Archive for April, 2013

 

More great views at our Bangkok Living & Travel site …www.youtube.com/user/patriciaolson9

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The North Texas festival season kicks off in March and carry’s through the summer. Every community has something planned, there are hundreds of communities that make up the Dallas metro-plex and then there are small towns spread across the prairie for hundreds of miles in every direction. The larger cachement areas pool their resources and pull off something spectacular. It’s an opportunity for local artists to display their hand made wares…fine oil paintings to barb wire sculpture, and a chance to see all the small town clubs and societies  dance and sing what they have rehearsed for the big show of the year. Expect professional bands to be seen alongside children’s troupes and specialties, from urban dance to farm skills.

We ardent day trippers have our weekends planned well in advance this time of year. Our festival bible is the Dallas Observer that lists every activity scheduled from music and entertainment venues to community festivals and various goings on. The Observer is everyone’s favorite paper for the entertainment and arts scene year round.

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So, off we go to Denton Texas yesterday for the Denton Arts and Jazz festival, an annual gig for local musicians and entertainers. First I should say that Denton is one of the sweet little towns surrounding Dallas that most tourists will never see, and much to their loss I assure you. The streets of Denton are lined with history and cool little shops. Denton is a distinctly casual place where people say ‘good morning’ to strangers, where you know your kids would be safe and all the cars stop for pedestrians.

I find these towns to have such a likeable vibe, people are sociable, super friendly and unhurried. Possibly, it’s the sense of continuity, people have been living and working here for hundreds of years and some businesses have been established for generations.IMG_3106

The extensive freeway system connects everything. Texans are accustomed to traveling seemingly great distances, something must have changed their DNA. We find it a no brainer to drive one to two hours from town to town, but when these places were established in the early 1800’s they would have seemed worlds apart.

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Many towns like Denton have a unique flavor to them and must be appreciated by walking slowly.

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After a long travel day yesterday I got to wake up in Texas this morning…..sigh. It’s sure good to see the sun shining again after two weeks of pounding rain and the gray skies of Vancouver. I did what I always do when I come back …and that is to reacquaint myself. Call me crazy but I love driving down the freeways, they’re so big and wide, like driving your couch if it had a steering wheel and gas pedal, and headed into the new sunrise with the sunroof wide , listening to the red dirt poets of Texas on stations like ‘The Range’ 95.9 FM and of course the Texas blues ‘Texas Renegade Radio at 89.3 FM….depending on my lust for inspiration, these are the sounds of Texas that bring me back inside.

Red Dirt music is not country, it’s not western…it’s Texan, raw, poetic, lyrical, personal and somewhat strange until you understand the context, colloquialisms and inferences….it’s quaintly under produced and folksy….eat your heart out Kieth Urban. Texas blues is hard charging guitar and harmonica driven…think Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert King and T-Bone Walker…distinctly different sound from Delta or Chicago styles…..hey….after all, it’s Texas…..you know you’re in for something good.

So I’m pulling in the driveway, my neighbors cleaning the pool, we talk, not about anything in particular, just the weather and if it’s going to be a good day to grill….that’s BBQ for the rest of you. Texans are like that, they don’t notice your new car or want to know where you’ve been, they’re just happy to see you. This is so refreshing for me after living in Canada where the conversations run like this…”What do you do?”….”How much did you pay for that car?”….”Where do you vacation”……and then they’ll run a litany of comparisons………gag…..so boring….so covetous, jealous, envious and impersonal…..kind of creepy after you’ve been away from it for a while…..so good to be in a place where people are more satisfied with their lives.

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Every year in the spring I return to my home in Vancouver. The journey is always a discomfort, a disadvantage and an arduous pilgrimage. Ultimately I have to file my income taxes due at the end of April as a resident of this convoluted country. The travel days spent in transit are time in purgatory …after 911…terrorism has completely screwed the joy out of airports. We arrive hours before our flights for security… and suffer the inconvenience of missing connections.

Still, there are the simple pleasures of arriving , seeing old friends and family who’ve forgotten …smiling at the false civility of people who envy us for being elsewhere when they can’t …sleeping in my own familiar bed…..and taking naps on the couch in front of the fireplace, that sort of thing. Of course spring is a time for nature to burst out of the perpetual dark. The tremendous energy of plant life is quite incredible in northern climes as they rush to fulfill their destiny in the short months they have to proliferate. If you live in the tropics these transitional periods are unnoticeable. In Canada, the change from dark to light is like an explosion tinged with hurried desperation.

Five years ago I planted two matched male and female plum trees of my favorite variety in my rear garden. One died and had to be cut out, a fungus had been introduced at the nursery, and it’s mate became very ill. As you know plum needs to be cross pollinated in order to bear fruit. My lonely female was widowed before her first spring and would have lain barren without my innovative husbandry. Every spring I walk a few blocks up the street to another single plum and bring back blossoming cuttings to hang off the branches of my lonely widow in order for the itinerant bee’s to tangle nectar with the brilliant blossoms. I have become my plum tree’s surrogate lover…

When I return in the fall she displays her fecund purple bounty for me , like a wife presenting newborn children to her husband, making a return to Vancouver bearable.

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Once again we say good bye and begin another journey of missed seasons and wonder……

Pat and I flew into Vancouver Canada for a short road trip. I forgot how unwelcoming the city can be…starting with the soviet era airport. I guess we’ve been spoiled by the stellar airport services we’ve received elsewhere in the world to have expected the same from the Canadians. The distant gates for international flights from baggage claim and not having carts available for passengers is perhaps an oversight…but no car rental kiosks in the building?

Once through the gauntlet of overzealous agents we found ourselves slogging a hundred yards through the pounding rain down wet and unlit and uncovered gravel walkways…without the benefit of any signage whatsoever…to find the car rental counters in a dark basement underneath a long term car park. It made us think we were being targeted as ‘bad people’ for not having first located public transit. I say this because Vancouver is a violently anti-automobile city…..in spite of the perpetual inclemency and incredibly poor public infrastructure. I thought of how vulnerable and scary this first introductory experience might be for a single woman new to the city.

Is it this first introduction that has people voting down Vancouver in newspaper polls as the unfriendliest, unwelcoming and loneliest city on earth…a veritable trifecta of reasons people don’t come back? Vancouver bills itself as ‘the greatest place on earth’….wasn’t that line coined by a circus impresario whose entire shtick was to create illusions….is there some cosmic metaphor on the zeitgeist of Vancouverites being played for fools by the politically correct hucksters that have run this place badly for too long?

The weather has to have an effect overall….it’s crappy…there is no more honest way to describe it….prospective visitors have to know. 10 months of the year the skies are overcast and the rain constant. A recent government pronouncement stated that mental illness is spiking in Vancouver…their excuse…” due to the lack of sunshine and immigration”. How they came up with that bizarre assessment I don’t know…you’ll have to ask them…I only read the article published in a local newspaper.

I would add my own observation. The city of Vancouver lacks any cultural expression, there are no museums, no art galleries, there is no cafe culture, no cool neighborhoods to hang out in, the style culture of poverty-chic is to dress down and look as miserable as possible while drinking to excess at an Army Navy legion hall among the fading memories of a greater generation. The cost of living is astronomical, people are generally working poor and deeply in debt due to the highest and most unaffordable real estate prices and high rents against a backdrop of the the lowest incomes in the western world. Vancouver’s cultural nightlight is the drunken bloody brawls orchestrated by a cynical and brutal police force on Granville Street in the two blocks of booze tinged neon called ‘the entertainment district’.

The once vaunted film business has died and moved to Toronto leaving thousands of faux hipster malcontents without a future due to the lack of mobility in Canadian culture generally. People feel entitled to be supported in one place for a lifetime without taking personal responsibility for the consequences of their inaction. The video game trade has left for Montreal and London hollowing out the tech space to an echo of what once was twenty years ago, there is no art scene, dance, music, club or theater scene. Don’t think about coming to Vancouver and finding a blues or jazz club.

You are not welcome to hang out in a coffee shop and surf the net….they will harass you out the door for being a ‘laptop hobo’ taking up space without disgorging a constant stream of revenue. I know the property taxes in Vancouver are egregious but the culture of kicking people out of a coffee shop for surfing is disingenuous…..don’t you think? I think some of these little discussed factors may be contributing to the general reasons why people are so miserable ( according to the polls) here, while the financially driven promoters of Vancouver’s tourism trade untruthfully exclaim the city as ‘livable’….how sad.

The disparities between rich and poor are wide and ugly…. leading to the less fortunate developing a nasty covetous streak that vents hatred on any showing of personal success. Vancouver has a minor elite of highly paid civil servants whose obvious luxury and decadent display serves to push the average workers face in the mud. It is the civil service who enjoys a high position of class affluence and wage disparity over the citizen in Vancouver and not any industry or business culture in the city. Did you know that the fastest growing segment of food bank clients are working families?

There isn’t a single global head office located in Vancouver to provide any semblance of internationalism, flair or balance. Has anyone not heard of Vancouver’s ‘Downtown East Side’ where miles of filthy blood stained blocks of drug addicted derelicts , the huge population of homeless and assorted transient poor as well as the brutal regime of the streets who ply their trade in misery of every kind in the worlds largest open drug , prostitution and stolen goods market. Don’t go there…not even to get a titillating look…it is violent, very dangerous and you won’t see a single policeman….ever.

Vancouver bills itself as a green city concerned about environmental causes..but that is also a chimera…it is a sad fact that the city of Vancouver pumps million of liters of raw sewage and untreated toxic hospital waste in the ‘pristine’ waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay …every day! There are signs along the water front warning people of the fecal count on the beaches after the effluent is washed up on the sand…but these signs are very small….indeed. Walk along the famous seawall and you’ll literally step over the massive pipes leading into the water without knowing what they contain….yuchhhh!

Cities like Singapore did a fantastic job of developing their waterfront area’s into gleaming livable spots where restaurants and businesses are mixed with residential development. The evenings on Singapore’s Esplanade and Clark Quay are vibrant and pleasant. Vancouver’s waterfront seawalls at night are a dark, lonely and scary place of sordid sexual assignations and to be avoided at all costs for your personal safety. Ladies…..don’t walk alone in ‘famous’ Stanley Park…day or night…there has been a long history of violent predatory assaults.

I’m lucky I get to leave next week…..I fully understand why young people go into full blown mindless riot mode every once in a while and start looting smashing and burning police cars for no apparent reason….there is a reason of course….the politico’s don’t want to discuss it……the booze, drugs, loneliness, lack of cultural expression, covetous materialism of Vancouver would drive me crazy too.

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Little known to outsiders is the secret life of thousands of fantastically talented artists, in every discipline, and the deep rich ‘art and art appreciation scene’ in Dallas . The spring season was marked yesterday by an explosion of artistic expression and commumity in the Deep Ellum district. The epicenter of everything hip and current in Dallas is Malcom X Boulevard and Elm Street.

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This was not the bland politically correct festival by the wonks at city hall. The Deep Ellum festival is organized by the community of artists who range from sculture, metal, paint, drawn, written, spoken, performed…all by people who live and breath the Dallas art scene.

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The vibe was lively, live music included reggae bands, red dirt poets, trance dj’s set up at various intersections along an 8 block strip that had become a pedetrian mall for the week. Normally Elm Street is a funky stoll of bars, curious shops and electic brick a brac malls where dozens of individual vendors display oddities not found anywhere else.

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I’ve lived, worked or traveled in every democracy. Every place has it’s cultural and historical charm, but nowhere have I found it as inexpensive to live well as in Texas. Working here gives you an automatic pay rise….there is no state income tax…the direct federal tax and regressive sales tax is less than a quarter of European societies or mine…Canada. In the western countries mentioned the individual is now paying over 80% of net income towards direct and indirect taxation…..and aren’t there a lot of hidden taxes and fee’s these days?

There seems to be another tax on something every time you leave the house in Canada….taxation has driven Canadians into poverty. There is a vicious circle of high taxation to compensate the highly paid state employees for the increased cost of living with higher wages and benefits…and then raising taxes on individuals to compensate for those increases….leading to an ever escalating cycle of increasing prices because businesses are forced to pass the costs onto the consumer in order to keep the doors open…..consumers in Canada don’t have the contract protection of civic employees btw. Like I said…a vicious circle exists and its not politically correct to talk about it.

For example, the small town police chief in Vancouver makes more than the big city police chief of New York city. This is indicative of the arbitrary overhead taxpayers like those in Canada are being forced to recover from their paycheques and pour into the pockets of a privileged elite.

http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Vancouver+Police+Chief+tops+municipal+police+salary+list/8186096/story.html

Go to the highest levels of civic management and the elites are paying themselves twenty times the average salary of a working family……what did you say about systemic corruption in Zimbabwe? In socialist Canada, the civil service has become the equivalent of royalty….whose privileges are enforced by a dictatorship of politically motivated and politically appointed judges.

Ugly statistics are popping up, people in Canada are having fewer children… eating less and consuming less because of dwindling personal resources. Did you know that the fastest growing segment of food bank clients in Canada is working families…who can now make an appointment to use the food bank after hours…so as not to face the embarrassment of hunger? Do you wonder why there are long lines at the US border for Canadians to shop for basic food items like milk and cheese…that are sold in the US for less than half the going price in Canada?

Hunger is where the rubber hits the road…..especially when parents are having to choose to feed their children or pay the mortgage….and now increasingly…on the Visa Card. Can you imagine not being able to have children because your government refuses to allocate tax revenue fairly? I think that’s called slavery.

Meanwhile …great big juicy steaks are $4 US dollars a piece at Krogers in Dallas today… a side of BBQ ribs is $7. A dozen large eggs are $1.68 cents. One gallon of milk is $1.99…and hasn’t changed for several years. Cheese is a quarter of the price in Canada and the selection is enormous. Did you know that the dairy monopoly ( called marketing boards) in Canada buys American cheese at a discount and then trucks it over the border only to mark it up 200% and gouge Canadians with the increase after by-passing the Canadian farmers?

Wasn’t a marketing board set up originally to protect the Canadian producers from a second country dumping cheap imports? Anything processed, in a box or a can, is ridiculously cheap in Texas….bulk is even cheaper…..try Sam’s Club, a big distributor, and buy by the palette at wholesale prices. I bought two Hawaiian pineapples today…2 for $1 dollar. And darn it…people find a lost dog here and go out of their way to reunite it with it’s owner….that’s classy.

Yeah I saw the recent video about how Jim Carrey doesn’t like Americans ….but Jim is a Canadian..he doesn’t understand the beauty of personal freedom….Canadians are always talking down the American way of life…..after a long history of our own government telling us that things in Canada are better…but are they? They might just be trying to justify whats not right at home and serve an insidious agenda of socialism while protecting the rights of a few over the needs of the many.

I’m just a lowly traveler…looking at things the way they are…and how I’d like them to be….not a politician with an agenda… A benefit of travel outside your own culture is it grants you a broader and more introspective perspective not available to people back home who have to listen to the daily propaganda. I pay for things out of my own pocket….and it seems to me I have a much better lifestyle here in Texas….I’m glad to be here.

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