Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Steven Page: still self-destructing?

After watching the exclusive W5 interview with Steven Page, I came away with a hatred of Paula Todd's interviewing style and a hunch that Steven Page is suffering from a mid-life crisis and possibly a drug addiction.

The details of Page's personal life prior to the interview are sordid enough. The 40 year old father of three was caught with cocaine in the home of his 20-something year old girlfriend, Christine Benedicto. Post-arrest, Page posted bail for himself and his girlfriend's roommate, but not his girlfriend.

During the W5 interview, Page gave an awkward denial of drug use, and appeared detached in his responses and performance. Page then admitted that the girlfriend he left his wife for was a Barenaked Ladies fan he met through MySpace. However, Page saved the best for his former band mates, spewing resentful vitriol while Todd played the enabler.

Page complained that he felt left out as a songwriter of the Barenaked Ladies, though you could hardly tell by the number of Barenaked Ladies singles, penned by Page, that was played during the show. Page also revealed that he and bandmate, Ed Robertson, were not close friends, which Todd framed as a shocker. Page then whined that while he and Ed were a great song-writing team, it was no longer fun, thus losing the sympathy of anyone who works for a living.

Steven Page is a talented musician, and he should have communicated through his music, especially when the persona that he conveys is such an unsavoury one.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nuit Blanche 2010: from lackluster to alarming

I have been fortunate enough to attend every previous Toronto edition of Nuit Blanche, with the exception of the 2009 edition, which I participated in. In every year, there was a mix of excellent and mediocre work, though the majority of the projects veered towards excellent, and the excitement of art lovers was palatable.

The 2010 edition of Nuit Blanche was disappointing for a number of reasons. Increasingly, the organizers and artists are strategizing against the lowest common denominator: loud and belligerent drunks with no real interest in art. The result is a lot of projection work that cannot be grabbed or broken, but frequently fails to capture the attention or imagination of attendees.

And who wants to house rowdy drunks? Indoor project venues were lacking, and former event stalwarts like the Reference Library and the Eaton Centre were conspicuously absent. Attendees were left to perch on folding chairs, braving the cold as they attempted to concentrate on videos that required prolonged attention.

Second in obnoxiousness only to the drunks were the corporate sponsors and vendors. Last year, roasted corn and free energy drinks blended in with a project that brought the carnival to Bay St. Organizers decided to make this carnie element a permanent fixture of the event.

The lineups were as long as one would expect, and one work highlighted this phenomenon: Wait Until You See This by Lili Huston-Herterich and Brad Tinmouth. Normally, I am all for playing a joke on the audience, but it is cruel to make a fool of the very people who have invested their time in your work. The shamed attendees of Huston-Herterich and Tinmouth's work, were funneled by proximity to Chris Shepherd's The Task, where they found an outlet for their sour mood. Shepherd's exercise in futility was mocked by viewers who did not hesitate to speak at a volume that was audible to the artist. They also resorted to that most familiar of insulting refrains, "This is art?"

My list of must-sees was admittedly short, but it included Nuit Market Starring the Toronto Weston Flea Market by Mammalian Diving Reflex. I was a big fan of their previous Nuit Blanche pieces, Ballroom Dancing (2006) and Dancing with Teacher (2007), which made great use of the frenetic atmosphere of Nuit Blanche. When I arrived on site at 1am, all that remained of Nuit Market was the sign. I can only guess that the out-of-control crowds from Yonge St. compelled the artists to pack up early, and as disappointed as I was, I could not blame them. It was at that point that I called it a night.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tour de Greenbelt: tour de fun!

When you're in love with someone, you try to spend as much time with them as possible. When the object of your love is a bike, you look for opportunities to go biking.

The Tour de Greenbelt events combine two things that I enjoy: biking in a new setting and eating fresh, local food. We signed up for tours of the Niagara and Durham Region, and each proved to be fabulous in their own way.

Niagara Region
I suspect that this was the most popular of the tours, because the Niagara Region has a good reputation for scenery. The fact that the tour started and ended at Henry of Pelham did not hurt either. There were a few steep hills, but the terrain was relatively flat though a constant head wind prevented a leisurely ride. The popularity of the region meant that we were forced to bike single file to avoid cars. However, the serving of wine and setting of white table cloths for lunch amongst the vineyards gave the whole event a certain cachet.

Durham Region
The event did not start with promise as the weather was chilly, and dark clouds could be seen on the horizon. Riders were met with a massive hill at the beginning of the course then came to realize that it was a symptomatic of a region made of up rolling hills. Yet, we were all in agreement with fellow riders that hills are preferable to head wind, of which there was none. The roads were better maintained than those in Niagara and emptier, allowing us to ride side-by-side, and the leaves had started to change colour, providing pleasant distraction from the hill-climbing. Rest stops featured delicious baked goods (Annina's Bakeshop and Café) and a corn maze (Cooper's CSA Farm and Maze), which was more interactive than the Niagara rest stops.

We are looking forward to next year's event, along with the Tour de Dufflet, whose motto, "Eat more cake, ride more bike" are words to live by.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My cat, Rusty (Epilogue)

Rusty's recent ailing health convinced me and the family that it was time to let him go. We contacted Millwood Mobile Veterinary Services, for a home euthanasia, and Dr. Behzad Farokhzad was dependable and courteous.

We spent the early afternoon outside in the backyard with Rusty, allowing him the luxury of enjoying the outdoors and the sun. Even then, Rusty was obviously in a lot of discomfort and pain. The outdoors was ultimately where we chose to have the procedure done.

I wrote a premature obituary for Rusty late last year, so I won't repeat myself here. He was not a nice cat, but he was very easy to love.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

To basket or not to basket

I recently acquired the Trek Soho S (seen above) in spite of the fact that I already own a Trek hybrid. My nine year old Trek 7200's 15" frame and seat post shocks allow me to sit ramrod straight and float over most pot holes, thus creating an experience comparable to riding an easy chair. With the addition of a pannier and bottle basket, the easy chair has become a minivan.

In spite of its comfortable and practical ride, I was frequently frustrated by my 7200's unreliable gears and groaned under its weight when I had to lift it. Last month, my wandering eye caught sight of the Soho S - a single gear, aluminum frame little temptress. When the Soho S went on sale at Sweet Pete's, I bought the cheapened little vixen.

Since purchasing the Soho S, I have been riding it almost exclusively. I enjoy how sleek and responsive it is. If the 7200 rides like an easy chair then riding the Trek Soho S is like being carried by a ninja.

Unfortunately, ninjas have no use for a heavy bike lock nor ladies purses. When the purse is too small to accommodate the massive bike lock, the lock ends up rattling on the handlebars. And if a pleasant surprise pops up in the form of a gift or a retail purchase, the Trek Soho S carries it awkwardly, much like a ninja would.

So, now, I look longingly at baskets, specifically, a woven rattan one. I picture putting my bike lock in it or my purse or even a new retail purchase, and my mind is put at ease.

But wait! What of aesthetics? Will such a sleek bike suffer a basket modeled after ones used in the 1800s? I am torn.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

My grandmother

I got the news while checking my voice mail in one of those lifestyle stores. The message from my mother left no room for misinterpretation: "Your grandmother has died." My grandmother popped up in my mind then disappeared. My consciousness expanded to the clothing racks around me, the warehouse conversion, the neighbourhood then rewrote my entire world, a new world without my grandmother's presence.

I am embarrassed to admit that the tears I cry are for myself and not for my grandmother. In the last few years, she has suffered the loss of her once robust health. Hooked up to a dialysis machine twice a day, depending on a cane or walker, experiencing pain in her hands and feet, and repeat emergency visits to the hospital had robbed her of the independence that she valued.

Yet, she was a credit to her generation, the one that survived bombings from the Japanese with young children in tow. She never complained when her world became confined to the four walls of her apartment, the fourth wall made up of boxes of dialysis supplies. Her mind remained curious and her tongue sharp. She laughed at her troubles with exasperation.

So, you see, I cry because I will miss her. The woman who used to ram me into the wall in order to win a foot race to her apartment is long gone, but other losses are more keenly felt. The sight of her curly white head in the back passenger seat of my parents' car, which preceded the playfully sarcastic greeting, "How kind of you to have lunch with me!" to which I would always respond, "That's the kind of person I am." Our shared fascination with how fat my cousin, her granddaughter, had become. "Your cousin, she doesn't like to move but she likes to eat," was her blunt assessment. Her ability to speak to anyone in the limited English that she had learned in her 60s, though she chose to mock my husband in her fluent Cantonese, "You have no idea what I'm saying, do you? I could insult you and you wouldn't even know" to which my husband would nod agreeably. She gave the impression that old age was something to look forward to because you could get away with so much.

I will cry a bit more, especially during the funeral, then I will carry on because it will honour my grandmother's lifelong resilience. My grandmother was rather unsentimental about death, announcing the passing of a friend or relative with her singular use of the English word 'ended'. In that vein, I end my public display of grief here.

Yeuk Lan Chiang

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Night Play List: "Burn Notice"

So far, this summer, when I am not occupied with food or writing fiction, I have been catching up to the current season of "Burn Notice", an excellent show on the USA network.

It is hard to understand why a smart series like "Burn Notice" has failed to gain the attention that dumber shows like "The Mentalist" are thriving on. The only explanation that I can think of is that it is a cable-based program without the budget for flashy production or promotion.

The title refers to the firing of Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), an American spy. Left in limbo in Miami without funds or resources, Michael survives on odd jobs helping ordinary people in over their heads, while attempting to return to Government duty (Note that I am in the middle of Season 2 so Michael may already have discovered the reasons behind his firing in the current fourth season).

Michael's practical approach to mayhem is one of the appeals of the show. Like MacGyver, Michael needs only a screw driver and a paper clip to take on armed thugs. Throughout the show, his calm voice-over schools viewers in the efficient art of covert ops. In spite of his wits and physical prowess, Michael is handicapped by personal baggage that makes him more of a weirdo than a slick operative. When confronted by overt emotions, Michael becomes hilariously robotic.

Michael's oddness is only amplified by the company he keeps. Helping Michael out are Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell!), a former Navy Seal, now a gigolo surviving on the kindness of women, and Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), an ex-girlfriend and former member of the Irish Republican Army who functions like she is still in a war zone.

A note to nerds: if the presence of Bruce Campbell on the cast does not win you over, know that the show has featured guest appearances by two cylons: Lucy Lawless and Tricia Helfer.

In Canada, "Burn Notice" is playing on the Super Channel (whatever that is) or on a torrent near you.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hopefully, a new low

I went for my annual check up recently and the doctor confirmed what I already knew.

Me: So, I think I gained some weight since last year, because I was injured and...
Doctor: Ha! The excuses are already pouring out! (reads scale then my file) Well, you did gain a little weight. That's okay.

My doctor's sudden return to sensitivity signaled that I had become a subject of pity because a weight gain of almost 10% is not "little".

Fortunately, I'm not the only one getting tubby, and since victory over others is a great personal motivator, I challenged fellow fatties to a weight loss competition. Our progress, or lack thereof, will be documented in a blog: http://thinspirationxxl.blogspot.com/.

So as not to appear callous, we have tacked on a charitable element to the endeavor. Spectators are asked to bet on a competitor, pledging to donate an amount of British pounds, equivalent to the amount that the competitor loses, to his/her associated charity.

A foreseeable end to the competition was suggested by Royal Pinguo so, sometime in September, the biggest loser will be revealed...then beaten with pork hocks. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hard at work

Contrary to what my meager blogging may indicate, I have been busy writing.

After mastering the art of generating strong opinions within a lunch hour for the last five years, I decided to make myself more respectable by attempting to write fiction. My last foray into fiction writing was back in high school, when I was heavily influenced by J.D. Salinger. This was not a good thing. So, I signed up for an introductory writing course with the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies. It worked for Vincent Lam, so why not an underachiever like me?

My class is made up of people who work in finances, mothers doing it for themselves, and a party clown (not a derogatory statement but a fact). The writing is equally eclectic: the Muslim women use lush prose to describe the clash of East and West, the party clown wants to be the next J.K. Rowling, and a segment of the finances division has failed to meet the project deadline. Of the two remaining financial workers who did hand in their final project, one offered a story worthy of Harlequin, and the other modified a personal travel blog entry.

The latter student's year in Australia has been a well of inspiration with rapidly diminishing returns. Her stories run the gamut of traveling through Australia to encountering ticketing problems while attempting to leave Australia. In one story, the gender of her main character was changed but he still pranced to yoga class and traded bitchy looks with a travel agent.

The in-class workshop, during which the class offers compliments and constructive criticism for a single student's work, is one of the best aspects of the course. Still, it has made a strong case for the idea that procrastination does not make for good writing. In the first few weeks, the compliments flowed freely, but as we approach the end of the workshop schedule, a tension has descended on the party. The class struggles to find the bright side of what they have read ("You have a very original narrative voice.") and temper their criticism ("I don't understand what is happening here...here...and here.").

After my workshop, I edited furiously in order to meet the submission deadline for the Random House Creative Writing Award. Whatever the outcome, I am hooked on this new respectability, and the promise of fame and cash prizes will drive me to write long after my lunch hour is done.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

More little gladiatorial shorts coming soon!

My favourite blog tells me that Season 2 of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" will be shooting soon as its lead, Andy Whitfield, is now clear of cancer.

Whitfield will have until October to fill out his tiny gladiatorial shorts.

Woot woot!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Tour de Dufflet: do it now!

A part of Toronto Bike Month, the third annual Tour de Dufflet sounded like our kind of event: bike to all three Dufflet locations in one day to receive refreshments and delicious baked goods at each stop.

Joe and I, joined by Royal Pinguo and Flocons (who blogged about this, too), started at the Uptown location because gravity would carry us to the two other stores. After paying the $5 registration fee, we were presented with a Tour de Dufflet water bottle, an 'Eat more cake' button, then offered a choice of water or lemonade, plus any cookie or bar of our choice. Wow!

At the Uptown location, I chose the Lemon Lime Coconut Bar ("Tangy lemon lime filling and chewy coconut on a buttery, shortbread crust"). At the Downtown location, it was a German Brownie ("Coconut, walnuts & chocolate cake with a gooey layer of more coconut and walnuts combined in a buttery vanilla icing"). Finally, at the Beach location, I celebrated my saddle sores with a Lemon Meringue Euro Tart ("Tangy lemon filling in our Euro-style crust, topped with a cloud of meringue")

As we biked across the city, Tour de Dufflet offered unexpected attractions and detours. It became a real estate tour as Royal Pinguo and I admired the million dollar homes we passed, then a shopping tour when we arrived in the Queen West area, and, finally, we expanded the menu when we decided to stop at T&T Supermarket for all-day dim sum.

Having sweet rewards to entice us to bike across the city on such a beautiful day was a great experience. Tour de Dufflet ends June 30, but there is word of a cupcake tour, which has Flocons dreaming of something more manly like a hot dog stand tour - the quickest ride to obesity if ever there was one with a hot dog stand at every corner. Ride on!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Examples of self-hate

I have heard it remarked that Jews who own Volkswagens are self-hating. I would like to add to the controversial list of self-haters with two more recent entries:
  • M. Night Shyamalan - You are an Asian American director who has chosen to bring to the big screen a well-loved animated series that bases itself on Asian culture. The obvious answer is to cast Asian actors, but no, you choose white actors for every major role with the exception of the villain.
  • Geeks who enjoy "The Big Bang Theory" - Geekdom is finally cool because geeks like Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi are in control. Yet, you choose to watch a sitcom that depicts geeks as socially awkward caricatures. Sure, the characters make geeky references but why not watch a comedy that makes references that only you would understand and respects you in the process? Try "Chuck" or "The IT Crowd".

Friday, May 14, 2010

Whatever works

Since taking on a vegetable and fruit binge regiment, our household seems to be hardier. However, nothing lasts forever, and Joe brought home some sort of illness from work last week. He had aches and chills, then a cold and cough combination. About a week later, my body gave up and decided to join in on the fun.

As usual, neither of us have any intention of visiting a doctor. Joe's ailing enters its second week and he relies solely on our single box of Contac Complete, of which, only the limited supply of Nighttime pills provide any relief.

I have decided to take the opportunity to explore alternative methods of self healing.

Alcohol - I, once, successfully made a cold disappear after an evening of beer drinking. Ever since that single occurence, I have been unable to duplicate the results. Mostly, when I drink alcohol, my cold gets worse because I become dehydrated, but in an alcohol induced haze, at least I become indifferent to how terrible I feel.

Junk Food - Greasy food definitely makes any illness worse by adding vomiting and diarrhea to the list of symptoms. But, what about sweets? I stuffed myself with turkish delights (from Turkey) and a few chocolate chip cookies last night. This morning, no improvement. Bonus: no weight gain either; my sweets binge appears to have made up for whatever weight loss I might have suffered otherwise...in back fat.

Echinacea - I have read various reports debunking echinacea as a natural cold remedy, which I am prone to believe because herbal remedies don't go with my wardrobe. However, when my co-worker offered me echinacea tea, I couldn't resist. As of this moment, it appears to have worked. My throat no longer feels scratchy, sore or flemy, and my nose is no longer runny. Admittedly, my cold symptoms were just beginning, so my immune system might just have rallied itself. Until the results can be duplicated, consider them unscientific...then generalize that assessment to this entire exercise.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lost opportunity at Spadina and Dundas

A new repertory movie theatre is coming to town: Toronto Underground Cinema will take over the long defunct Golden Harvest Chinese cinema at 186 Spadina Ave. Only love can drive the guys behind the Cinema to enter this volatile market, lovingly refurbishing such an inconspicuous venue in the same neighbourhood as that corporate branded multiplex at Richmond and John, and the new TIFF venue at King and John.

When I first heard that a repertory theatre was being unveiled in the Spadina and Dundas area, I instantly pictured the initial site of the Golden Harvest cinema, located on the north-east corner of the intersection. This was where my parents brought me to see Jackie Chan movies, and for a child, the venue's stadium seating was preferable to the subtle incline that dominated cinema design in the 1980s. It was clear that the seats were original to the venue as they were upholstered but made of wood and painted bright orange. Orange seating aside, it was easy to see that this was once a grand venue with chandelier lighting and a huge domed ceiling.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I have since learned that the Golden Harvest cinema was originally the Standard Theatre. It started out as a Yiddish theatre, then a burlesque theatre, before becoming the theatre of my childhood. The theatre was boarded up when Golden Harvest moved to 186 Spadina Ave. and a dollar store now takes up the stairs and former lobby.

I've entered the dollar store once and stared at that wall that barred even a peek into the theatre, wondering about the state of the orange seats and the chandeliers. I would have paid full admission regularly to revisit the cinema of my childhood.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sporting Life 10K post-mortem

So, I actually succeeded in meeting my Sporting Life 10K goal, stumbling past the finish line in just under one hour. However, my elation ended when records revealed that this was my slowest Sporting Life 10K ever.

Otherwise, the race was a good experience with ideal weather conditions (16C and overcast) and staggered start times, which prevented the congestion that plagued previous events. If only the event organizers would improve the look of their dri-fit t-shirts.

The short-lived afterglow smothered by disappointment has, in turn, been consumed by a nagging need to prove myself. The Toronto Challenge 5K is a favourite of mine because, at $20, it is so affordable. My personal best on the course is also my fastest 5K finishing time: 24:20. I will attempt to beat this time on June 13, 2010. As in a mid-life crisis, the fitting response to a new low is an outrageous new high.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A solution to the bystander effect: pay it forward

The bystander effect has been in the news recently thanks to a mugging in Toronto and the death of a good Samaritan in New York. In both cases, witnesses did very little to assist those in need.

It is pointless to act outraged and claim moral superiority because everyone, at some point, has passed the buck. I cannot even recall how many times I have passed a homeless person lying on a grate in the middle of winter, without checking to see if s/he was even breathing.

Ever since I learned about the bystander effect in my first year Psychology class, I have always assumed that I might not get the help I need if I was ever in danger. This is not to say that there are no helpful people in society. In fact, with such a spotlight on the bystander effect, I believe that people are bound to be more proactive, if only for the next little while.

However, if faced with danger, it is best to make your predicament someone else's problem as well:
  • If you're being attacked, start breaking windows or damaging merchandise. Now, the store owner will definitely call the police.
  • If you're being mugged, grab someone's purse or wallet and start running after the mugger. Now, you have an army of dubious support following you. Avoid taking anything that might slow you down like laptops or groceries lest you get overtaken before you reach your mugger.
  • If you are being abducted, drag someone else along. Two heads are better than one, and maybe s/he will have friends that will work harder than yours to find missing people.
Since it would appear that I am advocating criminal behaviour, I will insist that I'm kidding (kind of). Unfortunately, the bystander effect is emblematic of urban life, and until Kick-Ass* becomes reality, everyone should be prepared to become their own little antihero.

*That's an awesome movie, and the apathetic bystander character is topical.

Monday, April 26, 2010

10K training update + Okay Okay Diner

Activities over the last five weeks suggest that I've lost that hunger to beat a predetermined race finishing time and beat my body into submission in the process.

I have run about twice a week for the last five weeks, but the runs have been sloppy affairs; 30 minutes here, 8 km there, mostly by myself but occasionally accompanied by a disgusted Joe. I finally went for a run with a group of over-athletic overachievers last Thursday, during which my eyes roamed desperately for a red light. The only person who approves of my floundering is Flocons, who is pleased to find a fellow advocate for pit-stops at fast food chains along the route.

Traditionally, I have not done well in the Sporting Life 10K, in spite of the downhill course, because I tend to train poorly over the winter. In light of my history, prior and recent, I will be very happy to finish the Sporting Life 10K in one hour. In anticipation of disappointment, I am going to look forward to the next race. Which one to do next?

Hunger had nothing to do with my experience of the latest stop on my Leslieville culinary journey.

Okay Okay Diner (1128 Queen St. E.)
Their pancakes were amazing: fluffy but with substance and packed with flavour. Hence, shoving the flapjacks into my cake hole at record speed was no chore, as my lunch companion and I attempted to eat our way out of the freezing patio as quickly as possible. Still, I wish the pancakes came with some sort of accompaniment like fruit or vegetables, even if it would have prolonged our suffering.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cyclists: the new urban cowboys

I've always been proud of how hard core cyclists are in Toronto. Even in the midst of a blizzard, you can always find a cyclist trying to stay upright in a snow drift.

Now, with the good weather, cyclists are out en masse and, unfortunately, some are acting like a gang of roving delinquents, thumbing their noses at the rules of the road.

I understand that stopping then starting a bicycle is work. It's not like simply releasing then pushing the acceleration pedal of your car. However, if passengers are attempting to board the streetcar, or pedestrians are crossing the road and have the right of way, cyclists are supposed to stop.

Three cyclists whizzed right through a red light as I was crossing the road this morning. Admittedly, my tone was not congenial when I pointed out the red light to them. One cyclist responded with "We're letting you walk, aren't we?" A fourth cyclist who pedaled past told me to "relax".

It is hypocritical of cyclists to demand respect from drivers as vehicles of the road then flout the rules of the road at their convenience. Granted, when drivers fail to observe a red light or wear their seat belt, the results can be fatal. However, I challenge anyone to feel the impact of being hit by a bicycle at moderate speed or of flying over the handlebars without a helmet before arguing that the rules of the road are merely suggestions of etiquette for cyclists.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Me, my mother and "Steven and Chris"

My mother does not have any passionate hobbies but she does enjoy watching TV. So, attending a live taping of "Steven and Chris" for her birthday seemed like a great idea. I got us on the guest list for the final show of the season with the hope that car giveaway madness à la Oprah would ensue. However, it was neither as frenzied nor as fabulous as one would hope.

There was the usual tension that sets in when you haphazardly corral a large group of single minded women then create a bottleneck to their common desire - a good seat. Apparently, it was the biggest audience of the season; the unfortunate overflow audience members were forced to sit in the aisle, and vacate their seats after every segment to allow props to be wheeled in and out of the studio. The rest of the audience were seated so comfortably that they barely registered a pulse when not prompted to enthusiasm by the director. The exception to this were the awkward few who insisted on doing the seated two step to the dance music that blared from the speakers in between filming.

Steven and Chris only revealed themselves to the audience when they were cued to do so before the cameras. There were sweet nothings and hugs for a special few, but the rest of the audience were pretty much ignored by the hosts until they were ready to bid us farewell. If I were to choose the friendlier half of the duo, it would have to be Chris, who was entertainingly flamboyant, even in between takes.

Perhaps the disconnect between the hosts and the audience was caused by the wall of cameras that separated us. An overhead monitor showed audience members what was happening a mere 15 feet in front of them. Add the set ups for each segment, which lasted longer than a commercial break and inflicted audio torture what with the aforementioned dance music, and I found myself wishing that I was watching "Steven and Chris" in the comfort of my own home.

My complaints are all my own and probably don't reflect my mother's experience. When guest chef, Lynn Crawford, showed up to promote her new show, "Pitchin’ In", I was a little alarmed at how excitedly my mom laughed and applauded. It is not a side of my mother that I am used to since I failed to become a doctor or any professional of note.

Seeing how much my mother enjoyed herself, I soberly suggested attending a live taping of "CityLine" in the future, which my mom said would be agreeable to her. The things I do for love.

Monday, April 05, 2010

More gastronomic delights and our new favourite in Leslieville

Over the weekend, we made two stops on our fantastic gastronomic journey in Leslieville:

Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant (1220 Queen Street East, Toronto)
The giant paper-mâché nose above the restaurant entrance may remind Torontonians of its previous location at Yonge & Eglinton or the American Express TV commercial. However, this was my first experience of the Italian restaurant, which has a surprisingly limited selection of pasta on its menu. Instead, the chef's focus is on seafood and meat.

We were all really (really) happy with our meal though I found my portion size on the small side; my lamb was very juicy and flavourful while Joe's osso bucco was tender and delicious. However, the desserts were to die for: the goatcheese cheese cake was just perfection while the tiramisu was the best I've ever had - light, both in texture and taste, yet still rich with flavour.

Leonidas Belgium Chocolates and Cafe (5 Coady Avenue, Toronto)
Strolling around in nice weather makes one susceptible to tasty summer treats so when we noticed the trash can shaped like an ice cream cone outside Leonidas, we ran for the front door. I usually prefer the creamy flavour of ice cream to the lighter texture of gelato but Leonidas's raspberry coconut and Tiramisu flavours were creamier than any gelato I have ever had. We have a coupon for a 1 litre tub of Leonidas gelato, which I had scoffed at previously but now, am simply biding my time for an opportunity to lock myself in with said tub and possibly the first season DVD of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand".

And the furniture store that will save us from Ikea:

G.U.F.F. (1142 Queen Street East, Toronto)
Joe and I discovered this used furniture store while they were in the midst of a moving sale, which we took advantage of to acquire a task chair with chrome legs ($45) and an industrial console table ($95). With their grand re-opening on April 3, Joe and I couldn't resist buying a full length mirror in a solid wood frame ($95). From the many 'sold' signs attached to the merchandise on display, it appears that G.U.F.F.'s reasonably priced vintage furniture has a high turnover rate.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Le cry

I bought a fabulous pair of Vivienne Westwood / Melissa shoes (seen above) while in Bangkok back in December, and have been waiting for the an opportune moment to show them off. With a high of 13C forecast today and no rain in sight, I thought the moment for my shoes to shine had arrived. Unfortunately, like a party thumb trap, the shoes have tightened in direct relation to my mounting despair. The Melissa company website states that their product "does not really stretch – any type of give will be negligible."

I will experiment with tights, baby powder and possibly foot binding in a bid to keep these shoes. If all options fail (or not) I will console myself at the One of a Kind Spring Show & Sale (March 31 - April 1, 2010) by buying some stylish clothes to draw attention away from my limping. Nothing works quite like cracking open the wallet for frivolous purchases to fan away the tears.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Running eastward and eating westward

My very first run since July 2009 was a 5K commute to my weekly class at the National Ballet School. With a concrete finishing time, I ran 2/3 of the way before running out of steam and dragging myself with purpose the rest of the way. My cramping feet made me more awkward than usual during class, but my classmates gave me and my sweat drenched clothing wide berth.

It took me three days to recover from that first training run but, soon, Joe was using my runs as an excuse to explore The Beaches, a neighbourhood that I usually avoid for fear of being abducted by locals and forced to work as an au pair. The area is actually quite charming at night, in the absence of double strollers being pushed by coloured nannies. I never noticed the Fox Theatre before and will definitely make it a pitstop on a future date night.

When we're not stumbling eastward, Joe and I chomp our way west along the Queen East culinary strip. I will record our gastronomic experiences periodically on this blog. The journey so far:

Edward Levesque's Kitchen (1288 Queen Street East)
I mistook this place for a diner because their kitchen is on full display at the front of the establishment. Hence, it was only after we had asked to be seated that I realized our paint stained clothing was not appropriate for the venue. Our attire was paired with loud and inappropriate comments on my part that were politely ignored by neighbouring patrons. Unfortunately, I don't remember much about the food itself except that it was tasty though not a revelation, and surprisingly filling for the portion size. I welcome my dining companion, Fiona to elaborate on the culinary merits of the restaurant, and, hopefully, not my social faux pas.

The Friendly Thai (1218 Queen Street East)
One of the more stylish branches of the restaurant chain that provides Torontonians with a dependably tasty source of Thai food. Joe had a noodle dish and I had the Vegetable Green Curry. Both of us went running for the washroom at Canadian Tire about an hour later.

The Leslieville Diner (
1168 Queen Street East)
This was the consolation prize after we discovered that The Ceili Cottage was closed until 12pm on a Sunday(!). The place appeared to be run by a Quebecois family, as evidenced by their accents and the Habs posters on the wall. It was also a magnet for customers who speak French, wear Hab caps or Quebec flag t-shirts, which was representative of four neighbouring tables. The service was good but the brunch was rather pedestrian. Unfortunately, this was no Lady Marmalade (see previous review).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to blend into Leslieville

Liev and Naomi: "This Leslieville neighbourhood feels right. Too bad we're Hollywood stars who can afford better than a mere $450K house."

Having settled into our little house in Leslieville, Joe and I ventured forth into the neighbourhood to survey the area. We quickly became aware that we were lacking the key characteristics of a local:
  • a coffee from Red Rocket Coffee
  • a dog
  • a baby in a Bugaboo or a stroller of equal prestige and price point
  • a pale complexion
All of these will prove challenging to acquire, even the first one since Joe drinks bargain coffee and I drink milk.

Of course, I'm being bitchy; Leslieville already feels more comfortable than our previous abode, which was practically becoming a university dorm. It's nice to find a wide selection of good restaurants and boutiques within walking distance, which is what enticed us to the neighbourhood in the first place (see The Leslieville Guide). We're slowly eating our way west, and the selection of wares are similar to what can be found on Queen West, but at more affordable prices.

The commute to everything, even the supermarket, has not proven to be a great hardship. Traveling on the streetcar to work has allowed me to just sit and listen to CBC Radio One for a longer period of time than my previous 12 minute walk - something that is tantamount to a spa experience in my mind. The supermarkets are further than a five minute walk but there is so much more selection at lower prices.

As the weather gets warmer, my assumption is that our experience of the neighbourhood can only improve since we will make forays into Ashbridges Bay or sit on a patio nearby. We will become true locals, even without a coffee, a dog, a baby and a bottle of SPF 100 in tow.

Friday, March 19, 2010

From zero to 10 in six weeks

In a previous post, I had promised to sign up for the Mississauga Marathon 10K as a rally in the battle of the bulge. Since that bold public statement, I have not only failed to register and run, but I gained weight when the stress of preparing the new house and moving made me turn to bad food for comfort.

Fortunately, opportunity knocked twice:
  1. Flocons invited me to join him in running the Sporting Life 10K, a terrible race with too many participants but a rapidly descending course that will make everyone's times better than they should be.
  2. The current issue of Runner's World has been deemed the "Weight Loss Issue," an enticement that instantly had me reaching for my wallet. The magazine includes an 10K training plan that requires a mere three runs per week for six weeks.
Coincidentally, the Sporting Life 10K takes place in roughly six weeks. I will take this as a sign that I am destined for a showdown with myself on May 2.

The last time I drastically increased my running distance within a week, I was shocked by my drained complexion and suffered an increased susceptibility to colds and other annoying illnesses. "Running is supposed to make me healthier," I moaned.

This prior run-in with the hazards of over-training has not deterred me from becoming excited at the prospect of punishing myself over the next six weeks. A cautionary tale of how not to train, to come.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A 'Yes!' and a 'No!'

A warning of possible radio silence for the next while as I strap my home onto my back and shuffle east to Leslieville.

In the meantime, I direct you to the blog I wish Xiao Pangzi could be, Stargazing by Malene Arpe. Two items of note today, copied and pasted directly from Malene's blog:

David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen team up again From Monsters & Critics: "The star of the darkly intense The Road is in talks to play Sigmund Freud in The Talking Cure, according to film site buzz. Digital Spy reports Mortensen will replace Christoph Waltz as the founding father of psychoanalysis following a scheduling conflict involving Waltz. Mortensen will again work with director David Cronenberg, who directed him in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises with Naomi Watts. The key story line in the movie is the conflict between Freud and theorist Carl Jung, who will be played by Michael Fassbender. Their dramatic relationship, indeed, is portrayed as giving birth to psychoanalysis. Keira Knightley, according to the buzz, may just make it onto the couch as an 'unstable young woman'."

Damn "Andy Whitfield, who plays the title role in the Starz Original series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The British-born actor will begin treatment immediately. The network says the cancer was discovered during a routine checkup as Whitfield prepared to begin shooting the second season of the action-adventure series, which is filmed in New Zealand. Starz said Tuesday that production has been postponed while Whitfield undergoes treatment. According to the network, doctors say the cancer was detected in its early stages and is "very treatable." AP.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

For rapid weight gain

Between the stress of work and the new home, I find myself eating rather indiscriminately. Consume left over pasta salad twice a day for four days straight? Why not? The result is predictable.

If you are ever in a weight gain competition, include the following on your grocery list:
  • instant noodles
  • Häagen-Dazs
  • whatever else adds poundage quickly in the sumo wrestler rolling level of We Love Katamari. The game designers had it right.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A paint primer

For three weekends in a row, Joe and I have been painting our new house. It's a tiny house, one that has elicited descriptions like "cute" and "cozy" so this non-stop occupation comes as a surprise to us.

The crash course in house painting has made us cynical experts so I pass along some product reviews that we may all benefit from our unexpectedly extensive knowledge base.

Behr Premium Plus Ultra
This product is supposed to save both time and money by serving as paint and primer in one. We actually used the product on both primed and un-primed walls; Behr Premium Plus Ultra Drywall Primer on the darker walls, and none on the dark beige walls. The primed walls required two coats whereas the unprimed walls required four so I question the marketing claim. The paint consistency is quite thick and sticky, hence even application of the paint required attention and extra elbow grease. Add to this experience the unexplainable blue vein that kept bleeding through the creamy white on dark beige and you have a promise from Joe that we will never use Behr again.

Benjamin Moore Moorestyle
Professionals are a fan of Benjamin Moore and we understand. We purchased a dark and a light colour in the mid-range line, and applied the paint to walls primed with the Behr Primer. Like the Behr paint, two coats of the Benjamin Moore were applied on top of the primer, but the experience was completely different. The Benjamin Moore paint went on like butter and the ease with which we achieved even distribution made us feel like skilled professionals. A second coat of the lighter colour was not really required but we decided to apply it anyways, since we had half a can of paint left and nothing to use it on. Our contractor refers to Benjamin Moore's top of the line, Aura paint as "angel piss"; we can only dream of a paint job that is comparable to receiving manna from heaven.

Valspar Ultra Premium Color Changing Ceiling Paint
A friend recently recalled the nightmare of painting her ceiling in which she was foiled by neck cramping and the inability to tell which areas had already been covered. The moral of the story is to hire a professional to paint you ceiling, as she did. For Joe and me, the take home message was to buy a ceiling paint that goes on purple then changes to white as it dries. The Valspar Ultra Premium Color Changing Ceiling Paint does indeed change colour, though it initially did so too quickly to serve us much good. After a more heavy application of the product, we were able to avoid looking like a repetitive French farce. The paint is more watery than either the Behr or the Benjamin Moore paints, but appears to do the job of evening out the colour of the ceiling in one to two coats. However, the worst aspect of the Valspar is the pungent odour; in contrast, both Behr and Benjamin Moore paints are subtly sweet smelling, which has its own disturbing health implications. In combination with the neck strain, the Valspar made me nauseous and I passed out in the middle of the job (thinking that it was cute that I was taking a little nap, Joe simply continued loading the Valspar onto the ceiling).

Up next: how to lose and alienate friends in the process of moving.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Excitement at the door continues

We have received three deliveries from Front Door Organics so far and it has been very satisfying. To date, we have consumed almost everything that was sent to us, including unfamiliar vegetation like collard greens and celeriac. Unfortunately, a grapefruit, a few beets, and a parsnip shriveled up before we could muster the enthusiasm to eat them. The second delivery grapefruit currently sits dejectedly amongst the more popular fruits in our crisper.

Based on the three boxes of organic fruits and vegetables that we have enjoyed, I can conclude that organic means undersized as many of the produce are smaller than what I am used to seeing in the gleaming aisles of the local supermarket. However, the freshness of the fruits and vegetables has only improved the taste of our lunches and dinners, hiding our lackluster culinary skills. This only confirms what I have long suspected about professional chefs and their insistence on fresh ingredients. With a fresh organic apple and some BBQ sauce, you, too, could be Bobby Flay.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Public shame in place of self control - Part 2

The results of the "How should I punish myself?" poll are as follows:

Harry's Spring Run Off 5K (April 3) 25%
Mississauga Marathon 5K (May 15) 25%
Toronto Women's 5K (May 30) 25%
Toronto Women's Half Marathon (May 30) 25%

Gee, thanks.

Equally fruitless were the comments that alternated between responders prodding their own fat or encouraging me to maintain the status quo.

So, I'm going with none of the above and signing up for the Mississauga Marathon 10K on May 15. It starts at 6:30pm, which is a bonus for me because I am not a morning person. For now, I predict that I will finish in under an hour, but I may aim for a more competitive time if shamed into doing so. Training kvetching to come. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Welcome to the lair

It has come to my attention that my blog has acquired a follower: NeroFiddled. Well, hello, there! That brings my official blog follower numbers to one.

This development both excites and alarms me. I had always assumed that friends were the main consumers of my blog, but now, with a stranger in the fold, and an American to boot, I'm hesitant about the content of my future blog entries. The last time I had an American follower, he was a Californian who gave up reading my blog when it became apparent that it was mainly about things he couldn't relate to, like the cold, Canadian businesses that screw me over, and CBC Radio.

It is heartening to see that NeroFiddled probably found me through my friend's blog, Beer is the Reason, and not the most common search term that funnels readers to my blog, "hentai robots".

I see that you're into art, NeroFiddled, which will be easy to cater to because I love art. Feel free to request other topics for me to wax poetic about, especially if you have a keen interest in my self-improvement, Toronto, or Canadian businesses that screw me over.

Let me now state for the record that I will single out each and every one of my future blog followers, creepily researching their interests using Google, in order to keep them satisfied. You have been warned.

Quick notes on radio and Mt. Tremblant

Matt Galloway on Metro Morning as of March 1
I am a big fan of Andy Barrie, current Metro Morning host on CBC Radio One, and his calm but inquisitive style. So, when it was recently announced that Barrie would be "abdicating" the position, I had my suspicions that Matt Galloway, current host of the drive home show, Here and Now, would be his replacement since he was the most frequent substitute for Barrie. It turns out that my fears are correct.
I tend not to listen to Here and Now because, while I find Galloway intelligent, I do not find him engaging. Galloway has a detached air about him that will not be easy to listen to, first thing in the morning. I can only hope that Galloway warms up in his hosting style with his move to Metro Morning.

Mont Tremblant
I visited Mont Tremblant, for the first time, over the weekend and it was amazing. The runs are numerous, lengthy, scenic, and, even on a Saturday, uncongested. While nature has been kind to the area, with spectacular views and perfect snow conditions, the people behind the operation are savvy. From the speedy lifts, to the convenient village retail, to the free parking, everything has been done to prevent stress and foresee to visitors' needs. If Blue Mountain is looking to compete with Mont Tremblant, they have a long way to go.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Public shame in place of self control

Ever since the new year, I have been struggling to get back into a healthy exercise routine. As much as I enjoy looking passable in a bikini, the fact is that I don't spend a lot of time scantily clad in public. Winter clothes are heavy enough to smooth over fat rolls, feeding into my illusion that everything is okay while I am busy feeding my chocolate craving.

But, everything is not okay, and it's time for an intervention. Public shame will compel me to exercise because the pleasure of working out does not provide enough incentive.

I'm going to sign up for a running event, publicly state what time I expect to finish in, then kill myself to meet expectations. For me, the stick has always worked better than the carrot.

Interventions require a circle of friends to smother the target with caring. I invite you to vote in the poll on the right as to which race I should register for. Help push my soft junk back on the wagon.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Moved to distraction

I am a regular viewer of American cable television shows that make the most of their channel affiliation by flaunting sexual content; shows like "True Blood", "Dexter" and, when it was still on the air, "Rome".

Recently, I started watching "Spatacus: Blood and Sand," which gained buzz early on when its network ordered a second season before the first episode had even aired. Writers were giddy with puns when describing the explicit sex and violence featured on the show. Being the seasoned voyeur that I am, I failed to heed their warnings.

The only reason why I can recall the plot of the first and second episodes of "Spartcus" is because they follow the standard fall and rise of a hero: a Thracian warrior crosses the Romans and is sentenced to die in the gladiatorial arena only to survive and find hope for freedom as a gladiator. Otherwise, the episode details are a blur of rock hard abs and slow mo thrusting.

Producers, Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert are longtime purveyors of super ripped torsos with more family friendly fare like "Xena: Warrior Princess", "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", and, currently, "Legend of the Seeker". With "Spartacus", Raimi and Tapert have now become peddlers of soft porn. Conversational scenes all eventually lead to explicit, and frequently gratuitous, sex scenes. Full frontal nudity makes an appearance at least once every episode, but audiences are kept busy with heavy helpings of tits and ass.

I frequently lost track of conversations because I became distracted by Andy Whitfield's tiny gladiatorial shorts, or Lucy Lawless's butt, or Extra # 2's penis. Then, when I would ask Joe to rewind so that I could actually comprehend the words, he would refuse on the grounds that he did not want to view the sausage factory again.

I would like to re-watch the first two episodes of "Spartacus" but Joe will not join me (sausage factory), and sharing the experience with anyone else might be as inappropriate as showing them a dirty magazine, but could re-watching the show by myself be construed as pervy?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two marathons, one city

City bureaucrats, who probably do not run, have decided that Toronto needs only one marathon event a year and organizers will have to bid for that right as of 2011.

Having run both the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the Toronto Marathon (half-marathon), I have plenty of opinions to share but I'll try to keep it succinct.
  • The Toronto Marathon may have come first and possess a heart-warming mandate of being "grassroots" but the Toronto Waterfront Marathon is just a more exciting event. There is nothing exclusionary about the Toronto Waterfront Marathon hosting elite runners; if anything, seeing the elites fly by is motivational for tortoises like me.
  • The Toronto Waterfront Marathon is better situated on the calendar. In the years that I have run the event, late September has consistently offered perfect racing weather. In contrast, I have been deterred from running The Toronto Marathon due to its October timing, and the two times that I have run the event, I struggled with the freezing temperatures.
  • I would love for Toronto to continue hosting two marathons, with the Toronto Marathon moving to the spring, but if I had to choose one, my past actions make the decision easy: my money has gone repeatedly towards registering for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quick Toronto reviews

Lady Marmalade
We are always on the lookout for a good place to brunch and Lady Marmalade (898 Queen St. E.) was amazing, in spite of the cold, half hour wait outside that we endured before a table became available.

I had the "kung foo" organic tofu scramble, a questionable brunch menu item but delicious, nonetheless, due to the fresh ingredients and loads of flavour. Joe had the brie, avocado & bacon eggs benedict, which was cooked to perfection.

I think that we have found a replacement for Cora, which will no longer be within walking distance when we move, and has been going downhill in food quality recently.

Come Up To My Room
This alternative design event has been held annually at hipster hangout, Gladstone Hotel, for a few years now but the 2010 event (January 21-24) was my first. Right away, I was reminded of why I have avoided this event for so long. There was an entry fee of $8, which felt a bit steep for such a small show. Hipsters, more interested in socializing in the hallways than actually seeing the work inside each hotel room, clogged the exhibition.

The standout of the show for me was the room of Richard Unterthiner and Paolo Ferrari. A completely mirrored walkway lead visitors into a cocoon-like white room with a mattress beneath the feet, sheets fitted snugly all around and words hanging like mobiles from above; a robotic voice conveyed apprehensive thoughts. For the brief moment that I had the room to myself, I was entranced and it was breathtakingly simple to allow myself to become absorbed in the piece.

Also very well executed was Julia Hepburn's sculpture featuring the intricate dioramas of a sleeping bird's nightmare; they hung like lanterns above the bird's bed, its chest rising and falling under the blanket.

The room of Maggie Greyson, Christine Lieu and Phoebe Lo featured an archive library of sorts in which friends and acquaintances placed mementos in canning jars tagged with a short explanation. Visitors were encouraged to take a memento in exchange for one of their own. A sweet idea that contrasted sharply with the cash grab plinko game set up next door, where the artists requested $5 for two tries at winning prizes. Participants won either a tiny clown pin or a white peanut, though all were aiming for the big prize of a ceramic figurine. When asked where the money earned would go towards, the artists lamely answered art supplies.

The rest of the rooms were either underwhelming or poorly thought out. In such a crowded, small venue, some pieces were just too obscure and provided little assistance in an environment that encouraged ADD. The most amateur project of the show had to be the piece about germ phobia. The paper mache spores looked too much like a school craft project and the pile of salt meant to evoke purity just looked like an afterthought. For a show with such buzz and a mere 11 featured works, one would have hoped for a higher batting average than 27% awesome.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Legion: no New Moon

Having enjoyed the magic of New Moon recently, I decided to try my luck at another horrendous looking film, Legion. My hope was that it, too, would provide lots of unintentional comedy. While there was crap aplenty, a black hole of verbosity in the middle of the movie made it feel like cinematic molasses.

The premise of Legion is that God has had enough of our "bullshit" and decides to wipe us off the face of the earth with the help of his angels. The lone exception is the Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany), who falls to earth, cuts off his wings and raids weapons from a Chinese toy shop (?!) in order to protect the unborn bastard who is the only hope for humanity.

One can only speculate that budgetary constraints prevented a mass extermination of the human race from being presented in all its CGI glory. Instead, the audience is stuck in a desert diner to watch stock characters die unceremoniously, and come to the conclusion that the wrath of God is underwhelming.

God sends minions, sporadically and one at a time, who are easily killed by the human weapon of choice: bullets, then a wall of pestilence that does nothing more than irritate humans back to the diner, and a 'legion' of zombies that cannot actually kill the baby who is the ultimate target of the assault.

Archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) is dispatched to do the penultimate deed, with the help of his trusty spinning power tool mace and bullet proof wings. Yet, awesome-looking Gabriel is delayed by skinny, wingless Michael, then struggles to catch his targets in their escape car, even after the car flips over, three times. It is at this moment that you realize that Gabriel and God must be up against formidable foes since both mother and baby survive the accident without a scratch nor even a pause.

The parade of incompetence would be entertaining if the characters didn't insist on being so predictable and repetitive in their dialog for long stretches between action sequences. Thus, Legion is equivalent to a 45 minute lecture from your parents broken up by 5 minutes of attempting to shoot tin cans off a fence, and missing.

One could argue that when the story narrated at the start of the movie is repeated at the end, it means that things have come full circle. However, that would indicate progress, which is sorely lacking in this boring turd.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hong Kong and Bangkok

We booked our trip to Hong Kong and Bangkok months before we even considered buying a house, so when the day to depart finally arrived, Joe and I were caught unawares in the midst of a bathroom reno. As a result, there was none of the usual anticipation or preparation. Frankly, the whole vacation is a blur of sweating, eating and buying.
A view of Hong Kong from Kowloon side at night.
Hong Kong highlights
  • It was refreshing to be in a city of night people. Hong Kong only really comes alive at 10am then goes strong straight into the night, every night. As a result, we felt no guilt about sleeping in before visiting even tourist attractions. Arriving anywhere anytime before noon is a safe bet.
  • The air quality is terrible in Hong Kong with a constant grey haze hanging over the city. The city is also not good for claustrophobics nor people with high blood pressure what with people rushing all around you on tight streets and an over-abundance of stimulation. I showed my age as what used to energize me now makes me want to sit down and take it easy.
  • In the course of a week, we experienced only two sunny days, one of which was spent at the idyllic village of the filthy rich, Stanley. It was great to have public bus access to a tropical beach so close to a world class city like Hong Kong. However, on the overcast 18C days, a good portion of the locals wore winter coats and furry clothing. Meanwhile, Joe and I considered the weather ideal conditions for enjoying our hotel's outdoor pool, having suffered swimming in Canadian lakes in the spring time.
The floating market (aka tourist trap on water)
Bangkok highlights
  • The high quality and low price of the food is one of the main reasons to visit Bangkok. Even at high end malls, full meals could be had for a few Canadian dollars; eating on the street cost even less. Instead of junk food, locals buy handy grab bags of fresh cut papaya, pineapple, strawberries and whatever else was in season, for less than $1 CAD. This explains why the local population is consistently skinny, even the policemen in their tight black uniforms, regardless of age.
  • The locals also demonstrate an amazing sense of style that had nothing to do with labels, though high end designer clothes were readily available. Local designs showed an affinity for draping fabric, which is chic and very in vogue with Western designers. I found myself excitedly buying affordable local designer clothes because they will work as well in Toronto as they do in Bangkok.
  • The worst part of Bangkok were the tourists. On the innocuous side of the spectrum were the faux hippies; the brokers and students on vacation who have decided to wear flip flops, wife beaters and dread locks. It marks them out like idiots, considering how stylish and urbane the locals tend to be, no matter what the weather. The more troubling visitors are the sex tourists; the older Western male hanging out with a much younger Thai girl or boy. My visit to Pattaya Beach was marred by repeat sightings of hairy, beer bellied white guys in Speedos, clutching either a beer or a young local. Both kinds of tourists show absolutely no respect for the local populace.
We intend on returning to Hong Kong and Bangkok though our next stay will probably be shorter than a week. Just as Hong Kong customer service has improved considerably in the last decade, in reaction to growing competition from Singapore and Shanghai, Bangkok will have to decide which type of tourist they wish to cater to: wholesome shopaholics like me or hairy sex predators. Make your choice, Bangkok.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Excitement at the door

Animals continue to enjoy relative safety from my mouth Mondays to Fridays, as my weekday vegetarian lifestyle continues. My diet consists mostly of tofu products and frozen vegetables, with only the occasional infusion of fresh fruit and vegetables. Our poor supply of fresh produce is due in part to ignorance ("How do you cook this?") and a reluctance to gamble on the unknown.

With a new year, we have decided to throw caution to the wind and sign up with Front Door Organics. FDO will deliver a box of pre-selected fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to our door, once a week or less frequently.

This week, we can expect to receive:
1 pound of Yams
1 pound of Beets
1 head of Cabbage
1 bunch of Broccoli
1 Grapefruit
5 Apples - mixed variety
4 Pears, Anjou
5 Bananas - Fair Trade
2 pounds of Tangerines
3 Avocados
1 bunch of Collard Greens
1 unit of Lettuce, 'Summer mix'

A common complaint amongst subscribers to the service is that food often went bad before they could consume it. Thus, I hope that my hatred of waste will compel me to shovel a wide variety of delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables down my cake hole, and Joe's pie hole, too.

We have yet to receive our first package but I predict that it will feel like Christmas morning, but without the bloating, and the pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The lost weekend

Faced with the prospect of a weekend without anything scheduled, Joe and I started racking our brains for possible activities: snowboarding, buying a snowboard, visiting friends, what to do?

As Saturday loomed, our stressed increased and we found ourselves wide awake on Saturday morning, ready to do something. I thought of exercising and decided to have a sensible breakfast in preparation. Somewhere between pouring the milk over the All Bran and putting the cereal bowl in the sink, I started playing Dragon Age: Origins. The end.

It was quite delightful to lose myself in a PC game with only a definite end time of Sunday night. Fortunately, unlike hard core Korean Starcraft players, we took breaks to eat, sleep and watch movies such as:

9 - To be clear, we watched the animated film about a post-apocalyptic world and not the musical about a libidinous filmmaker. 9 does a good job of setting up a depressing future and characters to root for, but offers little else. The characters are stereotypical and underdeveloped, and the climax is muted because if the resolution had followed logic, it should have been more ruthless. An entertaining movie that ultimately disappoints by not going as far as it should have.

Zombieland - While 9's muted reception was understandable after viewing, Zombieland's lack of popularity is surprising. This is as good of a zombie film as Shaun of the Dead, with a loser protagonist most fanboys can relate to, and all the hilarity that encounters with the undead can bring. Woody Harrelson is especially good as an asshole with a talent for zombie killing. Not to over-hype the movie but this is essential viewing if you have even a suspicion that zombies could be in your future.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Products that work

Nokia E71 - I am of the old school that phones and the internet should not mix but my bigotry was thrown out the window during our recent trip to Hong Kong and Bangkok. Mobile access to free Wi-Fi was a security blanket in exotic lands... or simply a tie over until the next attraction whenever I got bored. In the age of mobile multitasking devices, we need never be ignorant nor bored.

CLR - Watching the calcium deposits build up on my retainers over the past decade has been a nightly source of scientific curiosity and horror. I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and dunk my retainers in CLR. After a half hour soak and some scraping, my retainers are almost as good as new; the sensation of smooth plastic in my mouth is vaguely familiar. Happily, I have not shown any ill effects from placing a CLR treated object in my mouth, and because I never let anything go to waste, that little bowl of CLR solution also lifted the psychological burden of seeing calcium deposits in my kitchen sink, the dish drying rack and the bottom quarter of one shower stall panel.

Dupli-Color Scratch Fix 2 in 1 - Joe and I were recently thrown into a tizzy when I scratched the side of our rental car. It seemed that we would be at the mercy of the rental company when a professional fix appeared far fetched but we decided to gamble $9.99 on a car paint touch up pen. Add some strategically placed mud splotches, and the closest parking job possible to a rental van, and the end result has been savings.