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Rebagliati Positive About 2010 in “Heads – the Marijuana Lifestyle magazine”

Ross article - Heads magazine coverMy article “Rebagliati Positive About 2010” was published in “Heads – the Marijuana Lifestyle magazine” Vol. 6 Issue 10 “The Stoned Cold Issue.”

Like “Zen Rambling in Japan” the Ross article is the “Head First” lead article and over 3000 words and I also managed one photo in there (the one with the big nug). A great layout and Kris Krug‘s fine shots of a candid Ross frame the article nicley indeed.

The article discusses 1998 Nagano Olympic snowboard gold medalist and Canadian sporting legend, Ross Rebagliati’s quest for 2010 Olympics in Whistler/Vancouver plus his training routine, fundraising efforts, quest to make the team role on tour and recreational interests.

Importantly, he breaks down the events and emotions of the big shakedown in Nagano. Hear more about the fallout from his positive marijuana test from an interview I did in Vancouver during the 2006 Turin games.

Ross article, Heads magazineRoss article, Heads magazine, pg. 2
See full size images on Flickr in the Magazines of Note set

Choose between this (not really updated) Heads magazine or this Heads magazine on myspace but better off just scorcing a copy for yourself.

UPDATE: 2015, Heads magazine sadly folded a few years back. Ross is now a father and marijuana entrepreneur.

See also: Ross’ site, Ross on Flickr

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Rebagliati Positive About 2010

by Dave Thorvald Olson

Gold Medalist Ross Rebagliati is training for 2010 Olympics on his home course, defending his reputation and spreading his wisdom to the youth

Ross Rebagliati rolled into the early morning Vancouver coffeeshop looking composed and chillaxed, deftly juggling cellphone radio interviews and answering questions via a live symposium connected to the 2006 Games in Turin. While others yawned, he grinned for snapshots and scribbled Sharpie autographs before heading back up the twisty road to Whistler for an afternoon of training.

Somehow, the thirty-something Ross manages to escape any stereotyping – balancing an elite athlete’s intensity with the laid back ease of a sagey mountain monk. No stoner drawl or disheveled appearance here, Ross is all dialed in – looking simultaneously chiseled and cherubic. Part James Bond and part Jeff Spicoli with ruddy cheeks which must get him carded 8 times out of 10 buying beer in the States. His healthy lifestyle is evident and he’s got something 007 and Spicoli dude don’t – a Gold Medal. Says so right on his business card, “Olympic Gold Medalist.”

Though his 1998 gold medal performance still draws occasional cliched punch-lines, these days Ross is a busy guy who stays rolling with good food and exercise from kick boxing to kite sailing to keep him relaxed, focused and healthy while facing a constant schedule.

Eight years after his big win, he’s become part of Canadian culture as more than, “that guy who won the gold and got busted for weed.” And it’s not just stoners toasting him when toking Nagano Gold buds or boarders admiring his success of winning the controversial inaugural event – his candor and perseverance qualified him for folk hero status to many civil libertarians.

Albeit unintentionally, Ross is a role model or an accidental martyr and is irrevocably synonymous with the positive weed test after winning the snowboard gold. But more importantly, he is known for the way he handled the incident, notably, his persistence in fighting to keep his hard-earned medal while sticking to his ideals, staying loyal to his friends, speaking out and showing that cannabis use can be a normal part of a healthy lifestyle.

Not content to rest on past accomplishments, Ross plans a return to the podium and is eyeing a place on Team Canada to compete on his home course, before his hometown friends at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler.

Recreation Renaissance Man

Ross’ public schedule is a stream of autograph signings, car dealership appearances, media interviews and spots on every cheesy radio and TV morning show in the nation sandwiched in between grueling training sessions, playing with his beloved dog and hanging out with, you know, his peer group, the ones with gold medals. Kicking back with Donavon Bailey or strolling into the NHL awards ceremony with Captain Cassie Campbell – just like its no big deal.

He’s dabbled in broadcast work like many victorious athletes and toyed with a bit of TV acting but mixes in adventure sports action with his training retinue – racing stock cars, riding dirt bikes, kite-sailing, surfing, mountain biking the technical trails and whatever else you got, … including golf.

These days, he’s set on 2010 but also keeps new adventures in mind, “Right now from here to then, 2010 is obviously my main focus, after that i’d love to race in the Paris Dakar rally race on a motor bike – that’s one of my main goals for my life.”

As for politics, the contemplative and well-spoken Ross says, “That has crossed my mind as well but I don’t think it would give me enough free time.”

Currently taking up valuable time is a “misappropriation of personality” lawsuit he filed against the producers of a gaudy TV program featuring a blond-haired, blue-eyed, goldmedal-winning snowboarder whose murder leads to uncovering a hedonistic and unsavory past. Ross says, “I’m the only former gold medal snowboarder in Whistler so yeah I think it is confusing and detrimental to my image and hurts my ability to secure sponsorships.” However, the producers say that Ross’s name never came up in the meetings and the character is purely coincidental (yeah right).

Either way, the locals know the truth that Ross is the real deal in Whistler where visitors can ski Ross’ run on Blackcomb and finish the day by sparking a doob in the Village park named in his honor.

The Message

Ross approaches the weed topic with a “been there” sigh, but he’s reluctantly aware that he’s become an unintentional role-model for the millions of weekend athletes and herbal enthusiasts who seek to balance turning on with working out. Indeed, whenever Ross’ name appears in the media, “marijuana” isn’t far behind and he is still vilified by crusty conservatives who pull out the “what kind of message does this send to the kids” rhetoric.

Turns out, contrary to the misleading rumblings, Ross sends a great message to the kids, particularly aspiring Olympians, saying, “If you have a goal to become an Olympic athlete and if you devote your life, it is definitely a obtainable thing, it is just about making the time and committing to it.”

He also sends a positive message to the community with his considerable charity work, hanging out with kids across North America and genuinely enjoying the good work. Besides actively participating in sports programs for kids with disabilities, diabetes awareness with his mom, and visiting terminally ill youth, he also does a kids day at at EA Sports where he is patiently worked over by wheelchair-bound kids playing video games. He explains, almost excitedly, “Due to their various conditions, gaming is an integral part of their lives and let me tell you, they are pros at it!”

His epic performance also sent a very powerful message to the nay-sayers like the ignorant politicos who won’t admit that responsible marijuana use in not anti-social behavior and pompous blowhard crusaders like International Olympic Committee’s dope chief, Dick Pound who struggles to differentiate between harmful, synthesized substances or damaging steroids, and non-toxic THC (which is only maybe a performance enhancing substance) and clings to the tired and unproven gateway drug rhetoric.

However, his open opinions supporting cannabis and refusal to “sell out” his toker friends raised the ire of do-gooders who sought to leverage him into an anti-herb crusader to atone for his error.

No such luck for the draconians as Ross chimes in on decriminalization, “Right now the whole idea of it being decriminalized makes the legal system function at a level that it should be functioning at and not clogging up the courts and the judicial system and even jails or whatever for something like that.”
{ref: Olympian Rebagliati urges pot decriminalization, Canadian Press, Updated: Thurs. May. 8 2003 6:18 AM ET)}

His out-spoken nature has caused problems crossing borders into USA, Europe and Australia and he still faces annoying travel restrictions when heading into the USA and required minor diplomatic intervention to facilitate his trip to watch the Games in Salt Lake City 2002.

While the excess attention caused problems crossing borders, the resultant hassle was the impetus to take a break from competitive snowboarding allowing him precious time to purse his other various interests, but now, he is back on his race board and ready to win again.

2010 – What’s it gonna take

Competing in the Olympics is a Big Deal for anyone, but a bigger deal for 38 year old (well, unless you’re 39 year old 2006 Skeleton Gold Medalist, Duff Gibson but that’s another story). Sure, sometimes you see a grey haired curler but the snowboarding circuit is dominated by spry twenty-somethings who combine the rare mix of health, motivation, skill with ability to cobble enough income to support themselves to train, travel and compete in a challenging discipline where milliseconds count and injuries are easily come by.

But first, Ross has got to make the team. There are no automatic slots on Canada’s Olympic Snowboard team – even for a gold medalist & BC Sports Hall of Famer. Instead, the egalitarian system rewards boarders for long-term amateur participation for Team Canada. Candidates must compete in prescribed events and participate in group training sessions to rise through the ranks to qualify. Which means you have to be fast and race a lot where and when they tell ya.

So what is it gonna take for Ross to make the team against guys 15 years his junior?

As part of preparing himself physically, he drink most of his meals – mixing protein powder, raw egg, blueberries, flax seed, grape nuts, banana and yogurt in a blender for breakfast and lunch and eating chicken with broccoli for dinner. That’s part of the difference between an elite snowboarder and the dude down the street who pounds a few twinkies before hitting the lifts.

Ross continues, “I’m riding every day, back on my race board running gates at Blackcomb, most days you can see me training on Jersey Cream at the Race Centre. Plus I do an extensive kick boxing routine and have a basement gym with weights and punching bags.”

Just in case he isn’t working hard enough, he worked with Sasha, a Russian conditioning coach who defected from the Army 20 years ago who Ross describes as “pretty hardcore.”

For snowboard-specific training, he hooked up with a former competitor Thedo Remilink who finished 10th in Nagano, boarding for Holland at age 35. Ross says, “Thedo and I were on the same pro team around 1996. He will be a familiar face for me as well as someone who knows my history.”

After a summer on the mountain bike and early training on Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor, he’s ready for competition in Europe this fall.

The Path Back Home

Specialized, international training isn’t cheap and must be funded by company sponsors or privately as Canada doesn’t kick down the expenses to the level of some countries where elite athletes are feted and coddled like sacred cows. Instead, Canada spreads sports funding across a wide swath of athletes rather than fully funding a few top performers,

This policy can lead to situations evidenced in Turin 2006 when independently wealthy freestyle mogul skier Dale Begg-Smith, who hails from Vancouver and train in Whistler, competed for Australia because he didn’t care to participate in the required group training procedures and risk missing out on the Games by these missing required events. Instead, he paid his way, waited his time and brought the Aussies a rare Winter Gold.

With snowboarding, the Canadian Olympic powers doesn’t fund anyone who doesn’t train with the team which causes a conundrum for someone like Ross who expects to make the team yet wishes to train with his preferred coach. No worry though, Ross insists he will compete only for Canada and is headed back to take his lumps as the cagey veteran racing against up and comers on the World Cup circuit where (back in the day) he won the European Championship plus his hometown World Cup event and was a regular in the top three.

Besides the coaching expense, until he makes Team Canada, he’s on his own to fund the $1000/week needed for the basic travel expenses for life on the circuit from plane tickets to entry fees to lift tickets for training, etc. Like a rock band scraping gas money for the tour van, he sells t-shirts, toques and other Ross paraphernalia on his website but of course, his accomplishments and high profile draw sponsor’s attention, notably iconoclastic Canadian brand, Roots. “They’ve been there for me every step,” Ross says, adding,”I lost some sponsors after the Olympics, but Roots picked up the slack.” Looks like the exposure works for Roots too who now make Olympic uniforms for several countries. Besides Roots, he shills body space for ads for googles and gear enough to keep rolling to the next race.

But don’t worry too much about the enterprising Rebagliati – after losing a pre-Olympic sponsor who was covering his mortgage payments, Ross sold his house and realized a considerable profit. He says, “A light bulb went off in my head and I realized I could continue to flip houses.” So he pulls enough flips in the hectic Whistler real estate market to keep the homefires burning and suggests, “The midnight infomercial about buying houses with no money down is true.”

Know Your Role

On his return to the circuit, he is savvy to the trials of the road in the hyper-competitive environment and the effects of the inter-personal dynamics on race results.

“Aside from the underlying stress of the financial commitments with no guarantees, there is considerable time on the road and the particular dynamic of the inner team relationships. These are the factors which, if dealt with wisely or not, contribute to either success or failure. The ‘reality TV shows’ like Big Brother and Survivor are very good examples of what life on the racing circuit is like.”

As a first to have a rare boarder pass at Blackcomb, Ross, who started as ski racer, met snowboarding at 15 and never looked back and as someone who loves the sport, and as the “not-quite grizzled” veteran teammate, he’s prepared to help other boarders cope and succeed by bringing a cooperative attitude into a competitive environment.

“I will be the veteran with all the experience. When I first started with professional teams 15 years ago, me and the others were in our early 20’s, and sometimes younger, with very limited life experience away from the comforts of home. Dealing with things about growing up along with race life on the road is a challenge for anyone, especially at that age.”

After a five year competitive hiatus, he’s gotta be realistic with his expectations though, he expects, “to make top three in at least one race and he in the finals (top 15) or better on a regular basis by mid-season. My goals will become more or less aggressive depending on where my level of riding is ay compared to the current top guns.”

His quest to be a competitor in 2010 was inspired by his involvement with bringing the games to his hometown as an unofficial ambassador for his hometown. “During the Plebasite, I did a bunch of media to get people out to vote ‘yes’ and having the Games come here has created the motivation I now have to get back on my race boards.”

The historical significance is not lost on Ross who says, “To race in the games here would be a cool thing since when I first started snowboarding here we weren’t even allowed to ride the chairlifts anywere in Canada. It’s kind of a full circle which I am proud to have been have been a part of since the beginning.”

Don’t underestimate the advantage of competing on a familiar course (let alone sleeping at home with race-day breakfast at your favorite cafe) and with his steely-eyed focus, love of boarding, healthy lifestyle and balanced demeanor, don’t bet against Rebagliati being back on top of the podium in 2010. After a few seasons back on the board, the still-distant February morning might just feel like another screaming day on the slopes for the cagey veteran.

Backstory (sidebar?)

As one of the later boarders to ride the chopped up and foggy Shiga Kogen Giant Slalom course which had claimed over a dozen DNFs on the day – Ross hurdled down the slope, pushing each turn tighter and harder and arrived at the bottom in sizzling time – moving from eighth to first and winning the Gold Medal with two hundredths of a second to spare.

From the victory celebration, the elated Ross headed back to the athlete’s village to hang out with his buddies and co-competitors. They passed his Gold Medal around and talked about the race with friendly camaraderie when the coaches walked into the room and asked everyone to leave, everyone … except for Ross who they advised to sit down.

Ross says, “They basically told me I had failed drug test but they didn’t know what for.” So he gathered the various supplements and sports drinks he’d ingested for analyzation and headed to Nagano city by bus with his backpack. When I got to Nagano, they set me up with the Head of the Canadian Olympic Association, and she explained that i had failed a test for weed.”

After 11 years training for this win, he stopped smoking in the previous April knowing testing was part game. “This was something that was part of my life for years on end leading up to that moment. We knew that it would be somewhat of an issue going into the games, and we’d gone to great lengths to educate ourselves and learn about it and to make sure it wasn’t an issue and all of a sudden, here it was right at the most crucial point of my career so it was bad news for sure. They wanted to know if I had an explanation of course I didn’t except that I’d been hanging out with people over Christmas and New Year’s and at a wake that I’d been at for a friend that I’d dedicated my winning run to.”

Suddenly statistics appeared about how much smoke would have to be in a room for the THC level to reach that point and instantly everyone was an expert on whether or not cannabis was a performance enhancing drug.

Rumors began to spread that the issue was moot as marijuana wasn’t even included as a banned substance in the agreement which added snowboarding to the Games as the International Ski Federation allows for 15ml contrary to IOC regulations permitted which permit none. Regardless, a duplicate Gold was awarded in a hastily planned ceremony trying to defray attention from the controversy.

The following morning, the ordeal continued as Ross was taken into custody by the Nagano Prefectural police who took their turn to grandstand. The local cops had managed to separate him from his RCMP escorts and Canadian Olympic Association Representatives and worked over his frazzled nerves. Ross adds, “They put me in a jail cell and interrogated me for 4-5 hours about the different things about weed. I was really starting to feel the reality of the situation because the translator could barely speak English and I didn’t even know if she was telling the chief what I was telling her.”

During that anxious, isolated time in the dark hours in jail cell, worn-out but strident, with the disputed gold medal still stuck protectively sequestered in his pocket, “They came in and told me that I’d in fact won my appeal and I could keep my medal. ” And not a moment to soon, as Ross continues, “Otherwise the Japanese police wouldn’t have let me out, they were actually pressing charges.” Tense times in a country with a 7 years jail term the norm for possession.

With the 3-2 decision, the Court of Arbitration for Sport didn’t see the issue as sharply as Ross who states emphatically, “Weed was not on the list of banned substances at the time and in my opinion the fact that they tested for it anyway was a violation of social privacy.” But with the announcement, the IOC shuffled the medals once more, with Ross back on top.

Despite the relief, Ross says, “This all started less than 24 hours after the race. I only had those hours of pure exhilaration to enjoy winning the Olympics and then it all went downhill and it’s never felt the same.”

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Ross’ website: www.rossrebagliati.com/
Roots website: www.roots.com/new_canada/html/ath_update_RossM05.shtml

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Bonus

Aside from the underlying stress of the financial commitments with no guarantees there is considerable time on the road and the particular dynamic of the inner team relationships. These are the factors which, if dealt with wisely or not, contribute to either success or failure. A high level of training and racing become effortless and when the social side of things is kept in check. We are constantly in a competitive atmosphere within the team during training. Whether on snow or in the gym, do to the fact that at the end of the day we all compete against each other, the atmosphere always has this element. There will always be those who deal with this better than others and it is the responsibility of each team member to do their best to either help or distance them selves to make the most of any situation. I have made my share of mistakes and positive contributions to my team over the years and from those experiences I have come to learn how I can best contribute to not only my own success but also that of my team. I will be the veteran with all the experience but when I first started with professional teams 15yrs ago I and others were in our early 20’s and sometimes younger with very limited life experience away from the comforts of home. Dealing with things about growing up along with race life on the road is a challenge for anyone, especially at that age . The ‘reality shows’ that are on TV like Big Brother and Survivor are very good examples of what life on the racing circuit is like.

My expectations for this season are to make the top three in at least one race and to be in the finals (top 15) or better on a regular basis by mid season. As this is my first full year of racing in around five seasons my goals will become more or less aggressive depending on where my level of ridding is at compared to the current top guns. The most important thing about setting goals is to set lots of small ones that can be easily accomplished that eventually lead up to ones that are not so easy.

I am involved in what seems to be countless charities of which most of them are for kids. I am involved with the special olympics, the adaptive ski and snowboard programs for kids with disabilities, ‘make a wish’ and ‘hole in the wall’ for kids with terminal illness’. The Canadian diabetes association and myself of partnering up to raise money along with my mother who has diabetes. EA Sports and I also do kids days at their headquarters which involves me gaming against some of the best in the business,(kids in wheel chairs). Due to their various conditions, gaming is an intrigal part of their lives and let me tell you,” they are pros at it!”.

As far as the weed is concerned and the ‘rumor’ I honestly don’t know and further more would’nt want to speculate one way or the other. What I do know is that weed was not on the list of banned substances at the time and in my opinion the fact that they tested for it anyway was a violation of social privacy. All snowboarders at the Nagano Olympics followed the rules.

Aside from certain travel restrictions which are still upon me with regards to the USA I have had only a small corporate fall out with at least one of my main sponsors I had going into Nagano. I would like to point out that I don’t blame the sponsors at all for there decision although it was disappointing none the less. ‘Roots’ has been there for me every step of the way and are design leaders in healthy living and lifestyle and their clothing line reflects that.

Go Cups and Pedicabs ~ Are We Ready to be “World Class” Yet? (from Vancouver Observer)

Originally appeared in Uncle Weed’s Dossier column in Vancouver Observer on Aug. 2nd 2011 under the same title. This spiel compiled a bushel of ideas I’ve wanted to amplify to Vancouver (knowing change comes slow etc. in land of conservative progressive) and banged it out white hot after returning from New Orleans and seeing the remarkable (dearisay) brand they’ve crafted for their city – and dang if they don’t know how to truly let loose and keep it cool. We have our moments in Vancouver but with absurd prices and policies for beer (which is an essay on its way) and neurotic policy shifts, and an abundance of disparity… a few refinements are in order – the question is: are we ready to step up? heh, you tell me.

Go Cups and Pedicabs ~ Are We Ready to be “World Class” Yet?  

New Orleans Means Music by KK on Flickr

Dave and bevvie at Stanley Park summerliveLike a beautiful but gangly teenager on the first day of high school, in Vancouver we tend towards constant introspection and self-awareness to the point of mental self-abuse when we discuss our city. “Are we are as pretty as Zurich? Are we more fun than Sydney? Do these pants make me look fat?”

We obsess about being “world class” as though that makes us important. World class doesn’t mean “big” – we remain medium-sized (and our topography ensures we will) – as Goldilocks would say, “Just right.” World class means something unique which makes the city stand out. Sure, we have mountains, the ocean and trees. But to go next level, we need to go wide open with new ideas and take some calculated risks.

I’ve just rambled back from New Orleans (podcast) – a city that knows something about its brand and reputation – with a headful of ideas borrowed from working examples to re-fit our city experiment into something truly more livable for the normal folks.

Would you like your beer to go?New Orleans: “Go” cups – simple, put your beer in plastic cup and take it from bar or store to wherever (walking not driving), very civilized. Street music. Not lonely, hunkered buskers, but like the 14 man brass bands holding court on French Quarter corners where the crowd ebbs with high-rollers’ cars and tourists with camera phones mix with locals boogying down. Street-level streetcars (ding ding) with a $3 day-pass to roll on wooden seats down the middle of the road. Also, add a brilliant culinary culture but leave the corruption, rats and humidity.

kind pedi-cab in Austin TXAustin, Texas: Pedi-cabs – move these cycle rickshaws beyond noisy, drunken weekend novelty status and transform the way we take short up/downtown trips. The licensed drivers make decent cash without emissions and save your sneakers on walks which are too short to bother playing the “where might a cab be?” game.

See also: Hosting art, technology festivals as a civic cash cow a la South by Southwest. Need to loosen up on bars, clubs and meeting centres (seriously, try renting a place) and provide an area for patrons to party (no, GranvilleMall doesn’t count) and you’ll attract conventioneers besides the stuffy ties at the dual Canada Places. Remember that conferences are junkets which requires fun times for attendees.

London: Though gloomy and spendy, I’ll take late night double-decker buses and free museums and galleries. Art saves lives and defines who we are. Make it accessible.

New York: Falafel at 3 a.m. like it’s no big deal. There is more, but this is enough.

2002 Cannabis Adventure - The Netherlands, Nov. 2002Amsterdam: You’ll notice the separated bike lanes after you are run down when you don’t note the signs. As you are falling backwards avoiding the canals as scowling locals pedal by on heavy steel bikes, you’ll say to yourself, “I see, these aren’t sidewalks, these are true bike paths winding along like expressways for cycles.”

The reason bike lanes in Van are getting flack is because something was “taken away” – instead, make bike-only routes separate from the car-ways and everyone will be way happier.

The Dakota in TOToronto: Live music clubs with residency bands. Example: The Beauties every Sunday in the low ceilings and loud amps of The Dakota.

Barcelona: Hard to describe Las Ramblas but we need something just like it – a true city pedestrian mall, a walkway, a people’s area for mingling, lounging and even lightweight commerce (lay down a blanket, sell your wares). Simply, we shouldn’t have to close a major traffic route to host downtown get-togethers or to observe each other on lazy afternoons.

Logan, Utah: Free transit. I know it sounds absurd… another Dave (Olsen, that is) researched free transit systems but missed one in the culturally conservative, big truck driving, two-bar university city by the Idaho border.The seat of Cache County boasts free, quality transit – hop on to go frombig box stores to the Mormon temple. I’d settle for a “SeaBus only” pass.

Bar in Brussels Brussels: While dignified Brussels manages to beat Vancouver for most underwhelming tourist photo op (Mannekin Pis vs. Gastown “Steam” Clock), the Belgian capital wins big prizes for character bars tended to by pro beer traditionalists serving on endless patio tables ringing vast squares. While we don’t have the centuries of Trappist ale culture, places like Six Acres show you can craft character and bring it outside on the cobblestones.

Robots need Love Too at Summerlive Vancouver: Summerlive at Stanley Park was close to perfect. Keep in mind, I’m a veteran of Grateful Dead tours, the legendary WOMAD feasts, and a hundred hippie jam fest weekends and attest this was simply a remarkable three days of music and demonstrative of a renaissance of great bands unseen since the beery 80s days of local hardcore.

Held close to the totempoles where I had my fifth birthday party, it felt like we stopped caring about how the outside looked at us and started living like we want to – we ride bikes, we walk the seawall, we tidy up, we sing along. Thanks to the police for keeping it chill and letting us enjoy picnics, tokes and (possibly) a brown bagged bevvie.

Wet Cement

We come from all over. Trying to find someone second generation from Vancouver amidst refugees from the frozen lands  is a task. And we are already remixing ourselves, our city and our culture daily. The concrete isn’t wet yet here, we can still define who we want ourselves to be. And it’s a good time to do it since the city’s brand (as I learned in a city which survived a hurricane, flood, looting, police corruption and chaos) is “that city that burns cop cars.” Nowhere to go but up.

We have visible homeless problems, demoralizing property values and waffling by-laws. These need fixing. But to make my beloved city truly world class, I’ll be happy with a couple of the above for starters.

Photos: All photos by authour except “New Orleans Means Music” by Kris Krug via kk+ via Flickr & authour at Summerlive by brother Dan.

Freed Weed ~ “Exploring Vancouver’s counter-culture landmarks” in Megaphone mag

Here’s a piece I’ve wanted to do for some time which published in Megaphone Magazine #55 June 11, 2010. Megaphone is “Vancouver’s Street Paper” and sold by independent roving vendors patrolling the city’s neighbourhoods.

My contribution (which came as a request for a “My Megaphone” 350 word piece and turned into a 950 feature piece) created the theme for the cover with this stellar artwork.

Here’s the article and i’ll add a few links and notes at the bottom for reference. Now, does someone want to make a Google Map of the spots?

Freed Weed ~ Exploring Vancouver’s counter-culture landmarks

Vancouver is always on some “best of” something list extolling luxurious skiing or exotic bistros, but it’s rarely mentioned amongst North American art culture capitals. San Francisco gets credits for its psychedelic pioneers and New York is known for art school punkers, with beat poets traipsing in-between the coasts. Even Montreal is known for jazz, comedy and underage drinking, and Ontario holds claim to the Group of Seven artists.

When it comes to art culture, I’m not talking about big dollar art conversation like “Oh, where shall we move the gallery?” Rather, I’m referring to the creative forces that bubble up from the underground, as evidenced in my wily ’80s adolescence at the York, Commodore and dingy warehouses in what’s now the yuppie enclave of Yaletown. (Of course, the cops were always there to shut the fun down —some things don’t change.)

You have to scratch a little bit to find this Vancouver where explorers found a cheap place to figure themselves out — back before shiny towers and grinning faces of realtors permeated the landscape, back before the teal-hued Expo daze, and even before the immortalized Gastown riots (we didn’t exactly miss out because the ghosts are still out there to inspire your renegade activities).

So put on your boots and get on the bus for a tour of Vancouver’s renegade past:

Magazine photo by @kateleg -- Inside magazine photo by @kk
Magazine photo by @kateleg — Inside magazine photo by @kk

I traveled several splendid seasons on Grateful Dead tours and never once heard about Jerry and the lads stirring up interest for a show at the Pender Auditorium with free shows at Second and Kits beaches on August 5, 1966 — naturally, each was shut down by the excessively diligent law enforcement. Of course, any decent ‘head will tell you about the legendary free show at Golden Gate Park, which happened a year later with throngs of civic and fan support.

Before breaking in LA, Tommy Chong toiled as a guitar player and promoter at colourfully-named Chinatown clubs: New Delhi Cafe, T-Cabaret, Elegant Parlour and Shanghai Junk — plus brought in future Motown artists to blow the roof off The Blues Palace at the (now sedate) corner of Broadway and Alma. After continual shutdowns (despite re-employing strippers as comediennes), he split town with the only Hispanic kid in town who he’d hired away from carpet laying biz to become the vanguards of Californian stoner culture in the ’70s.

Meanwhile, around the corner, a left-handed whiz-kid named Jimi from Seattle killed the hours while visiting his Granny by wailing on his guitar in a chicken restaurant before heading to England so someone would listen and give a shit about what he was up.

Blocks away in West End cabarets, my great Uncle Lorne entertained town dignitaries and miscreants alike as a lounge singer in a seedy but sophisticated circuit —as a kid oblivious to the violent underworld, I always wondered why he couldn’t bend the knuckles on one hand and covered them with rings.

Further out of town, the founding fathers of creative housing recently arrived from Finland in the 1890s stuck poles in the swampy land which no one wanted near the wild cannery town of Steveston and said, “This is where we live.” Generations lived on in net sheds, boats and ramshackle huts, creating their distinct community until authorities and land-grabbers tried to reclaim Finn Slough. The hardy descendants carry on—partially prisoners of charm and confusion over land claims—far from ideal, but somehow faring better than evicted residents north shore’s intertidal Mud Flats and even the recently thwarted land lease holders of Hollyburn.

Yup, my Vancouver isn’t the city of glass and resto-lounges; it’s stumbling upon the site of the Victoria Argyle Club—run by my ol’ dead Gramps who made sandwiches for pool sharks and olden slackers who never needed a job.

My Vancouver is the motorcycle shop on site of Bumper’s—a short lived all-ages club in Whalley where metal heads sneaking mickeys hung on one side and the grab-bag of punk/goth/new wave kids smoking cloves stayed on the other. No one much ventured to the floor except the seminal night when DOA, The Spores and my friends Abortions on Toast opened the whole world to the 13-year-old version of me.

Up King George a bit by the infamous bus loop was Stardust roller rink (apparently re-opened?) where 6th graders somehow were allowed to stay out all night copping feels and rollerskating circles to REO Speedwagon.

Just across the river where the ALRT used to end, I’d use paper route money to pickup a requisite punk camo jacket from the dingy surplus stores on the waterfront behind the Army and Navy store, the same one where my Mom bought clunky Chinese boots each year for the first day of school.

Now my boots haul me along the trail named for G7 artist (and WW1 battlefield painter) Fredrick Varley, who frolicked in the ‘20s and ’30s between Lynn Valley and Jericho Beach. The fiery Scot finally split town — 18 months behind on rent — after sparking the Vancouver art scene with the first schools and exhibitions in this industrial outpost.

I showed up at school most every day, hung out at libraries and even won the school science fair, before traveling to 20-plus countries learning the secrets of pilgrims and Templars. But never once did I hear about these Vancouver legends and connections. Discounted perhaps? Ignored? Who cares. I know it now.

My Vancouver isn’t the one where it’s often harder to get a beer than Utah, where clubs of hooligans thrive in reckless packs while a low-end live music house can’t get a license. Mine is the same one eagerly celebrated by foreign draft dodgers zipping across the border with Kerouac in their back pocket and even the chain smoking ESL students who pick here for some sense of intrigue and history beyond the glossy brochures.

And now this is your Vancouver too, whether you know it or want it. Get your boots on and find it.

Story by Dave Thorvald Olson

Photo by Kris Krug

Dave Thorvald Olson is a Vancouver-based writer, producer and podcaster. Online, he’s better known as Uncle Weed and can be found at UncleWeed.net.

##

Further Reading

A SMALL HISTORY OF FINN SLOUGH By David Dorrington

August 5, 1966 English Bay Beach Bandstand, Vancouver, BC Grateful Dead (first free concert) — Lost Live Dead

Tommy Chong’s Vancouver By Tommy Chong — Cannabis Culture Sunday, August 24 2008

A rethink on West Lake cabins warranted – Like the Schleswig-Holstein Question. Some are easy. Like the Hollyburn Mountain cabins question. BY NORTH SHORE NEWS AUGUST 24, 2007

Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos, and Squats by Scott Watson — Ruins in Process | Vancouver in the Sixties

On Strawberry Hill – The hippie exodus to Canada from the United States was not a mass migration, but it was close. Is it time to rethink this period, then and now? BY CHRIS TURNER — SEPTEMBER 2007 ISSUE OF THE WALRUS

Vancouver History chronology 1970

Zen Rambling in Japan ~ Originally in Heads Magazine

Authour's intro in Heads Magazine

Authour’s note: This article “Zen Rambling in Japan” by me Dave Thorvald Olson originally appeared in Heads Magazine (now defunct) in the Vol. 6, Issue 4, circa: Spring 2006, as the cover story for the Travel Issue.

The iteration below is a late-version draft rather than the (apparently misplaced) submitted final version so there are some minor errors. This article is also markedly different from my “classic” Hemp Culture in Japan articles (see below) as this all original piece concentrates on modern times and practical tips rather than focusing on history and cultural change.

Heads did a beauty lay-out (excerpt scans included) and added several ancillary articles about Japanese culture in the issue. I’ll try to add in the photos where {indicated} in the article.

Be wary and read all the safety tips and caution closely – neither the Japanese police or Yakuza are to be trifled with but, if you keep it chill the good times are in store.

Ganbatte!

dvo, June 2010, Vancouver.

More Hemp in Japan

Hemp Culture in Japan – a 1992-7 ground-breaking treatise on the history and cultural significance of hemp in Japan is available in .html or .pdf . For alternate versions, visit JapanHemp.org, a site dedicated to Hemp in Japan. Published in Cannabis Culture magazine (#13 & Best of …), the Journal of International Hemp Association (V.4 N.1), as well as excerpted in several books including Hemp Horizons (USA), Hemp for Victory (UK) and “Hanp” from Norway.

Zen Rambling in Japan - Heads magazine cover

Zen Rambling article in Heads magazine Zen Rambling in Japan article in Heads magazine Heads magazine - Dave bio

Forget Everything

Japan can be intimidating, even for seasoned travelers. You arrive to massive sticker shock, tiny octopi in soup and 30 kinds of hot canned coffee which all taste the same in ubiquitous vending machines. You will also find a vibrant underground culture of tokers enjoying quality weed, homegrown from imported foreign seeds in crafty gardens, or harvested from the wild fields on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Japan is a long country with 80% mountains – covering several climates, from frosty Hokkaido in the north, to tropical Kyushu giving adventurous folks much opportunity to head to the outer provinces for exploration of the heady scenery of this varied archipelago. And, while weed is not cheap in cities, and can be hard to find in the countryside, with some planning, politeness and persistence, combined with a little zen, you can find big adventures in the land of the rising herb.

Indeed, it is easy to get lost in the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka – crowded with skyscrapers and twisted alleys, piled high with screaming neon clubs pumping techno, reggae or karaoke and shops piled with futuristic technological gadgets that won’t make it to North America for another decade – but, far away from the expensive hotels and talking toilets of the huge Pacific metropolis, you may find yourself soaking in alpine hot springs on a starry night, drinking sake with strangers crammed into a mountain hut after a backcountry dinner of rice, seaweed, miso and green tea and finishing up with a bowl of wild Hokkaido herb smoked from a long “kiseru” pipe.

Checking the Scene

While cannabis holds cultural significance in Japanese history, all varieties were declared illegal in post WWII by the US occupational government. However, good genetics have existed in Japan for decades, both domestic strains of high-THC fiber hemp THC and imported strains from tourist hotspots from India, Thailand or Jamaica by young Japanese turned on during the 1960-70s when worldwide youth culture turned to individual thought and away from the rigorous norm imposed by society.

In recent years, many young Japanese have traveled to Australia, Canada and New Zealand and brought back seeds, growing techniques and liberal attitudes, and, in the past 2-3 years, growers may legally order the seeds from finest breeders in Canada or The Netherlands. Coupled with access to experienced grow advice via the Internet or myriad books, it is just a matter of time until new flavors emerge from these novice growers.

With the lack of big commercial grow-ops and sketchy quality of imported weed, many experienced smokers either grow their own or make an annual trip to Hokkaido for a harvesting wild cannabis for private stash which, while untended, can be a sticky treat.

Electricity is expensive in Japan so any indoor operation must be efficient and certainly discrete, but close-dwelling Japanese are used carving out bits of privacy in confined spaces and enthusiasts squeeze small, personal-use gardens into apartments, closets, and greenhouses.

greenhouse
In suburban areas, back porch greenhouses gardens with a few plants blend well in with the neighbourhood.

Since you aren’t growing yourself, you’ll need to find some a friend. But, due to the harsh punishments, tokers are obliged to keep low-key and with the city prices at $30/gram, usually aren’t ripping bong tubes all day long if you know what I mean.

Find a reggae club, surf beach, or mountain festival, make some friends and be patient and respectful and follow your nose. In the cities, you may also find open-minded foreigners teaching English or running a street stall who may be able to lend a hand in a hookup.

If you are more fortunate, you may find quality stash illicitly imported from Holland, more common in the last 8-9 years. The strains are different each time and the price is sky-high at $40-$80/gram, but you also may end up with a wild goose chase or a dicey situation.

There is also a busy trade of lower-grade, seedy ganja imported from The Philipines or Thailand, and sold for $15-30/gram by organized crime organizations (Yakuza) at train stations by hired foreigners – along with speed, cocaine and whatever else they have. This is not your best option as you are likely to be ripped off, arrested, or turned-in for reward money. As one Japanese friend in the Tokyo-area points out, “There are many Iranians in Tokyo, they always have hash, not weed. They are usually around the big stations but I think it is dangerous to get in touch with them because police keep eye on them.”

Punishment for growing is harsh in Japan but the police are more concerned about organized crime gangs than personal use or small-scale growers so, as long you are low-key and not disturbing the peace, the Japanese police will rarely bother with you, but remember this is the country that jailed Paul Mccartney for 1 oz. and native rocker star Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi’s (think of a Nihonjin Springsteen) career was almost destroyed when busted with 2g of weed. Same goes with non-fiction writer Nobuhiro Motobashi who was also relegated to a penance of public groveling for minor possession charge.

Trips & Places

Honshu, the biggest and most populous of the four main islands, varies from the pacific-side, which is crowded with cities and fast-paced lifestyles, and the over the mountains running down the spine and life slows down but a little less convenient.

Since you probably arrived in Tokyo, check out the busy urban area of Shibuya to get started. Under Japanese law, it is illegal to possess or import a drug itself but the plant from which it comes, is legal. As such, marijuana seeds, mushroom spores kits, whole peyote cacti and paraphernalia are commonly sold in the hectic recreation areas like Shibuya.

Out of the town a ways, score a quintessential Japanese moment at a now-legal, microbrewpub with a view of the famous Mt. Fuji. If you are gung-ho you can walk up the giant cinder cone with fantastic views, no shade and with yes, … plenty of vending machines near the top. Or cruise over to Yokohama to Blaze pipe to buy a piece and take a roll on their skateboard ramp.

From the busy Tokyo/Yokohama area, high-rollers can head down the idyllic Izu peninsula for surf and boutique hotels, otherwise, grab your stash and head into the hills!

Between Nagano and Tokyo, make your way through Tochigi prefecture where you might meet Takashi Okanuma who is growing legal hemp under a license to make traditional “zouri” sandals and maintain a traditional hemp weaving craft called “nara sarashi.”

The field is carefully administrated by the local agricultural agency and is grown with a low-THC cultivar called Tochigishiro derived from a indigenous strain containing cannabidiol acid and thought to be indigenous to Japan since the Neolithic Jomon period. However heavier THC cultivars also existed since ancient times, likely brought from China via Korea as did rice and Buddhism. At over 15ft, these native varieties of hemp was the tallest tested by the USDA in 1930s and with over 4% THC.

{Picture Caption: In the countryside, a few plants grow from imported seeds grow well – perhaps disguised with bamboo, goldenrod grow – on valley and mountain sides where the only other visitors are likely harvesting mountain vegetables and rare matsutake mushrooms and understand the importance of safe herbs for medicinal use.}

Another hemp farmer in Shizuoka prefecture, Yasunao Nakayama, has worked through the government red-tape and processes his hemp crop into oil for skin products which he sells at a shop called Kaya and, along with other local farmers, hosts a “hemp festival” every August in Shizukuishi village in northern Iwate Prefecture.

Further along, in the fat middle belly of Honshu is Nagano prefecture, with the Japanese Alps and fertile valleys with farms, this is the historic heartland for hemp culture in Japan. Most recently famous for the incident at the 1998 Winter Olympic games in which the first-ever snowboard gold medalist, Canadian Ross Regabiatti tested positive for marijuana and was briefly stripped of his medal. Regabiatti stood his ground and after days of interrogations and hassles, his medal was returned and a cannabis hero was born and the strain Nagano Gold named in his honor.

Just a few kilometers from the historic snowboarding run is the town of “Miasa” meaning “beautiful hemp.” A tiny rural hamlet in this breadbasket area, Miasa celebrates its hempen heritage with a seven bladed leaf emblazoned on the village brochure and the local museum displays scenes of hemp processing techniques common to the area until the 1950’s.

The Nagano area is home to communities of homesteaders who dropped out of city life and moved into abandoned houses in forgotten valleys. Reviving villages after a long slumber of disrepair when a generation went away to war and never returned leaving remote communities occupied with only old folks. Once the prefectural government moved them into apartment homes in nearby towns, the historic homes stood unoccupied for decades until these new residents squatted in to rebuild and keep the old customs alive.

Nowadays, this progressive element combined with the stunning scenery, make the area around the ski town of Hakuba a worthwhile visit. Summer months feature counter-culture music festivals, programs at an alternative arts retreat, plus hiking and/or paragliding through a range of jagged peaks, well-adorned with mountain huts and hot springs. Head up during the O bon holiday (mid-August) – a Shinto festival during which people visit graves of ancestors and generally party down with festivals.

The northern island of Hokkaido boasts wild cannabis, adventurous winter sports, the Sapporo brewery and more hot springs. This wild cannabis is no mid-west ditch weed, instead it is more than folklore that potent weed survives (flourishes in fact) untended in fields around the sparsely populated island.

Crafty stoners head north in early autumn to prospect and harvest quickly at night, filling trunks and driving straight back to city or holing up for a couple of days in a cabin to cure and make the sticky, seedy weed into bubble hash. The police know people do this but, there is so much land to cover, and cannabis disguised growing in so many fields that the yearly eradication and arrest programs hardly make a dent. If you are feeling dangerous, head to Hokkaido during early fall for clandestine harvest but, bear in mind that this is tricky business and not to be undertaken lightly. Otherwise, take your snowboard and enjoy Sapporo’s snow festival and beer instead.

{picture of weed drying in cabin or field with hard to see cannabis plants}

Back on Honshu, history enthusiasts must visit Kyoto, the venerable old capital city of which survived the bombings intact and is now a busy city of temples, museums and nightlife. Poets and philosophers have come here for centuries seeking knowledge and peace through aesthetic arts and meditative practice. Alternatively, Nara is a smaller and more low key city with more history, ancient temples and semi-wild deer wandering the streets and parks.

Heading down the Pacific coast, you’ll come to Okayama, served by the bullet train but cheaper to stay in, this medium sized city is a handy jumping off city for trips to Shikoku and nearby artistic exploration. Sometime called the Venice of Japan, nearby Kurashiki is a town of numerous museums including Japanese folkcraft, archaeology, toys, natural history and a eviable collection of modern modern European masters at the Ohara museum (e.g. Picasso, Pisarro, Degas, El Greco, Cezanne, Monet, Millet and Tollouse-Lautrec). Also near Okayama city is Bizen, one of a handful of traditional pottery centers in Japan with walk-in-sized kilns that look like giant wasps nests are fired for weeks at a time.

Every trip needs a reality check, in Amsterdam it is the Anne Frank House, Japan’s heavy history lesson is the atomic bomb site in Hiroshima. Besides the buzz kill, you may learn something plus Hiroshima is a good city for Okonomiyaki restaurants where you grill your own savory-pancake type creation.

From Osaka or Kobe, hop an overnight ferry to the smaller island of Shikoku featuring a sparse population, surf culture, sacred hemp fields, and the “pilgrim’s path” – 88 sacred sites spread around the island visited by white-clothed pilgrims like an oriental Road to Santiago. On the ferry, dig the Inland Sea, turquoise blue and smattered with tiny islands, while picnicking on the big open floor with new friends. Hitch and hike your way around the coast, pitch a tent on the beach, or use simple pilgrim hostels along the way and you’ll left alone to meditate on what wandering poet Issa Kobayashi meant when he wrote:

The grass around my hut also
has suffered
From summer thinness.
Just when I hear
The sundown bell,
The flower of this weed

Shikoku’s Pacific beaches have great surf and cheap land so attracts surfers and drop-outs who may not fit in with the rigorous Japanese city life, sounds like a good place to meet cannabis aficionados. Head to the south central coast for the surf town of Kochi with a restored castle and surrounded by national parks, this is a great area to let the good times roll and rent a board or explore the sandy beaches, tropical plants and unique coral and rock formations.

Inland, in Shikoku’s farming region, hunt for the clandestine hemp field growing secretly for the Imperial family’s ceremonial use. Once cannabis was made illegal by the US-occupational forces and the Hemp Control act “taima torishimari hô,” this village continued growing to preserve the sanctity of sacred Shinto rites requiring hemp as a symbol of purity including the imperial coronation ceremony several years back when they revealed their illicit field to the relief of the royal folks.

{photo of author hitchiking on Shikoku}

To discover some traditional Nihon, point your thumb towards the San-in coast from Tottori to Shimonoseki on the Sea of Japan side (or Sea of Korea depending on who you ask). A stretch of fishing and farming villages with traditional festivals – drums beaten by drunken farmers and fishermen who are back at toil hangover and all the next morn, men who will be out on the squid boats bobbing offshore with glowing lamps attracting tomorrow’s sushi.

Far away from the tourist track, you’ll find giant sand dunes complete with camels, hidden coves for snorkeling, the finest Asian pears on this planet, open air hot springs and climbing on high empty mountains

Heading further south brings you to the more tropical island of Kyushu, and further yet, the entirely culturally different island of Okinawa.

From Kyushu, catch a ferry to continue your trip to Korea from the closest point between the countries. This same area is site to pre-historic cave paintings depicting what appears to be foreigners bringing a five-leafed plant and horses to Japan. Go find the cave and decide for yourself.

Zen of Travel

Traveling well in Japan is an exercise in simplicity – pack light with versatile clothes and shoes that are comfortable but are quick to take on and off (trust me). Unless you are planning to stay in one place, don’t bring your surf/snowboard because you’ll quick grown frustrated lugging it around in confined spaces, trains, subways, rooms, lockers – everything seems just a wee bit small.

Food

If traveling on the cheap, you can buy most anything from omnipresent vending machines to sustain your journey (including beer) – indeed instant food can be tasty and purchased in the most remote places. Beverages of every description including the aforementioned coffee machine with 30 brands all sweet, milky and strong (served at 110 degrees until one day, all machine magically switch to cold coffee). Look for noodle stands for huge steaming bowls of miso ramen or udon noodles, slurped standing up. Abundant shopping markets sell prepared foods to take away and fill your belly while saving your money.

Take some chances cause you aren’t likely to find Mexican food or peanut butter. Local fruits and vegetables are much less than imported ones. Dairy products are outstanding as is tofu of course. In this land of sushi, killer seafood everywhere and most always safe and clean if sometimes a bit odd (puffer fish anyone?). Japanese beef is famous raised on beer and massage, you can enjoy it in small strips you grill on a hot plate on your restaurant table. When you get serious hungry, find an all-you-can eat curry rice joint for a mound of rice smothered with Japan-ified sweet curry laden with meat and veggies.

Crash space

Most all flights arrive in Tokyo or Osaka, if you are on a budget, get out of the big cities as fast as possible! If you have a friend’s place to crash at and who will show you around, then you’re styling, otherwise, make a smart choice or you’ll spend a lot of money staying in the city.

Besides hostels – which can be rather stale and poorly located in the city but sometimes fantastic in the countryside – you can stay at a Japanese-style “Ryokon” (an traditional bed and breakfast inn with tatami mats, kimono robes and funky food), or western-style chain hotels (some even with a strange Denny’s in the lobby), but the smart late night partier finds a handy gaudy “love hotels” which are rented for a 4 or 8 hour block – usually close by train station. Rooms are ordered in like fastfood – pictures of available rooms are lit up on a board (i.e. jungle room, bondage room), push a button to select and slide money through a window and voila, your heavenly crash pad awaits.

Once in the countryside, you can find accommodations in temples and monasteries if you are looking for some enlightenment or just a memorable night.

Getting Around

Buy a Japan Rail pass to cover the long distances – the trains range from clunky locals and to the warp-speed Shinkansen bullet train, prices range accordingly but all are timely and relatively comfy. Like a Eurorail pass, the JR pass must be purchased outside of Japan and gives you unlimited travel on most routes. Get to know the schedule to make your life easier at the manic stations and plan smart so to catch sleep en route.

The train stations are the hub of activity in any town with myriad restaurants and accommodations close by. Every station offer unique pre-prepared box lunches called “eki-ben” (literally = station box lunch), a great way to sample local cuisine while taking a slow train through new areas. Take a chance and get off at random towns to find family-run restaurants, empty beaches, historic temples and great walks up to samurai fortresses.

The overnight coach buses are another great way to cover the long distances in quiet and comfort. These ain’t no Greyhounds but rather sleek, comfy cruisers whisking you through the night to a distant destination in a whole other climate.

To get off the beaten path, get you left thumb ready to hitchhike. Thumbing around is a great way to meet people and often score a meal, or visit to their village or other adventure. Make a sign of where you are going – write in ABCs or find a friend to write the Kanji characters.

Communication

Everyone studies English for years in school but who remembers their high school Spanish, German or French lessons? Me neither.

Do not fear, with a dozen words (remember the Karate kid), much patience, and a small notebook, you’ll skid along just fine. Japanese are very impressed and grateful when anyone makes an effort to understand their unique culture and difficult language and will respond with kindness to your noble effort.

Hello: Konnichiwa (ko-NII-chi-wa
Goodbye: Ja Nae (Sayonara is more formal)
Excuse me: Suimasen (see-mah-sen)
Thanks/Thank you: arigato – domo arigato (Mr. Roboto)
How are you?: Genki desu ka? Answer: Genki desu!
Yes: Hai No: Iie
Please: Kusasai or Onegaishimasu
Foreignor: Gai-jin (or Canada-jin, American-jin, Nihon-jin, etc.)

Tokers know the word “ganja” or use “taima” (cannabis) or “marifana”
Say, “dozo” for “here you go” when passing the joint.

Arriving & Departing

You’ll likely fly in and out of Tokyo or Osaka and the officers take their immigration procedures very seriously so have your shit together. Clean your pockets and fingernails to prevent stray crumbs from your killer going away party from cutting your trip short.

Under 26-years-old Canadian, Australian and New Zealand travelers wishing an extended trip may qualify for a six-month working-holiday visa allowing you to make some money along the way. You’ll get a Gainjin Registration Card which you MUST keep with you at all times, and turn it in when you leave.

Ganja train

For me, I got caught the ganja-train in Nagano, high in the hills, stuck with a broken down van. Followed unclear directions to third-hand friends, I ended up living with a group of big city drop-outs, reinventing life in the hills. Ended up in counter culture festival in an abandoned children’s ski hill…. Teepes and psychedelics. Drums and tents, fat joints passing around – especially after the very-plain clothes cops went home. That’s when i learned about he wild Hokkaido herb. Seems too good to be true but turned out to be better than believed. I didn’t believe the story of trunk full of potent weed until an afternoon in a teepee in Nagano.

After a festival weekend, I was still in full party mode. Feeling jaded about the look of the weed, I rolled a giant joint of the weed harvested in a clandestine evening operation. The weed was seedy but sticky and dense which seemed a contradiction – thick sweet smoke, couching hard, heavy indica high…. Before I knew it, the teepee was spinning and I wasn’t sure if I channeling the ancient local shogun or the native north Americans. The festival, camping in tents, watching sunrise after all night drumming, I could’ve been anywhere.

Resources

Check out JapanHemp.org for comprehensive list of head shops and news articles and historical research.
Japan Hostel Association: http://www.jyh.or.jp/english/
Official Japan tourism: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/
Japan CANNABIS CONTROL LAW in English: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/legal_library/jp/legal_library_1994-07-15_1994-35.html

Bio

Dave Thorvald Olson is a North Vancouver-based writer and entrepreneur who also brews up the “Choogle on with Uncle Weed” podcast and made the 1997 documentary film “HempenRoad.” He’s enjoyed herb in fourteen countries on four continents so far.

Letters from Russia serialized in Exode.ca

Letters from Russia pageMy work of fictional epistletory literature project “Letters from Russia” is serialized in the writing & essays section in Exode.ca — a new online magazine whose mission described thusly: By showcasing and diffusing creative work on the web, we seek to give artists the exposure and recognition that their work merits.

Letters from Russia is a mixed media work including hand-written letters, paintings, sketches, and book crafts. The version in Exode contains just the text narrative done up in charming design.

As of this writing Letter One and Letter Two are posted — with another dozen letters to follow weekly.

The gist: Letters From Russia offers hilosophical discourse on war and love written as letters from a cobbler with Napoleon’s army in Russia, to his fiance in Paris. The letters chronicle the logistics of the protagonists’ journey plus observations about all manner of conundrums related to international trade, diplomacy, physiology of war, and individual liberty versus requirements of society.

Plenty of more background including prezo videos, downloadable .pdfs and interviews are scattered amidst this journal for your perusal, including:

Letters from Russia Recap from Northern Voice 09

Letters from Russia preso video from Northern Voice

Letters from Russia on Santa Cruz Free Radio

Background notes on Letters from Russia

Letters from Russia related images on Flickr

Letters from Russia on WriteNow on Santa Cruz Freak Radio

Northern Voice 2009 Dave Olson Letters from Russia (miss 604)

Let it Rain ~ “Flying High” boardgame-inspired art & interview in DIY Zine

Flying High by Dave Olson – as appeared in RainZine #4

Amongst my recent trips, interviews and publications came a very special treat – a pull-out insert and stream of consciousness interview in RainZine. As a lover of deliberate, tactile arts and crafts and compelling content, RainZine – produced by Carla Bergman and Anita Olson – is an ideal manifestation with photos artfully placed in with black corners, paper matched with content like wine and cheese, even hand-pasted-in CDs for bonus bits which the atoms can’t carry.

In The Resistance Issue! Number 4, I worked with Carla and Anita to create a pullout insert called Flying High – a boardgame-inspired personal art history i glued up from stacks of source materials – each square has a story. They photographed and distributed as a pull out piece along with the interview by Ms. Olson pasted below. The finished piece feels like an old-timey broadsheet which poets, folk singers and activists would share throughout the countryside in olden days – i feel part of that lineage.

The tome, alas, has switched to permanent hiatus mode after 4 splendid issues but no worries, these passionate creators are up to all sorts of other endeavours. In particular, Carla ringleads (is this the correct word?) The Purple Thistle – a program and facility for young artists which needs a spiel of its own to recount the perfect afternoon i enjoyed teaching a group of remarkable youths about podcasting (audio and video to come at some distant point on the horizon).

View from my Seat by Bev Davies (at Northern Voice 2009)

analoggirlheartsyellowpaper

After first meeting Carla and Anita during the “Phone for Fearless” campaign via Raincity Studios, they hopped on board my jalopy train of story and spiels at Northern Voice 09 where they caught my Letters from Russia and Rock N Roll Photography gigs.

We quickly realized all share a love of scissors, glue, tea and laughter as key ingredients to making art. I proudly wear my Rain pin on my coat and am often blamed for heralding precipitation but rather i am an advocate for radical art in nature.

Rain also published a dossier about Letters from Russia in issue 3 where i shared pages with my good pals photographer Kris Krug and painter/designer Jer Crowle. This time the issue is stocked with skill includes poems from C.R. Avery, a mixed media singer/beatboxer/writer who played the release party evoking memories of Tom Waits.

So in tribute and thanks to RainZine, here’s the interview with Anita which i’ll always remember at Arbutus Coffee shop (after forgetting where i’d really booked the meeting), afterwork on a blustery autumn night with warm beverages and a cassette recorder – truly thanks Carla and Anita for bringing the Rain down on me.

three iterations of a dossier
Letters from Russia dossier for RainZine in 3 iterations

Who is this Dave Olson Guy anyway?
by Anita Olson from RainZine Issue #4

Last fall I had the pleasure of chatting with this Dave O guy and was reminded of a sociology paper I wrote about how the Internet fosters multiple selves (not to be confused with multiple personalities, of course). The basic idea is that the self is not a singular but rather made up of a compilation. Sherry Turkle, a big smarty pants at MIT, wrote a book called Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, discussing how “the Internet has become a significant social laboratory for experimenting with the constructions and reconstructions of self that characterize postmodern life. In its virtual reality, we self-fashion and self-create.”[place number 1 here for footnote] In other words, the computer helps us see the multiple selves we posses and can help foster their development. Sitting with Dave O was like sitting with a Turkle case study.

Dave O is an artist, writer, poet, painter, drawer, collager, podcaster, speaker, hockey fan, tree hugger, pot advocate, hiker, documentarian, blogger, storyteller, office worker, daddy, husband, activist, teacher, do-gooder, and sauna sitter but I reckon that there is probably more in him that I missed. Many know him as the infamous Uncle Weed or simply as Dave O…and of course there’s Dave Olson.

Using the Internet, Dave has created different personas each capturing a certain audience. Whether it’s talking bud with Uncle Weed, rattling hockey stats as Dave O, or reading literary essays by Dave Olson, he has a lot of virtual ground covered. But having an audience is only half the tale; Dave would like “a paycheck to go with it.”

In the two or three hours spent with Dave so many stories flowed that I can only fit a tiny fraction of what was shared that evening. I hope to have highlighted Dave as the artist he truly is. Who better but to have Dave’s own words to describe his artistic process, a new project and how he perceives himself as an artist. The following is an excerpt from an autumn chat between RAIN and Dave O.

What he’s recently been up to…

DAVE O

[I’ve been working on] some recordings I made in 2006 while visiting the Clayquot Sound area. I was at the blockades in 1993 near Tofino. I was a young 20 something year-old and I stood on the blockade lines and watched everyone get arrested…and out there on the blockade lines I learnt a lot of pivotal lessons, and it’s really what got me into hemp and alternative fibers and peaceful activities and bringing people together rather than squabbling. I realized out on the blockade lines, the environmental advocates and the loggers both wanted the same thing. They both wanted the trees, they just wanted them for different reasons. These guys wanted them for jobs so they could buy TVs and RVs and those guys wanted them so they could feel good about breathing air. But we need to find a solution so we can all just get along.

So, over the intervening years I hear all this news that it had been turned into a UNESCO world heritage site and I was like, “we won and we changed the world”. So I pack up the family (in ’06) and it’s going to be great, it’s going to be like eco heaven. But when we got out there it was industrial tourism. Fucking RVs, provocatively named resorts, swimming pools and Jacuzzis everywhere. While we were there, the city of Tofino ran out of water and they packed up and stopped commercial usage. All the hotels had to pack up all the people and send them home. And I just happened to be there. And because I’m the kind of guy that takes a bag full of books with me on vacation and paints, I just used this as a sort of a catalyst to make a huge amount of paintings and my little recordings. The water outage and my whole tension about the area gave a spark to the whole thing. I brought all these files home and I totally stressed myself out on this vacation because I wanted to document all this injustice of the world and then I misplaced the files. [They were] missing for quite some time….on another computer on another thing…anyway I finally found the files and thought, this is what I gotta do; I gotta find how to make these into something.

So over the last month I’ve made them into a nine-part podcast series called “Rain Forest Dispatches.” It’s a combination of me reading essays, me kind of running on spiels, my own personal frustrations with things, then flashing back to the blockades, and then visiting the friends of Clayquot Sound Organization and having some interviewee conversations. I was wondering what to do with them…it’s hard editing your own audio. For one, you sound like a chipmunk and two, it’s like, “shut up, we get it dude”. I needed something to break it up and stretch it out and the stories were all told out of sequence too. It was totally non-linear but then I started to put together a few bits and pieces of music. A young lady named Becks from Vancouver Island made a song called “Lonesome Traveler” and it was…perfect. I made a little introduction with seaplanes and sounds of waves lapping against the shore. And then I found this guy William Whitmore Elliot. It sounds like he’s an old 75 year old man from the delta but he’s this nice young college boy from Iowa, sings these great blues songs. And our pal Geoff Berner in “Light enough to Travel” where he sings about smashing the windows of logging companies just to get a little release and these pieces just came together. Labour Day weekend I locked myself in my studio and just edited audio and I started releasing them. I’ve got five of them out now.

How he describes himself and what he does…

DAVE O

I make mixed media story packs…I’m a story maker rather than a storyteller. To describe what I do, it’s not really performance art and its not really spoken word and it’s certainly not slam poetry. It’s more like I sit around a campfire with a very focused conversation about things because everything I do is very, very deliberate…and my presentations, in order to make it look like I’m making it all up, take a tremendous amount of work.

I’ve made a deliberate point of knowing how to write in every style. Everything from press releases, expository and free prose, and that is what keeps me employed.

I’m a private man and separate my family and day job from the Internet. I only share bits of myself that other people may find compelling in one way or another.

I like sharing stuff…I just don’t like organizing it to share it.

But Dave’s work is organized in the virtual world. He has a wicked website, www.uncleweed.net where there are links to numerous podcasts, blogs, poetry, essays, pictures, films, paintings, a resume and more…a virtual adventure well worth diving into!

*On the front of this lovely little insert is a bit of a timeline Dave whipped up for RAIN titled “Flying High.” It displays his eclectic style and the thoughtful intention he pours in all of his work. Sharing parts of himself, from a scrawny kid, where he’s lived and traveled, paintings, writings and up to what he’s currently been doing covers this aesthetically pleasing and informative piece.

1 Life on the Screen. Simon & Schuster. New York: 1995

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Oh Brother – this printer is mighty

brother in a mighty boxAlong with some other local blogger/indie media/creative types, I am testing one of Brother’s new laser printers. I am someone who loves making stuff since ditto machines to working at K!nko’s for three months so i could scam the colour copier after hours. 65lb, 4 colour, duplex laser printerThusly i am stoked to be testing a 65lb., full duplex(!), full colour(!), laser printer.

Among other projects, I’ll be making some photo wall collages (mounted on black museum board) me and the sweetie have been meaning to make for years.

Then (excitedly) make some bound and fully realized versions of my Letters from Russia (.pdf) war & love epistletory discourse book (which, incidentally, i’ll be discussing on Santa Cruz public radio soon) which included some drawings, painting and such which never made it to the digital version.

Campsite

If i get really productive, I’ll finally create a printed, illustrated version of the Uncle Weed’s Red rock Adventure (.pdf) – eco-minded edu-tainment for all ages.

Uncle weed illustration

Yes there is a book with pictures written in 1988 or so which is Uncle Weed’s adventure in the desert explaining tips and tricks for development sabotage with outstanding illustrations by the talented Mr. B.G. Kiggins of NYC.

Next step is to gather a killer stash of quality paper to ensure the finest results. Thanks to DB eh.