By Tooker Gomberg and Angela Bischoff, Edmonton, Alberta.
Having recently returned to Edmonton, Tooker and Angela toy with pulling together a campaign for mayor of Edmonton.
Travelling has opened our minds to different ways of living. Now that we’re home in Edmonton, and a civic election looms, we’re still pondering things that seemed strange at first.
In Japan it took us a while to get used to people bowing all the time. Or answering the phones saying “Mushy, mushy.” In Vietnam people greeted us with something that sounded like: “Come on”. Chinese was even weirder to us. A slight change in tone radically changes meaning. In Chinese the word “ma” can have eight or more meanings, (including “mother” and “hemp”) depending on the tone used.
But wherever we went people seemed to understand the simple word “hello”, and the smiles we shared kept us pedalling for miles and miles.
We witnessed boisterous election campaigns in Taiwan where just a decade ago the military ruled and democratic debate was unheard. Those campaigns fascinated us. We saw candidates riding in open trucks, surrounded by dozens of cheerful, brightly clad supporters. Banners fluttered and loudspeakers harangued. The streets were littered with tiny campaign leaflets and people actually seemed to be interested in the issues.
Perhaps the strangest sight of all was seeing Vietnamese women wearing lampshade hats. But after a few days of getting cooked in the heat, we bought one for five thousand dong (yes, they call their money dong), about fifty cents, and cooler heads prevailed. Those bamboo cones really worked. (Gomberg in a Homburg, not.)
As we travel the globe on the Greenspiration Odyssey, searching for inspiring ecological stories, we lefave a small gift with many of the people we meet. We hand over a sticker – a photograph of the Earth from space, and say half jokingly: “If you ever get lost, remember – this is home.”
Not that people necessarily know what we were talking about. In the rural villages of China or Vietnam, folks likely had never seen the photo of clouds swirling around the Earth. Their whole earth was right outside their door, in the shape of a rice paddy.
Our picture of Asia is full of curious and gracious villagers living in the present moment, seemingly integrating their lives with their history, their culture, their living, and their work.
We’ve returned home with new eyes, and with tales to tell. It’s a peak time to be back: the transcendent river valley is lush green. Flowers are ablaze in a riot of colour, and the lettuce is luscious. Our compost bin is exploding with humongous rhubarb leaves. The first raspberries are the sweetest.
Some of the stories we hear are the same: the Oilers hockey team wants more money; the transportation department wants more freeways; and the privateers are itching to sell off our utilities. Alberta’s northern boreal forest is being liquidated at fire sale prices.
Some things have changed. Edmonton Power boasts the largest photovoltaic solar power installation of any downtown building in Canada. International interest is growing in Edmonton’s city-sized composter now being built. And the Community Greenways project to convert abandoned railway lines into linear parks is gaining ground.
With an election coming, and no set plans, folks are saying to us: why don’t you run for mayor? Perhaps it’s the culture shock, or maybe it’s the anti-malarial drugs we’re taking, but we are intrigued. Who wouldn’t throw their hat into the ring and work for a healthy, sustainable Edmonton for the next millenium?