Monthly Archives: May 2014

An Archaeologist “Digs” My Teaching Style

Earth ImageI love learning things. I can’t help it – I was born with a boundless curiousity streak. Something grabs my attention, and I just have to know more about it. When I was little, I often went to the beach, which sparked a lifelong interest in the oceans and marine life.  My fascination with astronomy and space exploration was ‘launched’ by the manned space missions that happened during my childhood in the 1960’s. My family used to go to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa to see official NASA Apollo mission films. I love learning about culture, geography, history, music, politics, science, travel. Just don’t ask me about sports; it’s one of the few topics I’m not really interested in. However, I do love swimming; it’s probably the one Olympic sports event that I’ll happily watch.

Another talent I was born with is an ability to explain things to people in a clear, simple way. I don’t know why – it’s just something I can do. When I was seven years old, I wrote a paper about tornadoes that ‘blew away’ my second grade teacher because of the way I described how they happen. She promptly had it printed in the next edition of the school newspaper! I’ve always had a way with words – verbally, in writing, and online. I once thought that maybe I’d become a newspaper journalist or radio station host (quite a few people thought I’d make a great CBC radio host, including some actual CBC radio people). But that’s not what happened. I ended up going into the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.

Now that I’m older,  I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I made the right choice all those years ago in studying for an Education degree. Should  I have earned a degree in Geography instead? I loved the subject in university. I even had a chance to apply for a co-op position, which I didn’t pursue (and I kick myself about it now). The thing is – if I hadn’t studied to become a teacher, I would never have taken an introductory course in microcomputers at the then Uvic Apple II+ computer lab. That course was my ‘seminal event’, which launched me into learning about how computers could be used for creative purposes like drawing, music, writing, and games. Learning about computers led to taking courses about how to use them for educational purposes, which led to me teaching people about how to use computers at the Oak Bay Recreation Community Computing Centre. Eventually I went to BCIT in Vancouver, earned a diploma in Information Systems, and worked part-time for Apple Computer in Vancouver, right at the moment when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched the Macintosh on the world. The Apple motto ‘computers for the rest of us‘, and the creative software applications for the Mac, reinforced my wish to do creative things with the technology, which eventually led me into the world of videogames and my rollercoaster career as a game designer.

Yeah, yeah. Get to the point. What does an archaeologist have to do with your epic auto-biography?

 Right now, I’m living at the Ocean Island Backpackers Inn, a veritable human train station of world travellers trekking to Victoria from all points around the globe. Where else do you find an establishment where the front desk staff are German, the cooks are Japanese, the housecleaners are Australian, and the bartenders are Dutch? It’s a fascinating crossroads of people covering all ages and different walks of life. Recently, a delightful elderly couple named Annie and John arrived at the Inn for a few days after spending some months in Mexico. John has family on Vancouver Island, and they were planning a trip to Nanaimo. They were wrestling with Greyhound’s online reservation system (not a very user-friendly interface), and John was getting frustrated. I kindly offered to help them, which they gratefully accepted. I quickly did a Google search for buses going to Nanaimo, tracked down the bus fares, and found some phone numbers they could call. I explained to them what I did online, and what their options were.


The Sorbonne, Paris


Annie stood up, leaned over me, and said ‘ You know what? You’re a hell of a great teacher!” She explained to me that she was a professional field archaeologist of many decades experience, with a Masters degree in Middle Eastern Cultural Anthropology from the Sorbonne in Paris! Not only that, she’d earned Bachelor degrees in Greek and Middle Eastern Art and Anthropology from there as well. Annie had known and worked with prominent academics over the years, so she was keenly attuned to how professors teach. Needless to say, I was very humbled to receive a compliment from someone of her background and life experience. When I told her that I had a Masters degree in Education, but was unsuccessful in finding a faculty or teaching position in BC, she looked aghast and said ‘Well, that’s their loss!

One more amazing fact about Annie that I learned: As a young woman, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean using only a sextant for navigation. The voyage took three months. Oh, and she was made an honourary member of the American Navajo Indian nation because of her work in exhuming and burying their ancient ancestors from archaeological sites in New Mexico.

Annie made my day.

The Grumpy Ferret


Hello Victoria! I’m Home – For Good

oakbayLife is terribly odd. It’s truly a game of craps – you roll the dice and either win big or lose horribly. It’s fair to say that I’ve had my share of winning and losing rolls. Two months ago, my 13 year odyssey in Vancouver ended. I was faced with the stark reality of being unable to afford living there anymore. I couldn’t find any additional jobs to supplement the one good part-time teaching position I had. Once more, good ol’ Fate decided to present me with a very, very difficult choice:

Should I stay, or should I go?

There’s nothing like facing the imminent loss of your apartment because you can’t pay the rent to galvanize you into making a major life decision.  I didn’t want to stay in Vancouver. I never really liked living there; it was time to end our stale, unsatisfying long-term relationship.  I needed to leave. I wanted to go home to Vancouver Island and the one place I’ve always loved – my hometown of Victoria. Immediately, the banshees of doubt awoke and started screaming into my consciousness:

Return to Victoria? The home of the newly wed and the nearly dead? Are you mad? You know how tough it is to find a job in Victoria! Where are you going to live? How are you going to survive? You’re a middle aged guy, for crissakes!

Of all the places on the planet to call home, I lucked out. Southern Vancouver Island is so fantastically beautiful, situated on Juan De Fuca Strait, across from the majestic Olympic Mountain range in Washington State. Victoria is an odd duck of a town. If I had to describe the city’s personality, it’s like having a favourite aunt you love for her slightly eccentric, quirky character.  Victoria is part of Canada, the capital of British Columbia, but it’s unique – a strange blend of British colonial history, 19th century gold rush frenzy, and elegant Canadian Pacific steamships that plied between the city and Japan. It’s a green, pedestrian place that values its heritage.  Compared to the winner-take-all, commuter road rage, real estate house demolition, condo-micro loft frenzy that is Vancouver, Victoria is positively sedate. The big thing you notice right away is the sense of community. People are more approachable and willing to strike up a conversation. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but there is a distinct sense of neighbourliness here than what you’ll find in the manic Lower Mainland.

I escaped from Vancouver. I gave away everything I owned in my apartment – furniture included – to the Ryerson United Church annual spring thrift sale. And I mean everything;  all my geeky gadgets and gewgaws, my games, my art, my computer and videogame equipment, my movie posters. All gone. I felt like a gypsy when I boarded the ferry to Swartz Bay, carrying nothing but two bags of clothes, a hiking stick, and my best hat. My eminently wise younger brother very kindly delivered my bicycle to Victoria, so I’m completely mobile, too. There’s a tremendous sense of freedom that comes from not being burdened by appliances, furniture, and boxes of stuff. For now, I’m completely unattached from the day-to-day material goods.

Did I make the right decision? Will I find love, happiness, and full employment on Vancouver Island? Well, so far I don’t regret the choice in coming back. It just feels right. My best friends of many years all agree I made the right choice. It’s great to have lunch with my parents regularly and catch up with old acquaintances I haven’t seen in a long, long time. Riding along the Dallas Road waterfront, sitting in a quiet cove on Ten Mile Point, enjoying real fish and chips again at a genuine neighbourhood fish and chip shop, not to mention taking in the famous Victoria Day parade in front of City Hall – I think I made the right choice.

And hey – the Oak Bay Tea Party starts on June 5!

The Grumpy Ferret (Happiness is freshly caught seafood!)