Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

www.stevensirski.com

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,

Steve

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Happy Birthday, Blog!

April 4, 2011

Sunset on a Manitoba farm.

Well, it’s been one year since I started this blog. That’s right, April 4th, 2010 I made my first post right here, which I think 6 people viewed… over three days. Over the year I’ve managed to survive 17 countries or so, visiting around 60 cities and (trying) to learn Korean, Thai, Khmer, Polish and now… Russian. As a result of those travels, I’ve been fortunate to meet and talk with many people all over the world.

I’ve managed just over one post per week, or about 67 (including this one). Readership continues to grow at a breath-taking pace and is almost equal to global daily Google searches. If you like what you read, remember to share it with your friends and family (using the “Share” button below) or maybe even the people you don’t like, since there are probably more of them. You can even use this short email:

Heeeyyy dude! I remember us talking about teaching English abroad and found this website. This guy has taught English and travelled the world. Thought you might like it.

www.stevensirski.wordpress.com

See ya!
(YOUR NAME)

Don’t forget to personalize it with your name or else it’ll just look like spam.

Anyway, your favourite posts included Taipei? Fucking Eh!, the tale about my life on the farm in The Thanksgiving Day Chicken, and my Third Impressions of Poland. The Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia post garnered quit a bit of attention from search engines, so too the second part of my report on Polish Vodka, and Winnipeg Music.

I appreciate you taking the time to read comment on The Thanksgiving Day Chicken, Winnipeg Music, and parts one and two of  Reminiscences of a Winnipeg Musician. My First Impressions of Poland, however, sparked many conversations while travelling through Poland. Thank you for the comments both online and in person.

Although I started the blog with the intention of making a documentary about my southeast Asian travels, I changed direction and focused more on writing, leaving the video and photos often unattended. All is not lost, however, as you can view a portion of my photos on Flickr and some videos on Vimeo. I’m slowly adding more.

There was a time I thought I could make a useful travel website, you know, somewhere you could look up what to do, what to see, etc., but there are other people who do it better than I ever could, among them Art of Backpacking, Road Junky, World Nomads and Frommer’s while the travel guides Lonely Planet (particularly the “shoestring budget” books) and Let’s Go remain your best offline sources. And if you need somewhere to stay, Hostel World is a good choice. As for airfare, I use tripadvisor.com and cheapoair.com. I don’t pretend to be a travel website, but I have travelled quite a bit.

In any event, my travels are (hopefully) far from over. There is still time for me to be of some service to you and your travel plans. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com, or you can look me up on Facebook, though I’m wary of adding people I don’t know. A good conversation is appropriate, but a night or two out drinking is a minimum before I can commit to a Facebook relationship.

Thanks for reading. I’ve enjoyed writing. 🙂

Steve

Winnipeg: A Little Guide for Foreigners

February 1, 2011

Legislative building in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Can you see the Golden Boy on top?

As I make my way through the hostels and bars all over Poland, people ask me where I’m from and they don’t recognize the name. In regard to Canada, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal get all the attention, Winnipeg gets skipped. I have no doubt it’s because we’re so far away from everybody else.

But I’m gonna try to shed some light on my home city for all of you foreigners fortunate enough to meet me and are curious about where I came from. I understand that my other recent post, Winnipeg: A Love Story, may not be very clear for foreigners so this post is meant to be a little guide to Winnipeg. Fully printable! 😀

So it’s for you, darling foreigners, that I write this next bit.

(I am working on a video about Winnipeg and I do have a lot more photos. However, I couldn’t find my camera before I left Winnipeg, and that’s where most of my pictures are. I ask your patience in waiting for the video.)

Getting to Winnipeg

Just a few tips on getting to Winnipeg. Most international flights land in Vancouver, Toronto to Montreal. Flying is the fastest way to get to Winnipeg, but also the most expensive. Check tripadvisor.com, expedia.com, or orbitz.com for cheap flights.

Once in the larger cities, check the VIA Rail website for last minute express train deals to Winnipeg. In the off-season, you can get from Toronto to Winnipeg for $100 and get a chance to see the wondrous Canadian Shield.

You can also take the Greyhound bus. Both journeys will take 36+ hours to get to Winnipeg, and you may meet some interesting folks along the way. But, if you’re a brave backpacker, or unemployed, or are in no rush, it’s not so bad. You can read about my experience on the bus here and watch the video here. You’ve been warned.

The Power Months

If you were to ask me what months to visit Winnipeg, I’d say it depends on what you’re looking for.

If you don’t mind the cold, and I mean “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” COLD, go in February. That’s when you can go skating on the Red River, attend the New Music Festival, the Festival du Voyageur, take pretty scenic photos, and smell the wood-burning fire places along Wellington Crescent. You can even go North to Churchill to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis, but if you want to see polar bears, you’ll have to come in October.) In the end, you can brag to your European or Asian friends that you’ve actually been in -40 degree C weather… and survived.

If you hate the cold, as most people do, go in mid-July and stay until mid-August. July plays host to many festivals, warm weather, women in nice clothes on Corydon and Osborne, not too many mosquitoes, better weather, etc. August is used for finishing those festivals that started the month before.

Festivals

For music, hippie-fest (also known as the Winnipeg Folk Festival) takes place in July. Be careful of the cookies you eat. The most jazz you can see and hear at one time in Winnipeg occurs in June during the Winnipeg Jazz Festival. One festival I have regrettably NOT attended is the WSO’s New Music Festival. Taking place usually in February, I never seemed to be caught up enough in my university studies to make it out to this festival. Dauphin, Manitoba also hosts a wildly popular Country Fest at the end of June.

Film buffs will have to travel North for a couple of hours to see the Gimli Film Festival in July or you can try the “Uh, what did I just see?” WDNX Festival in October. You can also get the same effect from some of my films on Vimeo.

Theatre lovers will find fulfillment with the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in July.

For culture, try the Festival du Voyageur in February, Folkorama in August (this one festival will introduce you to just about every cultural group living in Winnipeg and the surrounding area), there is an Icelandic Festival I’ve never been to and, of course, Dauphin hosts its own Ukrainian Festival in August.

Sight seeing

Starting off, go see our legislative building with the Golden Boy on top. Yes, he’s made of gold. Fact: he took forever to get there, not because he’s not alive, but because he was placed on a ship which was being used for transporting troops in WWI. So he did a little travelling before settling down in Winnipeg, I completely understand. Now he stands, looking north, holding some wheat and a torch. He was recently given a good shining so he’s all nice and sparkly now. I believe they still run tours inside of the legislative building, but I haven’t been on one in years.

Visit The Forks, our most attractive tourist attraction and future home of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. I’d also suggest spending a day in St. Boniface exploring the French side of Winnipeg. If you feel so inclined, you can check out the University of Manitoba, which is out of the way but kinda scenic and maybe you can meet up with some wandering students.

For shopping, try St. Vital or Polo Park malls. Osborne Village and Corydon also have some shopping offerings, but they have more pubs and coffee shops than shopping.

Visit the Exchange District to view the historical place at which we had a good ol’ fashioned uprising back in 1919, something about workers’ rights. Though I’ve never been on a walking tour in the area, I’ve read about them and think that they might be a good investment for your Winnipeg blog post or Facebook status update.

We make money in Winnipeg. Visit the Royal Canadian Mint, it’s one of three in Canada.

There’s also a really nice old basilica in St. Boniface. Many a newly-wedded couple go there for photos.

Lastly, if you dare, ask to be booked into the haunted room at the Fort Garry Hotel. It’ll be a tad expensive (ca. $100/night), but then you’ll have a cool story to tell your friends. I have not been brave enough to go there yet. Oh, and don’t piss her off.

Assiniboine Park

Take a bus up Corydon Avenue to get here, or hop on a bike and cycle up Wellington Crescent to see this Assiniboine Park, a large park hosting a first-class restaurants, zoo, Leo Mol’s Sculpture Garden, and open fields a plenty to frolic with your Winnipeg friends. For the learning experience, find the sculpture of the pilot and bear that commemorates A.A. Milne’s finding of a small bear cub and who later named the cub “Winnie”. That’s right folks, Winnie the Pooh is named after my hometown of Winnipeg. Check the Authorita Wikipediae if you don’t believe me. 😛 (Or this History of Pooh website.) The park is nicest in the summer, but a winter drive looks pretty cool too.

Reading

Check out our recently renovated Millenium Library not far from the MTS Centre, our hockey arena. The library also has a great cafe where sandwiches and coffee are served, the place is called the Human Bean. If you want to buy books, head on over to the Grant Park Mall and find the McNally Robinson’s bookstore. Playing host to a children’s bookstore upstairs, a music section, discounted books, lectures, jazz and great food in the cafe (called the Prairie Ink Cafe. Try the chicken fingers with the honey dill sauce. Mashesayo!)

If McNally doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can also check out Chapters near St. Vital or Polo Park malls.

Eating

Koreans often asked me what we ate in Canada. To be honest, I’d never thought about it. WTF do we eat in Canada? Well, I’ll list the places that I normally go and you can tell me what we eat. Aside from McNally Robinson’s, Osborne Village is where you can hang out with the locals. Wasabi caters to your sushi cravings, the Toad in the Hole is a meeting place while Papa George’s will nurse your hangover with some thick and greasy pizza until 4 am.

If you want to hang with other tourists, or go skating in the winter, head on over to The Forks, especially the Johnson Terminal, where you’ll find all sorts of shops and food stores, sights and sounds.

Corydon Avenue also hosts several Asian restaurants, though European holdouts Niko’s and Kristina’s On Corydon serve up Greek food.

For Ukrainian food, try Alycia’s or, if you’re curious enough, you can try finding a church that will sell you perogies for about $3/dozen.

To keep up to date, you can read our news rags, the Winnipeg Free Press or the Winnipeg Sun. Uptown is all local material. The Manitoban and Stylus mags belong to the universities.

Drinking

Toad in the Hole in Osborne Village. King’s Head Pub in the Exchange District.

Coffee

My addiction is no secret. First place goes to the Human Bean cafe at the Millenium Library. Second goes to the Second Cup, same same but different to Starbucks. Third place goes to the Greek coffee served by Kristina’s On Corydon. Fourth place goes to Tim Hortons, because it’s cheap.

Music

If you’re a night owl, The Royal Albert Arms in the Exchange district will help you catch up on the music played by Winnipeg’s rebel youth. The Zoo in Osborne Village will educate you on the metal scene, while The Cavern can show you just about anything. For more rock, Irish or modern Ukrainian music, check out the King’s Head Pub, not far from the Royal Albert. For jazz, Paragon restaurant hosts jazz every Friday night at 5:30, McNally Robinson’s hosts jazz usually every Friday and Saturday nights. There’re also some jazz venues in St. Boniface. Touring bands usually hit up the Burton Cumming’s Theatre or the West End Cultural Centre. Larger acts hit the MTS Centre.

Aside from our larger radio stations like Power 97, 92 CITI FM, Groove FM 99.1, and CBC Radio, try the university stations of UMFM and CKUW. If you like AM radio, I recommend try CJOB 680 for talk radio, CKJS 810 for ethnic offerings, and CFRY 920 for country.

Movies

For local or independent fare, check out the Cinematheque, which plays lesser known or classic material. For you international filmmakers out there, you can go upstairs and meet the folks at the Winnipeg Film Group or the Video Pool, the first group catering to peeps who like playing with actual film, the second group a bunch of experimental video artists. Careful, brain expansion may occur. The Globe Cinema in Portage Place also plays a few alternatives to the Hollywood movies screened at the larger cineplexes.

Museums

I’ll confess, if there’s one thing I didn’t go see myself lately, it’s museums. I think the last time I was in the Manitoba Museum (previously called the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature) was when I was a playing with Popples. Go to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for paintings and photographs; Oseredok for Ukrainian history; and soon, the  Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which will remember those killed by genocide all over the world.

And That’s Winnipeg

Check out my other post, Winnipeg: A Love Story, an emotional and poetic history of my life growing up in the city.

Winnipeggers, use the little buttons below and share this post.

Foreigners, welcome to Winnipeg, and share this post. 😀

Winnipeg Music

January 26, 2011
Postered Telephone Pole

Winnipeg band posters on a telephone pole.

Since I’ve started a new journey towards my heritage homeland of Ukraine, I’ve stopped in Poland for the mean time. While here, I’ve had the chance to find some interesting music both from the store and also from those I’ve met in hostels. One Finnish dude gave me a list of 7 or 8 metal bands, while another Polish dude gave me some 15 Polish bands to listen to. In return, I supplied some music from my city and nation.

In this post, I’ll cover the musicians that I’ve been sharing abroad. Further, if I were to run my OWN hostel, these are the artists that I’d want in my music library open to the public. You’ll find rock and metal, folk rock, ethnic, funk, electronica, jazz, and even something for the kids. Be forewarned, some of these bands are no longer together so you may have to ask around for their discs.

Rock and Metal

The Guess Who

There’s an interesting history behind this band and its members. I’ll leave you to Wikipedia it. In any event, The Guess Who website takes you to the current line up of The Guess Who, but former members Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings have continued their careers through other musical ventures. Radio-friendly, classic rock, easy-on-the-ears and catchy melodies are the drive behind this tried-and-true Winnipeg rock group. A “best of” collection would probably sufficiently represent this band’s repetoire. Remember when Lenny Kravitz did “American Woman”? Yea, that was written by The Guess Who. How about “These Eyes”? Again, The Guess Who. But that catchy drum beat to “Takin Care of Business?” That’s Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Now that you know, stop guessing. 😛

The Watchmen

Though they claim to be on a “reunion tour,” a look through their past tour dates suggests that they haven’t really ever taken time off. Sure, they’ve taken some time to release albums, but isn’t that reminiscent of Metallica’s early days, releasing an album every 3 years? A local favourite, they started out way back in 1992 and are still releasing albums. They recently had a documentary done about them titled All Around Us. Some of the more popular albums include Silent Radar and Slow Motion, the last one being a combination of a studio album and a “best of” compilation. They’ve gone in two directions, both rock and electronic, I prefer the first type.

 

Trousermouth from Winnipeg.

Trousermouth

Winnipeg’s Gwar, Sex Pistols or Rancid, hopefully you get the idea. Though not every show is a complete mess (physically), if they play the Albert, you can be sure that the band will bring the toilet paper for the women’s washroom… and soak it in beer before throwing it across the room. These guys have been around forever and probably will stay that way, or until someone thinks it’s not funny any more… which probably won’t happen. Hard to recommend a song, but good party music, ESPECIALLY if you’re not English. Listen to them here on CBC Radio 3. And if I’m correct, I think I contributed video to their DVD, available in their store.

Ciaira’s tears

My first rock band, because who wouldn’t promote a noble effort of being in a rock band that played the Royal Albert? Listen to them here.

Bif Naked

Full of attitude and tattoos, Bif found her bearings in Winnipeg before venturing out into the big wide world. I’m partial to her later stuff, such as “I love Myself Today”. I love the attitude she brings to the table.

 

Serrated Scalpel

If there were to exist a “Study Book of Winnipeg Metal”, the following three bands would be in it. Serrated Scalpel were as heavy as the name suggests. Unfortunately, the band’s website states that they are on a hiatus. Hard, heavy, unrepenting metal, English-learning might be at a minimum with this band, but the music lessons will be top notch. You can find them listed on the Encyclopedia Metallum.

Immortal Possession and Boldface Industry

Again, these two bands are no longer around, but I want to mention them anyway. Immortal Possession is unrepenting death metal in a similar vain to Serrated Scalpel, while Boldface Industry is more heavy metal/industrial. Drummer Rob Shallcross has since gone on to play and record with several different acts, many of them non-metal related. I single him out because he inspired me to play “blast beats”, extremely fast 16th notes played on the snare drum with one hand, while pounding out 16th notes on the double kick pedal. Amazing. Inspiring.

Electro Quarterstaff

I would share this band only with math and music geeks since hardly anyone outside that area in the greater world (and not on North American soil) would readily comprehend. That being the case, EQ derives inspiration from a slew of musical genres which ultimately show up in their final compositions. I remember talking to one of the guitar players and hearing him describe the work they put into their comps had me questioning if he did anything else in his life. I recall him saying that he liked music that could be reproduced both on stage and in the studio, time and again. If you don’t believe, see them live.

The Weakerthans

Again, never really got into them but they’ve been around forever that, if I were not to include them, the list would be incomplete. These boys have a good sense of humour, especially about Winnipeg, writing about it in “One Great City”. YouTube hosts a few videos of the song, just as funny when the audience joins in for the chorus.

Folk/rock

Kayla Luky

Just finished recording her fourth album, this 21-year old from Grandview, Manitoba strikes a chord with me. I picked up a copy of her last album, The Story of My Life, and found it to be as depressing as country-folk is supposed to be. Revel in that depression, because the music’s damn fine. My personal favourite is Merry Go Round. She recently re-did her website too.

Voldis and the Melodicas

I will assume that any foreigners coming to Winnipeg have heard of the Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino. Well, think of the soundtrack to Resevoir Dogs, Voldis and the Melodicas would fit the bill. The grooves and compositions these guys come up with put them in a league above other acoustic rock bands. Apparently the band is actually made up of two other bands, but that don’t matter since the fusion works fine. Good travel music right here and good for learning some slang English as well. Unfortunately, they had sold out their first album and were printing more before I left for Poland.

Ethnic

Madrigaia

An absolutely phenomenal, all-female acapella group that sings traditional folk songs from around the world, including Canada. I heard this group at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival, and they had me hooked. I still listen to both albums for percussion inspiration. You can still find their work on MySpace.

Taran

My first venture into Ukrainian polka music. Released one demo and one full length. You can still find the full length. If not, I’ll get you a copy.

Zrada

Another one of my efforts as a drummer in Winnipeg. To see them live is an experience.

Bafana/Jay Stoller

A tribal percussion group in Winnipeg, the coldest city in the world? Yes, it’s true. Fronted by Jay Stoller, who also runs a djembe school in Winnipeg, this percussion ensemble plays both traditional African rhythms and some of their own creations. As far as I know they only have one disc out, but they do play at the annual Folklorama in August.

Fubuki Daiko

A pounding display of Japanese percussion. The core group I think is 4 or 5 people, but they run a school and swap students in and out of performances as they need. They have toured across the world and have released a few albums, but seeing them live is pretty neat because the drums really do reverberate in your chest.

Sonic Flow

I’m not sure how old this band is, and I couldn’t get their “official” website to work, but I recently picked up a copy of their CD. Combining the sounds of the didjeridoo, the washbucket bass (which you can also see in my movie, The Five Muses), table and the guitar, this band has an utterly incredible fusion of sound.

Hoosli from Winnipeg, Canada.

Hoosli

Hoosli is my favourite Ukrainian men’s choir. Yes, the music is often religious or based on old folk tunes, but hearing this choir perform live is truly a marvelous experience. I like their Christmas album, although all of their albums are pretty damn solid. I’ve always thought their singing would be great for a movie soundtrack. Maybe one day folks, maybe one day.

Funk

Moses Mayes

The masters of funk, Moses Mayes. These guys have been around for quite a while and have relased a few albums. Apparently they’ve just re-started, but you can still find their discs in some of the local music stores.

JFK & The Conspirators

A mixture of raggae and funk, these guys are easy listening, I bet they could find a market in Korea if they wanted it. I have their one disc, Mash Up the Dance. Not sure if they’re still playing out, but you can have a listen on CBC Radio 3.

Electronica

 

Vav Jungle of Winnipeg.

Vav Jungle

A hairstylist and an electronic artist, Eve Rice makes a parade as Vav Jungle, an electronic music act both eclectic and catchy. I picked up her Pap Rock album and thought it was awesome.

Jazz

Ron Paley Big Band

I prefer his acoustic big band work over his electric work, but this man has been around since the Winnipeg stone age. For me, the acoustic jazz has more of what I associate with the “big band” sound, but you can tell he’s pushing boundaries with his electric work. You can listen to his discography here.

Steve Kirby

And if you ever get a chance to see bassist Steve Kirby, do it. Originally from New York, he came to Winnipeg to set up a better jazz program at the University of Manitoba. He doesn’t play in any one band, but he has released one disc, Wicked Grin. Your best bet to catch him is at Winnipeg’s Jazz Festival.

And for the kids…

Fred Penner

Probably the most accessible and appropriate man to learn English from, he’s a children’s entertainer. But don’t let that deter you. Since this man is a must in a child’s development, Fred Penner has gathered legions of fans young and old. My favourites include Otto the Hippo (about a hippo who goes to the big city to be a rockstar) and Ghost Riders in the Sky, Mr. Penner also recorded one of my favourite Christmas albums.

And there are many more.

I think almost every city can lay claim that they “have the best local music scene.” Well no shit, cause the kids who got nothing to lose but everything to gain can try anything, the bigs can’t. And then there are other bands such as Jet Set Satellite, The Perms, The Barrymores, Kenmode, the Vagiants, Jerkwater, the list can go on. Best thing to do is pop into the local music store (such as Music Trader in Osborne Village or Into the Music in the Exchange) and ask the desk guys. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, just walk into one of the live music venues in Winnipeg.

If you think that Winnipeg is all ice, snow, and depression, you’re wrong. A vibrant music scene keeps this city rolling all year long.

The 62-Hour Bus Trip and My Polka With a Fighter

January 17, 2011

The Greyhound bus.

62 hours on a bus. It was an interesting journey. Very scenic, something I’ve never seen or done before, or do again. There was an amorous old couple, a gross bus toilet, highway closures, a chick who met a Montrealer and, well, they made poutine, semi trailer accidents, a drug runner who had to pick up his car in Nipigon, and gorgeous scenery.

The scenery itself made me proud to be Canadian. There’s something about being able to conquer this harsh terrain and flourish in such a climate. I wish they would twin Highway #1, but that’s something we’ll work on. I originally wanted to take the train, since you can often find cheap, last-minute deals, but nothing went to Ottawa, only Toronto. If you want to know what the scenery was like, take a look at the video I made.

I understood what I was doing: taking a bus (a step up from a car… maybe) across 2400 kilometers in the dead of winter. It was cheap, $106 including taxes, and I already had experience with long-distance bus travel since I had done it from Hanoi to Vientiane (that one was only 24 hours).

The trip brought me back to my youth when my family did a road trip across much of Canada to visit some relatives. This was a little different: I slept on the bus, I didn’t know anyone, and there were some sketchy folks on the second bus that caught up to us in Thunder Bay.

In particular, I remember the city called Wawa because, as a kid, we bought a moose here that had a shirt with “Wawa” printed on it. The name of the city became a joke among the passengers, with just about everybody laughing and saying “wah-wah-wah.” But there we were, stuck until the roads were opened again. Wawa.

And Wawa is the city that would present me with the highlight of my trip: a polka with a guy I’ll identify as “Mr. Fighter.” There was another individual, but he dislikes cops so I’ll identify him only as “Mr. Montreal” (not to be confused with the Montrealer who was teaching the Winnipeg chick how to make poutine.)

Mr. Bus Driver did warn against having a few drinks, but that only stopped me from sipping the wine I’d brought onto the bus for the trip. I wanted a beer or two while I checked my email. So I walk down the road from where the buses are parked and enter one of the restaurants that is still open. And that’s where I meet Mr. Fighter and Mr. Montreal.

So we had a few.

Well, Mr. Fighter dude couldn’t hold his booze very well and passed out at the table. It was kinda funny, actually. Apparently they’d been drinking before they got to that restaurant. When I got there we had a few shots, mostly tequila, and then he just dropped his head and went to sleep right there at the table.

The time came to leave. As we’re walking back to the buses, Mr. Fighter mutters something completely incoherent. Mr. Montreal and I agree, thinking we could just keep going. It works the first time, but now Mr. Fighter dude is on the highway, with large snow-plows going by. Finally, he turns to us, mutters something incomprehensible again, we tell him we’re going back to the buses, he says ‘no’ and sprints down the highway in the opposite direction. I’ve never seen a drunk man run so well. Perfect form, he would put Olympic sprinters to shame.

Mr. Montreal and I stand there kinda confused. We don’t want to babysit him, but at the same time we didn’t want to read in the papers about this guy passing out and dying in the snow. For all those thinking that it would’ve been smarter to just leave the guy, you’d be right. I commend you for your foresight. But, we go look for him.

We find him at the Tim Hortons sipping a coffee. We ask the lady working there, who’d just come out for a smoke, what would happen if we just left him there. She said he’d probably pass out and then they’d call the cops.

I don’t know why, but we thought it best to take him back. We go inside and get him. He seems to be better with the coffee.

As we’re walking back to the buses (again), I compliment him on his amazing sprint down the highway and that he was actually able to buy a coffee. Well, that seemed to set him off. He takes the lid off of his coffee, splashes it in my face, and starts swinging his arms at me.

Mr. Montreal is just as surprised as I am by the sudden change. To be honest it wasn’t really a fight, more like a polka. I wasn’t sure if Mr. Fighter was serious, he kept coming at me with his hands in the air and his eyes wide open. He reminded me of a monkey. I really wanted to ask him if that’s how he learned how to fight, maybe it’s a distraction technique? I decided against further instigating the approaching monkey and instead concentrate on trying to deflect the wild beast.

So we grapple, and turn, and do the polka all the while Mr. Montreal is trying to talk him down. I keep telling Mr. Fighter that we’re trying to help him, but he keeps telling Mr. Montreal to stay out of it, he just wanted to hit me. Just once.

There was a moment I thought about letting him hit me, Fight Club style. I mean, I’d done Thai boxing but never actually fought before. I quickly let that thought perish as he came at me monkey-style again.

Realizing this wasn’t going to end well, I ask Mr. Montreal if he could pin him so I could clear out. We manage to get him down a few times and start to back off but the guy just kept getting up. Kudos on the tenacity and endurance.

Finally, on the last polka he grabs at my face and grasps my glasses. Up until this point, the worst thing that had happened was the fact that I was covered in coffee, but now he had manged to grab my glasses! Mr. Montreal is finally able to pin the guy to the ground. But I can’t take off until I get my glasses!

After a little bit of a struggle, I manage to tear my glasses away, they’re not broken but they definitely had more of a modérn look to them, and who knows how long they’ll last after they’re fixed.

So Mr. Montreal pins Mr. Fighter to the ground and that seems to do it. I take off and, looking back, see Mr. Montreal take off as well. Mr. Fighter just lies there, a monkey sleeping on the side of the highway. How serene.

And that’s why you don’t go drinking while stranded in the middle of nowhere: some people get cabin fever and can’t deal with the stress of sitting on a bus for that long of a time.

The next morning I tell the bus driver what happened. He is less than happy to hear about it. They find the guy out and I say all I want is the replacement cost of my glasses. Understanding that there’s nothing really that can be done, pressing charges would mean having to come back to Wawa to be a witness. My goal here is Ukraine, not a court battle.

Settling back down into my bus seat I make a discovery that made me laugh pretty hard, kinda like a crazy man. I notice that the lids on the Tim Hortons coffee cups have a penis and vagina on them. Typically you fold the plastic lip backwards onto the cup to make a drinking hole. Well, the lip that folds back had a what looked like a vagina, and the part it clips onto looked like a penis. Not two seconds later, the Winnipeg chick and Montrealer step out of the hotel.

At this point I think I’ve gone crazy and am thinking about other things I’d rather be doing than sitting on a bus, driving through a Canadian winter, having polka’d with a crazy drunk guy and still only 2/3s the way to my destination.

The rest of trip, thankfully, passed by pretty uneventful. We left Wawa around 9 am and made it to Sudbury a few hours later. Having made it to Sudbury, we transfer to another bus that then takes us onto Ottawa, finally! All being said and done, 62 hours on a bus! I commend the Greyhound bus drivers for their navigation of the weather and roads (though others have seen fit to bad-mouth them). But I’m not sure I’ll be signing up for another epic bus trip, even if it’s dirt cheap.

The 62-Hour Bus Trip: The Movie

January 17, 2011

For those of you interested in seeing what Canada’s scenery is like from the view of a bus seat, I invite you to take a look at the video I made of my epic journey across the Great Canadian shield. Facebook it, Twitter it, burn a copy and sell it to your friends, share it with others or subscribe to my blog, it’s the cool thing to do. The links are below. Or, better yet, buy me a coffee.

Running time: 3:20

Format: HD

Video and editing by: Me, Steven Sirski

Music by: Dan-O, www.danosongs.com

Since WordPress doesn’t allow me to embed Vimeo files, you’ll have to go here.

Winnipeg: A Love Story

January 12, 2011

Winnipeg Legislative building with the Golden Boy on top. View from Memorial Boulevarde.

“A crop of concrete and glass pops out of the prairies in an area fertile with history and culture. Winnipeg’s isolation, self-sufficiency and outside ignorance have allowed it to evolve into one of Canada’s most honest and composed metropolitan cities that can handle being the butt of the Simpsons gag, ‘That’s it! We’re all going back to Winnipeg!’ The result is Canada’s cultural cradle without pretense, with world-class ballet, world flavors and world-famous sites.”

Lonely Planet website, January 11, 2011

We are isolated and often during the harsh winters many a 2nd-generation immigrants are likely to ask, “Why, grandfather/Дідo/할아버지, why did you stop here?” To which grandfather typically responds, “We arrived in the summer.” Such is Winnipeg’s marketing ploy to immigrants. What else is there to do in the winter except hump to keep warm? With such marketing and humping, Winnipeg remains home to many cultures.

And so I think back to my youth, short years long ago, and the memories I’ve had in this cold cold city.

The Exchange District. The heart of the arts and business communities, though not necessarily together. Politicians work to rejuvenate the Downtown area, with some success. Here I find the Cinematheque, the movie venue at which I so much want my film work to screen. There I find the Pantages Playhouse, where for so many years I participated in a Ukrainian dance concert every year. Here I see the King’s Head Tavern, a place where I’ve drank so much. There I see the music palace known as The Royal Albert. Not far away is my first music store, Into the Music, moved from its original location in Osborne Village.

Downtown. Walking Downtown I spot the Millennium Library, my new favourite hang. Across the street I see our new arena, the MTS Centre, host to so many great concerts and a hockey team called the Manitoba Moose. Just a glance over the street brings mine eyes to Portage Place mall, a mall which I trawled for so many years while working for an undisclosed company. And what’s this? I spy with my little eye the only man, made of gold, who can withstand the harsh Prairie winter completely naked. I recall, too, the three wise men who join the man of gold in winter, sponsored by a local company.

The Forks. An old historic site that I hardly ever visited. The old meeting place between the Europeans and the natives of this land, this is the place that the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet, dirty water both of them. It is in this park that I’ve attended Canada Day concerts featuring The Tragically Hip, that great and proud Canadian band. It is in this park that I’ve often strolled the walkways, pondering philosophical wonderings.

Osborne Village. Ah, my alternative bretheren, goths and punks. Whereforth have thee gone? How I, too, pine for the long lost Collective Cabaret, replaced by an American Apparel. Fear not! There is The Zoo, home to the monsters of rock. And then movies movies movies in Movie Village, and music music music in its musical brother, Music Trader. Here I see my watering hole, The Toad. But as I cast mine eyes skyward, a thought, only one, crosses my mind, who lives in all those pretty condos? Where did they come from? What do they do? Do they know the history and culture of this wondrous street they overlook? Do I?

Corydon Avenue. Previously owned and operated by Italians, now the Koreans. Condos condos everywhere, where is one place I can find a beer? A coffee I can find at the Second Cup, the Starbucks, or even the Fresh Cafe. Ginormous fatty burgers at the Daly Burger. Gelati at Nucci’s Gelati. How much you’ve changed over the years! What will you be like when I return? Who will be there then?

Wellington Crescent. My running path for so many years. Running not only for fitness, but to impress that hot blonde who went running at 6:45 am. Five minutes too early or late, and I’d miss my chance to impress that gorgeous example of the female species. Failing the morning run, I could make up for it during an evening run when I could catch a glimpse of the office workers running off their frustrations for Corporate Canada.

Assiniboine Park. Moo baa, eee ya ya ya go the little furry animals in the Zoo. Silent observers are the sculptures in Leo Mol’s garden. Behold! Winnie the Pooh! And lo! Green grassy fields on which I, as a young aspiring soccer player, played soccer. Ah, to drive the pathways at night again, bottle of wine in hand, woman in the passenger’s seat, riding along.

Winnipeg. Here I was educated, here I was born, here I ran the streets as a child on sunny days, racing against my siblings, laughing, joyful, ignorant of the world around me. Perhaps it was better, how can I know? Do I desire to capture that playfulness in the greater world? There we played street hockey, on these streets we delivered newspapers, there lived my best friend, there was parked my Datsun before the accident, there we played on the stages, there was my first love. Such memories lived, such memories alive! How far, how far have I gone? Can I ever come home?

And so I leave you, Winnipeg, bid you adieu, Pegtown, until we meet again, my Love Eternal. A tear slips mine right eye, falling softly to the World below.

Merry Christmas! And about those goats…

December 25, 2010

I know it’s a bit late in the day, but I just wanted to make a quick post to wish you a Merry Christmas! Did you remember to track Santa with NORAD?

I hope you and yours have a great and safe holiday season. Enjoy your time together since you never know where the next year will take you (for me, last year it was Busan, 2011 might be Poland/Ukraine!)

My family did something a little different this year. Instead of exchanging gifts we bought goats. My brothers and sister raised enough cash to buy one herd, our Dad matched that and added one more, which was then matched by the Government of Canada and other organizational donors bringing us to a total of six herds. (If you buy a herd they also send along some boy goats so they can, um, well, propagate the species.)

So, sometime soon, a bunch of families in Africa will be receiving goats, goat training, assistance with breeding them wild beasts, animal shelters and various drugs and supplies to help the goats be productive. Plan Canada, the company through which we bought our goats, apparently keeps 20% of the money for operating costs, other than that, it’s all goat milk from there.

Ah, for those of you wondering where this idea came from, well, my sister saw a documentary called Where’s My Goat?, about this guy, Christopher Richardson, who buys an “ethical gift” from Plan Canada. Curious to know if its the real deal or a scam, he goes to Africa to find out. Although I have yet to see it, you can find some more information about it on the website. A write-up about the documentary on the University of King’s College website gives a glimpse of the controversial nature of this “ethical gift” giving. I’m eager to see it.

Filmmaker tracks down his gift to an Africa family, a goat.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Zrada Music Video: Black Sea Mania

December 3, 2010

Zrada logo.

Some folks will remember when the band originally posted this video. It was when we recorded the first Zrada album, Return of the Wagon, way back in 2006 (and now out of print). Recorded in one weekend, we rented the same camera that got busted during the Taran music video shoot. This song still stands as one of my favourite recordings.

Taking a cue from A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica, we assembled some footage from the recording session and put it together. You can watch the final product on Vimeo. Enjoy.

Reminiscences of a Winnipeg Musician Part 2: Venues Not Operational

November 18, 2010

In this post I continue my jog down memory lane visiting the venues that were once testaments to the vibrant Winnipeg music scene. If you want to see more photos, you’ll have to check out my other Flickr page here.

Blue Note Cafe. The only venue ever to black list us. Wow. The bookie was kind of a douche anyway and I didn’t like dealing with him (and I’m sure he didn’t like dealing with me). We were even stopped early. Eeeps. But this venue (now defunct) lays claim to hosting my first show ever as a drummer. I didn’t want my parents in attendance because I though it’d be too crazy for them to handle. Oh, how crazy it was, 12 people showed up, 6 to support the band. Found on Portage Ave near Arlington, the venue was pretty small and had an even smaller stage. It may have fit 50 people. I think it’s a restaurant now or a record store, or both.

Wise Guys Downtown. The venue at which we recorded probably one of our best live shows, has now been converted into some dance bar. Oh well. Those were the days when it was a sports bar and grill on the weekend but local bands hailed the stage on Wednesday nights. For every ticket turned in, the band made $1. I think we made $78 that night, one of our highest grossing shows. We also played one show at Wise Guys On Campus (which I’m told was recently shut down). It was a cover show, the only of its kinda.

Haunted Masonic Temple

Masonic Temple, formerly a music venue called the Blue Agave. Careful, it's haunted.

Most notably not operational is the now boarded-up Masonic Temple. That building was a brothel of ideas that didn’t work out, everything from restaurants to music venues to the original purpose of being a temple. We played this venue as part of The Evolution of the Scene, an attempt to connect bands and music industry folk. At that time, the venue was called the Blue Agave. 10 bands in 5 hours, it was absolute mayhem, but it fucking rocked. Lugging our equipment up three flights of stairs we only played one thirty-minute set. But that’s not all. The place is said to be haunted. When we played there, we were always careful to leave one seat open for the ghost of the house, in case the ghost wanted to watch the show. Tales of blood streaming down the wall, falling beams, footsteps, etc. all freaked the hell out the building’s workers. Finally, it shut down and hasn’t been used since. It’s for sale, if you’re interested.

The Former Collective Cabaret

The Former Collective Cabaret, now an American Apparel. 😥

Collective Cabaret. As much as I love globalization for the fact that I can buy Starbucks in South Korea or Burger King when in doubt in Bangkok, it really struck a chord when one of my favourite venues was turned into an American Apparel. Host to the last ever Ciaira’s tears show, the Collective Cabaret embraced mostly rock, punk and metal music. It had a great sound system, it was spacious, and it even had a video screen so I could try my “Rock’n’Film” show idea. It was run by the same generous, we’ve-dealt-with-worse managers of the Albert, the Cabaret was a bright spot in the Winnipeg music scene just down the street from the Zoo and, more recently, The Cavern.

Wellington's

Could not find the entrance to the venue called Wellington's, a formerly popular goth hang.

Wellingtons. I don’t think this place is still operational. Well, I think it’s more one of those places that you have to be invited to. As in, “Pssst, there’s something going on at Wellingtons, wanna go?” To which you’d respond “sure” cause you’d neither know where it is or what was going on. Think raves for goths. I remember they had dirty white tiles for floors.

Rogue’s Gallery. Oh the Rogue’s. My bandmates spent more time here than I did, mostly because they were older and a part of the “coffee shop hang out” group. Bands played upstairs, which meant lugging the equipment up the winding stairs (fun stuff). Laid back atmosphere, paintings on the walls, books to flip through, and some games to play while sippin’ coffee. Though I’m not clear on why the place shut down, I do know that they often got noise complaints. Or maybe it was only when we played.

The Stone. Another venue attached to a hotel, but this one is found in St. Boniface. I don’t know what it is now, but it’s sure as hell not The Stone. I can’t remember if there was a strip club next door or if the place was a strip club, but I remember there being strippers around.

Killarney, Manitoba. My rock band’s first, and last, national tour was to this small city about 3 hours west of Winnipeg. Playing to an all-ages group, it was set up by one of the girls living there who had heard us online. The kids went off hard that day, complete with most-pit, devil horns, and all the black they could find in their wardrobe. Fantastic energy and a highlight in my career as a drummer.

I would be remiss not to mention the fact that Ciaira’s tears only ever played one house party, at my future sis-in-law’s parents’ place. Thanks to our melodic sound and amps set to 11, we cleared the room within a few minutes, though some of our better friends toughed it out. She even paid us $60, which I’m sure we spent on booze. Zrada and Taran, on the other hand, played some house parties which were renowned to get out of hand, often with people juggling (shirtless) with empty wine bottles and patio furniture being moved onto the roof.

And so we played the stages of the Winnipeg rock music scene, sharing them with the likes of Burnbox, Fuller, Needlefish, XengineX, Jerkwater, Dreadnaut, Serrated Scalpel (watch the first video, insane!), Faust, The Product, HCE, Lowball, The Velvet Pill, Trousermouth and a whole list of other like-minded future-rockstars. Yep, those were the days.

As a concluding note, I think I will add one more part to this series, part 3: Ciaira’s tears.


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