Thursday, 31 December 2009

day #3 in Japan

The plan for today was to get up early and go to 神戸市 (Kobe). However a two hour snooze on an 8.30 alarm caused us to postpone Kobe for another day, as we wouldn't have arrived early enough to make the journey worthwhile (which was a shame, because Kobe is where Jay is).

Instead we woke up at 10.30, got ready slowly, and had 弁当 (bento (essentially a posh packed lunch)) for breakfast. It was Aaron's and the intention was to share it, but after I touched it (to open it) he opted out, for fear of becoming infected with my cold.

More for me mwahahahahahaha.

A leisurely walk to 7/11 entailed, where we bought lunch to eat on the same bench we ate on yesterday. I'm going to punctuate this post heavily with pictures, the first two being of the house we stayed in whilst in Kyoto, and the view up the river near our house respectively:

Ain't it pretty? Note the mountains on the horizon: 70% of Japan is mountainous, so there's ALWAYS mountains on the horizon. The next photos are of 7/11 and some products therein:

From top to bottom, they are 7/11 from the outside, a STRAWBERRY sandwich (which I never tried in the end...), a selection of colourful juiceboxes, a selection of bento, and HOT drinks (an invention for which the inventor deserves a highly prestigious award). Foreign shops, especially Japanese ones it seems, are awesome.

Next, on the way back to the Philosopher's Walk, which we planned to continue today, we swung by 知恩院 (Chion-in temple). It was opposite the bench we ate on for the past two days, but for some reason we didn't check it out yet. It was really nice - just the kind of traditional Japanese architecture I'd craved to see! After the temple, we went to a video games shop (big contrast!) and stayed for so long that a random guy (possibly a bouncer) started following us. We then gave up on the Philosopher's Walk because of the time and so headed home via an incredibly eclectic 100円 store:

When I say eclectic, I mean eclectic by the way. Products inside ranged from food and drink, to cheap electronics, to shoehorns (suspiciously phallic ones, at that), gadgets, toys, magic tricks, clothes, rubber slippers, beauty products and pretty much everything in between. I identified the potential of the products as souvenirs, but also identified my budgetary issues. For that reason we spent around an hour selecting the best products for our money; Aaron spent a lot and I didn't. Here's what I got:

Clockwise from top left, and all at 100円 a piece, they are Fanta Melon, noodles, Nivea hand cream (these three were actually ALL more than 100円), hot chilli powder, tomato pasta sauce, pasta, Pokémon tissues (YEAH!), incense, and a 40cm ruler.

All necessary purchases, of course.

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing, talking, relaxing, eating, eating, talking, feeling sick, relaxing, talking and sleeping.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

day #2 in Japan

I had around 14 hours sleep which was nice, and resulted in me feeling less like death than yesterday (also nice). Upon waking up, Alex and Chris gave us a mobile to use. It was only capable of receiving calls, so we used Alex's phone to ring Jay and give him the number, then headed out.

The plan was to head to 銀閣寺 (Ginkaku-Ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion)), at the start of the 哲学の道 (Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosopher's Path)). The path passes many temples and shrines, and is considered one of Kyoto's best sights. It takes its name from the Kyoto University philosophy professor who is thought to have meditated there daily. We stopped to buy lunch at a 7/11 on the way, then sat on a bench and ate it. It was here that I scrawled my first thoughts about Japan (scrawlings which I am now using as a basis for this post). After lunch Jay rang and said they had arrived, so we made haste towards the proposed meeting spot.

Unfortunately some shops and other interesting sights filled the gap between us and Jay's party, so we were hugely delayed. This meant that by the time we reached Ginkaku-Ji, Jay and co had already passed through and were waiting for us in a cake shop nearby. The grounds of Ginkaku-Ji were lovely. The ¥500 (~£3.50) entry fee was well worth it. While the temple itself is off limits, a picturesque walk up the adjacent mountain provides great views (which unfortunately I did not manage to capture because my camera died AS SOON AS we went in (bah)). Below is an image (from Wikipedia) of the temple and the sand garden. The carefully constructed pile of the sand at the centre represents Mt Fuji.

(Edit: I found a good article explaining some of the history of Japanese gardens.)

Eventually we reached the Ginkaku-Ji gift shop, and saw our first example of Engrish (defined by Wiktionary as "Ungrammatical or nonsensical English found in East Asia, especially Japan"). A security camera at one end of the shop had a sign above it saying "The security camera is observing", which was fair enough. A camera at the opposite end of the shop, however, claimed that "The security camera is being observed". Either this was a very philosophical and roundabout warning, or just a poor translation. Whichever is the case, it made me laugh.

After leaving the grounds and collecting Jay, Simon and James from aforementioned cake shop, we continued the walk. At this point, however, it was becoming dark and the optimum temple-and-shrine-viewing hours were coming to a close. We continued nonetheless, and arrived at what we thought was a temple about 20 minutes after. It turned out to be a graveyard just under half way up a mountain, but it was still picturesque (and serene) and so we had a quick walk around. Aaron said the spirits were welcoming us (or him at least), a vibe which I didn't detect unfortunately.

Further along the walk we reached a small shrine along a backstreet, and looked at it for a while. I don't know what it was honouring unfortunately, but it's something I would like to find out. By this time the temple-and-shrine-viewing hours had ended, and so we decided to catch a bus to Gion, then walk through it towards Kyoto, with the intention of finding an 居酒屋 (Izakaya (traditional Japanese drinking place that also serves food designed for sharing)).

For those of you who don't know, 祇園 (Gion) is Japan's famous 芸者 (geisha) district (although Gion geisha go by the local name 芸子 (geiko) (note: geisha and geiko (and indeed all Japanese words) are the same for both singular and plural forms)). Although much rarer now than before the Second World War, geisha can occasionally be seen in Gion. Unfortunately we were not lucky enough to see any, or even any 舞子 (maiko (apprentice geisha)).

The walk through Gion was lovely, nonetheless. Most of the buildings there are in their original state, and so there is a strong feeling of history as you walk through. The prices of the restaurants along the streets represent this fact, however, and so we looked elsewhere for food. Below is an image (from Wikipedia again) of a typical Gion street:

On the other side of Gion (to where we went in) was Kawaramachi - one of Kyoto's busiest streets. The intersection of Shijo Kawaramachi is hugely busy (and touristy), and it is here that we found the Izakaya we had long longed for. Unfortunately the wait for a table was just over an hour, and we only persevered because of the frequent, enthusiastic, entertaining and seemingly random shouts of employees (something like "EEEEYYYEEEAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!"). Upon being seated, we ordered 12 dishes and a drink each, then moved table to a bigger one and had to carry all of the plates, drinks and cutlery to the other table.

The concept is something like Tapas, in that you order many cheap dishes, and share them out. The menu ranged from traditional Japanese dishes to chips, and we sampled things from both ends of the spectrum. It was gooooooood. There is no smoking ban in Japan, however, and Aaron is particularly sensitive to smoke, so he didn't enjoy himself as much as the rest of us (which was a shame). We left after an hour or two of eating and talking, then had a look around the nearby shops for a while before saying our goodbyes and heading home.

It was a good first full day in Japan!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

day #0 in the UK and Germany and day #1 in Japan

The observant among you may have noticed that the location in my profile has changed from "Toronto, Canada" to "Tokyo, Japan". The especially observant among you may have noticed that this change is, in fact, two weeks late (the Japan part at least).

I'm currently coming out of a prolonged period of what I like to think of (rather smugly) as writer's block. (Being a writer 'n all!). All the drafts, scraps and snippets of things that happened in Canada that are worth writing about, probably worth reading about, but too much effort to assemble into comprehendable prose at the moment are saved (both here and in my mind), so maybe one day you'll have the pleasure of reading them.

For now, however, I'll begin writing about the wondrous experience that I am currently... experiencing...

A good friend of mine was lucky enough to come across two free plane tickets to anywhere in the world. I won't go into details because frankly it's none of your business (I jest!), but will instead tell you that he decided on Japan as the location, and me as traveler #2. (I am immensely grateful for this, as I have been interested in visiting Japan for a long time now).

So now, after much planning, deliberating, plotting, scheming, arranging, brainstorming, scheming, devising, formulating, outlining and organizing... We are both in Japan.

This post (as with so many of mine recently) is backdated: it details events that took place on the 27th and 28th of December last year, although I am writing it on January 10th of this year. Or next year if I get into character, I guess. Backdated posts have pros and cons: in terms of pros I can post whenever the hell I want and it will still fit neatly into my post history, and I have a full memory (aided by written notes) of the day's events to work from rather than an "in progress" post that would be produced on the day. In terms of cons, they're confusing for me to keep track of and for people to read if they've read a later post than the backdated one, because they aren't sure what goes where or when goes who.

So I apologise.

The journey to Japan was a relatively simple (if not prolonged) one. I woke up at 4.30am on December 27th, after a jolly nice boxing day with my Grandparents and cousins. I gathered my things, went downstairs, then waited 'til 5.30am for Aaron to arrive. Aaron's Dad then drove us through the empty streets of London to Heathrow airport, where we checked in without disturbance, and bummed around in the departure lounge for a few hours. During this time (bear in mind it was around 9am) I had a shot of Bailey's (free sample - couldn't refuse), shopped in Harrod's (for customary presents for any Japanese families we visited), and sat around doing nothing.

We boarded the plane in a hurry after the shortest boarding period ever (I went for a pee just after it said "boarding commenced" and when I left the toilet (maximum 2 minutes) there was an announcement for last boarding call and they were closing the gate). What a polava.

The flight to Frankfurt was fairly uneventful. I think I slept for most of it.

Frankfurt was dull. We looked around the generic airport briefly, laughed heartily at some ironic postcards, then sat down until the plane to Osaka was ready. It snowed a bit.

The plane to Osaka was much more interesting; despite feeling ill (why does altitude make a cold so much worse?), I did my best to enjoy the flight: I had Coke, wine, Baileys and more Coke, as well as a rather good beef goulash for dinner. The flight film was "Up", which I had been eager to watch for a while. It was funny.

Upon arrival in Osaka, I felt too ill to really appreciate being in Japan, which was a dreadful shame. I hoped the feeling would subside throughout the day, but unfortunately it did not. We met Jay after lightning fast customs (half an hour from the BACK of the queue, AND including baggage claim), then talked a while, and headed for the station.

Jay knew I was strapped for cash, and so graciously paid for my ticket to Osaka (again, I'm hugely grateful!). We made our way to the platform, marveled at the sight of the first authentic Japanese vending machine (I heard rumors that there were more vending machines than people here, so it was something to behold), then boarded a semi-express train.

Note: The trains here are very confusing. There are local trains, express trains, semi-express trains (which are faster than the express ones...) and super-ultra-rapid express trains (or some combination of similar adjectives). Each stops at different stops, goes different speeds, and sometimes has different fares too. It's particularly bewildering because it's all in Japanese... The maps look like they were drawn by someone on acid, too (Google won't let me post a picture unfortunately).

I slept for most of the journey to rid myself of whatever hideous disease had me in its grips (aforementioned cold), but still felt like rot in Osaka. We traversed the station, then walked around the streets a bit looking at things (everything was so Japanese!), before going for a budget meal at サイゼリヤ (Saizeriya - a budget Italian restaurant in Japan). I had Doria, which for some reason means rice covered in bolognese sauce. It was nice! But as I've said twice before, I felt ill, and so I slept at the table while Jay and Aaron decided what to do.

They decided to take me to Osaka where I could curl into a ball and die.

Jay put us on a train, and we arranged to meet Chris and Alex at the other end. We sat around for ages at an entrance to "The Cube" in Kyoto station, which we thought was a shop but turned out to be a gigantic shopping mall with around 500 separate entrances. After waiting for 30 minutes we phoned Alex and Chris and told them we were lost, and they came to the rescue.

We walked through Kyoto a bit, saw the tower, acknowledged how relaxed and carefree the attitude was here, exchanged stories, and then got on a train. The house they were staying at is along the Kamo river in Kyoto, which we walked along, exchanging more stories, until we arrived.

I dumped my bags and crawled into bed in a sorry state until morning, while Aaron went to the shop and stayed up for a large portion of the night talking. I think I made the right decision from a healing perspective, whereas he made the right one from a social perspective.

1 all.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

let's dance to Darwin Deez

to the tune of "Let's Dance to Joy Division" by The Wombats

♫ I'm back in London now,
And everything seems the same,
But I worked something out abroad,
That changed this little boys brain,
A small piece of advice,
That's taken twenty years in the make,
And I will break it for you now,
Please learn from your mistakes
Or they'll remain mistakes ♫

Let's dance to Darwin Deez,
'cuz they're awesome.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

my advent calendar

I suggested that everyone in the house get an advent calendar, and we put them all on one wall. This didn't happen, unfortunately (everyone's not as childish as I'd hoped!), but Nora noticed my desire for daily chocolate and bought me an Ice Age 3 advent calendar!


After eating 5 of 32 chocolates (it counts down to the 1st of January!), it hit me that this advent calendar, if used properly, will see 3 continents.

I think that's pretty impressive!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Christmas v.1

We decided to have a Huron Christmas on the 11th December, because it's the last date everyone will be in the house. The plan is to do a Secret Santa and have a little party.

Last night we went to Metro to buy the tree. It was $45 for a real one, and it's about 8 feet tall. We ignored the "cut an inch off the bottom of me" advice, and instead shoved it in a bucket of water, and tied the top to a hook in the ceiling to prevent it from falling over.

Here's me and Aaron with the tree:

In true Co-op fashion, there's loads of abandoned Christmas decorations about the house. We gathered them up, and applied them all to the tree. Here's the end result:

Over the next week, presents for aforementioned Secret Santa will start appearing underneath. There's talk of all chipping in and making a big Christmas dinner, too, which would be nice! At the moment however it's just Secret Santa, loads of food and drink, and maybe Hide and Seek (awesome!).

Nora made Christmas cookies too, it's all very festive in the house at the moment!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

a lame statistic

I found out today that this is Toronto's first November in SEVENTY years without snow.

I certainly hope there's some in December! Snow was one of the determining factors when deciding where to study and it'd be a shame to come home without seeing any!

Edit: Nora wrote about this too, stating it might be the first in 162 years!

Read it here!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

speaking in platitudes

So, I've fallen drastically behind on the blog once again. I don't want to explain because it seems that every post I've published recently consists primarily of an explanation, but I will say this: the distractions have been good!

Today marks the beginning of the winding down of my time in Canada; I've booked my flights (thanks Camille!!!), inadvertently made a countdown of days (it was supposed to be a revision timetable!), and realised just how nice it's going to be being home for Christmas ( =] ).

I mentioned my revision timetable: I have 4 exams over the next 16 days. Two for Music, and two for Psychology. I have the usual pre-exam anxiety, but I don't think I have much to worry about. James Yarmolinsky assures me that 200 code courses (second year) are "stupidly easy", or something similar. Let's hope he's right, eh?

I also mentioned distractions: the last couple of weeks in the house have been fairly crazy. We've got two new housemates, Jórge and Gonzalez, the former of whom is from the jungle and the latter from the rainforest. The fact that they are both plush toys doesn't seem to hinder their housemate status; both enjoyed full voting rights at Sunday's house meeting, and both participate regularly in house activities. James (and to a lesser extent myself) has had less work than everyone else in the house, and so has been acting extra-crazy: he's introduced new nicknames for everyone in the house (I'm "Rudeboy"), and initiated an unusual amount of (partial) nudity.

More things have been happening, including painting, concerts, trip to Montreal, English invasion, Dance Cave, film nights, comedy marathons, culinary genius, and much, much more, but as I said at the start, I've fallen behind blogging and these posts are yet to come.

I'm also on a Biffy Clyro inspired literary venture at the moment: several of their albums and songs are named after, or are taken from, books, and I'm going to try and read all of aforementioned books. I'm currently reading "I, Lucifer", a book written from the perspective of Lucifer (Satan); the fallen angel who has been given a chance at salvation. Very interesting indeed.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Jorge and Gonzalez

We've acquired two new house mates over the last month. One courtesy of James, and one courtesy of myself.

Neither are very talkative, but both still manage to bring something special to the house. Jorge, for example, often spends the night in someone else's room. Gonzalez is less outgoing, but is calm and reflective. A good listener.

How they both get a vote at house meetings without paying rent is beyond me, but they do. Although they seem to vote the same as whoever's sitting nearest to them, rather than offering their own opinion.

Their exact origins are unknown, too, which I think is something of a security issue. All we know is that Jorge is from the jungle (which jungle?), and Gonzalez from the rainforest. Maybe as they settle into the house better, they'll open up about their past.

For now, however, we just enjoy having them around.

A giant blue gorilla and a small green tree frog.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

et cetera

I shalln't apologise for not writing recently, or emphasise just how many unfinished drafts I have this time. Instead I'll write a fairly lame post, then go to the gym, exert myself, and return home to finish the beast of an essay I've been tackling for the last few days.

This morning, after 4 hours sleep, me and Nora went to McDonald's for our complementary coffee (part of a huge advertising campaign). The walk there was pleasant, we spoke about various things, and planned to steal some abandoned furniture. The coffee was acquired, then Nora got the subway to university and I walked home.

On the way I was lucky enough to see an elderly man openly purge the contents of his nostrils all over the sidewalk. Not what I wanted to see. I tried to block the image from my mind, but to no avail.

I then arrived home, opened my essay and began working.

Told you it would be lame.

Check back soon!


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

♫ I'm going to Montreal

Another lyric as a post title. This time, however, it's not so abstract.

Due to the tomorrow being "Wacky Wednesday" (or "Virtual Monday") and the subsequent mini-break, me and Alex decided to go to Montreal for a few days. Initially the plan was to hitch hike (it's safe in Canada), but unfortunately it's illegal to do so on the 401 (the road that goes most of the way there). Emily also expressed an interest in coming, so we all pooled together and ended up finding a ride share (kind of like pre-arranged hitch hiking). It's going to be $35 each, each way, which is cheaper than a coach.

Emily's friend has also kindly allowed us to stay with him, so we're saving on accommodation for the time we're there too!


double homicide in a sushi restaurant

You may recall, at the end of this (this link doesn't work properly yet) post, my mention of a heavy police presence outside a sushi restaurant on Bloor. I found out today what it was in aid of.

This story, taken from CBC, explains what happened just minutes before we walked past:

"There was a fatal stabbing at a Toronto sushi restaurant on Saturday.

A fight broke out in the kitchen of the New Generation Sushi restaurant at 493 Bloor Street West between two employees at about 11 p.m.

Police say a 27-year-old man was stabbed during the fight and later died at St. Michael's hospital.

Xu Wang, 25, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

The name of the victim has not been released.

The slaying marks Toronto's 50th homicide of 2009.

Monday, 9 November 2009

generic update #9 (Will Smith vs. Beethoven)

I'd hope most people know to whom the title refers, but just in case:


Today has been quite a productive day. Me and Alex rearranged our room, me and Char spoke about things and I've began working on the first of three essays due over the next couple of weeks. The essay is a comparison between 3 recordings of a famous Beethoven work of our choice, and whilst doing primary research I left my iTunes library on shuffle. Will Smith's cover of "1,000 Kisses" came on quite early on, and one of the lyrics it about Beethoven:

Yo yo me and more it's like a Pichasso painted your aura
It's like Beehtoven composed your vocal tones

I know this isn't hugely interesting, but I like it when weird little consequences like this happen. I got so excited that I jumped up and flailed madly, sending a cup of precariously balanced coffee all over Alex's bed.

Actually the song and the coffee were two independent events, but it's amusing to think of them as related.

Now I'm about to resume working. I've just eating my second manwich (manly sandwich) of the day: both were filled with pasta from last night, chilli, chilli sauce, cheese and salad. Both were delicious.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


This post details another of my (and (slightly less so) Alex's) awesome creations.

Today, whilst listening to and discussing music with Alex, it occurred to us that we should have some record of our combined listening tastes. We each have separate profiles (Christophogo and hy07asw respectively), but after some intense deliberation, we decided to collaborate and create a joint profile.

Aforementioned joint profile was created almost immediately, under the name "Chrexat202620". Chrex is a mixture of Chris and Alex (3 letters of my name are included because it's half of each of our names, but I had to round mine up). The date between our birthdays was calculated as Chrex's date of birth (the date was 31st December 1989 - the last day of the 80s - which was pretty cool), and the music represented on the profile is a mixture of our own. 202620 is our room and house number.

The profile can be viewed here.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

robot trap

Last night whilst looking at our ceiling fan, I had a flash of inspiration and realised that it could be incorporated into a booby-trap of sorts. I immediately began work on creating such a contraption:

Above our window is a shelf, on which I placed my small plastic robot. For the prototype, I connected my phone charger to my headphones with a crude knot, and connected one end to the fan and the other to the robot (this was replaced with a length of white cotton for the finished version). When the fan was turned on, the rotation pulled the string taut, causing the robot to fall from the shelf and be yanked violently about the room.

As you can probably imagine, the path of the robot is highly unpredictable. It seems to work better if the fan is turned on, then off for a couple of seconds, then back on again. This causes epicycles in the circular movement it takes on, making it less likely to smash everything on the mantelpiece.

In the (crappy) picture above you can see the window, the shelf, the robot (circled), the fan, and if you’re particularly observant, the string. I might upload a video of the contraption in action, too, so keep an eye out!

Nora's notebook

First I'll briefly introduce Nora for anyone reading this blog who doesn't know who she is: Nora is an exchange student from Germany, studying for a Masters in English Literature at York University in Toronto. She has lived at Huron since August*.

I'm not sure how it began, but people in the house were teaching slang terms in English and Canadian. She then came upstairs and inquired as to whether people in the kitchen had had any "butt sex" recently, then asked me and Alex to teach her some more words, particularly slang terms for genitalia.

Of course, we accepted. Below is a helpful diagram, labelled with all the terms we could think of.

I'm aware this is hugely immature, but it was fun and it was a good deed, so it doesn't matter.

*Sorry Nora!!!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

generic update #8 (aaargh!)

I woke up this morning (first time in a while) and checked my diary schedule book thing to see what was going on. To my immediate distress I noticed that the second PSY240 midterm is this evening.

I'll be honest: I haven't done nearly enough work for it. I missed a couple of the lectures what with moving house, and haven't done all of the reading, but I've taken the appropriate actions to remedy the situation: I've dismissed all prior plans for today, drank a cup of coffee from Camille ( =] ), eaten a fried egg sandwich, and installed myself, my laptop, and my consumables in the common room in preparation for an intense study session.

So far I'm 2 hours (out of 5 and a half) and 2 lectures (out of 3) in. The plan is to finish taking notes for the third lecture, then relocate to the front porch and read and read and read and read and read aformentioned currently existing and soon to exist notes.

In case you're wondering why I'm writing my blog instead of revising by the way, it's break time.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

so far at Huron

Before starting, I'd like to say that I may currently be experiencing writers' block. It seems I have lost the ability to structure and transcribe my thoughts in a coherent and readable manner.

I'm going to elect the excitement of the last few days as the reason for this affliction. I'm also going to attempt to write something anyway, so bear with me:

Since moving, I've noticed an inverse relationship between my distance from downtown Toronto and my enjoyment levels. Although I am incredibly grateful to Eva and Chelsea for their hospitality and their welcoming me into their home, I feel taking Alex’s offer of moving in was a good decision - so much fun stuff has happened here already (even despite its adverse impact on my budget).

We had the toast on Wednesday, as I mentioned in my last post. It was really nice to be welcomed and I feel like I’m pretty much settled here now. All my stuff is in and my half of the room is (currently) tidy and organised.

Last night we went to the Red Room for beers, then to a concert at El Mocambo. The headlining band were Bishop Allen, but the first support, Darwin Deez, were much better.

See the video below for a demonstration of their awesomeness!

As you're probably aware, today is Halloween, and we have some rambunctious plans to match: James accompanied me to Honest Ed's today to pick up some face paint, which I'm going to apply to myself until I look like this:

We also picked up some alcohol (I got 2 litres of 7% pomegranate cider for $11, which I'm very eager to try) to drink while we wait for trick-or-treaters to arrive, gorge, and leave again. We also spent $16 on candy to give to aforementioned scavengers.

I'm sure the evenings festivities will be duly documented by me at some point in the near future.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

subjective imbecility

The title of this post holds no relevance to its content.

In today's Beethoven lecture, our teacher recited a quote about subjective imbecility. As well finding the phrase funny, I found the content interesting also: Beethoven was queried by a critic as to why he considered a recent composition as "music", and Beethoven responded "it's not for you to understand, but for future generations". I found this incredibly smug, but also interesting because he realised that he was composing music beyond the comprehension of the current era.

Anyway. The content of the post:

On Sunday, I was offered by Alex to move in to Huron. It was proposed that we'd share a room, and split it in half along with the rent. At first it seemed like a hairbrain scheme, but it began to gather momentum. Alex asked various people associated with the house whether it would be ok, all of whom said yes, and I told Eva about it and she said it was ok too.

So 4 days later, I moved in!

Pretty much. I still have some stuff at the other place, and have to take some bedding back that I've washed and leave my key, but the bulk of my stuff is here now. We bought a bed up from the basement and stuck it in the bedroom, rearranged the furniture to accommodate two people, and that was that.

It's great here. Tonight we had a toast (sparkling wine!) to my moving in, went to get some food from the NEARBY shops, then came back to watch the IT Crowd and Peep Show. I then went to sleep without the need for an hour journey home.

Good times :)

Monday, 26 October 2009

day (and night) of the dead

Yesterday was awesome. The 7th annual Toronto Zombie Walk combined with a Zombie Party at Huron resulted in a day of zombie-fuelled fun. In terms of fancy dress (or costume, in Canadian), I was aiming for something different to the hundreds of generic zombies I'd envisioned. I decided on the "well dressed zombie" look:

Lots of grey, white and black paint later (and a dash of red), this is what I looked like:

(Note - I still haven't managed to get the red paint off of the collar. One of my favourite shirts too!)

We wandered to Kensington Market to catch the procession, and ended up getting a pint in a nice bar while we waited. This was when I realised how weird it actually was being dressed as a zombie.

Shortly after, a commotion seemed to be stirring outside the bar; we went out, and were confronted with a scene similar to the one below (this was actually taken just up the road):

This was when I realised how scary it would actually be to experience a zombie apocalypse. Even thousands of costume zombies was an unnerving sight (especially some of the "famous" zombies we saw (Jesus was my favourite (the first one; I saw 3))).

We got into character (lurching and grunting), then joined the tide of the undead and made our way through the streets of Toronto. It was hugely fun: uninfected people were taking photographs and everyone was trying to act sufficiently zombified as to attract their attention, people were frolicking and other such activities, and the wardens/security were dressed as Umbrella officers which was a nice touch (Umbrella is a fictional anti-zombie organisation from a video game for those who don't know!).

Although most of the crowd were generic zombies, some people had put a lot of effort into their outfits. Some a little too much. Here are my favourites:

And here's my least favourite (call the RSPCA!):

The walk went all around the back streets of Toronto, mostly around Bathurst area and through the annex. It finished in the alley next to Bathurst Station, and the huge amount of zombies in such a small space made for a really atmospheric moment. It was awesome.

Then, just as the walk came to an end, I saw this. Something that managed to out-awesome everything else I'd seen and taken part in thus far:

The Burger King and Jesus, two of the most important figures in history, in the same frame. As zombies.

After the walk we went back to Huron, making the most of our zombie attire on the way (looking and banging on windows, lurching, pretending to eat people's brains etc (the usual)). As we walked along Bloor Street, a Red Bull car pulled up, and was mobbed by zombies (zombies can detect free samples, you see). As a reward we all received a can of Red Bull, which I added to the tower of beer cans I was assembling as part of the Wizards drinking game (every can you drink, you sellotape it to the top of the previous can, until eventually you have an enormous tower of empties).

The party was good, although I'm not going to go into as much detail. Pumpkins were carved (I carved a tiny one about the size of an apple, and it was awesome), decorations were put up, zombies arrived, and festivities began.

I even got a kebab.

Friday, 23 October 2009

the last few days, in a nutshell

This was going to be part of 'generic update #7 (Silver Dollar, bluegrass)', but I changed my mind.

Apart from 2 academically orientated posts (1 of which is still unfinished... gah!), I've slacked a bit with the blog in the last week. This post is just a basic summary of what's been going on (a fair amount of which has been somewhat quirky):

On the way home after Friday's lecture, I saw an old woman in St. George dressed as a strawberry. I wasn't proud, but everything she was wearing (shoes, socks, trousers, blouse, jumper and hat) were all BRIGHT red and it was hard not to laugh.

I'd a busy schedule for the day (lecture, home, Skype, tour, home, eat, TRANZAC), so it was practically inevitable things wouldn't go to plan. And although I wasn't convinced it was temporally possible to fit everything in, I didn't expect things to turn out quite the way they did:

The lecture finished early, giving me a head start. I rushed home, and took a "short cut" that ended up taking 20 minutes longer than it's longer contemporary. I was still ahead of myself, but some technical glitches with Skype put me unwantingly back on schedule. After a nice conversation with my Grandparent's and a rushed lunch, I headed Downtown, ahead of myself once again, to catch the ISXO Harbourfront tour.

As I prepared to cross the road to campus, however, an elderly man asked me to help him across the road. Taking him across the road turned into walking him across the campus, and a 5 minute walk ended up taking 40. I have no problem with this whatsoever, and I don't want it to sound like I do. I accepted that I wouldn't make the tour, and instead spoke to the old timer (Bill) about UofT, London, how things had changed since the olden days, and much else, before leaving him at the University College book sale.

It was an experience to say the least. My favourite part was walking (very slowly) past the Varsity Arena, whereupon a team practice was taking place. As some sort of motivation for the players, "Eye Of The Tiger" was being played at full volume through the Arena's PA System. The image in my head was of what me and Bill must have looked like to onlookers.

Here the day fell into disrepair. I ran to the ISXO and told the story of why I was late. It was greeted with awe, and I was praised for doing such a selfless act (a bit over-the-top, I think). They gave me a number to ring and request to join the tour late, but I decided against it on account of being starving. Instead I went home, ate, and missed Hugh's thing AGAIN.

Luckily though there was a party at Huron, to which I went instead.

The weekend wasn't hugely eventful, and it wasn't until Monday that I didn't anything of note outside the house. It was Ceara's birthday, and she'd planned a celebratory meal at an Italian Restaurant downtown. I arrived late again (I'm rubbish at being on time recently...), but they'd changed the dining plans while I was on my way anyway. Now we were headed to Sneaky Dee's, a restaurant that had been recommended to me by Laurie on arrival in Toronto.

Sneaky Dee's is a restaurant come concert venue, but we limited our activities to the restaurant section. The food is Mexican, and I had two enchiladas and a taco. All were delicious, though not spicy enough despite vigorous lashings of jalapeño sauce.

After the meal and post-meal conversation, we went outside and decided what (if anything) to do next. Some people left, but the bulk of us headed to the Red Room for some drinks. I really liked it in there, it felt sophisticated. There were bookshelves dotted about, the waiting staff wore cardigans, they had lamps lighting the place rather than overhead lights, and it was just a really nice atmosphere overall. We lowered the tone a bit by playing "who can skim the salt and pepper pots across the table and get them closest to a predetermined point" for a while.

That was fun.

After lots of beer had been consumed by the rest (I'd ran out of money), we headed home. It was late, I was tired, and it was time for bed.

♫ I've been thinking...

and I've been known to think too much ♫

Some lyrics there from Newton Faulkner's "Lipstick Jungle". I think they're currently applicable to myself (and a lot of people a lot of the time). You can listen to the song below, thanks to Australia's 2dayfm:

I've never knowingly used lyrics as a post title before. I have thought about it, but they've just not seemed to fit properly until now. These lyrics are suitable because, as maybe evidenced in my previous posts, I've been thinking (and worrying) about a lot of things recently: money, flights, courses and people at home are amongst them.

Not letting these things hinder my enjoyment of my time in Canada has been my prime concern, and it's worked for the most part, although it's hard to put things out of your mind completely (especially when you're so far away from the people you'd usually speak to about things).

Today though, as I laid in bed trying to get to sleep, it hit me: there's no reason to let these things stress me out at all. Obviously they're important, and require my attention, but it doesn't have to be negative (and is probably more beneficial if it isn't).

Money isn't ideal, but I've got a budget I can live by. The flight situation isn't ideal, either, but it will be sorted soon and it's a lesson learned. Courses are already sorted, so I don't even know why it's still on my mind, and although things are hard for people at home, they're all capable of looking after each other and themselves, and while I'm not there physically I'd do whatever I could to help from here and it's reassuring to know that the feeling's mutual.

Another thing I've been thinking about is where this is all leading me, and whether I've made the right decisions along the way. I've come to the conclusion that no, I haven't always done so: some things in my past I could and should have done differently, but this is all in retrospect. If I'd done them differently then I wouldn't be where I am now, and even though the aforementioned things aren't always ideal, they're part of me as a person and part that I wouldn't want to lose.

From all of this I've gained a second wind: before I was just thinking "things are so bad, I wish I could go back and change them", and now it's closer to "things aren't even that bad, stop being such a whiny bitch and get on with making the things that are bad better".

This, combined with what I've always thought about mistakes (that as long as you learn from them, it's ok to make them), will hopefully lead to some positive changes in the way I think about and do things. I don't want to spend my life dwelling on past mistakes and become someone I don't want to be later down the line.

Anyway, please excuse the heavy going post. I plan to get back to my old blogging habits asap, and to include more pictures so you can see what I'm up to instead of sifting through reams of text for the good bits!


Thursday, 22 October 2009

generic update #7 (Silver Dollar, bluegrass)

The title refers to the venue name and genre of a 'concert' I went to tonight. I put concert in 's because it was more of a bar with a house band playing. Either way, there was live music and I was there.

The evening began with an intended hardcore revision session at Robarts. I went there at around 7, with the intention of staying until I'd covered all material for my upcoming PSY270 exam on Friday. Unfortunately this plan fell out of fruition when I realised I had none of the material available to me: I'd left my notes at home, the course website wasn't working, and the course text wasn't in the library catalogue.

A disaster!

Luckily I was saved from perpetual boredom by a text from Laurie, inviting me to a bluegrass concert at a nearby pub/club/bar/establishment. I accepted, invited a few other people, sent out a desperate email to the PSY270 TA (teaching assistant) RE the course website, then headed to St. George for a hotdog.

Upon arrival, the hotdog vendor was engaged in conversation with another patron. They were discussing arbitrary things and I'd arrived midway through the exchange and so had no intention of interrupting, but I did hear something interesting: the hotdog vendor was fluent in 4 languages, and had a PHD (not sure what in). He said he hated when people judged him based on his job, considering he's probably smarter than 90% of his customers, and made the choice to do that job himself.


Anyway, I loaded up the hotdog with all the usual artery-clogging goodness, then made my way to Spadina. A subway and a streetcar later, I arrived at the Spadina and College, and realised that the Silver Dollar was in fact the pub/club/bar/establishment next to the REALLY seedy looking hotel. Oh joy.

Nonetheless, I went in. After having my ID thoroughly scrutinised, I was permitted entry, which I celebrated by paying $2.75+tax for a can of Coke. I met Laurie and Chris, was introduced to some of their friends, then sat talking for a while until Ceara arrived.

Bluegrass music banging on in the background, Laurie explained the occasion behind tonight's gathering: her friend's father was moving to Thailand the next day, and they're fans of the Silver Dollar so decided to throw an informal goodbye party here. I felt a bit out of place being there considering I didn't know anyone apart from Laurie and Chris, but they assured me it was ok. The guy who was moving to Thailand spoke to me with interest about England, too.

When Ceara arrived we spoke some more, then headed to the dance floor to have a look at the music. Ceara's friend Ori (sp?) taught us how to "stomp", then him and a drunk lady demonstrated very energetically. There was a guy with an amazing beard (something like the image below) dancing around too.

Laurie dragged me to the dance floor after a while, and we danced. Ceara joined in too and I think we all did the dosey doe (sp?). It's hard to tell. There was a lot of spinning around and stomping involved though, and it was fun!

I left fairly early to go back to the library, and ended up not doing any work again... It was a fun night though!

academic update

Firstly, please excuse the recent lapse in posting. I've had a stressful few days and blogging has to take the backseat when that happens or I'd probably have a breakdown in blog form. I won't bore you with the stressors, but tell you instead that things are picking up now: maybe it's correlational with the fact that tomorrow is the last of midterms.

I'm trying to think what's happened in the 6 days since my last proper post (3 if you count the temporary post I'm yet to redraft), but sadly it's not been much. This is one of the stressors, although I intend to stick to my earlier statement and not bore you with it, but tell you instead that I've planned to do more things from now on, to prevent it becoming stressful again.

So here's what I've got in the way of post content:

I've watched a lot of videos on Youtube. It would seem that last year's Peep Show grind (5 seasons in just over a week with Simon) was not a one-time-only occurrence, as this week I've watched the last 2 seasons of The IT Crowd, all 6 episodes of Garth Marengi's Darkplace, and the first 3 episodes of Peep Show season 6. On brief calculation that's 8 hours 24 minutes of videos, which could be considered slightly shameful.

I don't consider it so, however. The videos have been interspersed with high amounts of academic activity, and have acted as a barrier between it and insanity. With midterms, assignments and staple reading and note taking, I think it's healthy to have a break now and then!

On the midterm front, 2 of 3 exams are now done. I feel they both went well: I got 80% in Abnormal Psychology, which I'm happy about, and I mentioned my positivity regarding the most recent exam a couple of posts back (I'll see if it's well founded when the results are given out next week). Tomorrow's exam, though, I'm not feeling so positive about: I've been a bit too casual with revision to feel completely confident, and annoyed at myself because that's a lesson I should've learned by now.

No matter, though. I'm revising now, have done so earlier today, and intend to do so again for the whole of the time I'm awake until the exam. I can draw upon a lot of what I learned last year at Keele, too, which I knew from the start and think is part of the reason I was casual in the first place.

So although the stress, high-volume video watching and qualms about exam preparation don't suggest the best mental state, I'm feeling good. Being here is teaching me a lot about myself and life, and they're lessons I'm happy to learn. I figure it's best to learn them and feel crap temporarily than not learn them 'til it's too late and feel crap for ages.

I'm sure if I put some more thought into that it could sound more philosophical, but as long as it gets the message across it'll do for now!

Friday, 16 October 2009

my juices are flowing

Creative ones, that is.

I got an email from Keele about a film competition for exchange students. The brief is as follows:

"We invite you to submit a short film (of no more than three minutes) that captures an interesting aspect of your study abroad experience. Subjects may include - but are certainly not limited to: a video-diary reflecting on new challenges/adventure; a short documentary recording a typical day or a special event at your PU; an interview with another student, etc."

And luckily:

"[I] don't have to use the latest technical equipment, a mobile phone or digital camera will do just fine!"

For some reason, I'm hugely excited about this. I've got no prior experience with film making, nor any idea whether my ideas are even doable, but I'm going to try anyway. I've got some film making software on my laptop, some ideas in my head, and a camera that's ready to be used!

If this project comes to fruition, I'll post the video on Youtube for all to see!

And if I win the £150 prize, I'll post a picture of me with the cheque up here!


Thursday, 15 October 2009

second exam

This is odd. I just signed in to write a post and found this draft, but I have no recollection of writing it. Maybe my future self signed in and backdated the post to now so I'd remember writing it? Or maybe I'm just a numbskull.

Regardless, I'd like to begin with a brief financial update, illustrating why Natwest rocks:

[12 Oct 2009 - Interest - £0.01]

That's the date, reason for and amount of an incoming transaction. I only had £780 in my account at the time, too. That's a corking interest rate (~0.01%!) if I may say so myself.

Now, for the meaty part of the post.

Today I had my second exam. I say today as in since the last time I woke up, not according to the clock, otherwise it'd be yesterday. It was about Beethoven, and consisted of a listening section, a short answer section (S.A section) and an essay section.

It's weird how S.A section and essay section sound the same aloud, when they're such different things.

I think I got 72% on the listening section, but it could go either way. There is speculation among my friends as to what the answer for one part is, so depending on whether I'm in the right or wrong, it could give or take another 20% to or from my score.

The S.A section and essay section were, upon reflection, fairly easy. The questions weren't unexpected, and so I'd revised the topics sufficiently to pull a passable answer out of the air. I used a lot of big words too, and that's always a good sign.

So all in all, I'm feeling pretty good about it.

After the exam, I picked up my UHIP Card, so I am now covered financially in the occurrence of any horrific injuries. I then caught a streetcar across to Yonge Street, and went into HMV to do some research. I got sidetracked while trying to find the World Music section and ended up discovering Chickenfoot: a band consisting of Chad Smith, Joe Satriani and two other noteworthy musicians who I made a note to look up later.

A shop assistant with an awesome ginger beard set me up at a listening booth, where I listened to the "cockbluesy" stylings of Chickenfoot, and played with the album packaging. It was heat sensitive! When you touched it, that bit changed colour. Very impressive stuff. The music was ok too.

I also glanced by chance at the World Music section while I was listening, and had a look through its contents afterwards. I'm doing an opinion piece on World Music for a course assignment, so in case you're wondering, looking at CDs is valid research.

The rest of today was spent writing letters, washing up, playing Civilisations in the library, and eating Chinese food. A good day by my thinking.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

in this crazy world in which we live in

This post doesn't really have a main point to convey. It should probably be generic update #7, but I thought of the title on the streetcar today and it made me laugh.

Notice how I used the word "in" 3 times in one sentence.

But yes. Today was a productive day indeed. Some aspects, however, were just plain crap. I got up at 7.30am, which constituted "plain crap". Then Eva gave me a lift to the subway, which acted to quickly restore the equilibrium of my day. I had an interesting lecture about Chinese music upon arrival on campus which added another "good" point to my day, making the score 2-1 in favour of good.

Regarding the previous point: did you know that Chairman (l)Mao's wife started a "cultural revolution" in China in 1966, in which all music, aside from 8 pieces with her seal of approval (8!) were banned? Fascinating.

Notice how I used the word "in" 3 times in that sentence, too.

After my morning lecture I wandered around for a while, trying to see some of Toronto that I hadn't seen yet. I walked through Victoria college and a picturesque cloister, onto Charles Street, which I followed East to Church Street. There was nothing much of note, except a big green building towards which I was walking. Upon reaching Church I turned South, walked along to Carlton Street, and turned West towards Yonge. At Yonge and College I got a streetcar to campus, and walked up to Robarts with the intention of doing something useful.

I browsed a book sale, ate my lunch, tried and subsequently failed to put to paper a comical idea for a cartoon I had earlier, then left because I couldn't think of anything else to do. Once outside I remembered my intention to drop AST210 - Great Moments in Astronomy, and so headed towards Woodsworth College (nearby) to find out how to do so. I was advised to log in to ROSI and do it from there, but unfortunately I'm a cretin: I returned to Woodsworth twice during the day with queries on how ROSI works, until eventually they gave up and did it for me.

I now have one less exam to worry about.

The rest of the 7 hours until my next lecture was passed mostly by wandering around aimlessly. I went to Chinatown to pick up some postcards for people at home and a T-shirt for Finn, and took some more photographs while I was there. I went to the library again to procrastinate online for a while, and realised just how much of a colossal timewaster Facebook is. I tried to recruit James to come study in the library with me, but we quickly realised we'd get more work done alone. I also gave him the response "it's an inquisitive remark. used in that context it's a prompt for an explanation of your previous statement" when he asked what I meant when I said "what".

With my options exhausted, I ended up panicking about how much revision I hadn't done for tomorrow's exam yet and heading home with blatant disregard for my evening lecture.

Since arriving home, I have revised. I have eaten chicken noodles, which were delicious. I have spoken to Bean on Skype, which was great! And replied to a couple of emails (need to do a couple more before bed). I've eaten more chicken noodles, and drank a can of Coke. Currently I'm playing Civ with James, and I intend to be asleep by midnight in order to get up and squeeze in some more revision on the morrow.

That'll be it for now, goodbye!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

generic update #6 (sometimes I'm a lazy bastard)

You may have noticed from my recent inclusion of the "posts in progress" box, as well as referring to posts yet unpublished in other posts, that I'm falling a bit behind with my blogging.

Obviously this isn't catastrophic: there are more important things than online recordings of my time in Canada, but I still find it distressing. I have 42 drafts in my posts list, most of which I have removed from the blog or have no intention of publishing at all, but the 6 of those I do intend to publish (at a quick count) are anywhere between half written and not yet started.

I think it's because when I fall behind in something, my immediate reaction is to STOP (!), plan how to catch up, then implement the plan and eventually catch up. Usually however this process takes longer than it would to just sit down and grind whatever it is that needs to be done until it's done, which strikes me as slightly counterproductive. But ah well, that's just how I work I guess.

ANYWAY. That's the end of my rant. It's none of the readers concern how I operate, and I haven't had any desperate post requests (or any whatsoever, in fact), so I guess it's not a huge issue!

Today however, in an effort to undo some of my lazy-bastardness, I got quite a lot done. Despite unfortunately missing today's only lecture (I was at the wrong university when it started).

I read and replied to a few emails that I've been meaning to attend to. It's so nice getting an email from home: it makes me feel all goofy although it makes me wish I was there too...

I also browsed the UofT Clubs Directory once more, and emailled a few societies and clubs, including 2 campus newspapers, the Lego engineering club, and the French and Japanese student societies. I am aware that I am neither French nor Japanese, but they welcome anyone with an interest in the respectively represented cultures.

There's a chance that I may be able to contribute content to the student newspapers I mentioned, too, which would be cool. I submitted some of my photos, as well as a link to this very blog, so that the higher-ups may get a taste of my, well, photography and writing.

Also on my list of things to do was tidy up my room, which I half did, and do my laundry, which I half did as well.

I presume I'll do the other half of both things tomorrow, or on Sunday at the latest.

Now, however, I'm going to bed. It's Thanksgiving weekend this weekend, and Eva has invited me to her family's celebration, which I'm looking forward to greatly! I need to be up and ready in 12 hours, and I've got a lay in planned.

I'll leave you with this invitation to participate in a research study that I found on the Psychology Society's main page.

"We are currently seeking volunteers to take part in a positron emission tomography (PET) study at CAMH. Persons eligible for a screening interview must meet the following criteria:

  • [Be] 18 to 35 years of age
  • Use [...] cannabis/marijuana at least three times per week and hear voices or feel paranoid while using"

It seems to me to rely heavily on the trust of potential participants. I hope for their sake that they remain anonymous, otherwise there isn't much incentive to take part!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Keelite out night

I got an email a couple of weeks ago about the upcoming travel plans of a Keele professor. He was coming to Canada to help set up an exchange program, and wanted to meet the Keele students here on exchange at the time.

Me, Tom, Abi and Sammy arranged to meet aforementioned professor (Wynn) at York University yesterday evening, and to have a meal afterwards. We were going to go downtown but decided against it, because we still hadn't decided on a restaurant the day before we were supposed to go.

Unfortunately I arrived late, half way through the main course to be precise, but it was still nice. We spoke about Keele, England, and all the problems we've all had since arriving, then Wynn paid the bill and said he had to go. We all thanked him for the meal, said goodbye, then talked amongst ourselves for a while.

We decided to go to a Blacklight party at a club on the campus, and so headed there. We got VIP tickets for $2, but unfortunately they weren't valid for non-York students (i.e. me). I had to upgrade my ticket (and the cost), and also persuade the bouncers that my ID wasn't fake just because it wasn't Canadian. After showing 3 separate photo IDs they let me in, where I was fully frisked, charged a $15 cover, and forced to leave my jacket in the cloakroom ($3).

So, $22 later and we were inside!

We headed to the bar, got some drinks, then found a booth and sat talking for a while. Some of their friends arrived shortly after, and I was introduced, then they were incorporated into our conversation. We were given glowsticks before we came in, so we were messing around with those, and more drinks were bought.

After a while most people headed off to dance, but me and Sammy sat at the table. Bouncers came around periodically to check we still had our wristbands (apparently someone was shot in the club last year, which is why the security is so tight), and my visitor wristband attracted some sour looks. The night went on like this 'til just before 2, when everyone regrouped and we headed out.

I'd inadvertently missed the last bus from campus, and even the security advised me against walking up to Keele and Finch to get a bus from there. Thankfully Abi and Sammy's friend Areeb offered to let me crash in his room. We met him, then headed over there. It was in a big confusing building (which proved difficult to get out of the next day), and I had to sign in at the reception as a guest and was given a temporary guest permit accordingly. We then got in the lift and went up to his room.

I was given the bed, despite my insistence that he should have it, so I got a good nights sleep and headed out at around 10.30am to try and find my way back home. I wandered around for a long time looking for the bus stop, got some pancakes, then finally found it and ate them on the bus home.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

generic update #5 (Beethoven and Coke)

This is in the same vein as generic update #3, in that a large portion of it is about my Beethoven lecture. It's also been edited since I first posted it, so if you're reading it for the second, third or any other subsequent time, you may notice a few changes (for the better I hope).

Firstly, and nerdily, I'd like to explain my recent blogging tendencies. I introduced the "generic update" posts to cover any posts made up of a collection of smaller things that don't really warrant full posts. I feel generic updates #1 through #4 were successful, however as of this one (#5) I'll be adding subtitles to hopefully make the title (and subsequently the posts) slightly more appealing.

Now, the (delete as applicable: boring/nerdy/riveting) stuff is out of the way:

It's getting really busy here at the moment. All of my exams bar one are over the next two weeks (the aforementioned one was this week), and revision / panicking have ensued. I've spent two late night sessions in the library; both have been quite fun however due to the combination of working and video games.

It's not all work and no play however: tonight for example I'm meeting Abi, Sam and Tom (fellow Keelites studying at York University (North of Toronto)) to go to dinner with a visiting Keele professor, which should be nice. I'm not sure where we're eating yet, but I'm looking forward to it anyway. The professor is here to help set up an exchange program with the school of nursing, from what I can gather.

I'm pleased to say that my budget is still holding up. Sort of. I moved from a daily budget to a weekly budget because it's easier to keep track of, but I may have to move to a monthly budget soon as I've spent over my weeks budget this week and I need to get back in the swing of things. There's so much to do here though it's hard to conserve money! Luckily most museums are free on certain days, there's a lot of free / cheap stuff on and around campus (including sports), and the city is still new and interesting enough to wander aimlessly around without spending a penny (in the financial sense at least).

Now, the large portion of this post related to my Beethoven lecture follows:

MUS202 - Beethoven, is my favourite course here at UofT. It's the only one (shamefully) of which I've attended all the lectures, and also the only one I find it truly interesting. If you hadn't guessed from the title, it's all about Beethoven's life, music, and interaction thereof. The lecturer gets really involved, and is really quirky as well.

Good (or at least weirdly intriguing) things seem to happen before/in/after the lectures, too. Last week was the woman invading the mens toilet incident, and this week a vending machine malfunction gave me 2 bottles of Coke for $1.75 which delighted me to no end (and therefore falls into the "good" category of things that have happened before/in/after MUS202).

This week's lecture was not hindered even by a long winded exam talk, in which hints were given as to the possible content of the upcoming midterm. This may have been due to the (theoretically) free Coke I was enjoying, or due to the fact that I feel strangely prepared for the exam after reading half of the course text in one sitting (a freak occurrence by my standards), I'm not quite sure.

One thing I do know, however, is that I feel like a bit of an ignoramus for only just learning which of Beethoven's symphonies is which...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

first exam!

As the cryptic title of this post suggests, I had my first exam today! It was for PSY240 - Introduction to Abnormal Psychology, and so consisted of questions about how to detect, diagnose and treat disorders of the mind.

Luckily for me, most of the stuff covered I'd studied (or at least been introduced to) at Keele last year. This fact, combined with two intense (ha!) research sessions beforehand and 74% on a mock exam lead me to believe I did fairly well.

I realised immediately after the exam, however, that I'd mixed up two basic principles (Operant and Classical Conditioning, for anyone of a Psychological persuasion). This made me feel intensely stupid, and probably knocked about 5-7% off of my result.

The exam format was favourable. It was a 60 question multiple choice exam, which we had 75 minutes to complete. Me and most others left after about 30 though. The response sheets were so much cooler than those at Keele, if only for the name: Scanotron. Or something along those lines. It felt like sitting an exam in the future.

After the exam, traditional post-exam celebrations were conducted. I met Alex and James at Huron at 8ish (I think that's how I'm going to refer to it from now on by the way, instead of Alex and Neil's house, or any other similar description), and we walked to the bar we went to on the day we met. Last time we were here they were advertising 25c chicken wings, and we were interested in seeing if a) the offer was still on b) the price was accurate c) the wings were worth the price and d) how many chicken wings it's humanly possible to consume in one sitting.

Unfortunately our progress was hindered at a): the offer was no longer on, and so subsequent events b), c) and d) were nullified.


We bought a pitcher between us to be polite, drank it, then went back to Huron via Sam's Supermarket (I think) with the intention of some combination of the following: eating fast food, playing poker, watching The IT Crowd and drinking beer.

A pepperoni, ham, red onion and topping I've forgotten pizza was ordered, along with 10 chicken wings and 4 cans of pop as part of a deal. The IT Crowd was watched while we waited for the food, then we moved upstairs for a casual game of poker afterwards.

All in all it was a good evening, apart from the fact that Alex bought up the fact that I look like a snake. I wasn't insulted, just really confused...

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

generic update #4

A lot has happened in the 4 days since my last post, and so my post frequency has decreased. This is not a problem for me because I've been having a great time, but it may be problematic for my (possibly) devoted readers.

I've just added a "posts in progress" box to my page, which you should be able to see on the right just beneath the title bar. As you may have deduced from the name, this box will show posts that are in progress but are yet to be published.

Keep checking back for them!

Anyway, this post is just a general summary of what's going on; I won't be giving any sneak previews to my posts in progress, so you'll just have to wait for those.

It's Monday afternoon, the first Monday in October in fact, and while my contemporaries back home have only just started lectures, I have my first exam tomorrow. I'm not too worried, it's a 60 question multiple choice exam based on the first 5 chapters of the course text, but it's still slightly disorientating to be thrust so quickly into exams (I also have 4 others over the next two weeks).

Currently I'm supposed to be in the library revising for aforementioned exam, but there's only 1 copy of the book and someone seems to be using it. I had a look in the University Bookstore but it cost over $100 for the book, which I refuse to pay (mainly because that's 2 weeks budget for me!).

I've just returned from a brief visit to the Toronto Music Garden; a permanent installation at the harbour front based on Bach's Suites for Unaccompanied Cellos. It seemed nice, but it's designed to follow the pictorial elements of the pieces, and so I was unable to appreciate it fully without a tour. Luckily there are weekly tours and I intend to go back at some point and join one.

That's it for now, anyway. I'm going back to the library in an attempt to track down the elusive course text. I may also get a can of Orange Crush on the way (it's kind of addictive!).

Monday, 5 October 2009

Nuit Blanche

Toronto's Nuit Blanche, the "all night contemporary art thing", is an offshoot of the European all night art festivals of the same name, whose exact origins are disputed. They began in 1997 in either Paris, St Petersburg or Berlin, and have since spread around the world, arriving at Toronto in 2006.

Me and a group of friends went to Toronto's fourth annual Nuit Blanche yesterday. I missed nearly all of Bea and Belén's pre-festival party because of the Anishinaabe Fall Ceremonies, which was a shame.

I planned to write a proper post about the event, but it's getting longer and longer overdue, so I've decided to just post some pictures of the art instead:

This is a giant silver rabbit shaped helium balloon. I'm not sure what it's called, who it's by or what it represents (it's the same with most of the art shown from here onwards unfortunately), but it was striking. It was also bloody hard to take a good picture of because of it's size. Luckily Windows Live Photo Gallery is good at stitching separate photos together.

This is the "4 Letter Word Machine". Based on the name, I'm sure you can figure out what it does without an in-depth description on my part. Throughout the course of the evening, I saw it say numerous words. Some got better reactions than others, some had people cheering, some were phrases and had people chanting along, but the most notable for me was "fart".

This was the weirdest piece of "art" I saw. It was a 39 man last man standing wrestling match, and as if that isn't weird enough, it was exhibited in a bus station. On one side of the building the cross-country bus service was operating as normal, and on the other, 39 sweaty latex clad men were interacting with each other in a very homo erotic fashion.

After watching the wrestlers prance about for a while, we walked South and saw a guy (presumably with some kind of inferiority complex) juggling an active chainsaw, a hand grenade, and a meat cleaver on the way. The crowd was surprisingly close to him considering his choice of juggling implements...

Towards the Financial District, the art gradually became harder to understand. Outside the head offices of the banks, someone had put funfair rides. This juxtaposition of work and play was enough to constitute art, apparently. The rides were free though, so we tested the Fun Slide and found the description to be fairly accurate.

Another challenging piece, further pushing the boundaries of what can be considered "art", was this:

A pool of 80 proof vodka, in a bank lobby.

For some reason, as is with any substantial body of water (or vodka) in a public place, people were compelled to throw money into it. There were coins EVERYWHERE. People were trying to skim them across the surface, they were throwing handfuls at a time, some threw them so hard that the coins ended up across the other side of the building. I guess it's both good and bad for the artists, though: they make some money out of it but they can't drink it afterwards.

At this point, my camera died, so the photos will end now.

Throughout the rest of the night, we saw Monopoly being played with real money (by C-List celebrities), a presentation on how your hand shape can help you win the lottery, a lot of radio receivers hanging from the ceiling of a lobby (the feedback combined with the aesthetic was the art), and a really interesting interactive music thing. There were areas marked out by neon duct tape, and cameras high above that picked up when people crossed the tape. When the cameras detected someone, it was processed by a laptop, and triggered a sound. All the sounds together didn't sound too great, but the exhibit itself was really interesting. People were trying to figure out how it worked, and dancing around like maniacs in the process.

After a game of chess in a posh hotel lobby at around 4am, and a while spent wandering aimlessly, the crowds began to dissipate. So too did our group, until it was just me and Alex left at around 6am. We went to the famed exhibit whose name I forget (which had been too busy to get to for the rest of the evening), saw inside, felt disappointed, then went our separate ways. I went home to bed.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Anishinaabe Fall Ceremonies

[click the pictures in this post to enlarge!]

On Saturday I had an opportunity that not many people get. The ISC sent out invitations in the previous week to participate in an Anishinaape (Canadian First Nation) Ceremony, and I was one of approximately 45 exchange and international students who accepted.

If you've read any of my other posts you'll know my budget is quite tight, so I originally debated whether to buy the $35 ticket. I also wrote about the runaround to get the ticket after I'd decided to do so. The result was more than worth both the debate with myself and running around like a madman thereafter.

Anyway, Saturday arrived, and it was an early start. I'd set numerous alarms the night before as not to miss it, and was (un)lucky enough to find out what Toronto looks like at 7am. I arrived just before 8 in a groggy state at the ISC, had a complementary Tim Horton's muffin, and spoke to Yaz and his friends while we waited for the bus.

To my glee, it was an "American" school bus. I say American because it was like the ones you always see in films, but I'd take an educated guess and say that this one was actually Canadian.

After our stuff was loaded, the roll call had been completed, and the bus was boarded, we set off on our way. Our destination was about 2 hours away from Toronto, but I have no idea in which direction. About an hour into the journey Michael talked to us about the Ceremony protocol, then got out a drum and introduced us to the Anishinaabe music.

This increased my glee (if glee can be increased?): I had now been in a school bus, on a school trip, and sang songs. It was what I imagine kindergarten is like, all over again!

Anyway, back to my sane train of though: From what Michael said, music plays a completely different role in the Anishinaabe culture to that of ours. The concept is "hard to grasp in Western culture", but songs are considered to be alive; they are greatly respected, and seen as a measure of wealth. Families, Clans and important events have specific songs written in their honour, which are passed down through generations. You aren't allowed to play a song unless you've been granted permission, and Michael told us that in the past songs were used in a similar way to currency; to secure everything from property and livestock to wives and children.

I found that fascinating.

After the songs, I looked out the window for a while and saw my first glimpse of what I imagine the majority of Canada is like. I remember reading somewhere that a huge proportion of the population live within 100 miles of the Canada / USA border, and most of the rest of the land is untouched. This was 2 hours outside Toronto, and although the previous statistic may not be completely accurate, the transformation was astounding.

Houses were few and far between, and they were evidently rural. There was so much greenery, although the leaves had began to change so it wasn't all green any more. There were rivers and lakes too but we didn't get such a good view of these.

Below are a couple of pictures of the rural houses and not-completely-green greenery:

Nice, huh?

I looked out of the window for most of the rest of the way, soaking it all in, but it wasn't a touch on the place we arrived at shortly after. I think it was referred to as a reserve, basically just privately owned woodland on which the Anishinaabe conduct the Fall Ceremonies (as well as other things). There's another couple of pictures below:

There was some food out, which we ate while the ceremony was being prepared, then it was time to go in. The ceremony was held in a long tent, called a lodge:

This was a modernised one built with timber and canvas, but you can imagine that generations ago they'd look a bit different. I heard it referred to as a teepee at one point as well, I think, so I'm not 100% sure of the name.

I didn't take many photos inside because I wasn't sure if it was allowed, but the picture below is of the ceremonial objects:

The ceremony itself is to give thanks to Mother Earth, and acknowledge that she needs rest over the Autumn and Winter. A big part of it is the interaction of men and women, and the strawberries (red) and blueberries (blue) in the picture above represent those. There's also masks on the ceiling, half red and half blue, and women and men sit on opposite sides of the tent.

The other bowls are tobacco (brown) and cedar (green). Later in the ceremony, the "talking circle" happens, where everyone stands up, gives thanks for whatever they feel necessary, then make a wish. This wish is accompanied by throwing tobacco on a fire, which is followed by cedar to purify any negative aspects of the wish.

The mat in the picture shows a turtle, divided into red, blue, white and yellow. I think the blue is supposed to be black, as the red, black, white and yellow in Anishinaabe beliefs represent the worlds people, which were created by the Creator to populate the world. Instead of the Adam and Eve idea, they believe that 64 people were made originally, 8 of each gender in each colour group.

The Anishinaabe also believe that the world is split into "generations", but different in meaning toa generation of a family. Each lasts 400 years, and is referred to as a fire (2000 was the beginning of the 8th fire, for example). These were prophesised long ago by elders, and are interpreted as they occur. It is said that one day the 4 colour groups will reunite, and will realise the and fulfill the human purpose (I think, apologies if I'm remembering any of this wrong...).

The human purpose I referred to is our task given to us by the Creator. Everything else in the universe is doing what it's supposed to: Grandmother Moon orbits the Earth, Mother Earth provides sustenance for the creatures upon it, animals provide food for humans and clean the Earth, fish, birds and bugs all do the same. Humans, however, have veered from their path. They have fallen out of touch with nature, and it has affected their lives (and the lives of other creatures) negatively. When an elder spoke at the ceremony, speaking about the above made her very emotional. She said something along the lines of "we all do things that hurt each other, and hurt Mother Earth... We're capable of so much more, but we choose not to do it", which I thought was quite apt.

The talking circle began after a short "pee break", and I found it really interesting. It took about 2 hours for everyone to speak, leading us to miss the later parts of the ceremony, but the things people said were really insightful and inspiring. Most of us (exchange students) gave thanks for cheesy stuff like the opportunity to partake in the ceremony and our families at home and stuff, but the Anishinaabe's thanks were really eloquent and well thought out. I can't remember too much, unfortunately, but it was said that "it's not our job to live in fear", and that "we should not forget our links to nature".

Thanks were also given for things we'd normally take for granted, like the ability to cry (some of the speakers got emotional). It was inspiring and thought provoking stuff.

We were also thanked for attending the ceremony. Someone said that seeing all the cultures together in one place was really special, and that "hearing all our accents makes [her] heart smile". It was also said that 3 out of 4 colour groups were represented, which was good to see.

At the second "pee break", a 30 foot army tent had to be put up for eating space. The men did this, and the women (except those on "Moon time") prepared the feast. A few exchange students (including me!) helped put up the tent, and it's amazing how quickly the beastly canvas was erected. Once the tent was up and the feast prepared, we all tucked in.

Unfortunately no one used the tent, and it started raining really heavily, so we all got wet. Especially on the walk back to the bus!

That's all for now anyway, except for the picture of feast food below:

Thursday, 1 October 2009

generic update #3

This is about yesterday. I starting writing it today (yesterday) but tomorrow (today) came before I could post it.

I've been starting my other generic updates with a brief update on the weather, so I'll do the same here: it was cold today. I think the low was around 9°C. It's weird how quickly it's changed, apparently there's only two weeks of Autumn between Summer and Winter here.

I arrived on campus late this morning, and so missed my Astronomy lecture with the intention of writing up the notes from the uploaded slideshow. I haven't done this yet, I put it on my to-do list and did other things instead.

At around noon I went to the ISC to talk to Michael White (who I accidentally called Mark in 2 emails, even when he signed the first "Michael") about the Fall Ceremony trip this weekend. He told me it's a native Canadian ritual celebrating the harvest which we could observe and participate in, followed by a feast and stories around a campfire.

Unfortunately I didn't have enough money on me, and there were only 7 tickets left, so I had to go on a mission. My final destination was the bank, although I headed for 3 other places on the way (often pirouetting mid-route and heading to the next place). The reason for this is that I'm still not completely familiar with the city, or indeed the campus.

30 minutes and $420 later (I took out money for rent, too), I went back to the ISC and bought a ticket. I was advised to dress warm and bring a blanket, and congratulated for stepping out of my comfort zone to participate in this. What the hell have I got myself in for?!

Naturally I'll let you know afterwards.

Also, while (loosely) on the topic of other blog posts, I still have drafts to publish for the Frat party I recently attended (and the morning after), Keele friends (and Hugh Oliver) and the CN Tower (with views therefrom (I can't believe therefrom is actually a word)).

Back to my day: I ate lunch on the way to Beethoven (one of my courses), then met Mariko outside and went inside. Before the lecture started I went down to the "washroom" to grab some tissue, and when I exited therefrom (woo!), a woman stopped me and asked if there was soap in the gents.

"Yeah I think so" I replied.

"Great, can I go in and get some?"

I wasn't really going to say no: I was leaving and therefore didn't give a crap (I might note that I didn't give a crap when I was in there either).

"Shall I just bring you some soap?" I asked.


I got her some soap. A fairly generous portion if I may say so, but apparently not generous enough. She asked me to check if the urinals were in use, then when I said no she charged in, did a mass apology, stole more than her fair share of soap, and ran away.

I went back upstairs, took my seat next to Mariko, got my books out, tried to put what just happened out of my mind, and got ready to learn. The lecture was good. Our lecturer is really quirky: he said Beethoven "isn't like Rihanna, because firstly, it's not crap ("she really gets up my nose")". And according to him, "music reviews are like soft porn", and "if you play parallel 5ths you can... go into space".

Great guy.

He also noted how the freakiest thing he's ever seen is when he turns the lights off in a lecture theatre, and sees all the laptop-illuminated faces looking at him.

After the lecture I headed home to do stuff. I typed up some notes, spoke to Char on Skype, tidied up a bit, and did some laundry. Eva got home with Chelsea and her nephew Eric (cool guy!), and we all had dinner together which was nice. There were also cinnamon buns for desert, which were delicious!

And now once again, I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

generic update #2

This is also about today.

Today, yesterday's dreary weather continued. I got up early, had breakfast, then subjected myself to the elements once again (thankfully the rain wasn't as bad and the bus arrived straight away). I arrived in Downtown dry once again, this time without the sense of smugness as everyone else was dry too.

I had an early morning World Music lecture, and though I hate to say it, the drones typical of Indian music didn't do much to help me stay awake. After the lecture, and nearly falling asleep a couple of times, I headed to Hart House to ring James, then to the ROM for some free browsing.

After revisiting the exhibits I covered a fortnight ago with a camera, I visited the Canada exhibit, and had a quick look through Dinosaurs, Mammals, Birds and the Bat Cave before heading out of the ROM and back to campus for a meeting with the Psychology Undergraduate Counselor.

The meeting went thus: I arrived at 2pm. I was advised that there was nothing I could do to solve my problem, apart from maybe talk to the college registrar. I left the meeting at 2.05pm, and headed to the college registrar (after visiting the ISXO to find out what college I'm actually enrolled in).

Once at my college, a lovely woman helped me as much as she could, fiddled with the computer system a bit, got someone to make a phonecall on my behalf, then told me there was nothing that could be done to solve my problem.


Basically, I'm enrolled on the wrong Psychology course. It's better to have found out now than when I return home, but it's still a bit of a polava. I'm in correspondence with home now to try and sort it out, so hopefully it won't mess things up too much!

Anyway, back to my day. I met James (randomly) in the library at around 3. We went to the UTSU building to get his October TTC pass, then to the bank so he could reimburse me $80 for aforementioned pass. Unfortunately it was closed, so I'm gonna have to send out the goons to collect my money tomorrow.

We then backtracked all the way back to Hart House with the intention of playing pool, but after sitting around like plums til the table's current occupants had finished, we found out you had to book in advance. Luckily the current occupants took pity on us and let us play doubles.

We lost.

Defeated, we wandered back to the ROM for a 20 minute look around before closing time (during which we went to the interactive exhibits (designed for kids) and goofed off). I resisted James' noodle offer, went to my late lecture, and got home around 10.30. After dinner (spag bol), American Dad, and Futurama, here I am.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

first view of Toronto

It's a bit late considering I've been here for 3 weeks nearly, but I've only recently acquired a camera. Below is a panoramic shot of the view that greeted me when I first arrived in Downtown Toronto (via subway):

Click it to make it bigger!

up the CN Tower

After a day of reading about vertigo and horror stories associated with high places, I met Alex, Neil, Ceara, Camille, Nora and James in the evening with the intention of climbing Toronto's colossal CN Tower.

After a brief run in with security at King Station (misunderstanding, managed to avoid an $80 fine though which was a nice touch), and with my stomach going over at the prospect of being high above the ground very soon, we walked along the Skyway from Union to the base of the CN Tower. We spent a long time there while people took photos (like the one below, courtesy of James), and then moved on.

The lobby was weird: it was empty and felt really surreal. Also there was a giant moose which is never a good sign. After taking photos with the giant moose, we got in the lift.

We got in the lift.

By this point I was shaking. The lift goes 118 stories in 58 seconds, I think, and that seems very fast. It's also made partly of glass, which I had no intention whatsoever of looking out of.

We went up.

And up.

And up some more.

Then hit the top.

On the way out of the lift, I looked down the little crack between it and the floor, and thought "holy shit". Some other people did, too, then we headed out.

Despite the initial terror, it wasn't that bad at the top. With a solid ground under your feet, and a psychological barrier blocking out the ~1000ft drop under the solid ground, it's quite a pleasant place to be. There were vending machines, toilets, and even a mailbox (which I feel is somewhat redundant).

I stayed indoors for the first few minutes, then sacked up and went on the outside viewing gallery. It was amazing out there; the views, the air, the wind (!) and the lights combined to make it really awesome.

The lights changed colour every few minutes though which was weird. It also buggered up photograph consistency.

James took some more pictures, which he kindly donated:

Now there's not really much else to say. We stayed til closing time, played with a broken telescope (trying to spot interesting things in people's windows), then got the lift back down. I looked out the windows on the way down, and the view was really nice. It wasn't terrifying any more.

The evening was closed with hot chocolate at Alex and Neil's. Good times.