Author Archives: Alison Bate

Armada rescues trapped New Yorkers (9/11)

Pix tugs to the rescue in New York

Tugboats rush to Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, to evacuate New Yorkers on Sept. 11, 2001. (Pix: Mike Hvozda, US Coast Guard)

By Alison Bate, October 2001 (Revised June 2019)

An armada of tugboats, ferries and small craft came to the rescue of hundreds of thousands of trapped New Yorkers on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

They ferried survivors to safety. They helped bring out bodies. They brought hot food for the workers, and now they are at work helping clear the rubble.

Tugboat rescuing people escaping collapse of Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001

The tugboat Kathleen Turecamo rescues people from Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001 (Penn Maritime photo)

The U.S. Coast Guard is full of praise for all the mariners involved. It estimates nearly one million people were evacuated by sea. (*See revision note at end of article)

Lt. Michael Day from Coast Guard Activities New York, was on board the Pilot Boat New York helping coordinate the mass evacuation.

“It was a shining hour for the maritime community,” said Day, Chief of the Waterways Oversight Branch. “They did a remarkable job.”

CALLING ALL WORKBOATS

On Tuesday Sept.11, two hijacked jet liners flew into the World Trade Center towers in a terrorist attack. The USCG put out a distress call for all tugs and small craft in the area to respond. Nobody could get off lower Manhattan and survivors were fleeing down to the waterfront. Continue reading

An interview with author and poet Ian Williams

Pix Ian Williams

Ian Williams at a coffee shop on Main, Vancouver in May 2019 (Photo: Alison Bate)

In his debut novel Reproduction, Vancouver-based poet and author Ian Williams tells the story of Felicia, a teenager and immigrant from an unnamed island.

“I not from anywhere,’ she tells Edgar, an older white guy from a wealthy German family. They meet in hospital where their mothers are seriously ill and their lives become intertwined over the generations.

Williams explores non-traditional family arrangements, racism and male entitlement in Reproduction, published by Random House Canada.

I met up with Williams in a cafe on Main Street, Vancouver recently and my Q. and A. interview is now online at Cascadia Magazine.

My Site C and Peace River story published

Pix Yvonne Tupper

Yvonne Tupper from Saulteau First Nation in front of beaver dam at Moberly Lake (Photo: Alison Bate)

My feature Fighting for Peace Valley is now online at  Cascadia Magazine.

In August 2018, I visited the Peace Region in northeastern B.C. with two friends and talked to long-time residents fighting against the controversial Site C dam project. These included Yvonne Tupper from Saulteau First Nations, farmers Arlene and Ken Boon, and horse breeder Esther Pedersen.

“I want all this industry to slow down and let the land heal. Then the people can heal and know they matter,” said Yvonne Tupper.

I also spoke with West Moberly chief Roland Willson, dropped in on the court case in Vancouver to hear B.C. Hydro’s arguments and finally, visited the dam site itself.

Read the feature, with some great photos by Jennifer O’Keeffe, at  Cascadia Magazine.

The eerie past at Bokor Hill

The derelict Palace Hotel at Bokor Hill Station (Pix: Alison Bate)

By Alison Bate

I went up a mountain today, and came down much the wiser.

It was a glorious sunny day in Kampot, too hot as usual, and I hoped it would be cooler at the top of the mountain.

As we started up the winding road to Bokor Hill station, our Cambodian driver/guide said casually: “My grand-grandfather helped build this road. Nearly 1,000 people died during construction.”

Whoa. I stopped gazing at the view as he explained that harsh working conditions, backbreaking labour and malaria all took their toll on the prisoners/indentured servants before the road was finally completed in 1925.

We learnt some chilling history about the plateau. After the inauspicious start building the road, Bokor became a pleasant retreat for the French colonials and King Sihanouk to escape the relentless heat in Cambodia. But a few years after they left, the Khmer Rouge moved in and planted thousands of land mines at the base of the mountain to protect themselves and ventured out to intimidate and massacre the villagers below.
Continue reading

Coffee in Hanoi

I’m returning to Vietnam next month, and that got me thinking about the many hours I’ve spent in coffee shops in Hanoi, especially one on Ngu Xa in Truc Bach…

By Alison Bate

 The cafe owner smiles the smile of many mornings as she brings over my iced coffee and green tea chaser. I lean forward in my bamboo chair to stir the two-tone Nau Da, digging down with the long-handled spoon to mix in the condensed milk, navigating around the lumps of ice. The mixture curdles and looks like a work of art sometimes and other times, a sludgy mess.

I take a sip of Nau Da and the chocolatey taste spreads inside my mouth, and an involuntary smile outside. A sip of the green Tra Da clears my palette and my mind. Continue reading

Speaking about Sudan novel at Vancouver Public Library

By Alison Bate

Hi! I’ll be joining four other authors at the Vancouver Public Library this Sunday to talk about my upcoming debut novel.

The novel’s set in Sudan, where I taught English for a while, and tells the story of three very different women confronting their individual fears. Fatima, the second of three wives, faces poverty; her cousin Nadia fears for the health of her Down’s baby; and Jodi, a travel-loving westerner, fears a conventional life.

I write about the Muslim way of life in the tri-cities of Omdurman, Khartoum and Khartoum North (Bahri), a capital region dealing with the aftermath of civil wars, blazing desert heat, power cuts and constant traffic jams.

I’ll be reading from my novel and answering any questions at the New Voices event, along with four other authors: Suzanne Chiasson, Roxanne Barbour, AK White and Joan B Flood.

BlognewvoicesVPL100

DETAILS:
Date: Sunday, April 30, 2017 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Venue: Vancouver Public Library, 350 W. Georgia St., Vancouver. B.C. Alma VanDusen Room, Lower Level.
Price: Free!

War, peace and the artist: Muoi Trong Nguyen

By Alison Bate

The corpses filled the river valley, their hands stretched toward the sky.

It was 1979 and Hanoi artist Muoi Trong Nguyen had been sent north to the border with China to record the war scenes for historical purposes. The fighting between China and Vietnam lasted less than a month, but in that short time, more than 30,000 soldiers died in the conflict, also known as the Third Indochina War.

He spent months after the battle ended, sketching and painting watercolors on site, but it’s this image of the hands of the corpses stretched toward the sky that stays with him. Sadly, he says the paintings no longer exist or are in the hands of the military.

Pix Muoi Trong Nguyen and Thang Tran

Artist Muoi Trong Nguyen (left) with translator Thang Tran at Writing Across Generations in Hanoi, April 2016

Western visitors to Vietnam often focus on the aftermath of the “American War”, as it is known here, or perhaps the colonial period, when France colonized the country. But to most Vietnamese nowadays, these wars are events from the past. Any current fears or threats are focussed on its neighbor China, based on its past invasions, current maritime ambitions and, of course, tempered by a booming trade between the two countries.

Nguyen, who writes in Vietnamese under the name Nguyen Trong Thap*, has brought out a new memoir “Noi Chim” that gives a fascinating glimpse of personal life in north Vietnam during the land reforms, the American War, and his time in the military and as an artist. He read excerpts from “Noi Chim” (Sinking and Swimming) and answered questions at a special reading at Hanoi Cooking Centre in April. At the event “Across the Generations”, he was joined by poet Nguyen Thi Hong Van and blogger and copywriter Yuki Phan, with Thang Tran translating.
Continue reading

In praise of roommates and random conversations

By Alison Bate

My French roommate Julien is practising his Occitan, a language I’d never heard of until he moved in four months ago.

Julien and the Occitan flag

Julien and the Occitan flag

Julien is from Toulouse and he showed me a beautiful YouTube video called Mon Pais, accompanied by a rousing patriotic song. The language of Occitan sounds like a cross between French and Spanish which, of course, it is.

Glorious snowcapped mountains, sweeping white beaches and unbearably cute limestone villages in southern France floated by as Occitan subtitles spread across the screen.

Meanwhile in our apartment, the red and yellow flag of Occitan has pride of place next to Julien’s computer. I made the mistake of saying: “It looks a bit like the Crusades flag.” He visibly blanched and rushed to correct me “No, it’s the opposite of that,” he said, launching into an extended history of Occitan. I quickly apologised. Continue reading

Morning in Kalaw, Myanmar

Pix Kalaw countryside

Rich red earth north of Kalaw, Myanmar (Pix: Alison Bate)

By Alison Bate

By 6 a.m, I’m on the third floor patio of my hotel, listening to loudspeaker chants wafting over still-dark streets. I wrap my jacket around me and descend to the empty streets and head for the market.

Woman and child in Kalaw

Women and children in Myanmar often use natural suncream from the Thanaka plant

Outside the golden stupa, barefoot monks sing for their supper as they line up and move slowly past the village women, holding out black alms bowls. Many of the women wear thick toques or bobble-hats decorated with pom-poms against the morning chill. A row of lit sticks makes the simple ceremony curiously moving.

I sit in a little teashop afterward, eating a chapati still warm from the fire, along with side dishes of potato and onion chutney and a hot sauce. The cafe owner brings me sweet milky tea and a separate glass of green tea to wash it down.

Today it’s big market day in Kalaw and men in longhis or long skirts and women with checked headscarves are pouring into town on motorbikes or sitting on top of their produce packed into open-sided trucks.

The women’s cheeks and noses are covered with a thick white paste from the Thanatka plant, which acts as a natural suncream.

A little later, macho men on their motorbikes hang around the tree, smoking and gossiping.

BlogBikersKalaw

Hanging out in Kalaw, Myanmar

When I return to the Golden Kalaw Hotel, three westerners in their 20s are huddled over smart phones in the little reception area, , trying to make the most of the spotty Wifi in Myanmar.

‘Look up! Go outside and see what you are missing!” I feel like saying.

But then I go to my bedroom and check to see that my iPad is charging properly.

My Bint el Sudan story in Brownbook

My story about Bint el Sudan’s factory in Kano, Nigeria, with great pix by photographer Khalil Halilu, is in the January-February 2015 issue of Brownbook magazine. Brownbookbintcover290Brownbook is an urban guide to the Middle East, based in Dubai, U.A.E. (2019 update: The magazine has since closed)

For more information about Bint el Sudan, see the following:

* Surprise in the Souk

* Memories of Bint el Sudan

* 36 bottles of Bint el Sudan

* The history of Bint el Sudan (on Perfume Projects’ website)