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Thursday, April 14, 2005


Thursday mornings I go downtown to teach a Memoirs writing class for 50+ people (this group is all women but sometimes we have men in the group). It's a great way to start off the day as the stories they write and tell are highly entertaining. Today they read last week's assignment: favorite places they'd lived in. And the timed writing this morning was about favorite childhood games or toys. We all came to the same conclusion, that kids don't have as much fun nowdays as we used to back then. For one thing, there's the safety issue (Kids can't go freely to parks or woodlands any more) and secondly the lack of imagination fostered by too much television and toys that are not condusive to creativity. (We used to often make our own). We all had a great laugh out of these stories and it brought back fond childhood memories.

After my class I always walk up busy Robson Street and browse in the shops. Today I saw a couple of pairs of summer shoes in the Pay Less Store that I am considering to treat myself to.
Then I walked farther along and, as usual, stopped to buy a Bavarian smokey with saurkraut, small bag of chips and a can of iced tea which I took to the stone bench by the Art Gallery.

The usual chess players were there. On the Art Gallery steps (which is a focal point for protestors of all kinds), a group of Chinese people were holding a big banner denouncing the Communist Chinese for censoring free speech because they are closing down a main radio station in China (the one that broke the SARS epidemic news). In front of the steps was what I thought to be a living statue: a 'naked' woman painted bronze, leaning on a silver sword. I watched for the longest time to see if she moved and thought at one point that she had changed her stance. However, when I later went and had a closeup look, it was really a beautifully carved figure, sculpted from a single piece of wood with gorgeous bronze grains. She wore a silver blindfold, was standing in silver spike-heeled shoes, and behind her back was holding a set of silver scales. The caption on the pedestel said: "If she pays for justice, she is a prostitute".

I always enjoy sitting by the Art Gallery watching the passing parade of people hurrying to and fro. Then I walk past the sidewalk artists and go to catch my bus.

The route I take home passes through one of the oldest and shabbiest parts of our beautiful city, the Downtown East Side. This is 'entertainment' of a different sort. I believe everyone who lives here should be obliged to occasional take a walk on the wild side and go through this part of town to have a good look at what is happening. It's horrifying and a real eye-opener. So many people live insulated lives, driving around in their cars, avoiding this part of the city. Yet I believe it's our duty to find out and see for ourselves exactly what is happening and then perhaps more would be done about fixing it. (If that is possible as the situation downtown has been allowed to deteriorate over the years until is has become a major blight on the city.)

I'm familiar with this part of town. On the one corner of the main avenues stands the once-magestic Carnegie Library, built at the turn of the previous century with a donation by the Andrew CarnegieFoundation. When I was a kid (12) and first moved here there used to be a wonderful museum upstairs and I'd go there every weekend to pick up books at the library and view the amazing mummy of a child from Egypt. Later, when I got out of highschool and worked for the newspaper in that part of town, I daily walked that street to and fro to the police station and often all the way to work from my home in the East End. The only derelects on the street then were an occasional drunk who'd wandered up from the Skid Road by the waterfront. And I was always fascinated by the many old Chinese bachelors around there as Chinatown is one block over and was a wonderful place to roam around. There were good shops to visit too, especially the old Woodwards building where I used to shop daily for clothing and other merchandise, and places to eat like Oscar's Oyster Bar. Now these buildings have been allowed to decay. Instead of making it imperative for downtown landlords to keep their buildings respectable, fix up old abandoned buildings for affordable housing for the poor, they have been left to disintigrate. The streets are crowded with the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug addicts, prostitutes and derelects of every kind.

It's not a pretty sight to see the crack addicts, their faces pocked with sores, stumbling around in their obvious jerky gait, often down on their knees scouring the sidewalk for pieces of abandoned crack, or the homelesss bums scrounging for bottles and butts. It's teaming with people down there day and night, because a majority of them are homeless, sleeping in doorways or under viaducts. There's always a crowd on the corner by the Carnegie which is now a community centre for the Downtown East Side people (no druggies or drunks allowed inside). The library still exists and it provides activities including a learning centre for the needy. Somewhere down there is a new safe injection site for the heroin addicts (although the merchants in Chinatown opposed it). Chinatown still bustles with people and is an intersting tourist attraction, including the Sun Yat Sen Gardens which is a small oasis of serenity in the midst of this chaos.

By the time I got home today I'd already had enough entertainment to last me for the rest of the day, but still more to come tonight after my class. I'm supposed to meet my Havana buddy to listen to some jazz, in particular a well-known singer who's a friend of his. At least it will be a mellow ending to what has already been quite an entertaining day!

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