Heels on Wheels: Sook-Yin Lee of the of the CBC
Photos by Molly Crealock, Interview by Tammy Thorne
- This article originally appeared in dandyhorse issue 3, summer 2009 -
Name: Sook-Yin Lee
Occupation: Musician, filmmaker, actor, host of Definitely Not the Opera on CBC Radio 1,
Saturday afternoons between 1–3 p.m.
What are you working on right now?
I recently finished writing and directing my first feature movie, YEAR OF THE CARNIVORE. It’s a learning-to-love-but-screwing-up-royally comedy drama about a girl with an unrequited crush on a boy who thinks she’s bad in bed, so she goes out to get more “experience.” And yes, bikes feature in the movie. It’s the means of transportation for the clumsy young lovers. YEAR OF THE CARNIVORE will premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival on September 10. It will have a theatrical release in theatres across Canada in 2010. Please go see it. Ride in a bicycle posse to go see it! It will make you love your bike more!
Do you bike to the CBC?
I bike to the cbc all year round on my iron steed, an ancient Nishiki bicycle with the gears attached to the handle bars by a coat hanger. A kid sold it to me in Vancouver over a decade ago for fifteen bucks! He said it was abandoned in his basement and his landlord gave it to him. It has served me well and no one would ever care to steal it. I once bought a fancy new yellow bicycle and it was pinched a day later in front of my house. So I’m a bicyclist with a fondness for the loyal ramshackle bike. Every day I ride mine to work, from Kensington Market through Grange Park down to the Mother Corp.
Have you ever ridden your bicycle to a gala event?
I’ve ridden my bike to my movie premieres. The one time I didn’t was two years ago. Whatta mistake! I got on my bike in my nice white dress and heels. It looked as if it was going to rain, so along the way, I decided to park my bike and splurge for a taxi instead. I got stuck in traffic on Dundas, and with two minutes to spare before the movie was to start, I had to ditch the taxi and run like a mad woman for several city blocks in a storm, to make it to the cinema. I should have taken my bike.
What is your best cycling accessory?
Like many bicyclists, I’ve taken to covering my cracked seat with a plastic bag to avoid rain leakage on my bum, but I’ve noticed lately, since stores have been charging five cents a bag, people have been stealing them off my bike. So, I do enjoy a good plastic bag, and of course the most practical accessory on my bike is my rear-end basket. For a while there, all I had was a broken rat trap until Eugene Yao from Urbane Cyclist told me it just would not do. He gave me a lovely old metal basket and attached it for me. Every day I load my basket up with my computer and recording gear, and it’s unbelievable how much heavy stuff it carries. It’s certainly a back saver when my bike becomes a packing mule.
Do you have any advice for new cyclists who want to arrive safely and in style?
Though I love ringing my bell, more often I use my high pitch falsetto voice to tell cars I’m coming through. I let out one long high-pitched, paint-peeling “DOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!” and they make way.
How often do you ride?
I ride my bike every day. I don’t know how to drive a car, I’ve never had a licence. Public transit is nauseating to me. Walking is too slow. Bicycling is just right.
Where is your favourite place to ride?
I have ridden through it so many times to and from work, and I still love riding through Grange Park, past the Tai Chi people, and the dogs, and the lovers and the drunks on the bench.
Least favourite? Yonge Street. King Street during rush hour. Any busy city street during rush hour, especially the ones with streetcar tracks. It’s way too dangerous and cars kill.
What is one thing you’d like to see the city do to improve cycling?
I’d like to see more bicycle lanes! I was in Beijing, China and it is a bike paradise! The bicyclists make these incredible homemade rigs that allow them to carry mountains of stuff; an entire haystack, a cooking oven, a rooster, and two people sleeping in the back! In Beijing, there are entire causeways dedicated to bicycles. Bicycle helmets are a rarity in China, the western headgear just never stuck and yet accidents rarely happen because bicyclists ride at a leisurely pace. Slow and steady wins the race.
What is the strangest thing you’ve done with a bike?
I once did a performance down at the Harbourfront Centre, a series of “musical documentaries.” I invited friends to do non-performative tasks, while musicians improvised the soundtrack to their activity. Onstage, under the big spotlight, Amy changed her baby’s diaper, Bonny clipped her finger
and toe nails, Greco Roman wrestlers from the U of T wrestled on a floor mat, and my pal Mike the Bike changed his tire while we accompanied them with music.
Do you have a favourite ‘bicycle in film’ moment?
My best friend, and bicyclist, Andrea Dorfman is a wonderful filmmaker living in Halifax. This morning she sent me the link to her latest bike film, "Thoughts On My Bike". She has another heartbreaking gem of a bike movie called "There’s a Flower in My Pedal". And one of my favourite books is "The Third Policeman", by Irish writer Flann O’ Brien. It is a funny and surreal story of a world dominated by bikes and bicyclists so devoted to their bikes, they gradually become part bicycle: a bikeborg!
- This article originally appeared in dandyhorse issue 3, summer 2009 - When we noticed the photo was being used (uncredited) on the CBC's DNTO website, we thought we'd post this archive from our print issue to give credit where credit is due: Molly Crealock has been shooting for dandyhorse since the start. Her Heels on Wheels portraits include photos of Sook-Yin Lee, Molly Johnson, Fiona Reid and Pam Palmater.
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