Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Treasure Troves of Chinatown

Chinatown shops are treasure troves of the weird, wonderful and kawaii (‘cute’). Amongst the jade dragons and lucky cats you’ll find Hello Kitty, paper lanterns and garlands, resting or jolly laughing buddhas and miniature Chinese lion puppets. There’s no real logic to what goes where on the shelves,  it’s a colorful assembly with a splash of red and gold and a hint of disorder and chaos. Which all adds to the charm. Surrounded by Chinese script on the packages it almost feels like leaving behind the English-dominated outside for a moment or two, being immersed in something quirky in a language you don’t fully understand, besides the dollar signs on the goodies that is.

The little girl in me couldn’t resist ‘Milk’, clearly David couldn’t either.

The Chinese Cultural Centre in the area actually has a Lion Dance society, it’s not only the lion’s vivid colours which cause the audience to marvel but the group of skilled people inside the lion’s body – they are able to move in such a coordinated, harmonious manner that the lion’s movement is nothing short of fluid, almost appearing to sweep effortlessly over the ground without a stumble. The head dancer controls the lion’s ears, mouth and eyes moving them rhythmically to the music and giving them dramatic expressions. Making the costume leap to life. Hopefully I will get to see this spectacle mark the Chinese New Year in China one day.

What do I think is really awesome right now? This video. What a tradition! Wait till the champion lion starts balancing on the poles and rearing up to really see the skill involved, this isn’t child’s play.

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Filed under Arts & Culture, Calgary, NABLOPOMO, Nature and Planet Earth, Travel

Creative Mind Never Sleeps

‘Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.’ ~ Edward de Bono.

Last night as I was staring into the darkness my mind was busy assembling a scene. It was raining heavily, smog encircling a lone figure and there was an immense feeling of loss and regret hanging in the air. Normally I’m busy untangling thoughts that have seeped into my unconscious during the day, rerunning a conversation or telling my mind to dump because its constant babble is keeping me from sleep. But last night it was weaving a creative piece and I couldn’t stop it. I promised to write it down when I woke up but upon the sunlight creeping through the window it had slipped away with the night. I was pretty frustrated as it was really going somewhere, or at least it was a starting point.

Science has been at the forefront of my mind, everything from critiquing research to coming up with investigative questions and experiments to lead to some answers. Trying to piece together concepts to get a full story, thinking of possibilities and applying research to the real world. This was something I found difficult at first but my brain slipped into these thinking patterns and being able to think for itself in a scientific way. I felt more like a scientist and less of an imposter playing pretend. I always got the feeling professors and teaching assistants  knew who was just winging it. It started to be natural and not forced, to an extent I had to think out the box and be creative, but it involves a lot of being able to think critically, with a splatter of abstract thought and logical inquiry.

Creativity keeps the world interesting

With my mind having been conditioned to focus more on the science-y stuff I thought other subjects may have got lost on the way. I got back into languages after graduation, what’s stopping me from getting back into writing creatively? Something I haven’t really done since I was in English Language classes – age 16. Something I don’t think I was really encouraged to do since primary school, I would write short stories with some really unbelievable and zany goings-on that my favorite primary school teacher Mrs De Val would coo over and tell me I would be a fledgling author. Then again when I performed in a theatre group (age 11, no teenage confidence dive yet) I was written a thank you letter from the producer/writer lady telling me an Oscar lay in my future, no gold statuettes thus far. Miss Bell, a maiden of physics, said a Nobel Prize could be in my future (I got the feeling she said this to every student pursuing science in higher education). So I don’t expect prophecies of greatness to come true when my name is involved, I just assume people are being encouraging to reach for your dreams and giving you hope and fire inside that you might achieve what you strive to be  – which is nice all the same.

Four things put me off a little from writing:

  1. I’m pretty conscious of the public reading. The main reason I took my journal public was because I was secretly reading many blogs and wanted to see if I could do it too, I have met some wonderful people blogging and love reading about their lives, that is enough to keep me going. I don’t want an earthquake of traffic but I love having those bloggers that matter and are genuine, I’m less wary of posting what I think here because I want people to know the real me. Isn’t it always pointless to not be the real you?
  2. I find it hard to take a leap from the diving board, not scared to commit or lacking determination, but I often feel that when I don’t instantly feel a small victory or I falter in my attempts I can get very defeatist and feel like giving up a little before I’ve begun. This is something I desperately want to overcome, I will write more about this and endeavor to change this attitude as I think it could stump any talents I try to develop. If I hadn’t neglected girls football, netball, kayaking, cartoon drawing, electric guitar and bass (some as I sucked, others due to costs or time) who knows where I would be now. I would love to feel passion for these things again.
  3. I don’t know if I have what it takes to piece together a story, develop characters and have all the glue needed to hold a novel in place. I’m not even sure this is something that can be taught. I suppose I don’t think I will have the continuity of ideas or a strong enough idea to carry through. I think I’m more a ‘moment person’, if I transport myself to a place in my mind, I can imagine the dialogue and the setting but lack the follow through to make it anything more than a moment.
  4. It’s too late to start. Though my rational minds say it’s never to late to start anything. Ever. Period.

Life is about applying what you know and learning some. Maybe I need to act on this.

Given the blessing/curse of having some time on my hands. I was tempted to try my hand at a children’s book, my boyfriend even offered to illustrate! We’ll see, I have a ridiculous mental list of stuff I want to do in my life and so many interests I would love to delve deeper into – maybe being an expert in certain fields someday!

This daily blog post challenge has certainly kept my journaling in shape. Sometimes I get to 11 pm and I’m still wondering what topic or thoughts to reveal to the world. But so far I’m managing, I’ve discovered daily blogging is exhausting but satisfying. I will probably do small posts over the weekend as I really want to catch up with everything online and off. This past week has been so energy-draining – Worry? Stress? Dull skies and rain? Silly insomnia? Maybe a case of all the above.

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Filed under Arts & Culture, Career, Graduate, Life, Life Lessons, Musings and Aphorisms, NABLOPOMO, Personal Development, Science

Scribbled Postcards (Part II)

A hoy! Globe trotting via postcards:

An update for Postcrossers and more things I’ve learnt about the world through postcards. Click photos to enlarge.

Julie treated me to a cove scene from La Jolla, San Diego, CA. Coves are a great display of Nature as an architect and the powerful erosive force that sculpts these sheltered bays. I love the vintage/artsy feel to the postcard and it reminds me how much I would love to live close to the ocean (and not in the middle of the Canadian landmass, surrendering to its, frankly bizarre, weather systems).

In a word. Stunning. Silje showed me a glimpse of her world, the largest city in the north of Norway, Tromsø. I’m always bowled over by how beautiful Norway is and Tromsø is no exception. This city centre apparently has the highest concentration of historical wooden houses which co-exist with modern architecture, illustrated in the design of the Arctic Cathedral. Tromsø is the perfect place to marvel at the glowing Aurora Borealis skies. Good luck on your travels to England, Silje!

Cute Lakeland Bears postcard courtesy of Mieke from the Netherlands. Lakeland Bears are very collectible and love donning hiking gear and going out on long walks, they’re fully jointed so pose for the camera on their ventures. Some even dress in corduroy and tweed – how very English! I wonder if they like a good cup of Earl Grey. Mieke wanted to send me a bit of the British Isles to Canada and this teddy bear certainly accomplished that and a smile. Textured cat stickers are full of win!

From Steffi of Germany. How can I not like a postcard sent from a lady with a love of chocolate, sushi, coffee and photography, she also encourages me to hit the ski slopes. This art work is titled ‘Verena Kobelkowsy with Amaryll. He begs day and night’. I haven’t been sent many art cards so it was neat to be introduced to a new artist of foreign lands. Which is another thing about Postcrossing, increasing your awareness of the unknown and widening your scope of the world and the things in it.

The Renaissance painters are outstanding and I admire anyone who is brimming with talent and artistic flair. From Texas, sent by Lynn and is of Michelangelo’s The Torment of St. Anthony. I’m in awe that someone could paint like this at 14, at that age my macaroni art was coming together and the objects of my still life sketches were just about recognisable.

From Belarus. Happy flowers, bumble bees and the Cyrillic alphabet. Attempts to transliterate to the Latin alphabet resulted in translation fail of epic proportions.

From South Germany, the town Heidenheimer hosts a flower show accompanied by a herd of 80 sheep. Glass fibre reinforced plastic, these statues are customised by a myriad of designers (companies, schools, artists) who let their imagination flow to make their sheep stand out from the rest of the flock. Kind of like the Cow Parade, for sheep. I think my postcard sheep was sitting in the half way house between bohemian and hobo. The stamp is a salute to Selma Lagerlöf, the first female to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

From Guangzhou, China. I’ve always found beauty in the elaborate temples and shrines of the world, decorated so ornately. This colourful detailed statue is from the ancient Shuanglin Monastery and contains over 2,000 intricate Buddhist terra cotta  and wooden statues. This specific statue of an armoured general is one of the eight protectors of Chinese Buddhism.

The captivating city of Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and a previous capital city of the Roman Empire. The painting is called ‘Entry of the Golden Horn’, with the Golden Horn being an estuary. This mega city has many mosques incorporated into its skyline and appears just as beautiful in modern-day photographs as it does in this artwork.

Geishas are the perfect blend of butterfly-like grace, elegance and poise. As well as physical beauty and elaborate costumes they are highly trained performers, mastering Japanese music, dance, tea ceremonies and etiquette. I remember after seeing Memoirs of a Geisha and getting a sneak peek at this aspect of Japanese culture and traditions, I began seeking out geisha literature and autobiographical accounts so this postcard was very welcome in my mailbox. It’s great that a geisha could continue to entertain well into her 60’s and still be deemed as beautiful as those in their youth. Maybe something to think about in the Western World where getting old is often portrayed as something to fight and not embrace.


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Wardrobes of Literature

‘Somehow reading a book never feels like sitting still’ ~ Jef Mallett

The libraries at Sheffield University buzzed with activity – students researching for assignments, pulling all-nighters in a desperate bid to meet end of semester deadlines and raiding old journals in the eerie labyrinth-like stacks. I spent most of my final year nerdin’ it up there whilst developing a caffeine addiction. It became a bit of a social hub, even as far as pyjama parties for late night study sessions. The main library in the city centre felt near deserted. A shell with bookshelves and no pulse.

Calgary City Library is very much alive. People absorbed in literature and enjoying the social aspect. In fact I’ve had some interesting passing conversations in the library.

My trip to the library, lets be pensive and call this aisle a 'corridor of knowledge'.

I finally sorted out a library card. With a 99 loan limit, I asked the library assistant where I could park my truck. She laughed, but I wasn’t joking – I love books. I love possessing a bundle of knowledge at my fingertips or having realms of material to flex my imagination with. My ‘books to read in this lifetime’ list is pretty inexhaustible, too many interests and recommendations.  This quote says it well.

‘The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species.  I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries’. ~ Carl Sagan.

Nikki’s reading list

Always with the whipped cream.

I restrained my inner eager beaver and settled on 3 books.

Mastering Norwegian – I’ve been slacking too much on my language learning and I need to stop my brain turning to mush. Any one else get that feeling when they haven’t been stretching their brain? I really feel like my mind is becoming mental sushi. At college I was constantly learning, I don’t miss the pressure or exams, but I miss knowing new stuff. Fellow blogger Sophie will be proud of my choice!

IVF: The A.R.T. to making Babies –  Most of the IVF books I’ve found have been more focused on the patient’s perspective. Empathy is a big part of interacting with patients but this is a more medical focused book. Theory and concepts I will actually use in the real world. Sense a hopefully there too. Oh, and ART = assisted reproductive technologies, doctors attempting nerd funnies there.

The Handy Science Answer Book – Because you can never know enough useless facts and pointless trivia and they make me a lethal weapon in quizzes.

I’m always interested in other people’s reading lists and goals, so if you’re engrossed in a novel or there’s a book that has inspired you or you think I’d enjoy then feel free to contribute ideas for my bookshelves.

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Macabre masterpieces?

‘Emotion always has its roots in the unconscious and manifests itself in the body‘ ~ Irene Claremont de Castillejo.

Last weekend I found out what I was made of, what I was really made of.

Surrounded by lifeless stone-cold strangers, but not a stench of formaldehyde in the air. No, I’m not trapped in an obscene chamber of horrors or a mortuary but the opening weekend of the Body Worlds exhibition at the TELUS World of Science. An exhibition showcasing preserved human bodies using a technique called plastination which preserves the specimens right down to the microscopic level. With 30 million visitors worldwide and cloaked in controversy I was prepared for the queues of curious museum-goers.

This isn’t bodies laid on slabs like you’d expect in a dissection lab. This is Anatomy 101 3D, all those well annotated diagrams bought to life (death?) before your eyes. Each specimen is painstakingly posed – from yoga flexes to ice skating death spins – to give a feeling of dynamism and to tug at tendons and tense muscles to show the anatomical action beneath the skin’s surface.

People shuffled round the exhibits with a sort of hushed inquisitiveness. I was trying to take in the fact these were actual people.

The exhibition had a da Vinci-esque feel to it. Ideology and religion had made anatomical dissection illegal in the past and was limited to animals with the findings extrapolated to humans, da Vinci  carried out private dissections in his own ‘search for the truth’, even finding the cause of heart disease but having to hide his discovery. He was forced to give up his studies and is quoted as saying ‘Tell me, have I done anything of worth?’ If only he knew his impact. It felt like entering his Renaissance world and learning through observing the tiny details and not staring at words on a page. Trying to fathom the unfathomable.

Considering I want to be an embryologist, I was pretty excited about the ‘reproduction and development’ area. But I was saddened that every one of these tiny specimens never made it to life for some reason or another. There was also a plastinate frozen in suspended animation at 4 months pregnancy, a visible fetus cradled in her belly. I could definitely see the reason for this part of the exhibit to be curtained off from the rest, that woman made me feel uncomfortable and I’m an open minded self-confessed science nerd. It made me even more determined to help people through science, working at an early start of the process to set in motion a baby’s healthy development.

Questions steeped in ethics are inevitable with a presentation like this and it got me thinking midway through my White Chocolate Mocha yesterday. Philosophical debate ensued and our main thoughts were this. Is it a vile display showing a lack of respect for human dignity? Human bodies for entertainment, sorry, edutainment? Maybe inspiring the next generation of doctors or leading people to take better care of themselves. Does it devalue human individuality?  Each exhibit is devoid of a personal narrative, I guess the aim is to detach ourselves from the cadaver as a person but I still couldn’t help but wonder why they chose this way to be remembered. Is this morbid art?  Depending on your definition of art of course. There’s no doubt each piece requires training and skill to plastinate and pose, taking at least 1500 working hours for each specimen.

The beautiful works of Leonardo da Vinci - a true master of the arts and science.

Marrying of science and art? Perhaps. It was definitely on that narrow line, these surreal anatomical sculptures. Either way it showed that the human body is a wonder of the world. Highlighting the complexity of the body, how even though we think of our body as being a whole it is really many systems working harmoniously, intricately linked, carrying us day to day. Delicate nerves and seeing the scarlet plastinate capillary systems I got a sense of our fragility and an appreciation for my body. Wow, you’re pretty remarkable.

There’s a great article on Body Worlds here. If Ethics is your thing, then recommend this.

Bonus information: ‘Well, if you can’t take the cadavers, get out of the dissection room’.

Embarrassing. I almost fainted next to a dissected camel. Take a hot crowded museum, fluorescent lighting, a case of dehydration and what do you get? A girl who ends up needing to lie down in the ‘baby changing facilities’ area. I kid you not. Tended by knight in shining armor boyfriend baring apple juice. Probably now the laughing-stock of Calgary Med students assuming I have a sensitive disposition. What a date!

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