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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Le Voyage Super Fun

There is something indescribable about the roadtrip that brings people closer together. Maybe it's the many miles of common road that quiet travel companions share, or maybe it's the commeraderie that develops between people who are forced to find elusive parking spots in foreign cities--or maybe it's just the forced physical proximity imposed upon people who sit in the cramped backrow of a rented Chevy Impala. Regardless, it is undeniable that roadtrips, a North American tradition since the introduction of Ford's Model T, provide friends an unparalleled opportunity to bond, while also providing enough distractions to keep them from getting sick of eachother.

The four-day roadtrip I went on this past weekend was just too much fun to do justice with a Blogger post, but I'll try to anyway--because I'm an incorrigible procrastinator who would rather do anything than actual work (disclaimer: I've been working 12 hour days in the week prior to this trip, so I deserve a little slack time :-p). What follows is a short, very much abridged account of what we did and what wonderous things we saw this past weekend. There will inevitably be things I will miss, and even more that I will recall incorrectly. The later will, of course, become the basis for apocryphal anecdotes for years to come. This, my friends, is how legends are born.

Our roadtrip began humbly at a Discount Rental lot somewhere in Scarborough, where Han-min and I picked up the rental Impala. From there, we went on to pick up the rest of our party (Ames, Tiffy, and Iulia), and when everyone was comfortably seated and our luggage safely stowed in the cavernous trunk of our American-made land-yacht, we put pedal to the metal and went to our first stop, the Big Apple--no, not the Big Apple, but the other one just off the 401 in beautiful Colborne, ON.

Years before, I had stopped by this roadside freakshow attraction while on a Chinese bus tour and fell in love with this monument to rural Ontario kitsch. I had always remembered it being covered in a vibrant shade of red, a true-to-life representation of the sweet, fleshy Red Delicious. But when we got there, I found a pale, weather-worn ball of dissapointment resembling a bruised peach more than an apple. It would appear that over the years, this Ontario apple mecca lost some of its former lustre. But that was fine with me. No one ever wants their trip to start off with an untoppable attraction that will dwarf the rest of the itinery, so in that sense the "Big Apple" was the perfect appetizer to a tastier meal.

Thankfully, our next stop was more rewarding than the first. Kingston is such a pretty city, full of small shops and cozy bookstores. I was suprised to see a city the size of Kingston boast of a stationery store--albeit one terribly named 'Send in the Clowns'--that carried papers and notebooks far surpassing anything sold at the pretentiously named Essence du Papier in Toronto. Another pleasant surprise was the classy brick buildings I saw dotting the lush Queens campus--I guess I should take back everything I've ever said about Queens and the people that go there :-p

After a quick pita lunch in Kingston and a hasty tour of the city and its waterfront, we got back on the 401 and made a beeline for Ottawa, where we had decided to spend the night. Truth be told, I had not expected much of our Nation's Capital. But like most things, I was wrong. Ottawa turned out to be a very friendly and laid-back city, steeped in Canadian history. The Comfort Inn we stayed at, however, was steeped in another sort of history--the sort that leaves behind lumpy pillows and broken TV remotes. But as long as the place had two relatively stain-free beds and a working air-conditioner, we were more than happy (thanks for getting us such a rockin' deal, Ames :).

Later in the evening, we met up for dinner with Iulia and Han-min's friend Mike, a friendly but furtive "government employee"--and that's all he is allowed to say, so don't ask. Mike brought us to a "nice" restaurant downtown for dinner. The exact name of the place escapes me now (I think it was something Metropolitan or Cosmopolitan...or maybe Charlatan...I really don't remember), but suffice it to say it was the sort of establishment that calls appetizers entrées, and entrées plats principaux--the sort of place that have washrooms people rave about to their friends from out of town. In fact, I will say this: this was the first time I've heard someone recommend a restaurant to me based solely on the merits of its washrooms. I find this very odd because if this were the only criterion with which to select restaurants, we Chinese would never get to eat out.

I've always had trouble finding cities where I could go for a comfortable late-night stroll. Most of the cities I've visited fall on the extremes of the pedestrian friendliness spectrum: either they have streets that are full of interesting distractions but jammed with people, or they are light on people but completely devoid of anything interesting things to see. But Ottawa has just the right balance between points of interest and crowd density on its streets late at night. In fact, walking along the Rideau Canal was one of the highlights of the trip. Besides the Parliament Building Lightshow with its tributes to Celion Dion and Bryan Adams, and establishments such as ClassiXXX, I found Ottawa to be a very down to earth city, pretty but not ostentatious.

The next morning Ames, Tiffy, and I drove to the Prime Minister's place on Sussex. To be blunt, I've seen much nicer houses in Richmond--the whole experience was an even bigger letdown than the Big Apple debacle in Colborn. Thankfully, the Governor's residence across the street had more pageantry (British guards with funny hats marching outside the gates!) and we spent a good half hour strolling in the gardens and taking pictures with the guards--look but don't touch! We wrapped up our tour of Ottawa by visiting the Parliament buildings--the outside of them, anyways--and rendezvous'd with Han-min and Co after lunch. Montreal was in our sights and a short jaunt on the highway was the only thing separating us from the third stop in our trip.

As we entered Montreal, it became clear to me that the Quebecois have a very simple method for converting English business names to French ones. It works sort of like this: take the English name, flip it around, translate individual words to French where possible, prefix with le or la and suffix with the words Super Sexe. So Price Club would become Le Clube Prix Super Sexe or something like that. Quite effective, I must say. What wasn't so clear, however, was the traffic rules in this province. From what I could tell, lane markings were merely suggestions and signalling was either optional or entirely frowned upon. Eventually, I realized that the only rule I needed to follow while driving in this city was the ever popular "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". In this case, the "Romans" drove like blind, spasmic, schizophrenics--which, thankfully, was not a stretch for me to emulate. Of course, pulling some of these maneuvres in a Chevy Impala (a sedan that can legally seat six!) was, at times, slightly nerve racking--especially when we kept getting cut off by other vehicles, cyclists (!), and roller-bladers (what the?!?!?).

The difference in pace between Ottawa and Montreal was immediatly obvious as we drove through Old Montreal. In the capital city, we managed to find a cheap and spacious parking lot just 5 minutes from the downtown core without breaking a sweat. Finding a berth for our land-yacht in Montreal, however, was a completely different experience. As a general rule of thumb for future reference, driving downtown in Montreal on a Saturday night when a fireworks show and* the Just for Laughs festival are happening within 3 km of eachother is not a good idea. After spending a good 30 minutes dodging cyclists, dogs, and pedestrians with enough flexibility to suggest they were recent escapees from the local Cirque de Soleil troupe, we finally managed to find a lot that allowed us to down our anchor for a mere $20--this after we had refused $8 and $14 dollar lots earlier in the evening for being too "outrageous".

Montreal (or at least Old Montreal) was a pleasant place to visit once we solved our parking problem. There were so many unique, quaint, and reasonably priced bistros that we couldn't decide which one to choose--maybe that's why we ended up going to a Subway for dinner. If you ask me, the Combination Trois Viande sub tasted no different than the Cold Cut Trios I was used to elsewhere. With its being French, I had hoped that at least one of the viandes would have come from snail or frog or something. Whatever.

The fireworks display later in the evening was a nice way to end an otherwise hectic day. I had some pleasant flashback moments to the old Benson and Hedges Symphony of Fire shows we used to have in Vancouver before Big-Tobacco-sponsored events became socially unacceptable. The only minor annoyance during the show came from the rowdy drunks standing beside us, who kept shouting "Regardes! C'est l'Independence Day[the movie]!!!!!" everytime an explosion went off. That's so 1996.

Day three of our roadtrip began with my being serenaded by a crow outside my Concordia dorm-room at six in the morning. I used to think pidgeons were the worse sounding birds on this planet--I was wrong. There's something very unsettling about the squack of a crow. It's not steady enough to get used to, yet it's not soft enough to completely ignore. In other words, the crow's squack is the aural equivalent of a thorn on your side, or a paper cut on the part of your mouth that connects your tongue to your jaw. Once it starts, you can forget about going back to bed.

The quiet calm of Sunday morning was quite a contrast to the loud, crowded, hectic pace of the night before--I guess most of the locals were at home nursing hangovers or rushing to the local drugstore for morning-after pills. For us, the empty streets were a welcome change and allowed us to find easy street parking right outside McGill. A year and a half ago, I was having a tough time deciding between McGill and UofT for grad school--the decision became a lot easier when I found out UofT was paying me $5000 more--and I still sometimes wonder if McGill would have been more fun. From the cursory inspection of the school we gave though, I don't think I missed much by going to Toronto--although I would probably have met nicer people in Montreal :-p

We spent (or rather squandered) the next three hours hiking up Mont Royal for a good view of the city. I say squandered because when we got to the top, we saw a smooth, paved road that could have taken us up in a tenth of the time. But I suppose the hike was probably much needed anyways in light of the massive poutine lunch we had prior to our ascent. In any case, the view was well worth the hike, and the ice cream shop at the top was absolutely amazing.

The rest of day three is a blur to me--probably because we topped it off with some bzzr (UBC alumni will know what I'm talking about :) at night. All I vaguely remember is that we overindulged on smoked meats at Schwartz and then walked along St. Cathrines for a while before heading back to Concordia...oh yeah, I also remember (very vaguely, of course) that I WON the Carcassonne game later in the evening :-p

I suppose I lied earlier about this being a short entry. But I was honest when I said this would be an abridged version of the whole story. There were many stories not told and many laughs not shared in these paragraphs. But all I really need to say is that this was a fantastic trip with amazing weather, interesting sights, and fabulous company. We gotta do this again some time. Call me.

Your Favorite Jerk

Friday, July 22, 2005

Going to Montreal

Just finished packing :) See you guys in a few days.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Deadly respite

Finding a laugh-out-loud-funny article on a busy workday can feel like finding a shady oasis in the middle of the Sahara. But then again, I really haven't got the time to peruse impertinent articles, funny or otherwise, so really it's more akin to finding an oasis overflowing with salt water when my cantene is already empty. In any case, here's an excerpt from The Boy in the Bubble Reviews New York City's Most Fashionable and Trendy New Restaurants, by Joshua Yaffa. Drink up!

The menu, made up largely of expertly executed bistro classics, is a welcome relief from the misguided experiments in absurdity served at Soho House's less venerable neighbors in New York's version of Disney World, the Meatpacking District. Quite serendipitously, my blood monitor started beeping just as we began to order, making my choice of the iron-rich steak frites even more appropriate. The only unpleasantness of the otherwise relaxing evening came when an overly eager waiter offered to serve me my crème brûlée, mistakenly spooning the creamy dessert into my breathing tube. Three days later I am still periodically inhaling shards of caramelized sugar, although I suppose that is a hazard that comes with my adopted profession.

Your Favorite Jerk (at work)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Some French for Montreal

La patience est amere, mais son fruit est doux.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Monday, July 18, 2005

Softball Diaries (Day 36)

Dear Diary,

I hate to open every entry with an apology for not having written sooner, but a lot has happened in my life since the last time I wrote to you, and as much as I enjoy playing softball (and writing on your handsome, non-judgemental pages) the distractions have simply been too overwhelming to allow my keeping steady correspondence. But what's the point in dwelling on the past, right? Onwards and upwards!

Yesterday we headed into a double header in Scarborough, riding a dubious wave of momentum (0-5 or something like that). But something in the air told me we wouldn't lose both games that afternoon; something electric, something tangible, something very real--or maybe it was just the 100% humidity and Toronto smog...I don't really know, but something *was* in the air. Honest.

We arrived at the park to find a rain-soaked field that was in *rough* shape. There were puddles everywhere and the entire in-field was a quagmire. The other team had just finished playing another game, and it was clear they were already conditioned to the mud and dirt. This conditioning allowed them to outplay us in the first couple of innings. By the 4th inning, our fielders started catching on to the topography of the messy field, and our hitters figured out where to place the ball. But by then, it was already too little too late, and despite a valiant effort, we lost the first game.

After devos and a bench-move, we brushed off the first game and turned our attention to the second game of our double-header against a team called the Blessings. Playing shorthanded with only 9 players to our 22, they definitely looked like a blessing to our weary band. In softball you take what you can get, and if that means beating an understaffed team with an injured captain, so be it.

We shot out of the gates like diarrhea victims dashing for the nearest toilet and got off to a quick lead. Things were looking up. But after a few innings, including two where we traded back to back mercies (7 run maximum), the Blessings got into the groove of things and looked like they weren't going to just roll over like diarrhea victims after dashing for the nearest toilet and finding it locked (okay look, I'm not good with similes, so you'll just have to deal with it, okay? Thank you.). We played to a tie after seven innings and were presented with the option to play a tie-breaker 8th inning. I took a quick look at the batting order and realized that I was up 3rd to bat should we decide to go for the win. My performance yesterday (I struck out in the first game, and earlier in the second one I grounded out) wasn't stellar and I hoped against hope that we would be satisfied with the tie (hey, it's better than what we've been getting so far this summer). But alas, the team thought otherwise, and after some inspiring pep talk ("Dave man, if you have anything, now's the time to let it out. No, I'm serious.") the tie-breaker started.

The first batter for us popped out, and the second grounded out. Uh oh. The average number of runs scored per inning in these games is somewhere between 2 to 4. With no runs, 2 outs, and the other team batting next, the atmosphere in the dugout was getting real tense real fast. I walked up to the plate with only one goal to get on base. I took a few deep breaths, recentred myself, and found my happy place. I was ready to go. I got my "killer stance" out and started waiting for the ball, my eye very much on the tiger. Then from behind me someone whispered, "uh...homeplate is back here man." It was the ump. I was standing three feet away from homeplate. Crap.

After that minor setback, I was a bit shaken up. My happy place was nowhere to be found, and my chakra--I don't even believe in any of this stuff!--felt like it was all over the place. The pitch came. I closed my eyes and swung...and...crack! I had made contact, but it was a terrible hit. I let out an exasperated sigh when I realized we were probably going to bow out once again. But wait...what was this? The ball landed in a puddle, and the opposing infielders had to waste precious time fishing it out--w00t! I ran like a sissy being chased by jocks at recess and got safely to first base :)

The next batter made good on the pitch and hit a solid one to the left rover. I threw caution to the wind and ran with febrile abandon. Alas, such feverish momentum prevented me from stopping in time, and I flew over second base. When I came to, I realized I wasn't touching the bag and crawled on all fours to stay safe. I stretched as far as I could, reached for the bag, a face full of leather. I was out--in more ways than one. Let's just say I had a strong taste of iron in my mouth. My season, Dearest Diary, ended with a bitch-slap to the face. See you next spring.

Your Favorite Jerk

The other team didn't do much better than us when they went up to bat, so we managed to eek out a tie game! Woooooohoooooo!!!! Good job, everyone on defense!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Asian Legend, Downtown Toronto

There is at least half a dozen Chinese restaurants on Dundas St that can make a reasonable appearance on Ghetto Foodies. The Asian Legend on 418 Dundas, however, might not seem like a likely candidate. Unlike its neighbours, Asian Legend looks very clean, well-managed, and--dare I say--rather chic from the outside. The two story restaurant is fronted by large panes of class, and adorned with pretty, paper lanterns that shine above smooth, dark-wood furniture and plush, white sofas. Given only a cursory inspection, one would be forgiven for mistaking Asian Legend for a cheaper, less pretentious Spring Roll, or Ginger, or some other yuppy hangout. But good décor alone does not a good restaurant make, and when it comes down to it, the food at Asian Legend is mediocre at best.

To be fair, it isn't easy specializing in northern Chinese cuisine and serving good food at the same time. Chinese epicureans are almost always from south of the Yangtze River, and most of us northerners will admit, albeit grudgingly, that southern Chinese cuisine is far tastier. But that isn't to say it's impossible to make good northern chinese fare--I have been to many restaurants in Vancouver that make a killer Siu Long Bao. Asian Legend, sadly, does not even come close to meeting this challenge.

Last night after fellowship I was unable to turn the tide against popular opinion and marched grudgingly to the faux-chic eatery with the rest of the Delta crew. Following Kalam's recommendation, I ordered deep fried porkchops on noodle soup. The resulting gastronomic disaster is too traumatizing to put into words. Every bite of the grease-soaked batter made me want to hurl something fierce. I've had this dish elsewhere before, and it's not supposed to taste like poison! Next time, can we please just go for pho? Please?


Monday, July 11, 2005

Transformation delayed

It's a little past four or five on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I am lying on a pew in the sanctuary, drifting in and out of sleep. It has been over twenty-four hours since I last ate, but I am not hungry, just tired. In a few short hours the 30 Hour Famine will be over, and those of us who participated in this self-imposed "famine" will break fast at a greasy-spoon eatery in Chinatown.

I had agreed to this abstination from food to make a more tangible connection with those for whom hunger is a constant reminder of the inbalance of this world. In a naive way, I had hoped that these brief 30 hours would lead to some miraculous personal transformation, a buildup of emotions for the plight of those in the Third World, culminating in a moment of catharsis, when overcome with hunger I decide to pour out my soul and devote my life (or some reasonable part of it) to do something about the "problem".

But as I lie on the pew, I come to the realization that no matter how hard we try to simulate the "Third World Experience", the end product will still be a poor imitation, a sanitized, Disneyland sketch of the real thing because there is no substitute for the real thing. As I drift back into an uneasy sleep, I ask myself if I would be willing to go to Africa and live there for a few years. I can't say with honest sincerity that I would. At this realization, I want to cry for the condition of my soul. I feel tears welling up, but before they get a chance to see the afternoon light, I am asleep. Next year will be different.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

One-song playlist

Image hosted by 王力宏's 心中的日月. I've been listening to Track #10 in a constant loop. These days, it is the only song in my playlist. Say what you will about Mandarin pop music, but sometimes their lyrics convey exactly what my words cannot. I am at a loss for words, but let me say this: 请你原谅我的爱错.


Saturday, July 02, 2005

Lamentation and supplication

My heart bleeds the same blood yours does. My eyes shed the same tears yours do. I will be there for you if you want me to be. I will be your most faithful friend if you let me. I will understand if you do neither, but I pray that you will do both.