Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Our vacation is smiling, Our children is happy."

The above is the text of a T-shirt I once saw a young Asian kid wearing on the Q20B bus in Queens.

With the highly notable exception of Calgary, the past few days have been loaded with discovery, physical suffering, and saturated fat. Monday night we made Edmonton, a northern prairie city of around 600,000. It was beautiful and happening, with tons of downtown greenspace, river scenery, and plenty of industry. We stayed in a bizarre hotel, the Argyll Plaza, located on the top two floors of a strip mall right before the industrial part of town spills out into the suburbs.

Most of Monday we spent in the World's Largest Mall, the WEM (West Edmonton Mall). Dan swore that photographic opportunities would abound, that this would be the worst place in North America. It wasn't that bad. The crowds never surged, as it was a Monday afternoon, and the place was starting to show its age. We used our free mini golf, aquarium, and ice skating passes and paid $8 to ride the giant roller coaster:

One theoretical thing I like to talk about [that turns other people away] is the ongoing privatization of "public" space. WEM had a full Chinatown built in, which we thought was a crude joke with cheap dragons hanging from the ceiling, but it turned out to be an actual, indoor, commercial-leased Chinatown. T&T supermarket sold every [pan] Asian consumer product imaginable, and 90% of the shoppers were, in fact, Asian.

There were Asian hair salons and video stores. We didn't see any of their customers venture into the rest of the mall during the 6 hours we were there. It was just like any urban, Asian neighborhood, just that it was in a mall. Weird.

Believe it or not, people went out on Monday night, and we were among them. Mostly overdressed college upperclass females and large meatheads. One meathead called us queers and when I offered to suck his dick in front of a large crowd of women, his face become a contorted picture of sheer homophobic panic. In one open air bar, where Dan and I loudly discussed divisive politics, we heard the chick next to us say, "we should move away from these guys." They then planted themselves on two frat boys with hats turned backwards. After a few glasses of whiskey, pizza with honey and hot sauce, a "hawaiian" burger with "special sauce," and a "donair" (Canadian for gyro), we decided to walk the mile back to the hotel.

This turned out to be the best part of Edmonton! Walking along the exterior of the CP Rail yard, we passed through the factories of Cessco Fabrication. As the night switcher (train) whistled through crossings, delivering cars to a steam-shooting plywood plant nearby, men on either side of our desolate road used grinders and arc welders, shooting blue and orange sparks and clouds of white smoke into the night sky. In the open air and in huge hangars, fractioning towers for the petroleum industry and ethanol (or ammonia?) storage bulbs took shape. Up and out here, industrial and postindustrial have to exist simultaneously, and it's quite a show.

I forgot to take a picture of an Edmonton manhole cover. I am still angry about that.

Tuesday was the picture of profitable, rural desolation, as we cut south through agricultural Alberta en route to the Drumheller badlands and Calgary itself. Bright yellow-green fields of what we thought was wheat stretched across all horizons, waiting to fill the Vancouver-bound trains that eventually feed China. The bustling town of Bashaw (pop. 825) made for a nice quick stop and some thrift store shopping. A friendly hardware store employee warned us about the sprawl of Calgary...

For lunch, we stopped in the town of Stettler for KENT'S FRENCH SERVICE CHINESE BUFFET. There was a near riot in the kitchen over a botched delivery order, but when the steaks and chops came out of the kitchen, we were amazed. For about half the price of a similar meal on the east coast, we enjoyed fresh beef and pork that had been raised across the street.

We are now in the GOLDEN RIM MOTEL in Golden, BC, two days later.

Coming up in the next post(s):

Coming up today:


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