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 TigerDirect.ca, 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).