Thursday, December 10, 2015

December Culture Jam

For those of us in the fallout of the electronic revolution, rapid globalization, commercialization, and "social technology" have amplified our ideological struggles. Where in our competing ideas of identity and justice can we find meaning? And do the words of the past still ring true today? In tribalizing ourselves and each other through technology, we have sacrificed our identity to a cat playing piano... 

...cinema becomes our mentor...

...sometimes our identity is taken from us...

...though not all prisons look the same.

 One thing remains true:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Visit to the Oriental Art Shop and Tea House 

The Oriental Art Shop and Tea House greets its guests with the unmistakable scent of patchouli- the official perfume of stores that sell Asian stuff.

“Namaste.” Anna, the owner, greets me, putting her hands together and bowing. She’s a petite woman in a silken Mongolian top and long flowing pants; beads adorn her blonde dreadlocks, and bracelets jingle from her wrists.  I bow back to her, doing my best to respect her culture.

Anna kindly offers me some tea brewed with mint from the gardens of Tibetan monks. “I picked the leaves myself,” she grins as we sit on rattan chairs in the corner of the store “The monks didn’t even say anything about it.”

Anna tells me about her journey in founding The Oriental Art Shop and Tea House (which she insists I call by its full name throughout this article). Five years ago she was an exceptional student at a local Liberal Arts College. “Not, like, exceptional in terms of grades” she notes, exceptional in that she was much smarter than her classmates and could have done better grade-wise if she felt she needed to.  “There are many ways to measure intelligence,” she says as she sips tea from a clay cup “you can be book smart, or you can be life smart.”

After school, Anna tried a variety of different jobs, from jewelry maker to yoga instructor. Subsisting only on her menial wage, and an allowance from her parents, she was forced to live with a roommate. Nothing felt right: “I just, like, felt like I was, like, destined to be something more!” That’s when Anna bravely decided to leave everything behind, and travel the world by herself. “It’s scary,” she admits “And I wasn’t sure if I’d be brave enough to do it, but I’m so glad I did.”

Anna phoned up her parents, and no sooner did they transfer her money for flight and living expenses, did she bravely take off for a trip across Europe and Asia. The sacrifice proved worth it. Staying in hostels, and backpacking with other impoverished travellers, she found inspiration in each destination. “I learned how to cook,” Anna blushes “When you’re a poor traveller, you need to learn how to live within your means. But it’s all part of the experience.”  

It was in Tibet that she found inspiration for many items in her store. Everything she stocks is hand-made by craftspeople whose pictures don’t adorn her wall, but who look sort of like the stock models whose pictures do.  
“Some of these items are from India, some are from Cambodia. I bet you don’t see a lot of stores with things from Cambodia! Are you Cambodian?” No, I tell her, I’m not Cambodian. She sips her tea again and thinks for a moment: “Thai?” “No.” “Vietnamese?” “No.” We laugh as she flicks back a perfect dreadlock.

“After seeing the kind of art that other countries have, I realized that we were really missing out here in Canada. People need more stores that sell artisan products from Asia!” Anna grins, beaming from her own brilliance “So I figured: why can’t I be the one to make this happen?”

 After doing more research in the mountains of Tibet, and the bars of Singapore, Anna decided to come home and make her dream happen: “I was really sad to leave. I’ve never really felt like a white person, so being in a place where I could really come into my own was something else. Everyone was so nice there, so accommodating—they just, like, want to take pictures with you and put you on TV! It feels really nice to belong and get the authentic experience.”

 No sooner did Anna arrive, did she give her business proposition to her parents. “They were so proud of me and my ambition,” Anna almost sings “they transferred me the money for a down-payment right away! And the rest was up to me! I painted the place, did the inventory, and even made the sign outside. I really built something, you know?”

I take another sip of my tea and smile, asking if her parents are prouder now that the store’s open. She nods, enthusiastically: “Yes. I mean, it just goes to show what you can do if you’re dedicated, hard-working, and really want something! Don’t ever fall prey to your fears. Just look at all I’ve accomplished with The Oriental Art Shop and Tea House if you don’t believe me!”

NOTE: The ORIENTAL ART SHOP AND TEA HOUSE closed shortly before the publishing of this article. Anna is currently in Korea teaching English.