Cheers From Far Away

Thursday, 03.05.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Cheers From Far Away
It's a sunny morning in Taipei City-26 degrees and humid.

David Hartwell is reclining on his couch, an open Diet Coke before him, listening to his favorite hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks, on the Internet. The windows of his fourth-floor apartment are open, and he can hear the thrum and whine of traffic from the city below.

"Most of the games start at eight or nine in the morning here," he says by phone. "It's a big time change."

Hartwell, who's 31, was born in Red Deer and grew up in Nanaimo. Now he lives and works as an English teacher in one of Asia's largest cities-Taipei, Taiwan, which is 9570 kilometers (and 15 hours) east of GM Place.

"There's no hockey on Taiwanese TV," Hartwell says, so getting the games requires a MacGyver-like knack for problem-solving. He's tried using a Slingbox-a 250-dollar device that redirects a television signal to his laptop-but the reception for hockey is "unbelievably crappy."

"The puck's too small and there's too many people moving around," he says.

Hartwell used to have a friend record the games and FedEx them to Taipei. It got expensive, though, and he had to avoid newspapers and the Internet for the 24 hours it took a tape to arrive.

"The only foolproof is listening on the Internet," he says, "so I tune in to Tom and Shorty all the time."

THE MORNING ROUTINE

"In the olden days I used to get up, crack a Dr. Pepper, smoke a cigarette, and put on the game."

But now Hartwell is getting fit. He's joined a health club, and after his customary early breakfast of muesli and protein powder, he hits the gym for bicep curls, lat pulldowns, and deep squats.

"I've lost 10 kilos," he says. "There's bit of fat on my stomach still, but my arms, chest, and abdomen are like sculpture."

After exercising, it's back to his central Taipei apartment for the game. Hartwell usually listens alone, but, lately, during the playoffs, his Ontarian roommate has been joining him.

"Brian's here in the mornings and he likes the games," says Hartwell. "He's a Maple Leafs fan, though, so I make fun of him."

He pauses a moment. "Actually, what happened to his team is so pathetic that it's hard to tease him. He just looks at me with big wet eyes."

After the game, Hartwell prepares for his trip to Joy Language School, where he teaches grammar to 11-year-olds.

He dons a red crash helmet and walks downstairs to his 50cc scooter. It's a battered Kymco Sniper'-with a top speed of 70 km/h-and it has a factory-applied decal that reads like a Zen Buddhist koan: We reach for the sky...neither does civilization.

"I've been in Asia five years," says Hartwell, "and I still have no idea what that means."

In Taipei, a traveler fresh from Brampton or Port Coquitlam or Tulalip can earn twenty bucks an hour or more without any teaching experience. Hartwell, the son of Nanaimo schoolteachers, takes his vocation more seriously.

"I just love it when they call me Mr. Hartwell," he says of his students. "This is what I was meant to do.

Taipei is famous for four things-its millions of smoke-spewing motor-scooters; the impending military threat from China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province'; Taipei 101, the world's tallest building; and the city's cheap and savory food, available on nearly every street corner.

"One of my favorite local dishes is huo tway dan," Hartwell says, breaking into fluent Mandarin. "Mmmm, hao chr!" he laughs.

Then he translates: "Ham and egg sandwiches: good."

ON THE CANUCKS

For anyone, being a Canucks fan is an up-and-down experience. Hartwell, though, fears that his sense of the team is being distorted by the radio.

"It may just be because I'm listening to games, but it seems that [defenseman Brent] Sopel gives everyone heart attacks when he's handling the puck in his own end."

Asked to name his favorite player, Hartwell pauses charitably. "You're making me choose just one?" he asks.

"Okay, Markus Naslund, definitely," he says, referring to the team captain who's struggled to score this year. "Maybe he'll read this article and get the boost he needs."

Ever the optimist, Hartwell is undaunted by the Canucks, now down 3-1, going back to Anaheim for a must-win Game 5. "This is how storybooks are written," he says.

"They deserved to win the last two games, so I figure they can win the next three."

"I'm not worried, buddy," Hartwell says. Then the phone line falls silent.

"Okay, I'm a little worried."

The Vancouver Canucks would like to send their personal thanks to you, Dave Hartwell-the biggest Canucks fan in Taipei.