Can you, short of an earthquake hold a pose? Are you willing to be centre stage for long periods of time? Are you comfortable having your body parts talked about? Can you be the object of intense scrutiny by a roomful of people for at least an hour?
I’ll never forget my first sitting as an art model. Before I took the job I did a little online research. One website suggested you consider the above questions seriously before becoming a model.
Many years ago the art teacher at the international school in Hong Kong where I worked, sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers to serve as a model for a drawing class. I was a little hesitant. Wasn’t I too old?
Then I read the story of Lala Lezli, a former dancer with the celebrated Martha Graham company, who modelled for California artists for fifty years. She was still working as a model when she died at age 92. I wasn’t too old to be a model.
I also found out art students need to learn to draw real people, not just the idealized human form. Models should be of all ages, races, shapes and sizes. Indeed when I hesitantly replied to the art teacher’s e-mail I was surprised by his warm response. He’d be happy to have me, model.
I asked if I should wear a special outfit, but the art teacher suggested I dress in a normal way. I’d read models should come prepared with interesting poses, but the art teacher had a pose in mind. He wanted me to sit on a chair on the elevated platform at the front of the room. He even arranged my feet and hands and told me which direction to turn my face.
I walked into the class as the teacher was giving final instructions and was quickly seated so the students would have a maximum amount of time to work. It was surprisingly easy to sit still for an hour. I had a good view of the drawing tables and was fascinated by the progress being made on the dozen different images of me emerging on paper across the room.
It was interesting how each of the students perceived me in a slightly different way. No two sketches were the same. Just like in life, I thought. No two people perceive us in the same way and we have to accept and indeed appreciate that.
In January of 2004, my parents came to visit us in Hong Kong. We had been living there for a little over a year at the time. I had forgotten that my mother had kept a journal during their visit. When we cleaned out my father’s apartment after his last move my sister found it. It was so interesting to re-live my parents’ visit through Mom’s eyes. Here is her Hong Kong experience in her own words.
“It was a beautiful morning and we went to the Cultural Centre for a Tai Chi class. Our teachers were William and Pandora. They were dressed in traditional Chinese clothes. After giving us a brief history of Tai Chi and its importance the class tried to follow the moves they demonstrated. It was great fun trying to keep up and stay graceful. We had some pretty hilarious moments trying to imitate our instructors. The whole thing was really one hour of fun.”
“We went to an authentic Chinese tea house and met the tea master. She was a woman and she showed us exactly how to brew tea. We drank from these very tiny cups. Making tea the right way is an “art” for the Chinese people. The tea house had endless varieties of teas and hundreds of teapots. Paul told me later for him the tea ceremony was “much ado about nothing.”
“On the island of Macau, we went to a church that had been destroyed by fire three times. After the third time, it wasn’t rebuilt but the front part of the temple has remained. We climbed many steps to the top and I was very tired.”
“We went to a Buddhist Temple today. It was built more than a century ago. There were scads of people there burning incense. A guide demonstrated how numbered bamboo sticks are placed in a can. You shake the can until one stick falls out and that stick predicts your future. There were fortune tellers at the temple who for a fee could help interpret your future.”
“MaryLou took us for dim sum. It was a very busy place just teeming with people. We had to wait for about 15 minutes to get a table which we shared with two other men. The food was interesting and quite good. The whole experience was unique to say the least.”
“At the flower market, there were so many fresh flowers. We were especially impressed with the many kinds of orchids. The place was truly very beautiful!”
Although I have no photos of it I think the highlight of the visit for my Mom was going to the concert hall at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre to see Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin perform with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Okko Kamu. My Mom was a gifted pianist who spent the last days of her life trying to play the pieces she loved on an imaginary keyboard on the blankets of her hospital bed.About the concert in Hong Kong, she wrote………
“We got to the concert hall in plenty of time. What a magnificent building! We had seats behind the orchestra on a high level which was just a great place to be because we had such an excellent view of each orchestra musician and it was also the ideal spot to see the guest artist. Hamelin is originally from Quebec. He played two selections – one by Paganini and then Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 3. It was just “superb!!!”
Mom also writes about how she spent time reorganizing our kitchen cupboards, cleaning out our fridge, sweeping and dusting our apartment, doing our laundry and halfway through the visit she writes that she thinks we are taking them out to eat too often so she and Dad have started going to the market on their own while we are at work and buying stuff to make our suppers each night.
In her last entry, Mom writes about how sad she is to leave because they have had two such interesting weeks with us and she thinks there is still much about Hong Kong she would like to explore. She hopes they can return some time. Sadly this was not to be because Mom experienced kidney failure a little more than a year later and would be on dialysis three times a week for the rest of her life.
I am so glad Mom and Dad came to Hong Kong and so glad to have her diary which brought back some wonderful memories of their visit.
Sign in a Hong Kong subway train. Photo by Andyhyleung
“Mind the gap!” Those three words were something we heard thousands of times during the six years we lived in Hong Kong. As you entered and exited subway trains a woman’s voice reminded you to mind the gap, the space between the train floor and the station floor. Not doing so meant you could catch your foot, twist your ankle or otherwise injure yourself. Hong Kong is a former British colony hence the use of the word ‘mind’ in the phrase and the reason you will see similar signs in subway stations in England.
Yesterday in his sermon our pastor talked about a mind the gap sign seen in a London subway station, and remarked that during the pandemic we have all had to mind the gap in order to stay safe. We have needed to maintain a two-meter gap between ourselves and other people.
Two of my Winnipeg Art Gallery colleagues Rachel Baerg and Colleen Leduc demonstrate ‘the gap’ using one of the most popular paintings in our collection The Story by George Agnew Reid- photo from the Winnipeg Art Gallery
Just like you can injure yourself if you don’t mind the gap in the subway station, you can get sick if you don’t mind the gap during COVID-19. We are having to think about relationships in new ways as we keep a physical distance from people. How can we still show care and empathy and maintain personal connections while ‘minding the gap?‘
Gaps, like the ones in the Hong Kong subway and during a pandemic, can be scary but we know with thought and care and mindfulness we can handle them.
It occurred to me that we are all constantly ‘minding the gap’ in our lives. There is the gap between what we expected our lives to be and how they turned out. There is the gap between what we know we should be doing in terms of things like our physical fitness or financial management and what we are currently doing. There is the gap between having a dream and actually achieving it. Rather than being fearful or anxious about these gaps we can embrace them and see them as opportunities to learn and grow.
I learned what the term BIPOC means this week. My son is the host of a weekly radio music show and this Thursday he featured music by black artists and gave specific suggestions from members of the BIPOC community about ways we can support them.
Mural on the wall of one of the schools I visit in my job as an education student mentor
The term BIPOC was new to me so I did a little research. The letters stand for Black, Indigenous People of Color. According to writer Mahreen Ansari the term is a replacement for the phrase people ofcolour, which in turn replaced coloured people. People of colour was a better term than coloured people because the people or human part came first.
Mural of children on Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon
The problem with the term people of colour was that it put all non-white people into one category when often the discrimination they were experiencing was very different and was specific to their particular race. The term Black, Indigenous People of Color is considered more specific but also more inclusive because it brings together people of multiracial backgrounds in a way that doesn’t erase their specific identity.
The events that have unfolded since the death of George Floyd on May 25th make it clear white people like me have lots to learn when it comes to understanding what it means to be BIPOC in North American society.
I visited one of the young women from this advisory group in Georgia
This week I have been thinking about a student of mine I visited in Savannah Georgia. I was holidaying there and got together with a young woman who had been in several of my classes as well as my advisory cohort when I taught in Hong Kong. She was studying art at a college in Savannah. She told me how challenging it was to adjust to life in the American south because growing up in Hong Kong she had never experienced prejudice and discrimination because of the colour of her skin like she did in Georgia. It was a rude awakening for her.
For some reason, a photo of me with my colleagues in the English department of the high school in Hong Kong where I taught has resurfaced on Facebook this past week. People have been commenting on the photo and reposting it. It reminded me of how incredibly privileged I was to work with these four strong, intelligent and gifted women. We all came from different countries, had many different life experiences and were different ages, but we were such a good team and I learned so much from each one of them. What a perfect way to end my teaching career.
Dave and I just finished watching the new television series Little Fires Everywhere based on the novel of the same name by Celeste Ng. I found the story thought-provoking and timely. The setting for the story is an Ohio town called Shaker Heights which prides itself on its racial integration. But as the story progresses we realize that racism is still all too real in the community. The acting performances of Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are masterful. They play two mothers who have made very different choices about how to live their lives and raise their children and the reasons for their choices raise some important moral and ethical questions. I’d like to read the book now.
My husband is vacuuming! Dave does lots of things to help maintain our home but vacuuming has never been one of them. However early on during our time of isolation, he was looking for something to do and decided to give vacuuming a try. He wasn’t impressed with our vacuum cleaner. It was ten years old, didn’t have great suction and I had duct-taped it together at a couple of places.
Dave decided we needed a new vacuum cleaner and so his project for nearly a week was doing research on vacuum cleaners. He read all kinds of consumer reports, scrolled through endless online reviews of vacuum cleaners and weighed all the pros and cons of various makes and models before deciding what kind of vacuum cleaner was the best buy for us. He ordered one and it arrived yesterday. Dave was excited! He quickly assembled the new vacuum cleaner and tried it out. He figures he’s made a pretty good purchase.
I am delighted that someone else has taken over vacuuming duties at our place. I hope the novelty doesn’t wear off any time soon. Dave has been cleaning our bathrooms and doing lots of cooking and most of the grocery shopping. According to a New York Times, article women are responsible for the majority of the housework during the lockdown. Not at our house. It was raining yesterday so we decided to go for a walk in the forest in St. Boniface hoping it would provide a bit of protection from the elements. I am lucky to be sharing my COVID-19 isolation with someone who is obsessive and passionate about exercise. Dave insists on getting exercise every day and I am glad to go along. I am not sure I would be motivated to exercise daily on my own. An article in the Washington Post says there are two good reasons to keep on exercising during the pandemic. Exercise keeps your immune system at an optimal level and helps you manage stress.
Poplar Woods by Fitzgerald
I was back at the art gallery where I used to work on Tuesday, well not physically but virtually, via Zoom. The Winnipeg Art Gallery was hosting one of its Books and Brushes sessions where artwork and literature intersect. I have led some of the Books and Brushes sessions in the past but this one was hosted by Bonnie, one of the other guides and she did a wonderful job of introducing us to the work of Manitoba artist Lionel Fitzgerald. His paintings of trees tied in particularly well with the novel we discussed The Overstory which is about environmental activists trying to save the world’s forests. The session made me want to go to the art gallery in-person to see the Fitzgerald exhibit Into the Light.
It also made me think of other wonderful artwork related to trees we have in our collection at the Winnipeg Art Gallery like…….
Root Dress by Barb Hunt
Tree Movement by Emily Carr
Early Snow by Tom Thompson
The Poet by Ossip Zadkine
A photo I took in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong the most densely populated place on earth
I am proud of the people of Hong Kong a place I made my home for six years. Although their country is densely populated they have had only a handful of COVID-19 deaths. Why? When their government failed to respond in an adequately pro-active and responsible way to COVID-19 the people took matters into their own hands.
Hong Kong street sweeper
They formed vast armies of volunteers to distribute hand sanitizer and masks to poor and vulnerable citizens. 7000 medical workers went on strike to force the government to shut the border to mainland China and provide them with proper PPE. The government had banned face masks during the Hong Kong democracy protests and had kept the ban in place once the pandemic began. According to an article in The Atlantic, everyone ignored the order and there was almost universal mask-wearing. Media platforms with vast contact networks that had been set up to rally protestors for democracy demonstrations quickly pivoted to distribuing information about COVID-19. Atlantic writer Zeynep Tufekci says the “city’s citizens acted swiftly, collectively, and efficiently, and in effect saved themselves.”
With my sister and brother-in-law on the Hong Kong Harbour
In 1986 Dennis Toews was a frustrated and confused ten –year- old boy. His family had just arrived in Canada, and Dennis was trying to learn to speak English in a special class at Southwood School in Steinbach, Manitoba. If you had told him then, that someday he would be living in Hong Kong, and working as a pilot for one of the top-ranked international airlines in the world, he would never have believed you. When I was living in Hong Kong I interviewed Dennis and he told me his dreams do come true story.
Dennis, who is the son of Cornie and Maria Toews, immigrated to Steinbach from Paraguay with his family in April of 1986. He attended Southwood and then Elmdale School, the Steinbach Junior High, and eventually the Steinbach Regional High School. During grade eleven and twelve he worked part-time at a car dealership Penner Chev pumping gas and washing cars. He took a full-time job there when he graduated from high school.
Waldo Neustaeder, his boss, had an incentive and education program to bring in new business. He sent his workers to customer relations seminars in Winnipeg and every six months he rewarded the employee who had referred the most new customers to Penner Chev, with a thousand dollar travel voucher. Dennis won the reward three times and decided to use his travel money to go on a trip to Hong Kong with his friend Ed Wiebe. Ed’s brother Wilf was a pilot for Cathay Pacific Airlines and Ed and Dennis flew to Hong Kong on a plane Wilf Wiebe was piloting. Wilf asked Dennis if he’d like to sit in the jump seat in the cockpit during the Vancouver to Hong Kong leg of the journey. Wilf also arranged for Dennis and Ed to spend time in the flight simulator Cathay Pacific housed in its Hong Kong headquarters. Dennis was hooked! For the next two nights, he woke up sure that his bed had sprouted wings and he was flying. He decided then and there that he was going to be a pilot and fly for Cathay someday.
It was January of 2000 when Dennis arrived back home in Steinbach from his trip to Hong Kong. Before saying anything to his parents about his new career plans he went to Harv’s Air Service to find out about getting his pilot’s license. Owner Harv Penner told Dennis he could take his first ground school class for free. Five minutes into the first class Dennis knew he’d been born to fly. He went home and told his parents he was going to be a pilot. During the next five months, while still working at Penner Chev, he got his pilot’s license and upgraded some of his high school courses so he would qualify for admittance to Mount Royal College in Calgary where he earned a Diploma in Aviation. After both his first and second years of college, he gained valuable experience flying fishermen up to the Grass River Lodge near Flin Flon owned by Ike and Liz Enns from Steinbach. A tip from a college classmate landed him a job at an aviation company called North Write in the fall of 2002. He worked for them for four years. He flew Cessna 172s and Twin Otters often landing on water or ice with pontoons and skis. He delivered personnel and supplies for oil and diamond exploration, brought cargo to northern communities and flew hunters and fishermen to vacation spots.
While working for North Write he was able to log the 1500 hours of flying time he needed to have a chance at a job with Cathay Pacific. He also had to study for two difficult written exams. He went to Calgary to write the exams and then decided to fly to Hong Kong and personally hand in his resume at Cathay Pacific headquarters. In December of 2006, they gave him a job.
In 2009 when I interviewed Dennis in Hong Kong he was flying the AirBus 340 and 320 to London, Paris, Johannesburg, Rome, New York. Bahrain, Sydney, Auckland and many other destinations. He loved the opportunity to see the world and travel to so many different places. From what I could find out from Linked In and Facebook Dennis continues to live in Hong Kong today, has been promoted to the rank of captain and still flies for Cathay. Dennis said the question he gets asked most often when he tells people he is from Steinbach, Manitoba is whether he is related to Miriam Toews- since he and the well-known Canadian writer share a common last name and hometown. While he can’t claim Miriam Toews as kin, her father Melvin was his teacher at Elmdale School, so he does have one connection with the best selling author. Dennis says he never would have believed during his childhood in Steinbach that someday he’d be a pilot for Cathay. He has a photo he’s kept to remind him of his dreams come true story. The day he came home from his first flying lesson at Harv’s Air Service he asked his sister to take a picture of him standing in his bedroom pointing to a model Cathay plane he had hanging from the ceiling. He told his family that someday he was going to fly planes for Cathay. And that is exactly what he does!
I took this photo of the traditional Christmas Tree in Festival Walk Shopping Mall in Hong Kong in December 2010
Photo from Reuters
Here is that same tree on fire. According to a report on Radio Television Hong Kong black-clad protesters forced their way into the Festival Mall after it had closed, smashed through glass barriers and set the tree on fire. They broke down doors and set off the automatic sprinkler system. Protesters were angry because of a police raid at the mall on Sunday during which arrests were made and several people were injured.
Sunday morning at Pacific Coffee in the Festival Walk Mall with our children during one of their visits to Hong Kong
It is hard to believe this is happening in Festival Walk. Dave and I were at the Festival Walk Mall every week when we lived in Hong Kong. We went to their Pacific Coffee shop on Sunday mornings to read the paper. We often dined at their excellent Italian restaurant Amaroni’s. We shopped at their Page One book store. We went to the movies at the mall’s theatre.
Dinner at Amaronis in Festival Walk with friends
Dave having fun with our friends’ daughter at Amaroni’s in Festival Walk
Hong Kong was such a peaceful and safe place to call home for six years. It is surreal to watch the news and see places we knew well like Festival Walk now the site of violence and conflict. A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a group and they asked me what I thought would be the outcome of the democracy protests in Hong Kong. I gave a fairly lengthy answer but ended with the summation that “right now I can’t see any way for things to end well.” Sadly I think, my words are proving to be right.
Last night I went to a photography show created and curated by a talented colleague of mine from the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Michael Veith. Although Michael went to university in Winnipeg and lives and works here now, he grew up in the city of Macau and his parents still make their home there. Most of his photos were taken on a visit to Macau last February. They give you a fascinating taste of this unique city.
Here I am in front of the St. Paul’s church facade in Macau
Since I lived in neighboring Hong Kong for six years I made many visits to Macau. I loved to tour the old parts of the former Portuguese colony, wander through its cemeteries and streets, visit its museums and shops, marvel at the new massive casinos, eat wonderful food, go to shows and people watch.
Stone Skyline by Michael Veith
One of Michael’s photographs captures old and new Macau so well. It is called Stone Skyline and its focal point is the old stone church of St. Paul’s lit up at night. You can see all the high rises and skyscrapers in the background and way down in the front of the photo is a beautifully lit building in the traditional Portuguese style.
I loved Michael’s ninety-nine photos of mailboxes in Macau. He included 99 because 1999 was the year Macau was handed back to China. Like Hong Kong, Macau is a special area region of China.
Transport by Michael Veith
Another one of my favorites in the exhibit was this unique shot of a bus stop.
Michael and I had a lovely chat about Macau. We both love an excellent traditional Portuguese restaurant in Macau called Fernando’s. Michael was there just last year and assured me that while many things about Macau have changed Fernando’s has not.
Michael’s wonderful photographs brought back so many memories of Macau. They have me rummaging through my southeast Asia photo albums, opening old journals, and scanning my computer photo library for images and memories of the city. You can expect to see them in an upcoming blog post.
Mainland Calling by Michael Veith
I think Michael’s show is on for at least a couple more nights at The Forth coffeeshop on McDermot in the Exchange. Why not head on down and learn more about Macau from Michael and his amazing photos.
We attended a wedding in Toronto on Saturday. The groom Jon was a former student of Dave’s and was also a member of the highschool basketball team Dave coached in Hong Kong. Jon was one of the student participants in a school trip to Israel I chaperoned.
Having lunch in Toronto with Jon on one of our visits to the city
During previous visits to Toronto, we have caught up with Jon over lunch or at a Jays game.
Dave with Jon and another former student Ivan at a Blue Jays game
Jon is off to Berkley University in California this fall to get a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology.
Cool photos of the bride and groom decorated the wedding reception venue
We had met Jon’s bride Marijke the last time we saw Jon in Toronto.
Timothy Eaton Church in Toronto where the wedding was held.
We were delighted to be invited to Jon and Marijke’s wedding in the historic Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. The church was built over a hundred years ago. The wedding was lovely and after the service, we were invited to enjoy some ice cream from one of the ice cream trucks parked outside. Then we took a cab over to a unique gallery-style event site for the reception.
The bride poses with some friends who helped usher us outside when the fire alarm went off
During the cocktail hour, while we were enjoying some amazing appetizers, the fire alarm went off. Dave and I were chatting with an interesting couple our age who were former Hong Kong residents and now worked as bankers in Toronto. Like the other guests, at first we just ignored the alarm, but then members of the wedding party urged us to head outside. As we sat on the curbs and hung around in the parking lot three fire trucks pulled up sirens blaring. The firefighters headed into the building and after a few minutes came back out telling us it was safe to return to the reception. Apparently, someone had been smoking on the premises and that had set off the alarms. Dave was pleased Jon the groom came over for a chat. He thanked us for coming to the wedding.
This lovely watercolor of the bride and groom was on the front of the thank you postcards each guest received at their table. They informed us that the couple had donated money in our name to an association in Toronto that promotes health and happiness for members of the LGBTQ2S community and to another association in Hong Kong that teaches children about Cantonese opera
We didn’t know anyone at the wedding except for the bride and groom but had interesting conversations with our tablemates at the reception. Dave sat beside a professor who is writing a book about the American novelist Flannery O’Connor and I sat beside a British Columbia lawyer whose son just happens to be married to the daughter of a British Columbia lawyer who was a college classmate of ours.
The bride and groom having their first dance together as a married couple
We had never been at a wedding with fire trucks before although the experience did remind us of our niece Hannah’s September long weekend wedding many years ago when emergency responders showed up after a tornado hit the tent where the reception was being held. Those kinds of surprises may not be what married couples plan for at their weddings but they certainly do make them memorable.
I am always fascinated to learn what my former students are doing. Last week I was delighted to get a glimpse into the current life of Justin Bong Kwan who was in my grade five class in Hong Kong in 2003.
My grade five class in Hong Kong in 2003. Justin is in the back row third from the left.
Justin and I maintain a social media connection and he read a blog post I had written about my feelings regarding the current political situation in Hong Kong. He thought I might be interested in some articles he has published recently on related topics and he sent me the links to them.
Giving Justin a hug the day of his high school graduation
After high school, Justin received degrees from the London School of Economics and Politics, Durham University and City University in Hong Kong. He is now a practicing barrister in Hong Kong. Besides his law career, Justin does freelance writing and I read these four articles of his with great interest.
Justin’s opinion piece in the South China Morning Post was about the triad’s connections to the current demonstrations and the role they have played in politics in the past. It took me on a little walk through Chinese history, a subject I learned so much about as I prepared to teach it to Justin’s fifth-grade social studies class.
In an article in the Hong Kong Free Press Justin looks at what might be an alternative to the contentious extradition bill that sparked the current demonstrations initially.
Another piece published in the Brussels Times highlights the irony of the EU’s position on Hong Kong’s extradition bill.
A fourth piece in the South China Morning Post looks at how British capitalism and the Chinese work ethic have combined to make Hong Kong the unique place it is.
Justin is an excellent writer, obviously a great critical thinker, and has established a career for himself in two fields. It makes me pretty proud, especially when he told me in a recent message that he credits me with giving him the ‘writing bug’ in grade five.
Here are a few posts about some of my other former students. I’d love to know what more of them are doing and where life’s path has taken them.