Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sayako vs Paris

Two weeks ago, Japanese Princess Sayako gave up her title and all its priviledges to marry a commoner. In a fast tabloid media of misbehaving celebrities without merit, this story has stood out and intrigued me.

In a move reminiscent of Paris Hilton in "The Simple Life", Sayako has decided to leave a life of priviledge to join the common schmuck. She'll be shopping at a grocery store and washing clothes for the first time in her life, at the age of 36.

But unlike Paris, Sayako has made a commitment to commonality for life. From the looks of Sayako, she doesn't seem to hold divorce as a backup.

A crass American journalist has expressed amazement that Sayako would give up being waited hand and foot to serve a Tokyo bureaucrat. In contrast, I am amazed that Sayako has lived quietly for so long within the tight confines of the Imperial family. Weaker willed royals like Princess Stephanie of Monaco have broken out like cold sores, enjoying their money without feeling the responsibility. Sayako's sister-in-law, Crown Princess Masako, a former commoner, was so stressed by the pressures of royal duty that she took a year off from public appearances.

In a time when wealthy American princesses like Paris Hilton can do whatever they feel like without consequence (make a porno video? make a mockery of the working poor? why not?) it is perplexing that similarly wealthy Masako has not rebelled in any obvious way.

Masako has given up her part-time job as an ornithology researcher to become a housewife. Her submissiveness is nothing to aspire to, though it is probably a sensible decision on Masako's part to dedicate herself full-time to the coming culture shock. It is endearing to think of the former princess learning to wield a toilet brush in the privacy of her new one bedroom apartment, and not in the freak show arena of prime time television.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Spot the tragedy

On Sunday, the body of Private Braun Scott Woodfield was returned from Afghanistan to Canada, escorted by a full honour guard. It's a story that has been covered by all the news outlets and I don't understand why.

Aside from the fact that he was serving in Afghanistan and riding an armoured vehicle, Pte. Woodfield essentially died in a car accident. No heroics, no enemy fire, not even friendly fire. There is no depth to this story.

In fact, the story brings to mind other topics and questions:

  • Pte. Woodfield was the eighth Canadian to die in Afghanistan since 2002. How many Afghanistan citizens have died in the same time period?
  • Would Pte. Woodfield have seen more combat action in Toronto this past summer, the setting of unprecedented gun violence, than in Afghanistan?
  • How much notice would the death of Pte. Woodfield have received if his vehicle had swerved to avoid an oncoming vehicle and rolled - in, say, Kingston or Petawawa?
  • Does the news service bring Pte. Woodfield's death to our attention because it is the correct thing to do, even if it is not remotely newsworthy?

Feel free to comment.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Nagging and bitching pays off

I have been a member of a car cooperative called Autoshare for over a year now and I have nothing but praise for the organization. It really has been a convenient and cost-effective way of having regular access to a car.

So, I started spreading the word about how great Autoshare is. In part because I really believed what I preached. But also because Autoshare offers a cash-back offer of $50 to you and to every new member who is referred to Authoshare by you.

In the summer, I worked extra hard because Autoshare was having a special: $100 for every new referral. Flocons was a prime candidate for the Autoshare special: he had a new girlfriend, no car, and liked to save money. As his new girlfriend drove him around, I would wag my finger at him while mouthing, "Autoshare." But he remained stubbon. Like a jerk.

Flocons eventually grew a sense of decency and decided to join up with Autoshare...two weeks after the $100 referral rate had expired.
"Well, at least we can each get $50." I said through clenched teeth.
"Well, my girlfriend and I are going sign up as a couple (slightly reduced rate) so we don't need the $50 cash back"
With his girlfriend present as I witness, I couldn't kill him. So, I nagged him to death instead.

Nearly half a year later, my latest Autoshare bill has come in and the fruits of my labour have arrived: a $50 credit. Thanks, Flocons. Thanks alot.

The moral of the story is: don't make me come after you or you'll regret it. Join Autoshare and tell them I sent you (contact me for my membership #).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Buy Nothing on November 25

Friday November 25, 2005, is Buy Nothing Day. The idea is to show that you have enough strength not to be a consumer for a single day. It's tougher than it sounds.

I plan to take this year's day of anti-consumerism seriously. I have already postponed a planned purchase of a sports bra from Friday to Saturday. In the end, I'm still buying a sport bra, but if enough people postponed their shopping, a blip would appear on the financial records of the retail industry. It's the equivalent of an overly firm handshake, or an uncomfortable silence, or a faint whiff of urine in your order of soup.

For some, politely ignoring the problem is not enough - only shit disturbance will do. AdBusters suggests a few ways to culture-jam. My favourite is:
  • Don lab coats and quietly push empty shopping carts up and down Wal-Mart aisles. Or fill your carts with junk and buy it all."On buy nothing day?" you ask. Yes. Did you know that Walmart has a guaranteed return policy? (under $25.00) Get your refund and start again. And again. And again. The line-ups can get a bit long, but hey, it's a great opportunity to talk with shoppers.

All this before the biggest consumer frenzy of the year. But AdBusters has thought of the holidays, too. They have available for download a Holiday Gift Exemption Voucher from the Buy Nothing Committee, which two people can fill out to make the the exchange of gifts officially void.

I think this takes things a bit too far. It's a thoughtful gesture to exchange gifts, and not all gifts need be bought. For instance, I would like a nice homemade scarf, about 3 feet long, quite wide, not itchy, bright colours (hint hint).

Friday, November 18, 2005

As requested: On my gastrointestinal tract and insomnia

About 15 years ago, my father had his gall stones removed. The experience was a turning point in our household. Before the surgery, my father would eat crap like an average North American. After the surgery, my father passed the fat onto my mom and me instead.

So, I ate TV dinners (for breakfast), fried chicken, and Whoppers, while my father ate brown bread with marmalade, canned beans, and high fibre oatmeal. The high fibre oatmeal was especially important.

Whether the gall stones had come about or not, I figure my dad was bound to become obsessed with fibre eventually. With advancing years comes a hypervigilant attitude towards your health. My obsessive personality has fast-tracked me to an obsession with my colon and my sleep patterns 30 years ahead of schedule.

My fibre obsession started with All Bran cereal bars. They were tasty and portable but provided a mere 4g of fibre per serving. Then came All Bran Strawberry Bites cereal, which looked and tasted delicious, and provided 5g of fibre per serving. One day, the store was out of Strawberry Bites, so I bought All Bran Original, which provides 12g of fibre per serving.

I once scoffed at my uncle, also obsessed with his colon, who claimed to have a bowel movement three times a day. Yet, with 12g of fibre in me, I became a believer. It became a game of numbers: how could I increase my fibre intake? Most recently, I added brown rice to my lunch and it was like a colonic. I have never felt so clean in my life.

Regarding insomnia, I happily admit that I have rarely been afflicted with it. Recent studies claim that 1 in 7 adult Canadians suffer from insomnia. What the studies don't tell you is that the remaining 6 adult Canadians are sleep deprived, and their resulting poor judgements are the stuff of bad days. Because those 6 in 7 adult Canadians choose to watch TV in bed, nurse their caffeine addiction, or stay up late for no reason in particular, they will later cut you off on the road, stand in the middle of the escalator, and fall asleep - either at the wheel of their car or on your shoulder in public transit.

Please, people, get more sleep! That way, you'll be easier to tolerate as I stumble around, groggy and tired.

PS I realize that I wrote about my colon and not my gastrointestinal tract but what do you want? A rambling anecdote or a scientific paper? Come on, people! (I need some sleep)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Anyone? Anyone?

Writing this blog is like writing in my diary...oh wait, I don't have a diary. Is anyone reading/enjoying Xiao Pangzi? What topics would you like me to tackle? What terrible secret would you like me to reveal?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Killing me softly

From time to time, when life gets a little too hectic and stressful, I start craving a steadier life. A life where I work 9 to 5, Mondays to Fridays, get paid an average wage, track my retirement savings, discuss office politics and fixate on paint colour for my new condo.

But it's a slippery slope from living comfortably to having one foot in the grave.

My office co-worker is a mere 22 years old but she might as well be 62 years old and thinking about retirement. Let me run down her life for you and see if you can spot the 22 year old.

Mondays to Fridays:

  • Wake up at 6am, get driven into Toronto by husband then take TTC and arrive at work at 8am.
  • At work, call mom, call brother, call husband, coo at baby niece, call sister-in-law, call husband again, call mom again, dream about trip to the Caribbean, eat lunch, repeat all calls, check prices on trip to Caribbean, eat afternoon snack, get off work at 5pm.
  • Travel by TTC to mom's place, wait for husband then drive back home.
  • Prepare dinner, watch prime time television while doing laundry/preparing lunch/ironing clothes.
  • Do some last minute housework before going to bed.

Saturdays and Sundays:

  • Wake up early to vacuum and dust the house.
  • Go visit parents and various relatives.
  • Help out at in-law's small business.
  • Go shopping at the mall, stock up on miscellaneous sale items.
  • Do some last minute housework before going to bed.

My 22 year old co-worker is content. But as I sit beside her at work, listening to the office radio playing the latest hit single from the latest Canadian Idol winner, I can actually feel myself dying.

The latest Canadian Idol winner is 17 year old Melissa O'Neil (pictured above with boring idiot, Ben Mulroney). She sings about wanting to "run with reckless emotion" while snoring her way through the song. Melissa claims to "feel alive" but she provides the kind of numbness that usually signals the grim reaper.

I have some recommendations for Melissa, my co-worker, or anyone who has become too comfortable:

  • get really drunk - being forced to focus all your fearful concentration on keeping the puke down puts you in "the moment"
  • do something illegal - nothing like the feeling of being chased down by the armed and dangerous to make you feel really alive
  • take on an obsessive hobby - the single minded pursuit of rare collectables, physical exertion or American infidels cuts the fat and turns your life into a refreshingly sharp pin point

Admittedly, any of my recommendations are liable to put you in the grave but at least you fall in kicking and screaming as opposed to being lulled in by Melissa O'Neil, one soft shoe shuffle at a time.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I Love Art

I was walking home one afternoon, saving money on public transit and feeling my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when I passed the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (952 Queen West). It was free admission so I went in.

Most of the works on display were interesting enough and I watched a video installation for a good half hour. But at the back of the Museum, I came across the most fantastic bedroom: a queen size bed covered in fake white fur, with a video screen hanging overhead. Weird, robotic ambient music was playing and lighting was provided by a pair of large dangling pods.

I couldn't quite make out what was playing on the video screen because it was aimed towards the occupant of the bed. Then I saw a small sign beside the bed: "Please remove shoes before mounting the bed." My shoes were off in half a second and I made myself comfortable right away.

Rifling around in the fake fur bedspread, I found some remote controls. One controlled the pod lighting, one controlled the massager inside the bed, and one controlled the video screen. The screen displayed other parts of the Museum. With the touch of a button, I was able to manuver the camera and spy on other visitors.

So, there I was, alone in a white bedroom, spread out on fake white shag, enjoying the soothing buzz of an in-bed massager, cackling as I monitored unsuspecting humans. It was one part Howard Hughes/Monty Burns and one part Barberella.

The installation was called Cyborg Living by KC Adams and I'm sorry to report that it ended November 6. I fully intended on returning with someone to join me in bed but things came up and it slipped my mind.

As great as all this sounds, I know people will adamantly argue that Cyborg Living is not art. This small-mindedness regarding the definition of art infuriates me but I will keep my argument short.

When asked to give their definition of art, people usually point to sculpture and painting, preferably depicting something pleasing or at least, easily recognizable. Hence, most people would readily identify the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as art, for its beauty and its technical excellence. But back when Michelanglo was creating the fresco ceiling, he was not simply creating a pretty picture. His aim was to put people in awe of divinity - to take them out of their short, brutish lives and push the boundaries of their imagination.

I believe that art is about elevating life above monotony and the mundane. In today's fast society, it takes more than an impressive mural on a wall to snap people out of cell phone calls, reality shows, and road rage. Installation art like Cyborg Living did more to take me out of my financial worries and SAD than any pill or shopping spree. I'm still basking in its afterglow.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hair for the ages

Let me start off by stating that I am excited about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was my favourite book in the series - so much so that I pretty much abandoned reading the books after that because they just weren't Goblet of Fire.

But I see problems with the movie already: I just can't get past the hair.

Now, I know, kids these days are into the long, messy look of the 1970s and Harry Potter has to look like he's down with the kids. But this is getting ridiculous. Harry is starting to look like 1970s figureskating sweetheart, Dorothy Hamill (see on the left).

Ron is even worst off since the red hair acts like a beacon and everyone will be thinking, "Prince Valiant" (seen on the right), as they gaze in horror.

Styling and wardrobe can make or break a movie. If it reflects the fashions of a particular decade, while aiming to be a film for the ages, the results can be laughable. Doctor Zhivago is a swoon-worthy epic but who really thinks Julie Christie is suffering through the Bolshevik Revolution when she has a 1965 beehive along with frosted eyeshadow?

Let me be the first to predict that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire will not be a classic children's film because your children will find his hair embarrassingly "2005" or whatever derogatory thing kids will say in the future.

Other films that will not outlast their fashion sense:
  • Superman Returns - the 2006 film directed by wardrobe malfunction, Bryan Singer. I've never seen a superhero costume this bad. Go to http://www.imdb.com, look at Photo Gallery of the movie. Prepare to be amazed.
  • X-Men - they avoided the pitfalls of yellow spandex for Wolverine but Jean Grey had possibly the worst dye job in film history (except maybe for Antonio Banderas in Interview with the Vampire) and trendy styling that was very 2000.
  • The Matrix - You thought the black leather trenches and the sunglasses were cool but the sad truth is that they are really a lot of pre-millenial posturing.

Ending on a positive note, films with excellent hair and wardrobe for the ages:

  • Blade Runner - it's definitely a product of the 1980s but the integration of 1930s styling in Sean Young's character was top notch
  • Lord of the Rings - Does Arwen have chunky highlights or Galadriel have high shine lipgloss on? No, they do not.
  • The Princess Bride - Aside from the fact that Fred Savage is a little boy in this film, there is nothing that points to this film's late 1980s origins.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My time is cheap

The other night, some friends and I saw the movie, Doom. It was pretty craptacular: predictable storyline, stiff acting, passable special effects. It was enjoyable nonetheless for two reasons, because the cheese quotient was quite high, and because we had not paid for it. As the credits rolled, my friends and I were smug with the fact that we had not paid $13.95 each to see such crap.

But what about that 1 hour and 40 minutes we spent watching Doom? Obviously, we were under the assumption that our time was worth less than $9.30 per hour. Shamefully, this is not far from the truth for me.

Other ways in which I save my money by wasting my time:

  • rather than pay $2 for public transit, I will often walk up to 3 hours at a time.
  • I often prepare lunch the night before so that I don't have to buy lunch (for $3.59).
  • I wait for months for a library book rather than buy it from the book store.
  • I save coupons, wait until an item is on sale before I buy it, and do comparison shopping by foot to make sure I get the lowest price
  • I wait until I'm at work to make personal business calls rather than make those calls on my cell phone on my day off
  • I planned my wedding for 12 months before going to the dentist, getting new glasses and massages for free thanks to husband's excellent health plan

Possible future expansion of saving my money while wasting my time:

  • line up for free fruits and vegetables each night in Chinatown
  • line up for free turkey at Honest Ed's around Thanksgiving, freeze parts and eat for months
  • visit running events to obtain free drinks, runner's supplements, and massages
  • join up for time-share information sessions to obtain a free trip to Florida
  • go to jail for free room and board

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Let's have babies (yawn)

Two topics are on my mind lately: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and babies.

As the days get shorter, and what little daylight is hidden by Autumn rain, I have started to feel the onset of SAD. Exercise has fallen by the wayside, chocolate craving has increased, lethargy has set in, feelings that my life is doomed have started occurring on a regular basis.

In other news, a number of my peers have become pregnant. Coincidentally, two articles have appeared in the past week about sleep deprivation in new mothers. Says one Toronto Star article: "Every seasoned parent knows this truth: Once you've had a child, sleep is never the same. Remember those blissful sleep-filled weekends before children? Those 10 to 12 hours of uninterrupted snoozing before getting up at 11 a.m., not a care in the world as you lay around in your pyjamas and read the paper? Those days are history once babies arrive."
And people wonder why the birth rate is going down?

In that poor sleep deprived new mother, I see myself: waking up to another dreary day, feeling like you're not quite awake, a whole new set of responsibilities waiting behind another set of responsibilities.