal.  The rain, as it would all day, switched shifts with sunny skies every thirty minutes or so. Odd.

Ferries, much like trains, can be a blessing. You have no control over the speed, so you are forced to sit and enjoy the trip. Our little island-hopper set off for its two-hour voyage and I went between enjoying the sights and reading my book about a fellow who lived in the Alaskan wilderness by himself for a few decades. Chris, seemingly incapable of staying awake on ferries, spent much of the trip asleep. I got a chance to see my campground from the past weekend on Salt Spring from the water.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Birkenstocks, Flats, Favourite Sweater, Wallet

A few weeks ago, I realized that I left a few things at home: my birkenstocks, some flats, my favourite sweater, my secondary wallet where I keep all those extra cards I don't want to carry around all the time. I asked my mom to mail them to me last week, but she forgot before leaving on a business trip. So I FB messaged my little brother around 8pm Ontario time and asked him if he could find those things around the house and mail them to me (my dad's fairly forgetful so I felt like this would be the most reliable method). He's 15, so it's possible that this is the first time he's ever had to mail something at the post office. And I thought to myself, this is going to be so challenging:

1. He needs to find my belongings around the house
2. He needs to acquire some sort of box, and packing tape, and he needs to assemble it together
3. He needs to be able to record my address, and then put it on the box
4. He needs to know where the post office is
5. He needs transportation to the post office
6. He needs to be able to pay for the package

I figured that since the post office was probably already closed by the time I sent the message, it wouldn't be mailed until tomorrow at the earliest anyway. So I told him that it wasn't urgent, that it could wait until the weekend, and that he could call if he needed help. I checked my phone an hour later, and I got this message:
  • mailed it already
  • it was 26 dolars
  • sweater on the bottom of box
  • then berks
  • flats on top
  • wallet is with the sweater
  • good?

And it totally blew my mind.

That he was able to do all of those things in less than an hour just blew my mind.

That's when I realized that I've started becoming a lot more attuned to the small barriers that can prove insurmountable to people in poverty.

It's common practice for me to hold onto completed applications because a client doesn't have the money to pay for registered mail to send it in. It's also common for clients to cancel appointments because they can't find a ride into town, even when their legal issue is approaching a deadline. It's often very frustrating for clients to write letters or affidavits due to low levels of literacy, so they can take days or week to finish. And people who struggle with literacy aren't inclined to keep documents sent from employers, landlords or the government because they're often too hard to read, so it takes a long time for us to find copies.

All that is to say that all of these little things compound to make even small legal issues seem insurmountable. It's actually pretty unremarkable that my brother figured out how to put something in the mail. But that's only because he had someone to drive him (my dad), enough expendable income that $26 didn't make him think twice, and literacy skills. Unfortunately, legal and administrative processes aren't designed for people without those kinds of resources. I called EI once because a client had a really hard time filling out an application because she couldn't remember what she earned each day. I was told to "ask her to look through her BlackBerry calendar to see which days were scheduled longer". Right. It's an example of how in practice, people in poverty often have even less access to justice than they do in theory.

Food for thought. Oh, and thanks Andy! You're awesome - I'll mail you something soon.