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.