Aaron

Aaron Bailey is a remarkable man.

As soon as you meet Aaron, you understand why so many admire him and value his presence. His drive and enthusiasm is matched only by his charisma. He is a force to be reckoned with: when he sets a vision, he devotes everything to it and brings others along with him. Aaron is determined, candid, and unexpectedly thoughtful.

I met Aaron in his first year of university, flourished in his distinctive look: browline glasses, a patterned sweater, perfectly pompadoured hair, and a longboard that appeared surfboard-sized next to him.

He doesn't know this and it's a little embarrassing to write, but I remember thinking, "I hope he fails." Not out of malice or vindictiveness but rather, out of curiosity to see how he'd handle it. After all, it's when things go wrong that the shadows of our portrait appear.

In the 5 years since having that misthought, Aaron Bailey has shown me how to weave trivial and trying experiences into coherence. While everyone sees his achievements, few see his tenderness. Again and again, I admire how his basketfuls of accomplishments are stitched with a learning of mental health & a love of community. The more strained his strings, the louder he strums his guitar.

From chasing girls in Vienna to chasing sunsets in San Francisco, I love how Babygirl-Bailey is allergic to nonsense and follows his goals with a conviction that I haven't seen in anyone else. Yes, I'm one of Aaron's loudest critics but that's because I'm one of his proudest friends.

Aaron Bailey is the last cowboy in this town

The Dudes

11202907_10152742848926875_9222382698106162369_o (1).jpg

These guys are awful.

In the archaic sense that they continuously fill me with awe. I'm still not sure what binds us so stubbornly: an opinion about cycling? An interest in tech? A love for videogames or boardgames? Maybe it's the urge to challenge ourselves in the outdoors. Or maybe it's the collective process of deconstructing what we want and who we are.

But it's also a sense of devoted care for one another. These guys have been the Wilhelm scream to my adventures, my struggles, and my delights. We've shared meals and jackets and beds and tents and emergency helicopter rides and bad advice and most of all, bicycles.

The hopes of finding something to capture all that failed long ago and we've since adopted the title "The Dudes" – genius, I know. But by no means is this fellowship organized beyond a name: there isn't even a weather warning when philosophical discussions switch to poop emojis and vice versa.

I love these guys and I love their banter. I get lost in it and it becomes a long song of "remember when"s and outrageous jokes and "let me look that up in the rulebook." Aneel's mosaic stories flourished with Spanish drinks and phrases. Tony's fits of laughter, a few decibels too loud, that enlivens the entire room. Kenya's generosity of compliments bound to stop anyone in their tracks to make sure they feel heard and appreciated. Josh's questions that water the mind and his constant tug between trolling and story telling. Brandon's weaving of bold punchlines and staunch integrity in every conversation.

Thanks for always having my back. Thanks for always.

Electra

Last year, I had the pleasure of reading Don McKay’s Deactivated West 100, a book of eco-poetic magnificence that I quickly devoured. The beauty of this book extends past its text and into its production – not only is it carefully composed, but its printing and binding is made very intentional. It demands a haptic experience whereby each page is exquisitely textural and packaged under a cover that has indented illustrations. By deliberately choosing Gaspereau Press, a small Canadian publisher for his book, Don McKay is able to pay close attention to the layout and visual organization of his work. At the back, he adds a note:

“Electra was designed for machine composition by the American type designer W.A. Dwiggins (1880-1956) and released by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company in 1935. Although Electra was originally issued with a sloped roman italic, Dwiggins added a cursive italic in 1940 which is preferred by many typographers. This book was set using Adobe’s revival of Electra and its cursive italic” 

Dwiggins is credited with coining the term “graphic designer” in the early 1920s for his work within print but the term did not enter the vernacular until after World War II (Livingston et al.). He worked at Mergenthaler Linotype Company and was in charge of the company’s commercial text efforts – he designed Metro, Electra, and Caledonia to name a few (The Font Bureau).

According to Linotype, Electra has been a “standard book typeface since its release because of its evenness of design and high legibility.” This serif font has weighted tops on straight lower case letters and flat curves on straight stems that resemble trends when handwriting formally and quickly – Dwiggins himself stressed the importance of “warmth” in this particular typeface (Merganthaler). He also criticized the trending sans serif fonts and asserted that “founders should provide ‘a Gothic of good design’ and he mainly put the blame on capitals” (Connare). The creator of Electra put a lot of value on calligraphy and craft, thereby seeing the geometrically based pure and modern designs coming out of Germany in the 1930s as reductive, obscene and unsophisticated.

Electra is a fairly common body typeface for books and has distinct cross strokes on the “t” and “f” letters. It is meant to reflect the modern age of the 1930s and have metallic flicks and sparks associated with it. In addition to a sloped roman font, Dwiggins created a traditional cursive italic later in 1944 that was widely accepted (Connare). The imbalance of top strokes and lower strokes gives pizzazz to Electra whose sharp angles between thin curves and strong stems make the font snappy. 

Up until a few years ago, I had never paid much attention to type, other than ensuring that my paper was 12 point Times New Roman. Then, after reading a treatise on the importance of type by Stephen Fry, I began to pay close attention to the ways fonts are constructed and letters are designed. I learnt that the medium of a message is just as important as the message itself whereby typefaces carry with them different weights (pun intended) and essences. The font of a text highly curates and determines the reading experience as shown by the experiment with Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Eldorado.” The first stanza is in Euphemia – a simple, sans serif typeface with large spaces that allow for easy legibility, quick consumption and indulgent clarity. Meanwhile, the second stanza in Brush Script is difficult to read and requires more strain from the eyes due to its child-like unevenness. The cursive letters do not have much balance and evoke a much less serious perception of the poem. The Futura and Zapfino stanzas similarly imply different impressions and tones when reading Poe’s piece.

While I have begun to pay more attention to the typefaces presented in posters, advertisements, books, and any other graphics, it is difficult to fully comprehend the impact of different typefaces on my reading experience. There are many subconscious associations made between fonts and previous texts that may unknowingly permeate into my reading experiences. However, I believe it is very neat to appreciate the complexity and history with which typefaces are expressed and employed. For example, the famous World War II British poster that demands “Keep calm and carry on” was hand drawn but subsequently, a font by the name of “Avenir” was created to match that text. On the other hand, all official text and advertisements by the University of Britsh Columbia are printed in the Whitney font – a patented font that UBC has contracted for $15,000. Such contexts may not directly affect the book but definitely enrich experiencing a text. 

Japanese Textual Differences

Some observations and notes about how text is different in Japan:

  • Older documents are written vertically from right to left whereas newer documents are written horizontally from left to write. 

  • Despite being written from left to write, Japanese books and magazines are read from right to left. 

  • The cadence of Japanese typing is different from the cadence of English typing - say in an office. There are fewer space-bar taps, making the rhythm different. 

  • The “140” character limit for Twitter or the Snapchat text-limit are less confining in Japan since you can use one character = one word. 

  • The majority of Japanese magazines have Roman alphabet names/titles. 

JapanSakeLabels

'Museum'

Sometimes, events and emotions reveal the weakness of words.

I think it unfair how we use the same word to describe deeply different spaces: the Louvre, a place of ultimate art, artifice and decadence, the British Museum, the pinnacle of colonialist loot that boasts ‘from every part of the world’ as an instruction to marvel at such cultural violence, in addition to the Hiroshima Museum of Peace. Indiscriminately, we name them ‘museum’. 

When I first saw the Code of Hammurabi in the Louvre or the Standard of Ur at the British Museum, I had goosebumps. For me, these objects carried meaning through the millennia - inspiring a cultural connection and pride so strong that I was awe-struck. On the other hand, Nefertiti’s bust at the Neues Museum or the Caravaggios at the Kunsthistorisches Museum have such magic to fixate entire crowds around them for hours. 

The Hiroshima Museum of Peace is something else entirely: an experience so overwhelming with emotion and self-awareness that immediately, visitors grow quiet and the heavy silence is perforated only by sniffling. It is insightful, it is powerful. The word 'museum' doesn't convey enough - it's like calling Auschwitz 'a gallery.'

Perhaps what links all ‘museums’ is violence.

The bones or bodies of our ancestors silently weeping, their calls for rest and peace are unheard from within display cases. Terrifying, expressionless faces of taxidermied animals curated to look ‘natural’. Artifacts and icons often outside their homelands. These are the standard contents of museums. What’s more, audio guides and descriptions rarely share how these items got there. It’s self-consciously hidden. 

Instead, this violence of severance is neatly packaged in succinct plaques under the guise of telling you a little about each item but in effect, often rob you of context or completeness. That’s where the Hiroshima Museum of Peace is different: visitors are directly connected and confronted with violence. I can only compare this experience to the Robben Island Museum in Cape Town. A heaviness coupled with deep shame. 

You know, there’s only one photograph of Hiroshima survivors immediately in the aftermath? The newspaper photographer quickly rushed to the scene, snapped one photograph before being paralyzed by what he saw. Imagine. 

Hiroshima A-bomb Dome. 06032016.

Hiroshima A-bomb Dome. 06032016.


Mt. Asahidake

Act I: Setting the Scene

I've come to believe that remoteness is a medium of clarification.


After taking an hour train, a 2-hour flight, another 4-hour train and a 2-hour bus, I finally reached the base of Mount Asahi, east of Asahikawa (旭川) in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido (北海道). The allure of high latitudes and high altitudes invited me to climb the highest mountain on the island in the hopes of exploring the volcanic vents during a 2-day hike.

The marriage of high snow levels and low temperatures means much of the Daisetsuzan National Park is closed off for December & January. However, now that 'spring' officially began in Japan, I jumped at the chance to follow in Matsuo Bashō's 'Narrow Road to the Deep North' and trek upwards.

-18°C, windy day, unrelenting snow.


Act II: The Plot Thickens

Whiteness is terrifying.

The landscape quickly changed from familiar snow-dressed trees and the specifics of rocky streams to the ultra panoramic immensities of nothingness. Absolute nothingness. The trail vanished into unrelieved stretches of snow and ice so I was left to the aid of my map, compass and 'I think this is the way.'

What made it most punishing was the incessant piercing wind whose frigid assaults bring tears. There's a Gaelic word for that - 'greann-goath' - and I like it because it sounds like what you'd mutter in such conditions.

This is a photograph of the hiking trail. Snow depth: 2.2m , visibility: 1.5m?


Act III: Character Development

In the event of extreme vastness, the eye seeks detail to position its perception.

When there's no ascertainable detail, a new fear sets in. Where am I? What if I ...? But don't explore that trail of thought. Just focus on the next steps, literally. Focus on switching between crampons and snowshoes as a means of charting the space - both mental and physical.

Trekking singly through the monotonic and monotonous mountain is not the best idea. As a precaution, I did give all my details to Ryan in case the worst happens - what trailhead I was at, the route plan, the timeline and what colour jacket I was wearing. If I didn't call by a certain time, he'd call the necessary people.

I did, however, see two other people on the mountain about halfway up. Who was on the designated 'path'? Me? Them? Both? Neither?


Act IV: Climax

'To exercise a care of attention towards a place - as towards a person - is to achieve sympathetic intimacy with it' - Robert Macfarlane.

This was definitely an exercise and I definitely reached intimacy with the mountain in that I was engulfed by its snow. With every step, I sank to my waist and struggled to haul myself up only to do it again.

By now it's been 7 hours into the hike and I passed the halfway mark hut. From here on out, I was going up the left ridge of the volcano's blown out crater. Suddenly, time seemed to slow down. The snow stopped pummeling from above, the wind held its breath, and the clouds ebbed.

Then and there, I was able to see the volcanic vents: two dark holes spewing plumes of white smoke from a white ground into a white sky.

真っ白 (mas shiro - pure white).


V: Plot Twist

How do you define success for yourself?

The answer to that question is something I have struggled with, toyed with, and fully embraced since coming to Japan. If you have preset metrics of grades, courses, and involvements, the definition of 'success' is easier to resolve but also has several external inputs. Pass the midterm? Cool. Become a coordinator for X project? Check. Learn more about ...? Deal. Take all those away and you are tasked with the freedom & the responsibility of crafting and recrafting a definition of your own.

The blizzard decided to overstay its welcome, despite my several attempts to wait it out. There came a point where I had to act: continue and find a spot to set up camp or turn back before I was benighted and my tracks buried beyond retraction. Maybe success was summiting the highest mountain in Hokkaido, overcoming the challenges and proudly proclaiming "I did it!" But that typical 'success story' is predictable and perhaps puerile. I turned back after 2/3rds of the way up, and happily thought, "I'll come back."

At the end of the trail, the setting sun peaked through the clouds and concluded an 11-hour emprise that is to be continued...