Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Best Definition of Success... how your child describes you to a friend.

An observation made on Thomas Barnett's blog that I agree with.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

My Secret Reading Vice

Okay, so perhaps it's not so secret. But made you look!

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved comic books. Comic books were one of my early motivations in learning to read. I have a childhood memory from Grade 6, of an assignment from a teacher who understood the opportunity inherent in the number of comic books in evidence in his classroom. He required us to each pick one, and retell the story, focusing especially on written descriptions of the action happening on each page, in each panel. At the time, I thought of it as a better than average Reading assignment, but it never occurred to me that I could devote further analytical thought to comic books in general.

My first awareness of comics as something that mattered came when I read Lupoff and Thompson's "All In Color For A Dime" when I was 12 or 13. This book made me aware that comics had a history, and is probably the influence that made me start collecting them, as opposed to merely reading them.

My own collection extends back into the 50s (only a few examples, and all mostly cowboy comics), has some representation through the 1960s and early 70s, becomes fairly strong (at least as far as mainstream publications) in the late 70s and most of the 80s. By the time I met Jill in 1990, I had stopped regularly buying comic books. This happened for sseveral reasons -- first, available time became a semantically null concept as far as my own life was concerned; second, simple economics dictated other priorities; third, most importantly, I lost interest.

However, I have always resisted the notion of selling off my comics. Too many hours of personal history are tied up in those multi-coloured pages.
So therefore, it was a pleasure to find a web site that has thousands of comic book covers, many from books that I remember reading.

I am now an occasional comic book buyer. Prices are the most noticeable thing. How do kids afford comics today? The answer is that they probably don't -- the comic book market has shifted so that target audiences are mostly adults, rather than entirely for children. This is probably a development which would not have been anticipated, fifty years ago at the height of the anti-comics frenzy.

My son learned to read over the last year and a half, and I see some aspects of my own early reading experience repeating themselves. Corwin has gotten to the point where he can figure out a hitherto new word, all on his own. This last week, he could often be found with his nose buried inside a copy of "Teen Titans Go!" or the "Star Wars: Rogue Squadron" graphic novel. My nice warm feeling comes when I know that it took no effort to get him to read, and his reading is motivated by his own interest. How much better than that does it get??

An earlier geeneration, indoctrinated by the wrong-headedness of Fredric Wertham, would undoubtedly brand me as a Bad Parent for deliberately exposing my child to the corrupting influence of comic books. Nice to be able to relegate Wertham's views to being a msitake of history.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Return to the Moon -- Orion/Ares

Back in the late 1950s/1960s, Freeman Dyson worked on a theoretical study called Project Orion -- a concept for a nuclear pulse propulsion system.

Now, NASA has revived the Orion name for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the spacecraft which will be the successor to the space shuttle.

Unfortunately, this new Orion will not be nuclear-pulse powered. Instead, it will be sent into space using an expendable launch vehicle.

The launcher will be named "Ares". The NASA illustration shows the two configurations -- the Ares I crew launch system on the right, and the Ares V heavy lift cargo launcher on the left. Ares is the Greek god associated with Mars, and the "I" and "V" designations pay homage to the Apollo-era Saturn I and Saturn V rockets.

The Ares I launcher will be used to put an Orion into orbit. The Ares V heavy lift system will be used to boost space station components or the hardware elements of a lunar mission into space.

It is clear from the illustrations that the Ares launcher is an evolved version of the space shuttle solid rocket booster and fuel tank system. Similarly, Orion is recognizably an enhanced version of the Apollo Command and Service Module combination.

The obvious comment is that this sytem is an extension of the 1950s brute force approach to getting out of the atmosphere. The romance of the rocket lives on, tinged with regret over what might have been.

Brute force rocket launches are what NASA -- and indeed every other space agency in the world -- knows how to do. The Orion/Ares combination may in fact return Americans and their international partners to the Moon. It may even take them to Mars.

But a true future in space requires that the price to send a kilogram of cargo into orbit be dropped from the current level of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars down to hundreds of dollars or less. Rockets are likely not the answer to achieve this goal, although systems like Orion/Ares need to be implemented until alternatives can be developed.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Charters (aka the humanitarian)... a new play produced by my cousin, Wayne Sujo.

The play is part of the Summerworks festival in early August.

We last saw Wayne perform on stage at Stratford a couple of years ago, and of course, he was in Iron Road a few years back. Note -- We've also seen him more recently -- just not on stage :-) It is great that his career is expanding in new directions -- being the "producer" of a play must be a lot different, and probably a lot scarier, than being an "actor".

Charters (aka the humanitarian) is on at the Factory Studio Theatre on Bathurst Street at Adelaide, on August 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12. See their website for times of performances.

Update: Wayne mentioned in an e-mail that he received an offer last week from Canstage to be one of 3 actors in the World Premiere of Morris Panych’s play What Lies Before Us.

Wayne's involvement is from December 11 – April 15. The play travels from Toronto to Winnipeg to Edmonton.

Here are the links to the Winnipeg and Edmonton venues:

the Manitoba Theatre Company
the Citadel theatre in Edmonton

This is the Canstage blurb about What Lies Before Us:

It’s 1835 and Ambrose and Keating, two junior surveyors, are lost in the Canadian Rockies with Wing, the Chinese cook. As the snow begins to fall, the men’s discussion of colonialism, women, faith and the future, descend into petty and hilarious squabbles. What Lies Before Us is another brilliant trip from twotime Governor General’s Award winner Morris Panych. What Lies Before Us is a darkly comic look at man, mountains and the meaning of life.

I could be wrong here, but I am going to guess that Wayne is playing the role of Wing, the Chinese cook :-)

Break a leg, Wayne!

Pimp My Ride

On the subject of being a Star Trek geek, as noted in my previous post, here is a bit of silliness from Allan Goodall's blog.

Update - here is a photo of my car, just to demonstrate that it isn't as, ahem, nicely decorated as the vehicle that Allan has displayed on his site.

So whaddaya think? White paint, then red racing stripes down the sides, a Starfleet logo...?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moon Landing Day

Today is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. Back then, it seemed certain that a revolution in space travel was about to happen -- first the moon, then Mars -- and with a few scientific and engineering breakthroughs, perhaps even Alpha Centauri and the galaxy beyond would be within reach. It was a Star Trek geek's dream.

But alas, such was not to happen. The cost -- in energy, in dollars -- of getting people and equipment the first 200 kilometers up into Low Earth Orbit was and continues to be the biggest obstacle hindering the development of humanity's future in space. It is sad to think that the current plans for returning to the moon aren't based on any substantive technological advance beyond what was used for Project Apollo.

In this NASA archival photo, Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo ll mission commander, works at the modular equipment storage assembly (MESA) of the Lunar Module Eagle on the historic first extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The moonwalk began at 22:56 EDT on July 20, 1969 when Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, the first human being to set foot onto another world. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin followed a few minutes later. Aldrin took this photograph with a Hasselblad 70mm camera.

Most astronaut photos from the Apollo 11 mission show Buzz Aldrin. This is one of only a few that show Neil Armstrong (some of these are blurry).

The third member of the crew, Astronaut Michael Collins, remained in lunar orbit in the Command Module Columbia.

When we think of the Wright Brothers, we see their first flight as a first step in massive technological and social development that built on what they achieved and extended it further. When we think of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, we remember them as the ones who were first to a place to where we have lost the ability to return. My hope is that we all live long enough to think about Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins in the same way that we think about the Wright Brothers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Kids of Summer

In order to fulfill my ongoing ambition of being a Bad Influence, I ensured that Brie had an opportunity to play Scrabble for money. This happened during the All Barbecue All The Time weekend at the end of June.

My intention of having Brie fund my retirement with her Scrabble winnings didn't pan out, unfortunately. Brie went home at the beginning of July, having spent two weeks with us.

The following week, we accepted a refugee application from Robert, who needed time away from his parents in a high intensity science fiction environment. And where the heck would he go for that but to us???

We took shameless advantage of the presence of both Brie and Robert to not do much cooking. Robert's visit culminated with a trip down to the Danforth for a Greek meal at Mezes, followed by dessert at Demetre's. Note the large container of ice cream, somewhat larger than the kid's head. The funny thing about the sundae is that Jill was away from the table, and I had taken Corwin to the washroom when the waiter came and took the dish away. We gave Robert a hard time for not being able to prove that he had actually finished it!

However, all good things come to an end. Robert's mother, Elaine, whom we had missed seeing at the Mid Year Barbecue, came to retrieve her son. The penultimate event of Robert's visit was an evening at Medievel Times. The next day was Robert's birthday. After a buffet lunch pig-out that could only happen with a sixteen year old boy, Robert and his mother headed home.

Poor Corwin misses not having his buddies around!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Cousin Discovered, Old Memories, and Glimpses of Family History

This month, the Government of Canada apologized for the head tax on Chinese immigrants imposed between 1885 and 1923. I've never thought much about the head tax, and when I did, it was a topic flagged Ancient History - Not Applicable to Me. However, the head tax, and the Chinese Exclusion Act which followed it, very likely shaped the way my family's history evolved.

Some of this history became clearer when I got an e-mail earlier this month from a man named Tak Chow in Florida, identifying himself as a cousin on my father's side of the family.

Tak had been googling "Lichee Garden", part of a search for relatives of Harry Lem, owner of the Lichee Garden restaurant in Toronto. One of the hits that he got was my father's obituary.

As he read the article, Tak concluded that his family and mine were related. He e-mailed me and we corresponded and spoke on the phone. Based on the e-mails, the phone conversation, some discussions with my mother, and some thought, this is a summary of some family history. Getting this information has been an evolutionary process, and the history is subject to revision.

My great grandfather, Lum Goey Hien, had an older brother. Goey Hien's nephew, son of his brother, was named Lum Sen Hong. Sen Hong was married in Hong Kong, and among other children, had a daughter -- Lum Hay Chun, who married a man named Chow, and who had two sons and a daughter -- with the younger of the two sons being my cousin Tak Chow, born in 1952.

Lum Goey Hien and his brother came to Canada in the early part of the twentieth century, as did young Sen Hong. All three of them would have paid the head tax to enter the country. Lum Sen Hong took the English name Harry Lem. All this happened before the Chinese Exclusion Act stopped Chinese immigration to Canada between 1923 to 1947. My hunch (completely unsubstantiated) is that they arrived in the 1916 to 1919 range, when the demand for Chinese labourers caused the immigration rate to briefly increase. Like all other Chinese immigrants of the time, the Chinese Exclusion Act would have prevented the three of them from bringing the rest of their families to Canada.

In Toronto, Goey Hien spent some time in jail, having run afoul of the law over an unlicensed distillery and its output. Sen Hong spoke to the authorities on his behalf, and was involved in the process which got him out of jail. For this, Goey Hien forever after spoke of Sen Hong as his smart, clever nephew.

Lum Sen Hong -- Harry Lem -- became a successful businessman in Canada, and even married again. There are no sources that can speak to how he felt about his first family, left behind in Hong Kong. The Lichee Garden restaurant which he started in the late 1940s would become famous. In the 1950s, for a time my father worked there, earning the princely sum of $15 a week. In later years, Sen Hong was involved in the local organization of the Lum Si Ho Tong society -- the Lum family association.

My father, Lum Suey Chong, was born in 1931, son of Lum Yoey Nien, who was the eldest, but adopted, son of Lum Goey Hien. Yoey Nien and Sen Hong were therefore adoptive cousins. Yoey Nien never returned home after going to fight the Japanese in the aftermath of the invasion of China in the late 1930s.

The fact that my grandfather -- my father's father -- was adopted into the Lum family is something that I only discovered today, in conversation with my mother. I am still assimilating this datum.

After the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1947, my father joined his grandfather, Lum Goey Hien, in northern BC in 1950.

My mother left the family home village in 1957 and made her way to Hong Kong via Macau. In Hong Kong, she stayed with Hay Chun and her husband. At the time, they lived in Shau Kee Wan. Hay Chun and her husband, two sons (Tak and his brother), Hay Chun's mother (Sen Hong's first wife), and Hay Chun's brother's wife and young son -- seven people, eight counting my mother, in one flat. My father and Hay Chun would have been second cousins, but my father would have addressed Hay Chun as "elder sister" because of the difference in their ages.

Tak was 5 in 1957, approximately the same age as his cousin. His brother would have been a couple of years older. Tak remembers my mother as a shy young woman who looked after him and played with him and was his buddy. My mother was there for three months before she came to Canada. She remembers Tak and his brother as two small, energetic boys, and forty nine years later was amazed that Tak would remember her.

As I have written in the story of my father's life, Goey Hien walked out of our lives in the early 1960s to retire to Hong Kong. Growing up, I had always imagined that he lived out his remaining days in splendour, but the reality was probably a less crowded version of the flat in Shau Kee Wan. Word came to us some years later that the old man had said that my father was an ungrateful wretch who did not appreciate what had been done for him. My father was so enraged by this that it very likely prevented the two of them from ever reconciling.

The last vestiges of the Chinese Exclusion Act were repealed in 1967, the year my family moved to Wonowon. This helped to pave the way for my grandmother coming from Hong Kong to join us in the late 1960s.

Tak attended school at Iowa State University in the 1970s. His education in America was made possible by Lum Sen Hong. In Hong Kong in the early 1980s, Tak attended the funeral of my great grandfather Lum Goey Hien. When Goey Hien passed away, he was in his 90s.

Sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, Lum Sen Hong also passed away.

In May 2005, Tak and his parents visited Toronto, to visit the grave of Lum Sen Hong, to finally close this chapter of their family history that had begun so many years earlier.

Following Tak's initial contact with me, my mother and Hay Chun spoke on the telephone, in the first of what I hope will be many conversations.

As my dialogue with my newly discovered cousin has progressed, I continue to marvel at how things and people and events are connected -- and how events nearly a century ago still echo through my life and those of my family -- all of them, no matter who and where they may be.