Friday, 8 January 2016

Umbrellas Part 1 - Vancouverites Search For Their Umbrellas

  Robinson Crusoe made a parasol on his deserted island. Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, danced with a brolly. And France’s former President, Nicolas Sarkozy had an armor-plated bumbershoot to protect himself from attackers.
  The world over, umbrellas are useful in so many ways besides the rain, and they've come a long way since their creation back in ancient Egypt, the Middle East and China.  
  There is a lot of misconception about who buys parasol umbrellas," says Scott King, manager of Vancouver's The Umbrella Shop.
  "Typically people believe that women of Asian descent use them more than others. We have actually noticed a larger number of Caucasian customers requesting sun protection as their skin tends to burn easier." 
  In Vancouver, umbrellas and people means protection. But there's more to umbrellas than just evading the rain.
  King's family business has been around for over 75 years. In their store on West Broadway, you have many styles, colours, patterns and price ranges to choose from. And it seems that the variety is met with just as many superstitions.
  “There's not one day that goes by that someone doesn't ask if it’s bad luck to open umbrellas in doors, " says King. "We usually tell them that it’s okay in an umbrella store and that we have personally done it thousands of times... on the rare occasion calm a customer, the umbrella will be taken outside to be opened."
  Although the origins of this long withstanding superstition are up for debate, North America has some little known watermark superstitions of its own surrounding the umbrella.
  Some examples are that it is bad luck to give an umbrella as a gift. If you drop an umbrella, do not pick it up, but instead, have someone else do it for you. If a single woman drops an umbrella, she will never marry. If an umbrella is opened outside when it is not needed, rain and other bad weather will follow.
  Whether the weather and tools to protect yourself from it dictate such bad luck, is up to you.
  Michelle Payne, from England and says her hometown's weather is similar to Vancouver's. She says British summers consist of two fine days and a thunderstorm.
  She says she will buy a $10 umbrella when it rains because her umbrellas often break.” When asked if a more expensive model would be better, Payne replies, “It’s an umbrella, not a coffee machine!”
  On the type and colours of umbrellas carried in Vancouver, Payne says, "I notice the colours and styles are different depending on the area. In Yaletown, the umbrellas closely match the clothes people are wearing." As for superstitions, Payne says, "I don't believe in them at all."
  Mohammad Saadvandi, from Iran, fits King’s observations that men mostly carry a golf umbrella in their car and a portable one at home - both black, so as not to stand out perhaps.
  It appears that Saadvandi has good luck with hanging on to them as they have been at his side for as long as 6 years. And speaking of luck, he also doesn’t believe in the superstitions - as they don’t exist in his native country.
  “If I'm in a building and as a courtesy, I don’t open it if there are people around. If no one is close by, I will open the umbrella.” Brave man.

This post originally appeared in The Source, October 18, 2011 ©  Copyright (c) The Source 

Umbrellas Part 2 - Longevity

  I was preparing my move a number of years ago to Vancouver, British Columbia from Edmonton, Alberta in the middle of a cold winter. Reading through my check list, I thought I had better take my umbrella because of the quantity of rain that falls in Vancouver - approximately 50 inches per year. I dug around in the basement for my umbrella which I had not used for I don’t know how long as one usually wears a toque in Alberta due to the quantity of snow - approximately the same 50 inches per year.
 I finally found it at the back of a closet but it wasn't in good shape - torn with the spokes exposed and the handle broken. I thought I would get ridiculed by the people in B.C. if they saw this old, beat up umbrella.
  I decided to purchase an umbrella that would keep me dry and allow me to fit in with the rest of the population. There wasn't a great deal to choose from as Albertans do not use bumper shoots often. Summer rains come and go fast. The rains do not usually fall soft and misty but rather they come down in torrents and one’s umbrella has a good chance of not being used often - especially if the winds accompany the rain. Umbrellas don’t last too long in Alberta.
  I had a choice of the cheap five dollar compact model or a fifty-dollar unit with a nicely polished wood handle with a basic black colour. I bought the latter.
  Upon arrival in Vancouver, the skies were blue; not a cloud in the sky and it stayed this way for the month of January. When it did finally rain, I started singing “Singing In the Rain” while preparing myself for work. I had a meeting in down town Vancouver and I managed to find a parking space in front of the building where the meeting was being held but I drove a few blocks further on - I wanted to test out my umbrella! I got out of my car, opened the umbrella and started walking with a definite swagger to show my fellow Vancouverites that I too have an umbrella that was worthy of being in their league.
  I noticed the first person who was walking towards me. Man, this guy’s umbrella was a mess. It was black all right but nearly inside out with two wire supports sticking out and reaching for the sky. I shrugged it off and thought that he was probably from Alberta.
  The next umbrella I saw had “Pepsi” printed all over it with blue and red panels. Then more umbrellas – pink, green, some with tassels and even golf umbrellas! I then noticed a lot of people didn’t even have umbrellas. They were either scurrying for cover, wearing a cap, holding a newspaper above their heads or just walking with no regard for the blustery, wet weather.
  I was totally disappointed. And – nobody commented on my umbrella!
  A few weeks later, my umbrella came apart in some windy, rainy weather, which resulted in two wire supports sticking out and reaching for the sky. Umbrellas don’t last too long in Vancouver.

Monday, 4 January 2016

You're a Canadian, eh?

   While travelling within Vietnam and Laos in locations where there are few Caucasians mixed in with the locals, I felt like I was on display. While walking or cycling, I could feel their eyes following and staring at me as if I had come from another planet.
   At first I thought of it as a novelty and enjoyed the attention. But after a few weeks, I noticed that I became a bit impatient and I would mutter under my breath that perhaps they should just knock it off. Sure - I looked at them but I didn't stare!
   Whenever I started to get bothered by it, I would stare right back at the person but their expression did not change. I then realized that here are 2 people from different countries on this small world of ours looking at each other with no verbal or facial recognition for each other. I then started a different approach - I started to smile and a majority of the time, the person would smile back and then we became friendly, non-verbal world neighbours.
   When cycling throughout the country side, a majority of the children and adults in the fields and villages could not speak English but they would yell "Hello!"and wave to me. I would yell "Hello!" back and they would all giggle and smile.
   If they didn't say "Hello" but rather just stared at me, I would yell "Hello", wave and smile. They would respond with a "Hello" along with a big smile and laughter.
   And then one day, it hit me - I do the same thing the locals do when I see a Caucasian person walk or ride by me. I stare at them! Why? Because they are different looking from the greater population around me.
   I would then start to analyze them and ask myself: "Where are they going? Where are they from? Are they from Europe? Are they from my own country of Canada?"
  On two occasions during this trip, I was the one being analyzed by a traveller. The first man asked me if I was from Canada. I replied yes and asked him why he asked. He replied that he saw the "MEC" logo (Mountain Equipment Co-op) on my t-shirt as he was from Victoria, British Columbia. We had a nice chat and exchanged our travel experiences.
   The second traveller asked me the same thing as he also noticed the MEC logo. I found out that he was from Toronto, Ontario and we talked as if we had been long-time neighbours.
   I am tempted to write to the Canadian Government to have them consider changing our national icon - the Maple Leaf and instead, use the MEC logo.
   Have I learned a lesson from this trip about interacting with people in their native country? Yes - and that is to relax, allow them to look at me if they wish, have me say "Hello" and keep on smiling. And ... look for that MEC logo.