Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2011

In a few short hours, it'll be another year.

So much has happened this year to me, my work life, my friends and friendships -- Sometimes it seems the older I get, the more interesting, dramatic, and generally eventful my life gets.

And old and long-lost friend old me once upon a time that he had a New Year's tradition of writing down all the crappy things that had happened to him on little pieces of paper, and throwing them into the fireplace to burn them away, and start the New Year fresh.

Not everyone has a fireplace (and no, it's not quite the same using a shredder), but I do hope that you can emotionally and spiritually leave behind many of the past hurts and disappointments and start the New Year rejuvenated.

I don't imagine I'll have quite the same opportunity as I dig through my box of keepsakes, as they are sure to bring back all sorts of memories -- and probably a few regrets.
I'm still not entirely decided about keeping only digital copies of keepsakes and photographs, but what's done is done. Even if I completely forget everything and everyone, I hope to hold on to the goodwill that came from the giver, and try to keep alive the good that was in me to deserve their love.


Happy New Year, everybody.

And Good Luck out there.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

KGIC Keepsakes and Memories part 7

KGIC Maiko 3

It was really gratifying to get this letter from one of the many students at King George International College (KGIC) where I worked from around 2002-2003. I don't recall this particular student had anything problems other than the usual schoolwork. She was, however, one of the few extra-studious ones, who hung around after classes to get extra help with their English.

Word gets around the school, however, and I think somehow just being empathetic to the students about their lives here and their troubles with living abroad had warmed them to me and given me a good reputation. I give a lot of credit to Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People and the Vancouver Crisis Centre for training me with that mindset and giving me the tools.
I don't know if I would have done so well at the school if I hadn't started volunteering with the Vancouver Crisis Centre only a few months prior in November 2001 -- especially as I was (and am) still generally very shy about approaching anyone I don't know.

It was also really handy that I was "just" a teaching assistant/conversation assistant, rather than a teacher. Teachers have schedules and classes to teach, while TAs could be more flexible. I remember there were a couple of times when I saw a student very distressed to the point of almost crying, and I was able to just skip class to spend time with them, just listening to them or being with them.

Vocabulary can be a big barrier to communicating, but I think you'll be surprised how far you can get with happy/sad/mad/glad/bad, and doing your best to emote with hand gestures. People figure it out a lot of the time.

And something else the Crisis Centre taught me is that people are often more resilient and capable than you think. Just because they are in distress doesn't mean you have to help them solve anything -- in fact, trying too hard to solve their problems can worsen things.
Often, just being there and letting them tell their story or have their say, listening non-judgmentally and genuinely trying to understand their perspective, can be all they need for the moment.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

KGIC Keepsakes and Memories part 6

KGIC Maiko 1

There is something adorable about someone older than a young teen who still has the innocent heart to painstakingly create something like the cover to this card. Just count the different colours and elements, and you'll suddenly realize that this is no mere five minute doodle.
And crafts like this are at it's best in more mature years, because along with the heartfelt hand-crafted effort are practical, thoughtful, touches like putting the card in protective plastic to give it the best chance of weathering time and travel.

Maybe all those seasonal activities that go on in ESL schools (and make them sometimes seem less school than a fun summer camp) contribute toward maintaining a certain playfulness despite the relentless advance of years.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

KGIC Keepsakes and Memories part 5

KGIC Maiko 1

KGIC Maiko 2

KGIC Maiko 3

KGIC Maiko 4

Of all my keepsakes -- and not just the ones from King George International College (KGIC), of which this is one -- this is probably the one that will be hardest to let go of. I'm not even sure if I will clear it out like most of the other photos and letters, to be preserved only electronically in a photo album.
So much work had gone into this, and there are so many memories embedded in it.


The picture's not entirely clear about this because of the lighting, but I think that's my khaki-coloured shirt. I still have that same shirt. After all these years, the bend in the collar has finally worn and frayed a bit, but it is otherwise still in excellent condition.

Crazy, eh?

Monday, December 27, 2010

KGIC Keepsakes and Memories part 4

KGIC Emi 1

KGIC Emi 2

Instead of throwing all my keepsakes haphazardly into my treasure box, I probably should have kept them more in order and with little notes to indicate what is what.

The letter is from one of the many hard-working students at King George International College (KGIC) where I worked around 2002-2003. If I remember correctly, she was one of the advanced students, had round cheeks, and short hair in a bit of a retro cut.

Her letter refers to a Japanese bookmark, so the bookmark pictured, being Korean, is probably not the right one, but it's the only one I could find in my keepsake box. In any case, it was so beautiful and delicate that I just kept it in its packaging.
The gift meant something to me and I kept it, obviously, but I also didn't want to lose it. I guess a part of me wanted to preserve it, and the memory, intact.

Gifts meant to be used can remind us daily of the person who gave it to us. But what happens when they are worn and damaged, and time to be retired or replaced. Where does the meaning and connection and memories behind the gift-giving go?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

KGIC Keepsakes and Memories part 3

Not very many gifts have really meant a lot to me. I think it takes a deeper personal connection with the person for it to become a keepsake -- and it definitely helps if the gift is non-consumable (i.e., not food or cash).

Looking back at all the keepsakes I had held onto, I noticed that gifts were invariably left unopened. Like this little calendar.

KGIC calendar gift

I'm actually not 100% sure that it was from a student at King George International College (KGIC). If the picture of a dog is meant to indicate the year of the dog, then it would be either a 1994 or 2006 calendar.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

KGIC Keepsakes and Memories part 2

Christmas was a stressful time at King George International College, but ultimately a fun one for the students. There was a potluck, a gingerbread house building contest, and every class had to put on some kind of skit. The higher the level of English, the more ambitious the production: One class had a full-blown play involving X-Files character Mulder and Scully, and stolen Christmas toys. Another had a skit about Santa's elves and reindeer going on strike because they were overworked.

And then there was what to do with the students during the holidays. School was officially closed, so there wouldn't be any official events. If I remember correctly, some of the staff organized a few drop-in get-togethers at pubs, just so the far-away-from-home students had somewhere to go, somewhere to belong to.

Somewhere to belong.

I recall having a brief conversation with one of the teachers about that and Christmas. For North America, it tends to be one of those family-get-together times, and without family close by, it can feel awfully lonely with nowhere to go, no family to belong to.


Well, it's Christmas today. I hope you belong somewhere today, with friends or family.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless.

Friday, December 24, 2010

KGIC Keepsakes and Memories part 1

Even after typically ruthlessly discarding "keepsakes" like brochures from faraway lands I've visited, or Christmas and birthday cards, there's still quite a bit of stuff left over.

As you may know, I'm "spring cleaning" in preparation for finally moving into a place of my own. Subjects were removed on the offer to purchase on December 10th, but possession isn't till the end of February, with the possibility of renting it out in March to the existing owner.

The latest batch is from my days as a teaching assistant / conversation assistant at King George International College (KGIC) in Surrey, BC.

I honestly can't remember when I was with the Surrey campus of King George International College. All I remember was that I had Christmas and Valentines with them, and was possibly downsized around March 2003 because the SARS crisis had blacklisted Canada and business plummetted. At least that was the official reason. Based on seniority and LIFO ("last in, first out"), I was laid off.

I know it had to have been at least November of 2001 when I started, because I had some really long days when I'd man the distress lines with the Vancouver Crisis Centre on the graveyard shift, then go straight to work in the morning. I didn't start with them till November 2001, so it may have been that I was there in 2002-2003.

Staff has changed a lot since my time there. The director used to be Ian Carson, who always struck me as a nice and upright sort of fellow who was lots overworked and stressed out by staff politics between the Surrey campus and the downtown ones. Our ESL school was also quite unusual in that we had sizable classes of teens and pre-teens.
The teens were pretty "typical" disinterested don't-really-want-to-be-there types, while the pre-teens were generally really bright and well-spoken little-to-no-accent kids.

One of my fondest memories was being surprised by the pre-teen classes on Valentines. They just heaped candy on teachers and assistants, and for some reason everyone thought I got a particularly big haul. And I only spent part of my days with them!

Teachers may be overworked and underpaid, but there can be a lot of love there to make up for it.

Last chance to go to The William Tell Restaurant

William Tell on Urbanspoon

After 46 years, The William Tell Restaurant (in The Georgian Court Hotel on Beatty) will close its doors. Sadly, they were not able to renegotiate a favourable lease with the new hotel owners. Our waiter tonight advises that the owner will travel abroad a few years, and then more than likely reopen elsewhere. Meanwhile, they are still taking reservations.

The Hotel blurb on the William Tell will probably disappear after December 29th, their last open day, so we've copied it here:

William Tell Restaurant

At the Georgian Court Hotel Downtown Vancouver you will find an award winning Vancouver fine dining restaurant for over 40 years. A menu that moves with the times and served in the grand manner, with a passion for detail. Warm, friendly atmosphere. Swiss-French and West Coast cuisine.
Our History

The William Tell Restaurant began in 1964, with founder Erwin Doebeli and two partners, emphasizing personal service, leisurely dining and a European approach to food. In 1971, the partners decided to separate by mutual agreement, and Erwin continued his passion for excellence and customer satisfaction.

In 1983, the restaurant moved to its present location in the newly built Georgian Court Hotel. Since then, the restaurant and Erwin have received innumerable awards and accolades. In this past year alone, The William Tell has been recognized with top awards from The Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Magazine, WHERE Magazine, and the AAA.

The BC Restaurant Food Services Association recently bestowed “Restaurateur of the Year” upon Erwin, as well as inducting him into the newly established Restaurant Hall of Fame. In recognition of his long-standing support of the Rotary Club Charities, he was the recipient of the Paul Harris Fellowship award, Rotary International's highest designation. The City of Vancouver issued a Proclamation for “Erwin Doebeli Day” October 18th , 2005.

After a long and illustrious career, Erwin and his wife Josette who has also been active in the business for many years, began a well-deserved retirement in May 2005 and took off for an extended visit to Switzerland and other parts of Europe.
Executive Chef: Preston Kittle

Philippe Doebeli, owner/manager of The William Tell Restaurant is pleased to announce the appointment of Preston Kittle-Jago as Executive Chef, upon the retirement of Christian Mosimman.

At 23, Preston is one of the youngest chefs in over 40 years of The William Tell, and he is supported by an equally young team. He is passionate, diligent and innovative.

Kittle –Jago was born in Richmond, BC, and as a young boy his interest in cooking developed from the TV show Iron Chef. He was most impressed with the chef’s abilities to create and form delicious dishes. During high school his attention and skills were captured in the cafeteria. After high school, he took cooking courses at Malaspina University.

After working at the White Spot he became a breakfast cook at the Sheraton Hotel, followed by working at the Eliixir.

Preston started with The William Tell by working in the Bistro kitchen, and graduated through Garde Manger, Entrementier, Pâtissier, Sous Chef, then Chef January 2009. He truly found his place at The William Tell and is now joined by the return of Perry Deconinck as Sous Chef at his side.

I'd dined there a couple of times over the years, though as part of Dine Out Vancouver. Tonight, I invited a friend to the William Tell for one final meal there, and was determined to try various items "prepared tableside" -- a rare treat of showmanship by the waiters which can be hard to find nowadays. (In Vancouver, maybe Le Gavroche and Le Crocodile).
The overall ambiance is also very different from many restaurants -- There is a calmer, confident service. The tables are spaced with a luxurious amount of room to walk in between (room which is also practical and necessary for a restaurant that offers tableside preparation of various menu items, which necessitates rolling out a cart with ingredients and a gas fire stove).

I made the reservation on OpenTable and added in the note to the restaurant that my dining companion was vegetarian. Nevertheless, the amuse-bouche turned out to be beef carpaccio on a thin slice of baguette. Oops. However, the waiter very quickly recovered and went back to the kitchen for a vegetarian item. Out came a stuffed baby tomato shortly after.

The dessert menu is not on the website, but they do have an extensive one, so we skipped an appetizer in favour of making sure we had room for dessert.

Dinner proper is a bit challenging for diners who are off meat, with only one meatless item on the dinner menu: the Swiss Cheese Fondue "Vaudoise" ("A blend of three Swiss cheeses - Gruyere, Emmental, Raclette, with white wine and kirsch. Served with French baguette bread. Add $5.00 for vegetables and potatoes.)

I asked our waiter if the chef might be up for a bit of improvisation, and we were very impressed that the waiter put together a dish and asked if my companion might like it. In hindsight, it sounded like Escalope of Quebec Veal, minus the veal. The regular Escalope is seared veal tenderloin served with a white wine Morel mushroom sauce, spatzli and seasonal vegetables. It looked a bit plain in the plate but my companion was pleased enough with it.

I chose the Steak Tartare (Certified Angus raw beef tenderloin finely cut and seasoned to perfection. Prepared tableside and served with toast points. Add $5.00 for Pont-Neuf Potatoes.) and we were treated to it being prepared by our waiter very confidently and with flair (everything tastes better when sprinkled from two feet above the pan, apparently).
At each step, he explained what was going into it, and just before serving, offered a small sample for me to taste, in case I wanted more spiciness from the cayenne pepper). The cayenne has a slower buildup of heat, and as I had asked for it to be on the spicy side, I found the amount added to have been judged well. Perfectly done the first time -- excellent!
The toast points came shortly after, still on the hot side of very warm on a warm plate. Possibly because I hadn't asked for it at the start, but I wasn't offered fries to go with it.

I let my dining companion choose dessert. When she asked for the waiter's recommendation, he suggested either Cherries Jubilee or Bananas Foster, which weren't on the menu.
When asked the reason the Bananas Foster weren't on the menu, he explained that not every waiter could prepare them, and that they didn't necessarily have bananas at day's end because most of it would have been used up in the morning (by the William Tell Bistro side, which has breakfast, lunch, and lunch special menus).

We opted for the Bananas Foster, which was two bananas, peeled without touching the banana inside -- which sounds difficult until you actually see how it is cleverly done in a painless way.
Although the dessert is "for two", (possibly because there are two bananas?), the portion isn't so unmanageable for one person.

My companion and I were still intrigued by the dessert menu -- in particular, the meringue with whipped cream, ice cream, and chocolate sauce, which was touted as being a restaurant favourite for 40 years -- possibly because the waiter will offer a refill of the chocolate, which comes in a gravy boat.
It's not documented on the dessert menu, but the waiter offered a "half order" -- two of the crispy meringues instead of four big ones. Same amount of whipped cream and chocolate, though.
Although it doesn't sound sexy in the menu and it's not prepared tableside, the combination of sweet meringue and its crispy texture juxtaposed with the soft whipped cream and cool ice cream was lovely in the mouth. That, combined with the plain deliciousness of whipped cream plus chocolate sauce, makes this a safe bet for a delicious dessert.
A half order would be enough sugar for one person, so I'd be careful with tackling a full one unless you're not averse to too much creamy sweetness. (If you've ever had drinking chocolate at Mink, you'll know what I mean).

Including one glass of merlot for my dining companion, the bill was $91 before tax and tip.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Celebrity Cruises Alaskan Inside Passage 2000 memoirs part 5

Around September 2000 I took an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise on the Celebrity Cruises ship "Galaxy". I didn't bring a camera, but I did eventually receive a few pictures from someone I briefly corresponded with from the cruise.

Celebrity Cruises - Alaska - 2000 - 01

This was a very outgoing couple at our table and I think we were all drawn to their charisma. I actually remember not realizing at first that the missus was actually a bit on the portly side, as that definitely wasn't the first thing anyone noticed.

The only reason I remember their names -- Thane and Ellen Ostroth -- is because they sent me a holiday card.

Anyway, at some point someone asked how they met, and from what I remember of the story, he was recommended to her as a dentist. It was Halloween, and while she was waiting in the waiting room, out he sprang, dressed like the Devil.

They went all-out on the cruise, which meant taking in the best side trips. Honestly, unless you're good at quickly arranging something at each port to do on your own, you either end up shopping, eating, or doing boring things you could do at home.
Somewhere along the way, she picked up a small collection of crystals etched with animals on the inside. They were beautiful ornaments, but bigger than your fist and altogether weighed a lot. He balked at hauling her "rocks" around. I remember quipping that they weren't "rocks", but "precious stones" -- and that re-framing had her sitting smugly.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Celebrity Cruises Alaskan Inside Passage 2000 memoirs part 4

Around September 2000 I took an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise on the Celebrity Cruises ship "Galaxy". I didn't bring a camera, but I did eventually receive a few pictures from someone I briefly corresponded with from the cruise.

Celebrity Cruises - Alaska - 2000 - 02

That's me on the left. A tad chubbier and with more hair. And yes, I did buy that tux just for the cruise, because of the supposed formal dinner dress code. It fits too loosely now.

Hardware keeps getting cheaper.

Now that CIBC VISA has switched to (optional) online statements that can go back several years, I was reminded to dredge out all the old VISA statements I had kept -- Yes, every time I get my statement, I painstakingly match up all the receipts to make sure nothing funny is going on.

With the online statements, though, I'm now shredding some of the really old statements I guess I hadn't gotten around to getting rid of.

Came across an old invoice from, for a Lexar Media 512MB USB 2.0 Jump Drive. I bought it in 2004. Still have it and it works fine.

Nowadays, you can get a 64 Gigabyte Flash Drive for about $200.

Way back when, that 512 Megabyte Flash Drive cost me $205.99. Holy moly!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Celebrity Cruises Alaskan Inside Passage 2000 memoirs part 3

Around September 2000 I took an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise on the Celebrity Cruises ship "Galaxy". I didn't bring a camera, but I did eventually receive a few pictures from someone I briefly corresponded with from the cruise.

Celebrity Cruises - Alaska - 2000 - 03

Here, the wait staff have joined us in singing "Happy Birthday" to our fellow dining companion. As I recall, it was his birthday, or we had just missed it by a day or so. Anyway, they were happy to do it.

The very next day, by suspicious coincidence, someone else in our party had a birthday. So once again, out rolled the birthday cake and the sing-a-long. The wait staff weren't amused, I recall. I think they were on to us, and I was pretty sure that whoever arranged it had told a fib. In any case, there weren't any more birthdays at our table for the remainder of the cruise.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Celebrity Cruises Alaskan Inside Passage 2000 memoirs part 2

Around September 2000 I took an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise on the Celebrity Cruises ship "Galaxy". I didn't bring a camera, but I did eventually receive a few pictures from someone I briefly corresponded with from the cruise.

Celebrity Cruises - Alaska - 2000 - 04

Celebrity Cruises - Alaska - 2000 - 03

These pictures show our servers on the fixed seating dinners. I'm fairly certain that this was my second set of wait staff.

I found my first table assignment really awkward as it was all couples except myself. Moreover, I had the distinct impression that the gentleman in one of the couples was a bit perturbed by how chatty his wife was with me. There wasn't anything going on, of course, but the whole thing was just so awkward that I ended up asking for a table change.

I do remember one particularly interesting conversation with that couple: It turned out that the missus claimed to have run over just about every type of road kill animal you can think off -- squirrel, rabbit, deer -- she'd done it all. As they were scheduled for whale watching the next day, I recommended she not be allowed to take the helm on the sightseeing boat.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Celebrity Cruises Alaskan Inside Passage 2000 memoirs part 1

Continuing my "spring cleaning" in preparation for finally moving out, I found some really old pictures sent to me around January 2001.

They were from "Georgia O'Brien and Katherine Prasser" (right and left, respectively, in the picture below... I think), as part of a New Years card in response to a Christmas card I'd sent them in 2000, presumably.

Georgia O'Brien (right), Katherine Prasser (?)

I think it was around September of 2000 that I took an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise on the Celebrity Cruises ship "Galaxy" (subsequently sold and remodelled, apparently).
I didn't take a camera, reading material, or writing material. I had wanted to force myself to immerse into the holiday, with no retreating into any sort of do-nothing activity that I could otherwise do at home.

I was still very much single at the time, and took the trip alone. Paid the horrific single supplement, too!

As I recall, we were practically the last ship headed up and down the Passage, and we had remarkably clear weather all the way.

There was an art auction on board, and I recall speaking with one of the reps late in the cruise about how they were doing. It turned out they were having one of their worst cruises. Apparently, over half the passengers had gotten tickets on the cheap through last-minute deals -- which meant they weren't the type to shell out for pricey art.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More Spring Cleaning Memories - thank you notes

After some career confusion following my long university days, I settled into an accounting assistant position, and four years to the day, left to take a career exploration course with The Transitions Program. Some of the staff who worked with our class then are still there!

Coming out of the Transitions Program, I set my sights on some sort of one-on-one helping-people type position, and looked into counselling. But it didn't feel quite right for me, and one thing after another, eventually ended up as an apartment building concierge in 2001, I think.

Looking back, it was the best place to start in this field. No building I've worked in since has compared to the structured way and generally team-oriented staff in that building when I started on part-time graveyard shifts. Many other buildings were outright dysfunctional because of really selfish or negligent staff.

Here's one of the thank you notes I got and held on to.

Bauhinia Concierge 2004 note

The note about opening gates: The cameras in the parkade were more extensive than in many buildings, and you could basically follow a vehicle going down or coming up, all the way to the lowest level. This meant that if I noticed someone entering or leaving early enough, I could keep an eye on the gates and open them in time for their vehicle to pass through without having to wait for the gate to go up.
What helped a lot was the ease with which we could open the gates, and that was a function of the particular (though outdated) security software.
I haven't really been able to do the same anywhere else since.

It was a small service I could do for the residents to make living at the Bauhinia a nice experience, and I was glad to do it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 10

The last of my pictures (at least the ones that survived the cheesy disposable cameras) from my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Below is the obligatory group photo. Not sure everyone's in it, actually. I'm pretty sure this one was taken by the tour director, Mike Scrimshire as I'm in the back row, on the right side.

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 9

More assorted couples on my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

An American couple who joked about being from "the land of the giants" -- and with good reason, because both of them were really tall!

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

A cute Jewish mother-daughter pair who ducked out part-way to divert to Israel. I vaguely remember the issue of the daughter being an orthodox Jew was highlighted in France when, to make things easy, she just declared herself vegetarian for the wait staff.

I also remember there was some logistics error in France because our party size was way underestimated or simply relayed incorrectly, and there was a shortage of food at dinner. Dessert came as an unopened can of yogurt. It did not seem like they tried to make it up to us later, either.
Plus there was smoking every which way in France, and I had a helluva time with that. We were also in a hotel that seemed tucked away in the burbs, and not walking distance from anything interesting at all.
Finding a phone card that could call Australia was also apparently tricky. I can't remember exactly what the reason was, though.

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

This South African couple were doctors, and one of the friendliest duos in the entire group.
I happened to see the tall flowers in the restaurant, and quickly set up this shot. The wait staff thought he really was proposing, and they had to settle them down and explain they were already married.

I remember having a discussion with them about the taste of drinking water around the world, as we had by then sampled tap water from various countries. London's was bitter, and Europe in general seemed to have hard water. They insisted that Sweet Water, Cape Town, South Africa had the tastiest water anywhere in the world.

Much later, in 2009, I'd visit Germany, and discover that everyone drank bottled bitter mineral water. Hmm...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 8

More assorted couples on my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Now that I look at this photo, it's funny how the juxtaposition of short curly hair and dark sunglasses turned out.

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

That's a red cow at a truck stop. I should've made at least one of them ride it. Somewhat appropriate that the cow has it's eyes rolled upward.

It was annoying at every truck stop required about one Euro to use the facilities. Sure it's for upkeep, but it felt like holding you hostage with your bodily functions. The Vatican City, at least, was civilized -- they even had signs forbidding donations to use the washrooms, if I remember correctly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 7

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Two other single travellers on my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

The lady, I seemed to remember, was from Canada, maybe somewhere on the East Coast. German, or at least German-speaking. Her story was that her husband didn't want to go, but she did and decided to go on the trip without him.

The gentleman was from Australia, I think, and didn't return with us to London but continued on another tour. He had the misfortune of being paired up with the difficult gentleman I mentioned in an earlier post, and confided horror stories of being kept awake in the wee hours of the morning because said gentleman wanted to watch television and had it turned up very loudly.
Finally he had enough, and the tour director put us together instead. Until then, although I had signed up for twin-share, the odd numbers meant I had had a room to myself. Fortunately, this gentleman was respectful and good humoured and we got along very well.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 6

Assorted couples on my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

This couple had something of an interesting past that I didn't quite get the full scoop on. Apparently he was something of a wild one in his youth, with at least some soft drugs, like booze and marijuana. And marrying her "tamed" him.
The store is Gassan diamonds. The shot is supposed to be her dragging him into the store against his will. The whole thing was messed up -- I was paying attention to the couple and didn't even notice my reflection in the mirrored surface. DUH!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 5

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Another picture from my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

This was a Hawaiian couple, if I remember correctly. She was pregnant and I teased her about having twins, which she was nervous about. She threatened to come after me if she did pop out twins.

I also remember taking more pictures for other people than from my own camera. I think that was the part I liked the most about photographs -- helping people out that way. It also helped that they thought I took pretty decent pictures of them. I think mostly I surprised them by being a bit fussy and careful about trying to compose a picture, rather than just taking one.

Taxis for a Rainy Day

It's 0056h and it's raining cats and dogs out there.

Very likely, half the people who need cabs have called three different cab companies, which means a population of available taxis are actually milling around uselessly while people get frustrated.

I wonder if we shouldn't allow for extra cabs to be put into service whenever rain is forecast. This ought to increase the likelihood of simply hailing a cab if they are roaming hotspots. And if some of these extra cabs could "patrol" bus routes, there could be an unspoken arrangement for rainy days where being at a bus station would increase your likelihood of flagging down a cab?

Anyway... It's just sad to see how the city grinds to a halt as soon as the rain hits.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 4

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

More pictures from my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

The tour director's name was Mike Scrimshire. I must confess I really only "remember" this because I found his name on an old luggage tag from the trip.

From the very start, I had to have dealings with him, and fortunately he was a very forthright, helpful, and tactful person. There was an elderly gentleman on our tour group who did a few inappropriate things early on, and unfortunately, I had to rat on him.

For example, early in the tour, the tour director collected contact information from everyone in case, on or after the tour, anything came up, as I recall. Anyway, when the list was passed on to us, this gentleman took the opportunity to copy everyone else's information!
He then proceeded to forcibly chat with me all through the bus trip while our tour director was trying to give ups helpful and useful information. As kindly as I could, I tried to refocus things onto the tour director, but it didn't work. Later on, he'd take shots at me, saying "that's Singapore, who won't chat" or something or other.

There was supposed to be a seating rotation so that everyone could have a chance at the front of the bus (it was a double-decker, so the front meant you had an unobstructed view out the glass front cover), but it was quickly lost as several couples basically strategically sat away from this fellow.

I had to avail myself of Mr. Scrimshire's help around halfway through the trip when my luggage disappeared. Which was a great mystery because the bus driver clearly saw it, and it was so distinct, being a single backpack, that it could hardly have simply been misplaced. After much ado, it turned out to be simply behind the front desk in the hotel lobby.
Afterwards, I remember being not terribly surprised because the lady at the front desk had been very harried the night I spoke with her. She had just had one irate customer right before me, and actually delayed my inquiry to show her some empathy for the rough day she was having. She seemed grateful, but recovered her composure and professionalism and refocussed on me. I didn't get my backpack at the time, and in hindsight I figured she had simply been too overwhelmed to realize it had been turned in.


With regards to what to do if one should find someone else's misplaced luggage, our friendly and seasoned tour director's advice was to first check for style, then for fit.

Subjects Removed - I've got a home!

Almost, anyway.

Subjects have finally been removed on my offer to purchase a small 1-year old apartment in Surrey, near Central City.
Possession won't be till the end of February, but essentially I'm committed to it now. A $10,000 down payment has already gone out, and since I'm buying the whole thing on credit, the interest clock has already started ticking. I have about 3 months to do what I can to pay down as much of the line of credit as I can while still living at home.

Honestly, I don't know if I'm just going to end up moving back a month after I move out, either because of financial issues, or my mom's health, or having to help her out because she's essentially illiterate.

I guess we'll see.

And after six months of living in it, the plan will be to see if I can flip it for a modest profit, and start all over again but with less credit for the down payment.

So here we go on the real estate rollercoaster! Wee!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 3

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

A picture from my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

I can't remember why I had this couple in the picture, but I do vaguely remember this to be in London, on the first official day of the tour group getting together. Their insistence on my helping them take a picture caused the three of us to be late getting back to the bus.

The local tour guide had a "rule" about lateness, that we had to buy chocolate to share with everyone. As it turned out, later in the trip, on at least two occasions, we were stuck on the highway on either a long commute or a traffic jam, and I had chocolate and chocolate-covered marzipan to share.

About the chocolate-covered marzipan -- Apparently we were in Austria just as they were celebrating Mozart's birthday with special marzipans wrapped in foil with the famous composer's picture. I'm pretty sure it was Mirabell Mozartkugeln.

Anyway, there were enough to go around the entire bus for everyone, staff included, and for the front desk at the Italian (?) hotel we pulled into. The next morning, I tried to leave a few for the wait staff, but another of our tour group thought I'd left it behind accidentally and retrieved it for me. Ha ha!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 2

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

Various pictures from my 2006 trip, a Trafalgar's bus tour, on an itinerary called the European Explorer.

I remember on the very final day, when I was to fly out of London, the airport shuttle was very late. Traffic was apparently "mad" according to the driver when the finally showed.

Two other incidents happened that day:

Someone from the European Explorer tour starting just as our was ending came up to me and introduced himself. I thought it was both forward and refreshingly friendly, trying to bond with other members of the tour. Of course, I had to tell him that we were on different groups.

The other thing happened in the hotel lobby, and perhaps thankfully I wasn't there, as it might have happened to me -- Apparently some crooks had arranged a distraction, and one of their number stole a passport off someone in our tour group. On the very day they were set to fly out!
I never did learn how that all played out afterwards as my shuttle came, but I remembered feeling helpless and sorry for them, and also lucky it hadn't happened to me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trafalgar's European Explorer 2006 memoirs part 1

Trafalgar European Explorer 2006-March-28

I think this picture was taken in Italy, on the very best night the entire tour group had on Trafalgar's European Explorer tour.

I can't remember the date of the tour exactly, but I do remember that around 2005, I was thinking about a vacation again, and my on-again mostly-off-again friend Nesha (she tends to fall off the planet completely, even though we live in the same neighbourhood) was intensely interested in the outcome. She urged me to pack no more than one backpack for the entire two week trip, and take a couple of cheap cameras to take photos. Which I sparingly did, because even back then, I just wasn't into pictures -- Who would I share them with? Close friendships seemed hard to nurture at the time and it just felt like I'd have an inventory of pictures with no context for anyone other than myself.

Anyway, on that trip, we pulled into Italy late in the evening, and it was snowing. After supper, some of us went around the back to build a snowman with the South Africans and Australians on the tour who'd never seen snow. Of course, the snowballs started flying and we had a grand time of it.

The lady in the picture was from Australia, and if I remember correctly, was some sort of lottery company executive. We somehow bonded over the trip, maybe because we were both travelling alone, and I remembered we ended up feeling quite close.

I recall that she had had a wonderful time in the snow, and was happy to tell everyone just how "awful" it was to have been dragged under a tree and had it shook over here, causing all the snow to dump right on top.

At the very end of the tour, when we were back in the London hotel, and were to finally part ways forever, I think we nearly broke into tears. She gave me a very firm hug and told me to take very good care of myself.

And that was the last I ever saw of her. Saddest part is, four years later -- I can't even remember her name.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Spring Cleaning Nostalgia

So I finally managed to buy a place (out in Surrey, of course, where it's still marginally affordable!), though fully leveraged, and although the closing date won't be till late February (!), I thought I should start to sift through all the stuff that's accumulated over the years.

Spring cleaning this winter yielded a heck of a lot of loose papers (lots of little free pads from local realtors), business cards from people I maybe called once, and also a bunch of photographs from the two major vacations I'd taken in my life.

I took those vacations "alone" -- that is, I went on my own and ended up lumped with a bunch of other people on vacation. One was a cruise with fixed seating dinners; the other was a bus tour of Europe, with a bus full of people from various countries.

I never did share a lot about my vacations, because no one was really interested when I got back. So there was no one to share it with. Made some friends on the trip, but -- and maybe this isn't true for everyone -- nothing lasting.

So what do I do with all these pictures?

I also dredged up some pictures and keepsakes from way back when, during the time I worked at King George International College as an ESL teaching assistant. Of everything that I'd ever kept as a keepsake, those mean the most to me. And yet, with no connection left to anyone who'd given them to me, what do they really mean now? And won't they be just meaningless junk when I'm gone?


I'm not sure what to do with them at this point, but keeping them around physically doesn't seem to be necessarily the right thing. I hadn't pulled them out in literally years, and that's almost the same as not having them at all.

For now, I'm uploading the pictures onto my Flickr account, which promises to keep anything anyone uploads "forever". And as I continue spring cleaning and memories come back, I'll post a few stories of the good times and where I am now.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First dental work in 20 years - ouch!

This is the first year since forever that I've had dental coverage through work. So, for the first time in literally over 20 years, I went to the dentist, and lo! They had a ton of stuff to do to me.

First it was a "cleaning". Basically they scraped all over the place, especially in between my teeth. I'm not entirely sure of the wisdom of this because afterwards, it felt like some of my teeth now had more space in between them -- space for food to get stuck in. The dentist of course recommended flossing, and as I hadn't flossed in over 30 years, I really felt sort of cheated because it seemed I now needed to floss because food was getting stuck in between the teeth that the dentist forced apart with her "cleaning" tools.

Anyway, there were a couple of minor cavities, and one wisdom tooth. The x-ray showed that the tooth was what they call "horizontally impacted" -- that is, growing sideways. Moreover, there was bone on top.

Before surgery, there was a huge list of caveats that I had to acknowledge, like the possibility of permanent nerve damage or a broken jaw. The alternative was loosing the molar in front to a cavity, and more serious procedures later.

At this point it felt sort of ironic to me that taking care of my teeth had caused the molar in front to not fall off, and disallowing the wisdom tooth to come up in its place, thus apparently thwarting Mother Nature.

Anyway, I signed off on the list of horrible risks with the faint assurance that "it probably won't happen".

After "freezing" my mouth (applying enough anesthesia to numb half my jaw, so that it felt like it had been frozen stiff by winter), the dentist started work on it, then stopped. She said the bone was in the way.

Well, DUH. Didn't she see that on the x-ray?

So she sent me to a specialist, who assured me that it was no big deal, and it would probably take all of 25 minutes. There was the same list of risks, but the specialist assured me that the list was just a catch-all, and the procedure wouldn't involve most of the serious risks. This seemed much more reassuring than "it probably won't happen"!

As it turned out, it took a bit more than 25 minutes. He had explained the basics -- that he'd chip aside some bone to get at the tooth, then crack the tooth into bits to pull it out. What he didn't prepare me for was the drilling that resulted in the smell of burning teeth, and the use of an instrument that looked like a thin screwdriver to crack the tooth -- and he wasn't going easy on the cracking, either. I could feel real effort put into levering the tooth till it cracked!

The procedure took a bit longer than anticipated because he apparently wanted to go more carefully with the crown area that had grown very tightly against the roots of the molar in front.

Afterwards, I was sewn up and given prescriptions for Tylenol-3 for the pain, and 500mg capsules of antibiotics. There was a caution against driving, and a warning that there would be swelling.

What they didn't tell me was that my face would swell so much it would look like half my family tree was surely made up of chipmunks.

Then there was the horrible sick feeling and stomach queasiness that was apparently from the antibiotics. Plus the pain contributed to a not-so-mild headache. I survived one night of work, but called in sick halfway for the following night. My boss, who'd had major dental surgery earlier this year, encouraged me to take two days, and sure enough, I slept through Saturday and Sunday under a haze of feeling ill and a headache.

I toughed through most of the pain because the Tylenol-3 certainly didn't provide massive relief, and afterwards it was too mild to really justify a pill. Still, it's day four and there's a lingering mild headache from the pain of the still-puffy cheek pressing against my teeth, and being unable to close my jaw fully because I'd bit on a bit of swollen cheek.

No proper chewing possible yet, so I've been having soups and swallowing small chunks of food.

Oy vey.

There's got to be a better way of handling wisdom teeth.
How about sonically pulverizing the tooth and letting the body absorb the calcium?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Translating German to German

I learnt this neat little tip from one of my Facebook friends this week, to "Make Google Translate beatbox!"

  1. Go to Google Translate.
  2. Copy/paste "pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk" without the quotes.
  3. Select German to German.
  4. Turn up your speakers and press the "listen" button...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Free newspapers = waste of paper?

I work in an apartment building downtown.
Almost every day, a stack of free Metro newspapers are thrown at our front door. The next day, we throw away at least half, if not the full stack, because no one wanted any.

Unlike the Yellow Pages, which gets sent once a year, this happens about 5 times a week (the Friday paper is also the weekend paper).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beware of Studios and Junior One-Bedrooms

Hi Everyone!

I've been apartment-hunting in Surrey recently -- pretty much the only place I can afford in the Lower Mainland and still be close to a skytrain. Armed with a puny mortgage preapproval of only 160,000, even Surrey doesn't offer a whole lot, unless I'm willing to buy something built in the '80s or even earlier. And those are tricky because older apartment buildings tend to have higher strata fees and more special assessments.

With a purchasing power of 160k, I'm reduced to looking at studios and "junior one bedrooms" -- which, if you didn't know, are basically studios with a nook barely large enough to put a bed. Think of it as a "room" with three sides and no door. Usually it opens into the living room -- which means entertainment will be tricky unless you can somehow block it off, maybe with a curtain.

Cotton lined pencil pleat curtains in chalk flax fabric
Above: Pair of cotton-lined pencil pleat curtains in chalk flax fabric, from the Natural Curtain Company (0%-10% synthetic fabrics).

If you aren't to call too much attention to it, then most of the designs and colours in fabric you can get nowadays is out -- after all, it's not curtaining a window in this case.

One studio claimed to have a living room and a kitchen, but when we had a look, both were actually in the same space. The kitchen was a part of the living room, and so really, there wasn't a living room at all, but a very small dining room. Nevertheless, the MLS data sheet counted the living room and kitchen as separate room and totalled four rooms for the studio. There wasn't any space to put both a dining table and a couch, especially if you wanted to also use one of the corners for a television. This suite was listed at close to 160,000.

Something else I've been made aware of is closet space -- or rather, the lack thereof. My realtor and I saw a tiny studio that had maybe 1 foot of closet space squashed into the same "room" as the washer dryer. You had to reach past the washer dryer to put any clothes in, and then you couldn't put very much. The tenant renting the suite was literally living out of suitcases as a result. Needless to say, we didn't put an offer on it. This tiny suite was also listed at almost 160,000.
One idea to handle such a suite might be to have a bunk-bed and reserve the space beneath as your closet. Some additional gear would be required, of course, maybe either a separate piece of closet furniture or simply curtain rails to hang clothes from.

Overall, slim pickings!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Anyone remember the dangers of cellphones?

Hi Everyone!

In this day and age, it's a bit extreme, but I (still) don't have a cellphone.
(And actually, it's not about the dangers of radiation from cellphones -- I just don't want one, okay?)
If you do have one, you may vaguely remember that there was a bit of a scare with cellphones. Here are some clips from Larry King Live:

The Oprah website had an article in February with basic reminders about cell phone dangers and how to avoid them. (Yeah, it's by "Doctor Oz", but never mind the name -- just read the article).

All of this may have fallen off your radar as news quickly does these days. I was reminded about all this when just the other day, an e-mail landed in my inbox, all the way from the UK. It talks about a quartz device called the PhoneShield, which reduces radiation from a cellphone. Their website includes a slow and boring clip showing that the device actually does reduce radiation. You can fast forward a bit to get to the results of the tests with and without the PhoneShield attached.

There's also an interesting "Kinesiology Test", which may look familiar to you if you've had simple experiments about positive/negative emotions on your body.

Another product, from Canadian company EarthCalm, claims to actually transform the radiation into a healing energy field. No fancy Youtube proofs on the site, but instead they offer a 90-day money back guarantee, during which you are supposed to monitor yourself for improvements.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The decadence of destroying art

As we head into another Christmas season of festive merchandise, I got thinking about all the beautiful things that we like to have around Christmas, only to chuck it all in the New Year.

I'm sure everyone is familiar with Christmas cards, and the idea that "it's the thought that counts". And yet, there's a pleasant feeling of generosity, luxury, and decadence that comes from giving a "premium" card -- thicker stock paper, gorgeous art, maybe even pop-ups or some sort of built-in audio device.

Some people do keep Christmas cards as keepsakes, but for the majority, they will likely end up in the recycling bin, if not in the trash.

That's art in the trash, people.

Then there's art meant to be destroyed. From the time of its very invention, Christmas crackers (those things that look like oversized candies, except you're not supposed to eat them) were meant to be ripped apart and destroyed for the goodies inside. Despite this, like regular Christmas gifts, we like them gorgeously and festively decorated.

And in a world of mass production, some are still carefully hand made for that extra special touch and bragging rights, like the ones from Designer Crackers. Even though one more or less looks just like another, there is a special uniqueness and limited-edition feel to something hand-made.

For any other occasion (say, a wedding) they might be beautiful enough to be a keepsake. But Christmas Crackers are meant to be destroyed. Even if they were stuffed with little gifts of quality (like the selection below, that goes into the best of Designer Crackers) that may well be worth having, the actual fun of a Christmas Cracker is in getting a friend to pull the other end, the bang when it comes apart, the goods spilling out -- The fun is in destroying it.

Designer Crackers connoisseur gifts

Designer Crackers - gold with brown check

Designer Crackers gold with holly and berries

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

EarthSave is Hiring! Office Admin, p/t, $15/hr

Hi Everyone!

I got this in my inbox today from the Vancouver Meatless Meetup, which is run by EarthSave Canada. You'll probably not find a bigger enclave of vegans anywhere else, so if that's your bent and you want to work with them, here's your chance:

Earthsave Canada is looking for an office admin person.

You may not be looking for employment yourself, but maybe you know someone who knows someone who is, so please forward this notice to your contacts. Thanks!

Office & Membership Administrator

Earthsave Canada is seeking a part-time (4 days a week) Office & Membership Administrator for our office in Vancouver. Earthsave Canada is a registered charity that encourages the transition to a plant-based diet for health, environmental, and animal welfare concerns. For more information, visit:

Job Purpose

Oversee the efficient running of Earthsave Canada’s office, including bookkeeping; develop efficient systems; formalize routines; oversee volunteers; and provide administrative support for campaigns and programs.

Duties and responsibilities

• Perform full-cycle accounting: accounts receivable reconciliation, financial statement preparation, accounts payable, payroll, filing tax remittances, and year end
• Undertake general office administrative tasks
• Manage and maintain databases
• Manage membership program: processing memberships, mail outs, inquiries, monthly and weekly routine tasks
• Help with the production and mail-out of our newsletter and other publications
• Delegate tasks to key volunteers and manage volunteers
• Help with events, campaigns, and other initiatives


• At least 3 years experience in bookkeeping and office administration, preferably in a not-for-profit organization
• Well-organized, detail-oriented, and willing to learn and take initiative
• Excellent verbal and written communication skills
• Experience working with volunteers
• Self-motivated and able to prioritize yet still maintain routine of timely weekly tasks
• Excellent computer skills and thorough knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite and accounting software
• Experience with new media and e-marketing, and content management systems would be beneficial

Compensation: Starting $15/hour
Deadline for Application: November 22, 2010

How to Apply

Send an email to nancy at earthsave dot ca. Make sure your cover letter appears within the body of your email and that your resume is attached, with your last name on it, not “Earthsave.doc”

Cheap Frozen Pizza continues into the holidays

Hi Everyone!

You may know I'm into the sinful joys of easy "cooking" with frozen pizzas from SuperStore or Save On Foods, what with the apparent price war they've had on and off this year, with pizzas coming in as low as $5 or slightly under.

Going into the holidays, it looks like SuperStore is helping us out after the +7% HST by offering cheap pizza again. This time at $4 per pizza! Still not as good as Costco's 3 pizzas for $10 in terms of price per pound of pizza, but close, and with wider variety and thin crust option for the waist-conscious.

Sadly, I haven't seen the $4 ones at the Metrotown SuperStore, and the $5 pizzas they did have there looked big as far as the box goes, but if if you let it slide about inside, you'll realize it's probably 1" to 2" less than the box in diameter, if not more. After some unfortunate experiences earlier this year with thin-crust pizza from Delissio, I decided to give them a pass for now.

Instead, I picked up some garlic bread with cheese, in the form of McCain's Garlic Fingers. Superstore entices you to buy two packs for a net $1 discount, making them $4.49 each. Weight-wise they were comparable to pizzas, and they looked like pizzas, so I thought, "why not?" Basically, it looked like frozen garlic pizza.

Now as you know, everything looks better in ad copy. Well, this was no exception. The green herbs on it were so faint you had to look very closely to find them. There was at least a moderate amount of cheese, but overall the taste was very lacking. The garlic flavour was pretty weak for my taste. I suppose this might have been watered down for the masses to some sort of lowest common denominator (like the way Indian restaurants will prepare buffet curries with barely-any-heat spiciness), but with the item named "garlic fingers", I expected a little more oomph.

Overall, I'd recommend you give it a pass. For a few cents more, get a frozen pizza instead.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Another dinner at the Wallflower

Wallflower Modern Diner on Urbanspoon

Hi Everyone!

You may remember that I recently went to The Wallflower Modern Diner and found the most super-awesome dessert ever -- Vegan Chocolate Cake!

Well, last last week I brought a couple of friends over to try it, and have dinner as well. This was, of course, to make up for the embarrassing show of muddy Gingerbread Pudding at the Hamilton Street Grill where the same friends had been recommended (by moi) to try it.
I felt badly at how it turned out, and hoped that Vegan Chocolate Cake would make it up. And it did!

The rest of our dinner there broke down as follows:

  • Stuffed Yorkies - $10 - roast beef stuffed yorkshires, horseradish mayo, au jus
  • Shrimp Bacon Avocado Wrap - $11 - shrimp, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayo, with fries, soup, or green salad
  • Vegan Portobello Burger - $11 - grilled portobello, balsamic, lettuce, tomato, onion, eggplant, with greens, soup or fries
  • Vegan Hummus Melt - $12 - foccacia, hummus, spinach, onion, mushroom, vegan mozza, with greens, soup, or fries
  • Peach Bread Pudding - $6

Stuffed Yorkies - Very dry beef, so you needed the jus for sure, except the yorkshire was larger than the little metal cup, so we got a spoon. The yorkshire sucks up the juice, but is spongy, so when you bite into it, it tends to be squished out. Everything's a bit chewy, so pass on the knife and fork and eat it like finger food, unless you want to end up butchering it on your plate. Sad to say, definitely not worth it, even if it were half price.

Shrimp Bacon Avocado Wrap - You get a HUGE wrap. Watch out! The biggest plate by far and for a lighter meal, one plate of this (the wrap is cut in half) could easily be shared by two people, especially if you go for the (baked) fries. This wasn't my order, but there looked like a goodly amount of shrimp on the inside. Taste-wise good, but not outstanding.

Vegan Portobello Burger - Deceptively big because of the puffy bun, but as meals go, it's a burger and it's average. Nothing too special here to write home about. It's a mushroom, one full cap.

Vegan Hummus Melt - I'm biased against that creepy-tasting vegan Daiya cheese, so I'll probably go for the normal version next time. This place is a fair sized serving of generous hummus on large wedges of foccacia. What they don't tell you is the heavy garlic taste. It's like having hummus on garlic bread. On the up side, the garlic taste helps with the funny cheese. If you're not into garlic, be careful. At $12, it's a fairly large plate, too, especially as it comes with a side. Of everything I've had at the Wallflower, I still have to go with this one as my favourite entree.

Fries - Get this at least once. Nothing special in taste, but as far as baked fries go, if you're not paying attention, you might well think they were your typical deep fried french fries, crispy on the outside. There's a difference, of course, but you might not notice it, and in any case, baked is better than deep fried as far as health goes. Downside: It's still potato and it still goes straight to your hips. If you don't need any more padding there, go for salad.

Peach Bread Pudding - Tough bread. Tastes like bread. The peach is on top and sort of token. Even with peach slices and some sort of juice all over it, this dessert was surprisingly bland. Give it a pass.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taste of Yaletown 2010 - Milestones

Milestones Grill and Bar (Yaletown) on Urbanspoon

Go with a buddy.
When I was there earlier tonight, the in-restaurant menu reads one appetizer TO BE SHARED between two people. We also got just the one apple crisp TO SHARE. The bill was still $25 per person, so it's ONE appy, two entrées, ONE dessert for $50.

I just got back from Milestones, and I immediately checked the menu online again. As of 2122h, October 19th, 2010, the menu still doesn't say anything about sharing:

2010 Taste of Yaletown Menu
$25.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)
Yummy Yam Fries
Yam frites cooked to order and served with specialty mayo
Crispy Honey Phyllo Shrimp
Crispy coated shrimp lightly fried & served with our honey chipotle glaze for dipping
Milestone’s Famous Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Creamy spinach dip with artichoke hearts & imported Italian cheeses. Served with sour cream, fresh cut
salsa and warm red tortilla chips
Roasted Garlic Caesar
House made ciabatta croutons, Reggiano cheese and our signature Caesar dressing.
Topped with shaved Asiago and roasted garlic
Baked Goat Cheese & Slow- Roasted Garlic Flat bread Plate
Warm flatbread, roasted garlic, spiced cranberry relish, roasted corn and onion salsa,
fresh papaya and roasted red pepper salsa

Grilled Mediterranean Chicken
Grilled skinless chicken breast, layered with goat cheese, on a bed of Asian greens, chickpeas, roasted
grape tomatoes, and pomegranate molasses.
Certified Angus Beef Top Sirloin
With a trio of signature steak sauces, house made Worcestershire, Kobe mustard & Gaucho sauce
California Spring Salad
Baby greens, mild goat cheese, fresh sliced strawberries, red onions, spicy glazed pecans with your choice
of grilled chicken breast or fire-grilled shrimp skewer.
Grilled Sweet Soy Salmon
Our Wild Pacific Coho salmon grilled, then brushed with sweet soy sesame glaze. Served with seasonal
vegetables and jasmine rice topped with infused basil oil and cilantro
Cajun Shrimp Diane
Sautéed Louisiana style shrimp, scallions and roasted mushrooms in a lightly spiced garlic sauce with
Reggiano cheese. Served with seasonal vegetables and jasmine rice
topped with infused basil oil and cilantro

Caramel Gingered Apple Crisp
Slivered apples stewed with brown sugar, ginger & spices, topped with premium vanilla gelato
buttery caramel and walnut crumble

(cut and pasted from the PDF).

For the appetizer, we settled on the supposedly signature spinach and artichoke dip. Typically the recipe for this comes out a bit tangy and sour, but the Milestones version is slightly hot -- not enough to be spicy, but just enough to have a bit of a brief bite each time to whet your appetite -- and comes with some salsa on the side. If you aren't skimpy with the amount of dip per chip, there was just enough tortilla chips to clear the entire dish of dip.

It's tasty, and although it was just the one appetizer to share, the portion was fair for two at the price it works out to.

For the entree, my companion chose the salmon. It sounded boring, and looked boring on the plate. The one excellent aspect to it, however, was that the salmon was very moist. Salmon can often come out dry and wooden, but not so here.

I chose the salad for its intriguing mix of ingredients, and was not disappointed. It looks big, but the salad is fluffed by tossing and has volume. Wet, and maybe a slightly bit heavy on the vinegar for my personal taste, but the mix of flavours, with strawberries, cheese, nuts, and chicken (or prawns if you preferred) kept every bite different. If the other items sound boring, go with the salad!

There were two choices for dessert (although only one was listed on the Taste of Yaletown PDF). We went with the apple crisp, and it came still slightly hot, so apparently it was prepared fresh. The dessert was definitely sized for one, but it was so sweet that a couple of bites would do you just fine.

Meet Jennifer Howard, who has kinky fantasies involving you

NO pictures exchanged, and yet Jennifer Howard, responding to my Craigslist ad, already had a fantasy about me. I wonder how she imagines I look...

Email #1: (from
Hey just saw your post r you around?

My Reply:
Yup! (^_^)

Hmm... You're up pretty early!

Email #2: (from "Jennifer Howard" (
Oh hi! Thanks for writing, I was just having a little fantasy that you were starring in. *grin* So, exactly what are you up to? I've been hanging about on Meetup but there's no one to play with and I'm bored stiff. Want to register and join me? I have a video cam and I would personally be more than pleased to show you the ropes (or handcuffs, or blindfold, or anything your heart dreams). Come on, let's have some fun. It's free, just keeps us protected from the kiddies who would like to see free porn. Send me your user name when you're ready. 

The link to "Meetup" redirects to, but there is incidentally a legitimate site called Meetup, at . This site has thousands of little local "clubs" or "meetups" organized by locals, for anything from hiking and dining to specialized meetups for specific interests -- such as The Art of Loving in Vancouver (BC), which hosts seminars on how to improve your sexual skills (I'm not kidding!).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dine Out at the other end -- Zest of New West

Probably everyone knows about Taste of Yaletown by now, which kicked off on October 13th and will run till the end of October. Maybe having less hoopla around it (and certainly less participating restaurants) is what appears to be New Westminster's equivalent, Zest of New West (just one week, from October 15th to 24th).

The twelve participating restaurants offer $15-$35 three-course menus (with the exception of the Terminal Pub and Drink Urban Lounge):

menu - $9 / $10 / $11, ONE item - The Terminal Pub
menu - $15 / $20 - Gino's Restaurant
menu - $15 lunch, $20 / $30 dinner Taverna Greka

menu - $20 - Aldo's Pasta Bar
menu - $20 / $30 - Drink Urban Lounge
menu - $20 - RedBar Lounge (in the Starlight Casino)
menu - $20 - the Met Bar and Grill
menu - $25 - La Spaghetteria Ristorante

menu - $35 - La Rustica
menu - $35 - Boathouse Restaurant
menu - $35 - The Heritage Grill
menu - $35 - The Orange Room Tapas

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taste of Yaletown - Hamilton Street Grill

Hamilton Street Grill on Urbanspoon

Hi Everyone!

As you know, Taste of Yaletown 2010 started last night (October 13th) and will run until the end of October.
It looked like a bit of a slow start because it was a hockey night (I passed by a couple of restaurants at ~7pm with just two diners at one table!), though larger places with TVs looked like they did alright.

I pulled a couple of friends along to the Hamilton Street Grill, as they'd never had the supposedly famous Gingerbread Pudding. This turned out to be horribly embarrassing... but that later.
Steak is steak so I gave the $35 menu a pass to try the bourguinon.

2010 Taste of Yaletown Menu
$25.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)
Choice of

  • Red lentil soup with a corn and chorizo salsa
  • Beef tenderloin Carpaccio with crisp capers, Dijon aioli, parmesan cheese, crostini
Choice of

  • Chicken stuffed with brie, sun-dried cherries and pecans, chicken jus and pinot reduction
  • Certified Angus Beef Bourguignon, nugget potatoes, garlic bread, organic greens
Choice of

  • Warm gingerbread pudding with caramel sauce, pumpkin and ginger gelato
  • Vanilla Bean Crème Brulé
  • Baked Cheesecake with fruit compote
  • Belgian Chocolate Mousse
  • Apple Tart with rum raisin gelato

We were started with tender, warm bread, though probably nowhere close to recently-oven baked -- and considering a lot of it probably gets thrown out, I suppose this practice of pre-dinner bread will probably disappear even more than it already has as time goes by.
In any case, if you do go for the bourguinon, you'll want to leave the bread alone for later.

I had thought to try the red lentil soup, but both of my companions chose that, so capraccio it was. Turned out one of my companions hadn't had it before, so I was happy to share it with her. Curiously, the crostini turned out quite salty for an already salty item.

The chicken was frozen out of our table, unfortunately. It did sound interesting, but I had had my heart set on the beef bourguinon so our table had the same entee all around. It came with a small salad on the side, two wedges/slivers of garlic bread (basically about a 6" long and about 1" wide at the base), which tempered the portion of food, but didn't help nearly enough with the salty bourguinon. This stew came in a rectangular dish filled to the brim -- the volume was approximately that of one brick of butter. Wet and thick with beef -- you could get away with using just a fork and leaving maybe 1 teaspoon of stew in the dish too tricky to extract with a pronged utensil -- even though the very largest items you can fish out of it was halves of nugget potatoes.
It was tasty, but definitely on the salty side. If you had the soup and you're on the petite side, your stomach might balk at using more bread to help with the saltiness.
My recommendation would be to not touch the bread at the start, go with the carpaccio for the appy, and go slow with nibbling at the garlic bread. The bread of the table definitely goes bite-by-bite with the stew.

For dessert, it was gingerbread pudding! Just one of us got cheesecake just in case the pudding didn't wow them. Turned out it was horrid.

Way back, when I first had gingerbread pudding, I suppose I was lucky enough to have had it done "right" -- or maybe that was the one mutant preparation that turned out to be the best way.
The first time I had it, the gingerbread was cut into small cubes, toasted enough that you could feel a crunch on the exterior, slathered with the (too-sweet) sauce and served immediately so it didn't reduce to a goop while sitting in the sauce.

The second time I had it maybe a year or so later, they goofed it up even though I was the only diner in the restaurant at the time (I ducked in as a walk-in before 6pm). The gingerbread came in a lump that was still cool at the core. The server admitted that this wasn't the way it should have been.

Last night, our gingerbread pudding came with the usual pumpkin and ginger ice cream scoops, the generous sauce, but the gingerbread itself was a mound of sauce-soaked mud, excessively sweet. Warm, but no toastiness whatsoever.
The server chalked it up to Taste of Yaletown mass production, which was unfortunate, as this was the Hamilton Street Grill's signature dessert.

If you do go to the the Hamilton Street Grill for the Taste of Yaletown, you'll find the gingerbread pudding on both menus. I would suggest you ask the server to make sure the kitchen gets it right, and possibly have just the one plate to share (as it is, well done or not, a very sweet dessert).

None of us were drinkers, but if you are, don't be daunted by the new blood-alcohol law. Instead, leave your car at home so you don't have to deal with crazy downtown parking, and instead take advantage of the Taste of Yaletown taxi voucher program.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Best Dessert Ever - Vegan Chocolate Cake

Wallflower Modern Diner on Urbanspoon

Hi Everyone!

If you know me, you may know that for a long time I've had a special fondness for the Hamilton Street Grill's Gingerbread Pudding ("Warm gingerbread pudding with caramel sauce, pumpkin and ginger gelato", available this year on BOTH their Taste of Yaletown $25 and $35 menus).
For a while I was also surprisingly wowed by the Triple Chocolate Brownie at Sip Resto Lounge.

Tonight, however, I must have had The. Best. Dessert. Ever. Not only does it involve chocolate, but foodies of all species can enjoy it as it is vegan.

The Wallflower Modern Diner on Main Street (near 8th, between Kingsway and Broadway) is not strictly vegan, but does feature vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menus.

Their plainly labelled $6 chocolate cake has a very rich feel. Very dark chocolate but not bitter. The chocolate smothered over it is very thick and hardens quite quickly, adding to the overall chewiness of the cake.
The actual cake portion is not very cake-like as cakes go, but more in between a chewy brownie and a thick pudding. It's also moist and slightly chewy without being wet.
Overall the taste is chocolate, but without being over-the-top in taste, in the way that too much chocolate or chocolatiness can give you a very heavy feeling or even a sickly buzz. (If you've ever drunk hot chocolate at Mink, you'll know what I mean).

For $6, the portion is somewhat small, definitely less than the slab of (probably non-vegan) chocolate cake you an get at Topanga's. But as just two bites will probably do, it's great to share with even three people.

If you like, you can wash it down with mint tea ($3). The small candleholders on the table sit on small saucers which can conveniently be used to cover your mug while your tea steeps.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Taste of Yaletown Menus

So I finally check to see if the Taste of Yaletown menus are posted, and they are!

I'm on Facebook and the link provided, opens a blank page.

I Google around, and fortunately Miss604 has linked to the PDF menus.

Thank you Miss604!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Meet Amber / NewlyFreeAgain, who's 51!

Curiously enough, Craigslist scammer "Amber" forgot that she never sent me a link. Probably got confused while doing mass cut-and-past.
The link she does send in her second e-mail, to, redirects to AmateurMatch, where her profile says she is Age 51! Possibly to fly under radar there so that she won't come up on a search by legitimate users.

E-mail #1 from
you need to be d/d free with the exception of 420

E-mail #2 from Amber (
Hey I still have not heard from you on that other site..... I am still interested in hooking up, but I still want to be secure about it.
Can you please get in touch with me on this site I am on the web right now so if you like what you see, we are able to definitely take this a step further tonight or tomorrow.