Sunday, December 30, 2007


The term quinceañera refers to the young lady who has arrived to the tender age of 15 years. It's sort of a "coming of age". Wikipedia has a definition and some historical facts from various Latin American countries. I was shocked, though, to find that there was no reference to Mexico. Particularly disappointed because, if there is a country where the quinceañera party is relevant, it would be Mexico!

We went to the Quince Años party of one of my nieces last Saturday. It was a really good party, although quite different from what I was used to. First, there was lots of dancing and even an spectacle (the Quinceañera put a show with dancers and choreography and so on). Second, the music was computer-generated (no actual live group). Third, it started super late... we were having dinner at midnight, and it went until 4.30am.

The party was really good in many ways. One of them was that it provided a forum and an opportunity for some members of my family (and the extended family) to erase former grudges and create new bridges. For doing that, I'll have to give my Mom props. She's the family's diplomat. It was nice to see members of my family that I hadn't actually seen or had any sort of contact with after a few years.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

4TheRcrd is officially launching tonight!

Jark is the strong force behind 4TheRcrd. Tonight (Dec 29th, 2007) is the launch party at The Wild Coyote, co-hosted by Phreshvibe. Details can be found here. I like the concept and I'm very much looking forward to seeing great stuff on the blog/magazine. Sleek and sexy design and layout, I think will be a good addition to the blogosphere.

I am so sorry I'm not there for the launch, but well, can you blame me? Beautiful views, gorgeous architecture and warm and sunny weather... I'll be back in Vancouver soon enough! Congratulations to the team!

Travelling around San Miguel de Allende

There are towns in Mexico that just seem like paradise. San Miguel de Allende is one of them. Do a Google search of the name of the town and you'll find thousands of websites. The reason behind it? It's one of the top tourist destinations for both foreign and national tourism. It's a gorgeous city, very cosmopolitan and cultural, beautiful architecture, lots of history and more than anything, wonderful people.

The parents of one of my best friends in Vancouver (A and N) moved to San Miguel de Allende a few years ago. They have integrated into the community in so many ways that you would seriously think they're SanMiguelenses since birth. Since my visit to Mexico is rather short, I wanted to make sure to see them before I returned to Vancouver, so we scheduled a visit.

As it usually happens with family visits, the number of visitors fluctuated between when I mentioned I was coming and when I arrived (originally it was only going to be me, my Mom and my good friend M who is visiting, then I suggested to my brother and sister-in-law, who are also visiting, to come and join me as I figured they'd enjoy the visit, in the end my nieces decided not to come in the end, so finally the group was reduced to 5 visitors).

When we arrived to N and A's house, we didn't find a house - we found a palace! Their home is so beautiful, spacious and cozy. There is lots of room for everything - several terraces and gardens, two offices, anything you can imagine. That's a dream house, really. But the best part of the house are the owners. Both N and A are just as sweet and warm and welcoming as H (quite obviously, H is his parents' son!). They treated us to an amazing lunch (fish, potatoes, green beans - not spicy, unlike H's which are spicy - and a great corn and chile soup).

We felt at home right from the beginning, and despite the sad news of a family emergency, we had an amazing time. I feel very blessed with H's friendship, and whenever I see his parents, I feel that they treat me like part of their own family too. I hope to be as good a host when they come visit (either in Mexico or in Canada) as they were to me.

I haven't uploaded the pictures of our SMA trip yet on to Picasa, but I can leave you with an image of the beautiful Cathedral in San Miguel de Allende [photo credit, Wikipedia: San Miguel Allende Article]

If you get a chance to visit Mexico, you should visit San Miguel de Allende. It's a not-to-be-missed destination.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I've made it big!

You know you've made it big on Vancouver's blogosphere when Rebecca (AKA Miss604) adds you as Best Blog in 2007 (Restaurant Reviews). I can't tell you how humbled and amazed I feel about this distinction. Thanks Rebecca! I have poured my heart into this blog, and have really appreciated getting to know new readers and fellow bloggers.

Interestingly enough, I've started noticing an increase in readership outside of Canada. A few people from the United States have started following my blog, and I feel quite excited. Normally, I know my readership is usually Canada-based or Mexico-based (for obvious reasons). But now I've got new readers (welcome!) that aren't based in either country. I even know that someone reads me from India!

Hope you had a wonderful Boxing Day. I spent today travelling with my brother, his family, my Mom and ML (around the beautiful city of Guanajuato). I will tell you about my adventures as soon as I am really exhausted. We all are. But we had a wonderful day. Let me leave you with a panoramic view of this beautiful city [Photo credit:].

Christmas review

I was dreading Christmas like the plague because I wasn't sure how personal relationships amongst stranged family members would play out. I was actually terrified and stressed. However, when it came to the actual celebration, we had a great time. I personally had one of the best Christmases I had in years. Even though it was only my eldest brother's family and Mom and I, it was great.

I did miss my other brothers and my Dad not being with us, but overall, the celebration was phenomenal. My brother prepared a main course, as did my Mom, and lots of fun were had. We even toasted! I think the rest of my holiday will be just as enjoyable. But I plan to steer away from alcohol :-)

Movie review - Flicka

I went to Mexico City today to meet my good friend ML who is visiting Mexico for the first time. We both live in Vancouver and she's here to spend a couple of weeks travelling. Since I didn't feel all too well (post-Christmas hangover) I decided to take the bus. Normally, my iPod would be fully charged and I would listen to music all five hours (yeah, it's a five hour bus ride each way).

Anyhow, since I knew that I might not have enough battery in my iPod, I decided to watch the movie (in between naps) shown on the bus. Starring Maria Bello, Tim McGraw, Alison Lohman and Ryan Kwanten, Flicka shows a young girl who tried to prove her father wrong about her (apparent) inability to manage the family ranch (when the time comes for that).

I generally don't like this type of movies, not because they're showing a Western rural family and I can't relate to the topic of the movie, but because these movies tend to be rather slow. As it was the case with Flicka, these movies ARE generally slow. I managed to have a nap right in the middle of the movie and I still caught the ending (quite predictable).

But it's a feel-good movie, and quite uplifting. If you want something that bad, you can really accomplish it with hard work. Nothing is given to this young girl (Katy). She works hard to gain her father's approval and demonstrate to him that she is capable of domesticating her mustang.

Snippets found below courtesy of YouTube posters.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007!

While still considered a Christian tradition, more and more people have started to celebrate Christmas. Even though I've lived in Canada for over 12 years, I still consider Christmas Eve (tonight) as the celebration and Christmas Day is pretty much a day of relaxation and family gatherings. Only one year (1996, in Ann Arbor, Michigan) have I celebrated Christmas in the American and Canadian traditions.

As I was trying to find the Wikipedia definition of Christmas, I also found a discussion page on the controversy surrounding Christmas. All the time since I've lived in Canada, I've had more and more people tell me "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". I chalked it up to an interest in being more culturally diverse and religiously aware. But many people think otherwise.

You'd be surprised at how much content you can find on Wikipedia on Christmas. Many of my friends in Canada, while not typically religious, tend to be followers of the tradition (in several cases, just to follow family customs). That works the same way in my case. I was born and raised Catholic (well, born into the Catholic tradition, some would say). However, with time, these customs have relaxed, particularly given my exposure to different cultures and religions while I've lived abroad.

Last night I made a point with my brother that, the only reason why I am in Mexico for the holidays is to see my parents, my brothers and their family, to spend time with my close friends
here and, specifically, to make this holiday season as enjoyable for my Mom as I possibly can. So I guess I'll embark in a pseudo-Christmas truce: I'll stop bickering and fighting during these holidays. I can get back to those when I am back in Vancouver, hehe :)

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and for all of you who do not celebrate Christmas in that sense, happy holidays!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pre-Christmas fun?

This morning, Mom and I were having breakfast and discussing our different views of Christmas. For her, this is the season when she goes to traditional Mexican parties, spend time with her children and grandchildren and friends. In my case, it becomes a stressful time, when I have to negotiate relationships with family members (both close and estranged), take care of stuff I haven't been able to do while I am in Canada, etc.

While the whole holiday season allows me to spend time with friends and family for whom I care a lot, the actual two or three days before and after Christmas are stressful. So, today, tomorrow and Tuesday will be a tad stressful. But I am looking forward to the 26th onwards. A friend is coming to visit me, and I'll get a chance to spend time with HZ's parents and other good friends. So I won't complain.

And to get you and everyone else in the Christmas holiday spirit, here is a video by Wham, "Last Christmas". It's one of the sweetest songs out there (even though the lyrics aren't that sweet if you think about them).

I hate MSN, however useful it may be

In its continuous effort to "improve your experience", MSN has become extremely cumbersome. It takes FOREVER to log on, and frequently crashes my computer. Yeah, it has perks (allows me to keep up with friends all over the world) but I *hate* the fact that it consumes lots of memory and makes my life so difficult.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I'm a definite light weight

I am trained as a bartender. I've got a certification and all. However, last night I got again a demonstration of why I am still a light weight. Had dinner with my undergrad best friends (LEAD has a new house and he insisted I see it). So Mom and I headed to his place (he's got a wife and four kids, so their house is really big) for a night of drinks and dinner.

I have no idea how I got to the state of drunkedness (spelling?) I got, I think it was the four vodkas I had, but OMG by the end of the night, Mom had to drive us home. I don't think I did anything inappropriate (Mom would obviously have stopped me) but my recollection of facts is minimal. I think I must have apologized about a thousand times for the one time I had a fight with LEAD. Well, that only makes me realize that I am a total light weight. Back to training in the New Year!

I had an amazing time though. But now I know that I need to learn how not to be drunk on four vodkas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lots of love - Mexican edition

Since I wanted to promote my 500th post, I didn't blog any content for the past few days. However, it would be unfair not to talk about awesome things that have happened to me this week. Particularly, it would be unfair to loved friends of mine who have made every effort to spend time with me as they know I'm here for just a very short time. So, a toast to...
  • Dinner on Monday with LGS. L and I became friends in high school. She was one of 7 friends (the Magnificent Seven: DA, LEG, AAF, LGS, LL, APV, AND RZL) with whom I was extremely close in high school. You see - I have always been pretty selective with whom I choose as friends, but I was even more when I was younger. So, instead of having dozens of pseudo-friends, I just made 7 close friends (this circle has grown through the years, as I have re-acquainted myself with others). At any rate, LGS invited me for dinner to a gourmet pizza place called Francachela. I don't know how she does it, but she still looks as beautiful as ever. It's like some sort of Dorian Gray club (my Mom and her are members of the club, as they both look so young!). Furthermore, I not only enjoyed spending time with her and the great conversation, but also knowing how she has evolved. She's such a strong woman, with a willingness to never let anything stop her. I am glad we still see each other whenever I come to Mexico, and exactly in the same light: as though no time has passed. Ah, good times :)
  • Dinner on Tuesday with Mom, IT, AF and PT: When we were young(er), my best female friend (IT), her now husband (AF) and my great friend PT, we all worked for a soft drinks company. So, it was really funny to see us all sitting around the same table. IT and AF invited us for dinner and drinks, which I really appreciaetd, because even though IT and AF are parents to a cute wonderful boy, they always make time for me. IT and I have always shared an amazing friendship. Her parents (whom I visited on Wednesday) always treated me like a son. We reminisced about good times we've shared through the years, and enjoyed wonderful hors d'oeuvrs (with salmon and jamón serrano) - mine without cheese, thank you (they had cheese fondue... eeeww!)
  • Talking on the phone with AAF: For some bizarre reason, we hadn't chatted over MSN for a while, but my great friend AAF found my phone and gave me a call. It was so nice to hear his voice again. AAF and I have enjoyed a wonderful friendship since we were in our very early teens. We both played competitive volleyball and he is the model of a man who never gives up. He is building his company from the bottom up, and he moved to a different city to start all over again. I'm very proud of him, and I hope we have a chance to spend time on Christmas day (and the following week).
  • Spending the Christmas holiday dinner of my former workplace with AE: Not only have we managed to build a great friendship, but AE and I share a very unique (and liberal and open minded) view of the world. She's a wonderful friend and an amazing Mom, and she dances great too! She looked beautiful that night as well. How she does all that she achieves - work, personal relationships, friendships and taking care of her daughter? No idea. But she does. I'm proud of having her as a friend, and moreover, it's exciting to think that she might have found the love she deserves. It was also nice to see all my friends who were my co-workers. Ah, good times! And as usual, I danced the opening piece.
  • Weekends with my brothers: Even though they live in different cities, we managed to squeeze two visits with my brothers. The first weekend we went with the second of my brothers, whose energy and personal commitment not onlyu to his work but to his family (both direct and extended) are beyond belief. Honestly, if I had 10% of the energy JE has, I would be in great shape. His daughters are absolutely adorable, and great athletes. The second weekend we went to visit my eldest brother, AJ, whose daughters are also adorable. We had a good time and managed to see Enchanted a second time! Ah, great times. They're coming to spend Christmas with us and I'm looking forward to a family reunion.
  • Dinner with my Dad: Although, technically, that was lunch, he took me to the best Argentinian restaurant in town, and one of the best in the world. You'll see... while in Vancouver, I try not to eat red meat. For many reasons, one of them, the fact that nobody makes steaks like this restaurant does. So I refuse to eat at, say, The Keg or Mortons. I know, I'm a snob. So sue me. At any rate, Dad treated me to lunch/dinner ... it was like old times. I really value my Dad's insights, and I would like to share one with you (which I will expand upon soon enough): fear is THE worst adviser.
All in all, life is great, and I'll get to see my undergraduate best friend (LEAD) and his family tonight, something I am really looking forward to. As I was talking to JT last night, I told him something that more and more I realize that I am a pretty damn lucky guy. I may not know how to define love (we had a conversation about that), but I sure know how to love people. I couldn't help but giggle when he said "yeah, and you are pretty good at it too". It's nice feeling loved.

Quite obviously I miss my Vancouver friends, but I have come to realize that distance is really nothing. I spent an hour chatting with AF the other day, and we talked about how much we miss each other. Truth be told, I am loved everywhere I go. What else can a guy ask for? Oh, yeah ... right... well, a few million dollars would be handy hehehe :) but love is golden!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My 500th post

I started blogging in April of 2006 (wait, I already used that opening line...)... ahem, here we go again...

Every year, I do a "Year in Review" kind of exercise where I toast to the New Year (in this case, 2008), and speak with my loved ones about what I have learned throughout the past year: about myself, about themselves and about life in general. My 2007 has been a rocky one, yet I don't regret a single thing. I just wish it hadn't gone by so fast. And faster than I thought, my 500th post arrived. Therefore, this post is both a celebration of 500 post, as well as as a preliminary "Raul's Year In Review".

I had given a lot of thought to how I would celebrate my 500th post, so I asked Meg, Rebecca and Tanya to loan me a bit of the concepts they have popularized in their own blogs: the Friday Love List, the Mid-week Socializing Game and the Miss604 Poll. It was complicated to try and merge such unique styles and fuse them with my own, but I came up with an idea: Your own year in review, side by side with me. So you will not be alone, I'll be there with you!

Here's the deal: You can do one, two or the three elements that are involved in this post. The key is to have fun. However, everything in each one of the elements you do, should be related to YOUR own year in review.

The poll:
I have chosen four of what I think are the best essays I wrote in 2007. If you want, you can read them and vote for the essay that has rung closer to you (or that you have felt most associated with, or the one you like best). The poll will be located on the right hand side of my blog, just before the archives (I have to go out and can't create the code right now). Thanks to Rebecca for letting me borrow her idea!

Links to what I think are my four best essays here:
The love list:
Below you can see a list of the things I loved this year. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to re-shape my list with your own. You might have loved some of the things I did, or just have loved your own. Post your love list in the comments section. Thanks to Meg for letting me use this unique concept!

My love list for 2007 (in no particular order). This year, I have loved...:
  • UBC cinnamon buns.
  • Dhiwali at BS's house.
  • Friday night dinners with CG, BX, LB and JN.
  • Gin and tonics at JH's.
  • Chocolate fondue in Montreal with SF.
  • Brunch with LF, KG and RT (any location will do).
  • Crepes at La Bretagne Creperie with AF.
  • Ethiopian food at Red Sea Cafe.
  • Impromptu brunches with LMT
  • Sunday nights with JT.
  • Volleyball (Saturdays and Sundays).
  • Discovering new African places with SK.
  • Salsa dancing with AF.
  • Bumping into NE at the Black Door and having her over for orange juice the other night.
  • American Thanksgiving dinner with HZ, CS, M and K
  • Coffee with KP at Delaney's.
  • My iPod, courtesy of HZ, and my iPod case, courtesy of LF
  • Coffee at Continental with ML.
  • Spending time with my friends, both in Canada and in Mexico.
  • Re-creating my memories of Victoria and Vancouver Island.
  • Curry with basmati rice
  • Canadian Thanksgiving hosted by HZ and CS
  • Summer with Mom and my brothers
  • Rhizome, The Cascade Room, Sodas Diner
  • Friday night cocktails with DMcN
  • Wednesday movie nights with BS, HZ, JN and BB.
  • My birthday celebration at La Bodega
  • .... and many more things
The socializing game:
I will pose the starter question (which is directly related to the year in review) and you will answer it in the comments section, and then pose a new question. I may answer in the middle of the game, but most likely, I will do so only if I don't see a lot of action happening. Thanks to Tanya for allowing me to spin her game in my own way!

So the starter question is: "Q. - Describe one challenge that you have overcome in 2007?"
I am sure that those of you who have followed my blog know that I'm rather popular for my restaurant reviews (I think I've got more than 43 restaurant reviews at Urban Spoon). However, with time I've gained more readership when I blog about other things, such as life in Vancouver, the music I listen to, thoughts about environmental issues. And I think that Tanya summarized it very clearly in her latest comment on my blog (LB had also mentioned that recently): I value my friends and family dearly. I am very appreciative of the great friendships I have formed, both in real life and in the blogosphere. Thanks to you all for reading my blog and for helping me achieve this milestone!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nearly 500!

I started blogging in April of 2006, primarily as an outlet for pseudo-scientific thoughts I had. Then I realized that I enjoyed writing more than I thought I would, particularly writing up about stuff that makes sense to me. Initially I read blogs just for the fun of it (and to keep up with what my good friend LM had been up to). Now I blog because I enjoy disseminating my thoughts to a broader audience.

JT2 equated my blog to Facebook. However, I indicated that I could see four types of people who read my blog:
  1. Those who know me in real life, and who know that I have a personal life beyond work. Those friends of mine enjoy reading my adventures and my comings and goings. For them, my blog is a way to keep into a facet of my personal life that very few people see in my work life.
  2. Those friends of mine who live far away and whose only method of knowing what I am up to. These friends really cherish seeing my "life abroad" through the lenses of my blog.
  3. Local (Vancouver and surrounding areas) bloggers whom I've met through my blogging. These bloggers have become good friends and I really do cherish the opportunity to get to know them through the blogosphere (shout-outs to Keira-Anne, Rebecca, Paul, Keith, Jark, Erika, Jennifer, Darren, Tanya, Corinna, Meg, Marcela and Lino, Beatriz, Ana Laura, Carolina).
  4. Random people who reach my blog by way of Google and then become hooked on my stuff. These are the ones I need to grow. I want more people who come to my blog and then decide "this kid writes good stuff" and then become hooked.
I am going to take a page of Meg's, Tanya's and Rebecca's books and do something fun for my 500th post. Not sure what just yet, but stay tuned. Since I'm not in Vancouver right now and won't be back until the first week of January 2008, I might not do an actual celebration, but I'll think of something.

In the mean time, I'll ask you all to tell me - what have you learned about Raul by way of reading my blog (and in the case of my outside-the-blogosphere friends, that you didn't already know)? Comments absolutely welcome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Music Review - Elsewhere by Paula Cole & Sarah McLachlan

When I lived in residence, this song was my anthem. I used to listen to the standard version by Sarah McLachlan in my room, at night, while pondering whether it was worth to fight to maintain a relationship that seemed doomed from the start (and perhaps the first relationship where I felt I was truly, madly and deeply in love). I became addicted to this version by Paula Cole and Sarah McLachlan after the Lilith Fair tour. I found this videoclip on YouTube, hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I'm astonished

I've spent about ten days here. Last week I had to give talks and do some work-related stuff. This week, I've managed to sneak in a few hours of work here and there. But OMG I have been able to sit down and completely veg on my couch! I apologize if this post is completely inane, but I am so shocked at my ability to spend a full day doing pretty much, absolutely nothing!

Las Mañanitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe

One of the most traditional events in the past few decades has been the "Mañanitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe". As a predominantly Catholic country, Mexico has many festivities that are associated with religious figures. The Virgen de Guadalupe is the Mexican version of Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Guadalupe). I would expect that Vancouver-based Latin American (primarily Mexican) Catholics would attend services on December 12th, which is is observed as the anniversary of the apparition of our Lady of Guadalupe .Actress and singer Lucero has sung to Our Lady of Guadalupe since a few years back, here is a video of one of her performances.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Praising Mom

I have praised my Mom in my blog before, but tonight I was reminded of how lucky I am to have the Mom I have. As we were driving from my brother's place towards hers, we were chatting about that night when I called her at 3:00am to let her know that I had broken up with my ex.

Our conversation went something like this:
- Mom : "Hi sweetie, how are you?"
- Raul: "Hi Mom..." ... (starts sobbing uncontrollably for 45 minutes straight)
- Mom: "Sweetie... you broke up, didn't you?" ...

And then she proceeded to try and console me. That was the saddest night in my entire life, and I can tell you, the only person whom I could talk to was my Mom. I knew she would understand how I felt. Both my parents love me and support me, but that night, I realized the magic relationship that Moms have with their children. She knew that we had broken up (my ex and I) even before I told her. How do they do that? How do they know what to say to soothe our pain? I think it's a miracle. And I am extremely grateful for that. Gracias Mamá.

Accepting intolerance? Never.

Last night I was talking to a friend of mine about things I would accept if I were forced to live in a specific country (in this case, Mexico). I think I can deal with people trying to take advantage of me. I can be ok with people who don't have a sense of time and forget to be punctual and on time. I can live with a society that is complex and complicated.

But I can't live within an intolerant society. I heard some of the "most educated minds" in this country speak about homosexuality as though it is a sin, as though it is "something that people didn't ask to be born with", as though it is an illness. People whom I admired in the past have come out of the closet as being complete homophobes. I have also heard people saying nasty things about indigenous peoples, spitting out racist comments. I honestly can't deal with this. I am ok with a society filled with problems and issues, but I can't live in an intolerant society. Not now, not ever.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

More great things about Mexico

Beatriz has insisted that I see the good side of things and that I should relax and enjoy Mexico during my brief visit, so I figured I'd post something about the nice things I've enjoyed so far.

  • Family-owned businesses:
    • I discovered a super cute hotel in Zamora, Michoacan. It's called Hotel Ram-Val. Best hotel ever. It's small, cute, clean, and has wireless internet. The cafeteria is amazing. The level of service is above and beyond the call of duty. If I had to return here, I would seriously stay here. Inexpensive too, less than 50 dollars a night.
    • I found a family-owned enterprise from San Julian, Jalisco that makes dairy-based products. This family manufactures "ate" (a kind of jelly) and cajeta (sort of nutella). I make a point (whenever I am in Mexico) to only buy Mexican products, so it was nice to find my own supplier of cajeta.
    • I have been able to drink a litre of carrot juice for $1.50 Canadian. Where else can you do that?
  • Friends
    • I got the chance to spend an evening having drinks with PT. He's one of my very best friends here, and we had an amazing time. I even got to do karaoke! It's been so long since I last sung. Ahh, good times :)
    • I'll be seeing other friends this weekend, I hope. PT and I had plans to hang out tonight, so we'll see how that pans out. He is so laid back and relaxed, I am sure we'll end up doing something low-key.
Ok, time to start cleaning up my room (well, my former room)...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Well, there are perks to being here :)

After my initial cultural reverse shock, I had a chance to hang out with Mom and my brother. We went for dinner and had a "caldo tlalpeño", which is one of my top favorite Mexican dishes. Top of the top. Greatest food ever. I just had a chance to drink carrot juice by the litre. Papaya and other fruit is super inexpensive here. Ok, now I'm starting to see the perks. Plus, I love hanging out with my family. So maybe it's not so bad after all :)

I am looking forward to seeing very good friends of mine who live here. My very good friend PT picked me up at the bus station when I arrived, but we haven't had a chance to really hang out. But we will soon. Now, let me tell you, there is something about the pace of life here that absolutely mesmerizes me. I'll have to explore more...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The powerful reverse cultural shock

I landed in Mexico City and no later than 10 seconds after the plane door had opened, I had been swarmed by more than 10 people trying to get past me. That's something I am not that used to even though I use public transit in Vancouver. But it really shocked me.

I have been here for only a couple of days and I want to fly back to Vancouver ASAP. I miss my friends, I miss my apartment, I miss my life there, and more than anything, I have mixed feelings in regards to being here. I love seeing my parents but I really do not like the negative sides of this country. I guess I have to learn to deal with this.

In the mean time, my laptop died so I might be posting content only irregularly.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Movie review - Enchanted

I am well known for being way too sweet and a tad too mushy for a guy. I'll add one more thing... I love Disney movies. Enchanted is a great production. Starring Amy Adams, James Marsden, Patrick Dempsey, Susan Sarandon, this is a wonderful and uplifting movie. Combining special effects, animation and great music, Enchanted is a fairy tale that oozes sweetness and "feel good", warm fuzzies.

You can read Wikipedia's description of the movie, but if you want to get a general feeling for how good the movie is, listen to "That's How You Know" (the main musical performance in a park, of all places). Do yourselves a favor and treat yourself to a viewing of Enchanted. Preferably with someone you love a lot.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Weekend roundup and forecast

I had a wonderful Friday evening with K and R (see bar review), followed by appetizers and drinks at RC's place. My volleyball team was having a party to celebrate the end of the term and begin the bonding for the following term. Everyone in my team was there, which was very fun. We danced, ate, drank, laughed, did the "worm" hip-hop/breakdance move, some salsa, went to Public (it was empty), went to Honey/Lick/The Lotus and the line-ups were super long. So we ended up heading back home. And of course, you can believe I had a horrendous hangover on Saturday morning.

I had brunch on Saturday with colleagues and friends and my day on Sunday was looking quite busy with dinner with J, brunch with C, B, JN and L, showing up at SK's brunch as well (two brunches and and on top of everything, I had to arrange for a conference call with the high command - e.g. parents).

Breakfast at SK was awesome, I got to see her place and spend some good times with her and JT1 (there are two JT's). Brunch with C, B, JN and L at Rhizome was amazing. I felt a little bit guilty because L and JN are stressed out now with work (and I added a couple of errands on my behalf to their list). However, it was (as always is) very nice to see them again. I will miss them tremendously, particularly now that L is having a birthday party.

Then I went to see Enchanted (the movie) with JT2, and then dinner at Red Sea Cafe. I'll do a movie review soon enough, but I just wanted to say that the movie rocks. Simply awesome. JT2 drove me to the airport (as he usually does) and we both know we'll miss each other.

I always say this on my blog and in person. I am very privileged. I have amazing friends in different countries and it's nice to know that, no matter where they are (or where I am), we'll always be there for each other. That's what friends are for.

Bar review - The TransContinental

The past couple of weeks, I have been feeling myself again. That meant of course taking the time to rekindle old friendships that had been dormant for a while. K and R are two close friends of mine with whom I hadn't had the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time.

In a way, I think I (involuntarily) pushed them away because I didn't want to pretend I was all that well, when it wasn't the case. I felt like I had to apologize for my behavior. However, both K and R were extremely sweet and understanding, and they said I had nothing to apologize for. It was so nice to have again a chance to just chat and talk about the good old times, like when we used to go for brunch to a different restaurant every Sunday.

I agreed to come downtown to make it easier for K and R, who generously treated me to drinks and appetizers at The Transcontinental. The Transcontinental is an upscale restaurant/bar located in the Canadian Pacific Railway Station. A branch/new location of popular post-work drinks hangout Steamworks, The Transcontinental is much nicer in many ways than Steamworks itself (less loud, more room and better atmosphere, in my opinion).

Not to diss Steamworks, though! I really enjoy going there for a drink after work, but I am not always able to talk to people because it is quite loud. Nevertheless, I show up for Green Drinks @ Steamworks quite often. But I think I enjoy better The Transcontinental.

The service wasn't as good as I expected it to be (the server was quite bad, actually). The first spiced rum for K was flat, but the second one was better. The appetizers were quite good (when they finally showed up). However, the best part of the evening was spending time with K and R like old times. It was almost like no time had ever passed.

It is very nice to find that, no matter how much you push your friends away (consciously or unconsciously), they always find a way to get back in your life. And I am very happy that K and R came back to my life. Really, I'll say they never left. They gave me enough space to sort my life out and now that I am back as the Raul I (and they) used to know, they've welcomed me back with open arms. So that means that when I get back to Vancouver in the New Year, brunch Sundays will be back with a vengeance :-) Yipee!!!!

It's all about the equipment - Winter edition

Since I'm traveling soon, I had to come into my office and ensure that I would not be forgetting some important document (which, luckily, I discovered I was about to forget - MY PASSPORT!... phew, that was close!). As I'm sure you all know, it's snowing in Vancouver right now, so I had to gear up and head out in the middle of snow showers.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I had no idea about the climate and weather here. I had no idea of the natural beauty. I was completely and entirely clueless. So I packed leather jackets and a couple of light sweaters. And then it snowed... in November... and I was FREEZING!!!

I've learned a few things about myself and temperatures/weather throughout my 12 years in this city.
  1. I don't tolerate rain well.
  2. I don't tolerate snow very well either.
  3. I am always cold.
  4. I like fashionable winter clothing.
  5. There is no sense of fashion in Vancouver - hence, 4 does not apply.
  6. Corollary: I should get myself winter and rain gear that will allow me to feel comfortable while traveling in the snow and rain, regardless of the fact that it isn't fashionable.
Knowing how much I hate falling, my brother S kindly bought me a pair of winter boots (with increased traction, almost completely waterproof, great and sturdy support for my ankles). Furthermore, I have learned how many layers I need to wear in order to avoid feeling cold.

So, for example, right now I am wearing winter socks (thermal), thermal underwear (only the pants), a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, a wool sweater on top of the sweatshirt, a rain jacket that has another jacket attached (layered), toque, Thinsulate gloves, scarf, winter boots, umbrella and my iPod. And I think this is as prepared as I've ever been to walk out in the snow. For someone who loves warm climates, I think I'm doing fine for myself here.

Now, admittedly, I went out last night and dressed quite fashionably and quite warmly, but normally, I won't care much about how I look (unless I'm coming to the office or going out with friends). Now, I am headed back to the cold...brrrr...

Congratulations Miss604 on your 4 years!

Rebecca Bollwitt (aka Miss604) is celebrating four years of blogging and I'm taking this opportunity to congratulate her on my own blog. You'll see... even though we live in the same city, and technically only a short commute from each other (I understand John and Rebecca live in the West End, while I live in Mount Pleasant), we have never met in person.

However, it was Rebecca who encouraged me to Blogathon (I chose the charity, A Loving Spoonful, but basically she gave me the gentle push to join in Blogathoning). She has also provided some really useful, techie, geeky advice and even invited me to be a guest blogger on her own blog, which was a great honour (and a lot of fun, I might add).

Rebecca has also challenged me to think about relevant issues, including the ethics of blogging (and photo credits), the divide between mainstream media and bloggers, and at times, about fun stuff such as "do we need Starbucks at Skytrain stations?". Here is a toast to her four years of blogging, and to many more to come.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Dining out responsibly in Vancouver

Two of Vancouver's excellent brunch places (Rhizome and The Elbow Room) are featured on The Globe and Mail this week. The piece is actually quite well written, I really liked Elianna Lev's style. This article reminded me a bit of the concept of green restaurants, but in this case, I think the keywords would be "socially responsible" restaurants.

The idea of Corporate Social Responsibility is very often associated with sustainability because caring for the environment is just one of many ways in which corporations can be responsible with society, taking into account their needs and wants [the Wikipedia entry on CSR is currently nominated to be discussed for neutrality, but overall, I think it's ok].

I think Rhizome is at the forefront of socially responsible restaurants. Beyond the idea of the lentils where you "pay what you feel", one of the key elements that Rhizome brings not only to the East Vancouver/Mount Pleasant community but to the larger Vancouver society is that this is a place where social justice is one of the main themes. In an growingly corporate world, Rhizome is a breath of fresh air.

As for The Elbow Room, I used to be a steady customer for many years, but since it's downtown and I am now an East Vancouver boy, I rarely have brunch there anymore. However, this is definitely a responsible restaurant. For decades now, The Elbow Room owners have collected donations for A Loving Spoonful (a charitable organization for which I have Blogathoned in the past).

I believe that there is an increasing trend towards corporate social responsibility in the service industry. For example, some coffee shops like Lugz will only serve ethically-produced coffee. Other restaurants will serve fish that is certified with OceanWise. Green Table is an organization that helps restaurants become more green. There is a myriad of additional examples out there (I just don't know them all).

I would be interested in hearing more stories of socially-responsible restaurants in the Metro Vancouver area, if you have any.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Restaurant review - Toshi's (Main Street)

We had heard lots, and lots, and lots of people raving about the sushi that Toshi's offers. The line-up outside the little establishment (30 seats, 6 waitresses) on 16th Avenue between Quebec and Main Streets can extend at times to the end of the block. We had driven by, a good 60 times (and I am not kidding) and we had never been able to make it there on time to avoid the line-ups.

Thus, we wanted to celebrate M's birthday there and therefore I ended up standing outside since 4:30pm. M and I had agreed she'd show up at 5:30pm (bad idea since I could have gotten us a table at 5:00pm sharp, since the line was short). By the way, thank you to the guy who loaned me his cell phone to call M's office (another reason why I need a new cell phone!).

Anyhow, we got to seat at around 5:45 pm and ordered edamame, go mae, a few rolls and some tofu. And I am going to say that I found the sushi not as good as Kaide's, and certainly not as good as Kishu Mountain. So I'm quite disappointed. For all the hype (and having to stand out in the cold for a good half hour), neither M nor I were impressed.

Would I go back to Toshi's? No. Definitely not. Maybe they were having an off day, but with two great choices for sushi where I don't need to stand out in the cold. It was good to know first-hand about Toshi's though. The guy who loaned me his cell phone was raving about Toshi's (and funny how it goes, we had already bumped into each other before, but I doubt he remembers) and I was quite underwhelmed. No more Toshi's for me, please.

What I will and won't miss while I'm away from Vancouver

I was thinking about the things I will (and will not) miss while I am away from this beautiful city. Some things are associated with Vancouver in general, while some are specific to my life here. So without any specific order, here are my thoughts.

I won't miss...
  1. The screaming kid that lives upstairs from me and his running around, stomping on my ceiling (his floor) on purpose. I will most certainly not miss his inability to shut up even when his parents yell at him.
  2. The gross weather we have been having. Excuse me, cold and slushie rain? No, thanks. I'm all for warm and dry climates. For a while, anyways.
  3. The lengthy commutes to and from my office, nor having to commute everywhere by bus (ah, the beauties of a small city).
  4. Some incredibly expensive food items ($ 1.00 for three limes? wow, for that money I buy three kilograms where I'm headed!
I will miss...
  1. My friends in the Metro Vancouver area. Each one of them is unique and I value their friendship in and of itself. I am very privileged to have the friends I do, and I will miss them dearly. If it weren't because I have to go, I would most likely stay for Christmas and the New Year. I am that confident that I would have a great time with them.
  2. My tiny apartment. Even though it is indeed tiny, and my neighbours upstairs are incredibly noisy, this is my own personal space and I am very happy with what I have. It's a small place, but it's cozy and more important, it's my own (I gave up on roomies a long, long, long time ago).
  3. The natural beauty of British Columbia. Especially Vancouver and the North Shore. I often go to Deep Cove, West Vancouver, Lonsdale Quay, Porteau Cove and Stanley Park for relaxation and to gather my thoughts. Some of my fondest memories are associated with these places. I will miss this.
  4. Playing volleyball on Saturdays and Sundays. Both my teams are lovely people and I have a ton of fun with them. And (even though I thought that an old dog couldn't learn new tricks), my game has improved a lot.
  5. The sense of self I feel while living in Vancouver. Since I live on my own here, I feel extremely independent. More than anything, I feel myself. When I go and visit my parents, I feel in many ways, constrained. I don't think I'm often the Raul I know.
  6. The opportunity to mend and salvage a couple of friendships. Given that I will be away from the city for a fairly lengthy visit, I won't have the opportunity to try and mend a number of relationships that, for one reason or another, have cooled off. Since statistically, we are bound to bump into each other, I'd like to make amends with these people -- but that will have to wait until the New Year.
  7. Talking to my brother every day. Since we live only a province away (thank you long distance phone plans), my brother and I talk over the phone quite regularly. I will definitely miss hearing his voice and having both profound conversations and totally silly chats. But well, this one can be fixed since we can talk on the phone while I am there.
When you travel over the holidays, or when you are away from Vancouver (or from wherever you happen to be from), what do you miss the most? What is it that you do not miss at all?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Upcoming event - Christmas on Cambie

For some reason, I always seem to be behind every other bloggers on the news front, so I am a bit afraid to bring something up to people's attention just because I think it has been covered in more depth and better by other bloggers (see just for a few examples, Rebecca on the Vancouver mascots, Paul on the non-usability of iMove and John on the challenges faced by Cambie merchants).

However, I think this time I may have some very fresh news for you loyal Vancouver and non-Vancouver readers. From the owners of Trixi's, one of the most fabulous crepe places this side of Paris, I got the following email:
Dear Trixi's Customers,

It's been a while that you have heard from us. We have some great news. As of Sunday, December the 2nd, the trench will be paved over and cross streets from 16th to 19th will be open again. In order to celebrate the progress of the Canadaline construction in the Village the Cambie Village Business Association together with Canadaline are inviting friends and neighbours to "Christmas on Cambie" on Sunday, December 9th from 12 pm to 5 pm.

For more info see

We are very excited about this and hope you will come out to visit sometime soon.

We look forward to seeing many of our customers again and serving you one (or two) of our delicious crepes.

Ernst and Beatrix
I love going to Trixi's and have been a loyal customer for almost two years now. And I am also a strong supporter of businesses on Cambie, both promoting events and being a customer of Cambie businesses (even if it means having to navigate and negotiate street intersections, etc.) So I would strongly encourage you all to go on December 9th. Furthermore, since I will not be in Canada by then, would readers please go back to this post and leave a comment with your experience at the event? Thank you.

[Note] The link for Trixi's is actually a Canada Line link, but they are promoting Trixi's, for which I didn't find a website. But you can look at the Cambie Village Business Association website for more info.

Being a good cook may signify over-eating :)

I am (luckily or unfortunately) a fairly good cook, and one of my specialty dishes is Pasta a la Puttanesca. The only problem is that once I'm hungry and enjoying one particular flavor (or set of flavors), it's really hard to stop eating. I switched to rice and thus I ended up making some sort of mixture of Jambalaya and burgoo.

I really love this type of food (gumbos, burgoos, etc), and since my good friend LM suggested that I try less wheat, I have enjoyed cooking these dishes. The only problem is I can't stop myself! I bought a type of sausage called "garlic tube" and I have eaten it in scrambled eggs and sandwiches like there's no tomorrow. That's the only problem with me. Once I enjoy a specific flavor, it's hard for me to say no to it.

Getting sweet SWAG from Ark Clothing (Main Street)

Also known as "the Stuff We All Get", swag is sort of a made-up word that I hadn't heard until I started reading blogs. The Urban Dictionary defines swag as:
Promotional merchandise for a band, record label, or other entity in the music business, usually distributed at concerts. May include t-shirts, stickers, promo CDs, posters, etc. Often free, but not necessarily.[Urban Dictionary]
I picked up some swag from The Ark Store, on Main Street and the corner of 10th Avenue. I love this store. They have some ridiculously amazing things. I saw a beautiful set of two necklaces that have pieces of a puzzle (two pieces that fit perfectly and have the words ME and YOU) engraved in brass. These necklaces almost made me melt.

My friend L purchased a set of awesome tights, and in general I'd say the store is awesome. You should check it out.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stage 2 of pre-travel clean-up

As any normal Virgo, I am going through all my old receipts, my drawers, my piles of books and articles, etc., in order to make sure that I bring everything I need to my parents' place. You see, I am sort of a workaholic. I am supposed to be on holiday for the whole month of December, yet I don't see myself being able to do that. So I have to bring some work with me.

I am also printing out travel itineraries, location of hotels where I am going to be staying at while away, etc. Kind of funny, actually. And again I am not sure why the exhaustion. It's only past midnight and I am unable to function (and still waking up at 6 am darn it).

Raving about printers

Even though the Bollwitts (Rebecca and John) are testing now a super suave color Brother printer, I don't think I should refrain from raving about my humble HP Laserjet 1020. I have started to find it more and more useful and easier to use (well, almost six to nine months after purchase!). Anyhow, I really like the speed and how quiet it is.

I also really like the fact that it can do double-sided (not automatically as other Laserjets used to be able to do, but still it does allow me to save paper AND it's not as complicated as you may think). I have been able to print full articles (2 in 1 pages) and envelopes. Pretty near, I tell you.

I know that Darren Barefoot did extend an invitation to other local bloggers and I should've taken him up on the offer, but honestly I am not printing a lot of beautiful color pages. Although come to think about it, I'm now thinking what I want to print... hehe maybe I'll just have to ask (nicely) Rebecca or Tanya to print some stuff for me.

Ooops... don't you hate it when a good idea comes to you like, weeks after you should've implemented it? I now think I recall what I needed to print in color and I can't as I don't have a color printer. Darn it!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stage 1 of pre-travel clean-up

So I am heading south of the border for the Christmas holidays, and thus I am starting with pre-travel preparations. I should have (and I am hoping to be able to create) a to-do list with everything that I need to do before I travel. But you know, sometimes it's easier just to find a web page, copy and paste and then print it out and check items as you go along.

As for stage 1 of my travel preparations, I cleaned up the fridge, sent a couple of letters on the mail, wrote a page of commentaries I needed to submit, copied and pasted a few slides to prepare for a presentation I am giving next week. So I did get a lot accomplished within a very short period of time. Nevertheless, I'm pretty stressed and don't want to forget anything. It's like I want to make sure my trip is seamless.

Suggestions for preparation before a long trip?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I am back !!!

For a few weeks now (maybe even months), I noticed that I had lost (to a certain degree) some confidence in myself. I was mentally tired, exhausted, even sometimes grumpy. I did keep a very busy social life but I started to think that I was depressed and spent a substantial amount of time re-examining what was going on in my life.

However, this week (and particularly the past couple of days), I have been feeling very much like myself again. I have listened to "Bye Bye Brasil" by Bossacucanova on my iPod non-stop, and I have had a chance to socialize a lot with my close friends like old times (e.g. not worried sick that I wouldn't have enough time to finish my projects). I did American Thanksgiving with a group of friends, did dinner with another group of friends and have scheduled dinners with K and M (independently, as M's birthday was last week and I owe her a celebration; and K really wants to try Ethiopian food). Furthermore, HZ and CS had me, BS and JH for dinner the other night (chicken fajitas), and we had an amazing time. Clearly, this couple (HZ and CS) are made for each other. They complement each other so well it's amazing. My friends BS and JH also hit it off, and I am really very lucky that they may hang out too. I am very lucky, really, because I have the group of friends that I do.

I spent some quality time with J as well, and we had great conversations (as we usually do). But one thing I noticed when I was talking to him and it really stuck with me was that, even though my knee hurts, my serve is totally nowhere to be found, and I didn't hit as hard as I usually do, I feel very happy with my volleyball. I feel happy with my work and at peace with myself. More than that, I feel myself again.

I know I can do things, I know I am talented and I know I am very gifted, not only in terms of my capabilities and my own work, but also in the social and family realms. I have friends who care for me and love me very much. I have a family, I have a great life and I am successful. I feel like I am myself again. I feel like I am the Raul I used to know.

It did take me a while to realize this to its full extent, and to feel like a star again. So, to my loved ones (friends and family), my loyal blog readers, my former students, everyone who has a place in my heart and in my life, I can summarize how I feel in just one sentence:

I AM BACK!!!!!!!!

Movie review - Because I Said So

I won't do a long review because honestly speaking, "Because I Said So" was the worst use of my time and 1 hour and 45 minutes of my life that I will never get back since I attended a public lecture by a renowned urban sociologist (which was as well another 1.75 hrs I'll never get back). This movie sucks so bad it's not even funny. I am sad that Gabriel Macht, Lauren Graham, Tom Everett Scott and Piper Perabo (actors that I had some degree of respect for) chose to do this movie. The only good thing is that I discovered that Mandy Moore sings, indeed. She has a powerful and strong voice. But the movie is terrible. See for yourselves if you want.

I need a cell phone, PRONTO!

I lost my cell phone a few weeks back. A few days ago I was making a list of the reasons why I needed it. And I've come to realize that I need it because
  • I do have a social life.
  • Said social life is quite busy.
  • I need to be available to friends and family.
  • I sometimes need to phone people and there are no pay phones near by.
  • I need to be able to text-message my friends.
  • I need an alarm clock (I don't own one because my cell used to be my watch).
  • I need a watch (I don't own one because my cell used to be my watch)
Simply put, I can't live without a cell phone in this age and day. Although I know a couple of friends who don't own one, I luckily have quite the social life and can't be incommunicado.

So, I am surveying phone plans and stuff. Suggestions gratefully accepted.
  • I don't want a long-term plan, so either it is a plan that I can get out of quite easily and/or it is pay-as-you-go.
  • I do need unlimited incoming calls because people call me quite often.
  • I want to spend as little money as I can.
  • I don't need data capabilities but I need voice-mail and text messaging. Caller ID would be nice.
  • I want the most basic phone (e.g. I don't want a super sophisticated handset).
Would love to hear your thoughts.

Music Review - Bye, Bye Brasil by Bossacucanova

My good friend Nomade Moderne introduced me to Bossacucanova earlier this year, and to be quite frank, I was a bit shocked about how similar some of our musical tastes were. Mixing bossa nova with electronica and a bit of jazz here and there, Bossacucanova brings you amazing music. This is my very favorite song (although unfortunately I haven't been able to find the YouTube clip for the version I have on my iPod (from the album Brasilidade). The first clip I found is the actual song but it's not the Bossacucanova version. The second clip is a snippet of one of Bossacucanova's concerts (Samba de minha terra).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Restaurant review - Las Margaritas (Kitsilano)

I regret having recommended Las Margaritas to John and Rebecca. Honestly, it used to be much better. But the place has gone downhill. I went there with L, W, K and R for brunch a few weeks back, and the first thing I noticed is that their brunch menu is totally non-existent.

The prices have gone up, and for a simple mango salad, I wouldn't pay $8 bucks (anywhere). The service was absolutely terrible. I was going to order the Huevos Rancheros (which in the standard format are over-easy). But I don't like over-easy eggs, so I told the waitress that I'd like to see if they could do my eggs scrambled and without cheese. She bluntly and rudely said "we won't change our menu for you". I was totally stunned.

Then she basically dumped my glass of Coca-Cola on the table, and continued showing a really rude attitude. Of course, when I paid my part, I gave her a very minimal tip (I would have not left any tip but I was with my friends, who did tip, so I felt somewhat obligated).

With Las Margaritas, it won't be "debut y despedida" but absolute farewell. I am NOT coming back here, and I will not recommend it ever again. At least not until the restaurant owners have fired this woman, revamped their brunch menu and instilled some sense of customer service on their staff.

Restaurant review - The Sour Pickle Cafe (Victoria, BC)

Truth be told, I should've written this restaurant review earlier this week, but I've been so busy socializing that I have completely left it to the last minute. Since I am trying to check a few items off of my list (including restaurant reviews I had overdue, and stuff) I decided to write it now (before I head off to yet another dinner with friends).

While J and I were visiting Victoria, we basically had time to chat over breakfast and dinner, given his work schedule. So our last breakfast together was at The Sour Pickle Cafe. We found this little place while doing a walk around the Victoria core, and I figured it had breakfast so we headed over there.

We had a really great time. Their breakfast special is so inexpensive I almost fainted ($ 4.00 for full breakfast... hello? not even at Bon's you get that!)... and the service was top-notch. This must be an owner-operated place, otherwise I can't figure out how they manage to provide such good breakfast. I was also pleasantly surprised that it was so inexpensive (with my budgetary constraints, this was a welcome surprise!).

Restaurant review - Denny's (Birch and Broadway)

LF and I were talking about how some people disagree that a food critic is serious when he/she eats HP Sauce and ketchup (a complaint I heard from someone who criticized one of my restaurant reviews). Truth is, I believe that these sauces are important for brunch items. At any rate, I love brunch with friends and I know that some people may hate Denny's, but truthfully it wasn't bad. It was actually really good.

C, B and KW had asked me if I wanted to do brunch with them on Thanksgiving Day, so I agreed and when they picked me up, they suggested Denny's. We had done brunch there before so I had no complaints. This time I tried the meatloaf and it was really good. My friend B got a bit of debris on her sandwich, but I think that was an accident. So, overall, I'd say Denny's is good food for the value.

I couldn't find UrbanSpoon's site for Denny's, so I can't link there. But here is the link to the website. And the best part, as I've often emphasized, that I got to hang out with C, B and KW. I really appreciate their support throughout thick and thin. They've really stood up for me whenever I've needed. They've consoled me, fed me, encouraged me and made me laugh. I am very lucky with my group of friends.

Music review - My Need by Janet Jackson

There are a number of songs that make me want to dance and this is perhaps one of my top 10. Janet Jackson has been criticized for a number of reasons (particularly the Super Bowl debacle) but her music is always amazing. This is one of the best tunes she has, IMHO.

Restaurant review - Mosaic at Burrard

Having brunch with close friends is always awesome, particularly after having had a somewhat sad Friday. My great friend LF suggested that we try Mosaic at Burrard, which is the hotel restaurant for the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. I'd never been and neither had she, so we settled for brunch/lunch here.

Naturally, the prices are higher than at a normal restaurant, but bear in mind that this is a top-notch hotel and thus you pay a premium. That being said, this is definitely top notch breakfast. I ordered a frittata and LF requested a chicken sandwich (I couldn't find the menu online, so I can't really offer you that).

There were several things that made it outstanding. The waiter was looking after our very need (although coffee refills weren't as fast as I expected them, but the service was phenomenal nonetheless). We started off with coffee and orange juice (freshly squeezed) and we received a complimentary smoothie, which was kind of funny considering that my mental association looks something like this:

(Smoothie)=(Only Possibly Tolerable Food Item after Horrible Hungover)

And since I had a smoothie last time I had been hungover before meeting LF, this brought good and bad memories (bad because of the hangover). Anyhow, on to the restaurant review. The frittata was great, although I was a bit taken aback by the salad on top of the frittata. However, the bread, the potatoes and the frittata itself were amazing. LF seemed to enjoy her sandwich. She praised the dressing, which luckily was served on the side.

Would I recommend Mosaic to potential customers? Absolutely. This is a great experience if you come with someone you really like or it is a business brunch. I know that they have brunch buffet but I doubt I could eat that much food in one sitting. One word of warning: it is fairly expensive, but definitely worth the money, particularly if it is (as it was the case) a pre-Christmas dinner.

Since I am leaving Vancouver way too early this year, we had to meet for brunch much earlier than we expected. Nevertheless, it was great fun, and luckily a great place to eat with a very good friends. LF and I have been excellent friends since over a decade, so it's fun to really talk very openly and about everything with her. Good times indeed :)

Mosaic in Vancouver

Friday, November 23, 2007

TV Show Review - CSI (Miami, NY and Las Vegas)

There is a gazillion of reasons why I enjoy CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) in all its three locations (Miami, Las Vegas and New York). In a former life (well, when I was a child), I wanted to be a criminologist. Being the child of lawyers, I had grown up seeing my parents bring bad people to justice. And I wanted to be helpful for them in their enterprise, so I figured "why not criminalistics and/or criminology".

My parents, awesome and liberal as they were, suggested that I should take courses in the police academy, learn from books and/or talk to forensic specialists to see if I'd really enjoy doing this for a living. Now, bear in mind that I did a lot of things when I was a child, just because I thought they were fun. I didn't actually think they would be my career. As I had previously posted, sometimes I just learned a new thing in order to teach it or share it with my friends.

I figured that learning criminalistics (also known as forensic science) would be a fun activity. I even wrote manuals and handbooks (promise not to laugh if I tell you that I wrote manuals on how to decorate a room, how to be a detective, how to set up a library... I was a nerd!).

When I see the reality of crime and crime labs, the realization that I chose the right career (and not one in forensic science) was all much more clear. But that doesn't mean that I don't love the CSI shows. One of the great elements that makes C.S.I. a phenomenal show is that it intertwines personal elements within the forensics team (e.g. they have fights, they have romantic relationships, etc.)

Take care of yourselves

I attended a celebration of life today for Dr. Richard Ericson, a well-renowned scholar of criminology. During the program, his wife, Diana Ericson, gave a beautiful speech where she talked (as she was finishing her eulogy of her late husband) about the need for academics and scholars to take care of themselves.

Academia, as many other professions, can really take a toll on individuals. Professors are expected to do research, teach, write, participate in academic life, train and mentor graduate students, write grants to fund their research, sometimes even manage the funds for those research projects, and volunteer their time in many ways, shapes and forms.

Burnout in academia takes many shapes and forms. Often times, doctoral candidates and tenure-track assistant professors take on so much work that their stress overpowers them. One strategy to cope with academic burnout, I would argue, is to cultivate friendships and relationships. Another one is to enjoy humour, like PhDComics.

It was thus very fitting to hear Diana emphasize that young scholars (and also seasoned professors) should be careful and have a balanced life. Often times academic fatigue leads promising researchers and teachers in a downward spiral. That's true for many other professions, but I seriously believe that academia is greatly undervalued. Thus, I would like to pass Diana's wise words (not her exact words though) on to you: take care of yourselves.

Much to say, too little time

So you'll have to apologize my point-form post...
  • M's birthday was on Monday, and I was so crazy busy trying to finish a major piece of work that I completely forgot. It wasn't until Thursday that she reminded me and I feel SO guilty about having forgotten her birthday like you have no idea. Given M's sense of loyalty and dedication to her friends, family and work, I feel twice as guilty. Admittedly, I was super stressed. But I should have made sure to send her a birthday email. Luckily I do have her birthday gift already and I'll take her out for dinner to make up for my forgetfulness.
  • Had a wonderful American Thanksgiving dinner thanks to the hospitality of M and K. Good friends of mine C and H were also there, as well as three other friends of the hosts. Lots of laugh, good food, and great times. And yeah, I'm still a light-weight. Two and a half glasses of wine made my evening quite the experience, he he he.
  • One of my best friends, who is now living a split life between Madrid and Mexico City, called me this morning. It was so nice to hear his voice again. We met in Vancouver around a decade ago, and we have maintained a very strong bond despite the physical distance. This friend of mine (CB) is very successful and it was nice to catch up as though no time had passed.
  • My best friend from high school's birthday (LEAD) was yesterday, November 22nd. I really did intent to call him but I've been running around so much it was pretty much impossible. Oh, well, I'll have to make it up when I visit.
  • My great friends C and B managed to sneak a visit with KW, since she's visiting them for American Thanksgiving. Since C and B will have a ton of friends over for these holidays, I know that it'll be a complete madhouse at their place. But we managed to do lunch together (at Denny's of all places, and it was quite good) and then we did coffee on Granville Island. Spending time with C and B and KW is always really fun, and I got to meet JN's mom and brother too. Very nice people. I still can't believe I've done so much socializing in the past day!
On a funny note, while walking around, KW noticed a really cute guy and when I turned left to see who she was talking about, guess who it was? One of the Ashmore twins! I am not sure if it was Aaron Ashmore or Shawn Ashmore (I would probably guess it was Aaron since the Screenwriters Guild of America is on strike, and perhaps Smallville is on hiatus -- thus giving him some time to walk around Granville Island's Market, but I'm not totally sure). He is strikingly handsome in person (I have met other actors in person and they are usually not as good looking in real life as they look on TV). And the funny thing is (oh beautiful laid-back Vancouver) that nobody really seemed to care that he was a TV star. Everyone let him do his thing (he was hanging out with friends of him, apparently). Ah, to live in the West Coast...

The next few days will be crazy so don't expect content to be posted very frequently. But I'll keep you on the loop, I promise.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Not that I'm complaining, but...

Admittedly, I prefer sunny skies with freezing weather to cold rain and clouds. But would The-Powers-That-Be mind increasing the temperature, say, to 7 oC? Thank you. On completely inane news, my place is a complete mess. I managed to transform my clean and neat place into a total pigsty. Also, I'm definitely a poultrarian.

Music Review - You Really Got Me (Van Halen, The Kinks and Boyband)

The best way to destroy a great song is to make a cover out of it. The original song by The Kinks is great, the Van Halen cover is ok, but OMG look at the Boyband remake and you'll have to agree with me that it absolutely sucks.

I am a creature of the night... or am I?

During my recent trip to Victoria, I had to wake up at the ungodly hours of 5.30 am, 6.30am and one day, 6.00am. Thus, I am somewhat not surprised that I woke up today at 7.30 am (even though technically, I went to bed after midnight). And I didn't even complain about the noise upstairs. It was a natural wake-up call.

I know for a fact that my brain requires between 5 and 7 solid hours of sleep or otherwise, I won't be functioning. However, it was funny to discover that I had grown used to an early rise. As a matter of fact, yesterday I was so tired by 11.30am that I started wondering what was wrong with me. Well, nothing is wrong, but if you think about the fact that I had been already up for 5 hours, I shouldn't be all that surprised.

Can people really switch sleeping patterns and habits that they have had for many, many years? I tried to do this switch in 2002, and then again in 2004. However, it really didn't work very well. There were times when I was sleeping 3 to 4 hours, because I was teaching first thing in the morning (6 am) then came home, had breakfast and went to work. Furthermore, I needed to prepare my lectures in the evening, so often I would go to bed at 2 am.

J and I were talking about our former capacities to work all day and night to finish projects, and how through time, we seem to have lost that amazing capacity to work. But the truth is, I think that as people grow older, their physiques are unable to take as much pounding as we used to impart on them. Now we need more sleep, and more regular hours of sleep.

All in all I am not that upset about this apparent behavioral switch. I'll see how long it lasts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sidney by the Sea (British Columbia)

I had bad memories from Victoria, Vancouver Island in general and Sidney (also known as Sidney by the Sea) thanks to my ex (who hails from North Saanich). However, I had the chance to spend a few days on the island with my close friend J, so I decided to re-create my memories and build new (and happier) ones.

So we started off our visit with Sidney. We arrived late during the day so we had to basically do a walk around and then eat lunch. The place where we had lunch (Cafe Med) is very cute and the service was really nice. Brunch wasn't really expensive at all. I personally love everything about Sidney. Even though it appears as though it's almost a retirement community (lots of seniors), the shoreline has changed and there are new buildings right across from the Cannery.

I was reading that Sidney used to be a farming community, but I can't really see how. Renowned for whale-watching and its mineral museum, Sidney is the quintessential small town in Canada. You can walk it in less than an hour. I could work there given that within the first two minutes of walking around, I found an environmental services firm. I also found a nice mix of residential and commercial land uses. And being there just brought good memories to me, as well as allowed me to re-create new beautiful ones.

We walked around the Fisherman's Wharf, and had a nice stroll on the Sidney dock. We didn't get to have dinner at Bistro Suisse, which would've been really nice, but I guess that'll have to wait until next time we visit. The advantage is that it's very near to the Victoria Airport.

And for all of us, urban planners/environmental folks, this is so cool! It's a complete socio-economic and demographic analysis of Sidney. I will save the PDF file for my future reference should I decide to move there.

I need my numbers up :-)

So I have some idea of how people get to my blog. Quick summary:

a). Google, and generally for my restaurant reviews.
b). Urban Spoon, and generally for my restaurant reviews too.
c). Some Googling of environmental issues.
d). Local (Vancouver and surrounding areas) bloggers (the usual suspects).
e). Bloggers in other parts of the world who know me.
f). Friends of mine in different countries (US, Mexico, Netherlands, etc.)
g). Colleagues and friends with whom I've shared my blog address.
h). People who like tennis matches such as the one Monica Seles vs. Steffi Graf (final of the Australian Open 1992, a phenomenal match).

And I want my numbers up. Not that I'm just wanting you to come visit my blog just 'cause. I just appreciate the love :) [and clearly, I'm so brain-dead after my recent effort to publish something that I'm not writing anything substantial - sorry for wasting three minutes of your life :-(]

Restaurant review - Rosie's Diner (Victoria BC)

Since Sodas Diner has transformed itself into The Dunbar, J and I have lost our 50s diner where we have always headed to get burgers and fries. The food at The Dunbar is still good, but the decor is not 50's anymore. Thus, I wasn't that surprised that J looked for a 50s diner while we visited Victoria.

And he found one... Rosie's Diner. Located in the beautiful Cook Street Village, Rosie's Diner is simply outstanding. The food is very Canadian, I would say. I had a turkey dinner (turkey meat with mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce) and J had a Montecristo sandwich. Really inexpensive, and their home-made strawberry cheesecake was to-die-for.

I doubt that we'll be coming to Victoria *just* for the experience of having dinner at a 50's style diner, but I would definitely bring friends or loved ones to Rosie's Diner just because it's a great experience. You can see a photo here.

Beautiful Victoria, British Columbia

So I have spent the last three days in Victoria, one of the prettiest cities I've been to. The weather has been rather cold (zero degrees right now) but it's been sunny. At night, the scenic view of the inner harbour is amazing. The Parliament buildings are well lit at night (with energy-saving light bulbs) and the skies have been so clear it's been a great experience. Plus hanging out with a close friend is always nice.

I had a chance to walk around the city, particularly near Market Square and the Village. Actually the Village looks like it's been frozen in time. We had dinner at a cute little 50s diner called Rosie's Diner (on Cook), and then had a coffee at the Moka Cafe near by. If I could, I'd probably move to this area of town. It does have everything you could possibly need.

I also noticed that the prices for dinner, breakfast and lunch are much cheaper than in Vancouver. This leads me to believe that I would probably be much happier here as it would be cheaper to dine out (which I do quite often). However, I probably would exhaust the places for dinner/brunch quite soon :) considering how often I go out!

All in all, I love Victoria.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Coffee shop review - Esquires Coffee

Located at the corner of 16th Avenue and Oak, Esquires is a cute coffee shop that also has wireless internet. I have had some good coffees here, particularly with close friends. There's also a nice pastry/coffee/deli shop right across the street (Max's), but I definitely enjoy Esquires as I can work on my laptop there.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Realizing a deep truth while washing dishes

And no, I am not kidding you. I realized this while doing my dishes this evening. I love teaching people new things. The more I think about it, I realize that I kept learning and doing interesting stuff to teach and/or share with my friends or loved ones. This may sound ridiculous, but it's true. I recall very clearly my conversations with one of my former best friends (we aren't friends anymore, but that's another story) and I always wanted to share the new things I had learned.

I've done modeling (catwalk and catalogue), bar-tending, competitive volleyball, acting in theatre, contemporary dancing, volunteer with literacy groups teaching how to write and read (in Spanish), and a bunch of other stuff. And the primary driver was to be able to share exciting stuff with people. And teaching is only one of my passions, but clearly it is one I have had since childhood.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


And no, the post title does not refer to the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In this case, this would be my post # 451. I was going to make a big fuss about my 300th post, and then I wrote a series of posts and before I realized it, I was posting # 303. Then I thought "I'll wait until I'm in the 400s" and same thing happened. So I decided to just mark this one as an important post (I passed the 450 mark with the previous one already).

Several noteworthy points that would warrant fuller discussions but that I don't have the time to delve into.
  • Best recipe of the past couple of weeks: Ma Po Chicken (the actual recipe is for Ma Po Tofu, but I ended up changing tofu cubes for chicken breast cubes). This is tonight's dinner. I made rice (strangely, basmati rice) to go with the Ma Po Chicken. Thanks to B for the recipe and the ma po sauce!
  • Question of the week: Why didn't anybody think of calling an interpreter to help Robert Dziekanski? He was Polish, why would people assume that he spoke Russian (but of course, you would have to have some degree of cultural training and language skills). Getting an interpreter would have been my first reaction. I had talked to my good friend Sara, who is a professional interpreter (English-Spanish), and she mentioned she asked herself the same question.
  • Strike of the week: We just emerged from a civic worker strike recently and now the Screen Guild Writers of America are on strike. If you watch Vancouver-shot shows, such like Bionic Woman, Smallville, Supernatural... you may be in for lots of re-runs.
There are important issues that should be discussed at length, but I don't have the time at the moment, as I have an important deadline for Monday. But I hope you're having a good weekend!

Restaurant review - Arms Reach Bistro (Deep Cove, North Shore)

There are few things in life nicer than having brunch with a close friend at Arms Reach Bistro in Deep Cove (North Vancouver). For me, Deep Cove is the epitome of calm, beautiful, peaceful. It's a small community within the North Shore that has very pretty panoramic views of mountains, Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm.

There are many things that you can do in Deep Cove, but two of the activities I have enjoyed the most and that bring me some of the most beautiful memories are, respectively, having brunch near the water and walking around Deep Cove and the community of Panorama.

We arrived to Arms Reach Bistro thinking that we wouldn't be able to do brunch. However, they d have brunch and the food is amazing. They also have one of the best martinis in town. The staff were extremely friendly, particularly a beautiful young waitress who was born and raised in Deep Cove. She gave us the full 411 on the community... "Deep Cove in a nutshell".

Arms Reach Bistro is the type of place you would take someone you care very much for, or an out-of-town visitor, for brunch/lunch or dinner and then a nice walk around the shores. I absolutely love Deep Cove, had a wonderful time at Arms Reach Bistro and would gladly come back any time. It is even accessible via transit. The map is located here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Upcoming events on sustainability in Vancouver

This is a multi-event post, so please read carefully.

Community Meetings to Discuss Regional Growth Challenges (Organizer: Metro Vancouver) (Vancouver and Electoral Area A)
When: Nov 19th, 7-9pm,
Where: Vancouver Public Library

In November and December 2007, we will be hosting meetings to talk about regional growth challenges. How can growth be accommodated on a limited land base? How will we provide the housing that will be needed for a growing and aging population? How will we keep Metro Vancouver prosperous and competitive in the global economy? How will people and goods get around in the region? How can we develop in ways that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions?

A Discussion Guide is being prepared to provide a starting point for the consultation process. The guide contains an overview of the issues and outlines the goals, strategies and a number of implementation options.[Metro Vancouver website:]"

Green Drinks:
When: Wednesday November 21st, 5:45pm onwards
Where: Steamworks in Gastown (Skytrain: Waterfront Station)

A monthly gathering of anyone interested in 'green'. Green Drinkers are from all ages, backgrounds and groups - non-profit organizations, academia, government, small business, big business, self-employed, volunteers, students, concerned citizens...and everything in between.

Average attendance is 60, with new people stopping in every time.

Interested in meeting a group of friendly people having lively conversations about all things green? Then join us for drinks!

There's no agenda or other formality - it's just a chance to meet regularly to chat, debate, socialize and connect with others in Vancouver who are passionate about environmental and sustainability issues. Whether you're keen on green building & design, sustainable energy, organic gardening, or something else entirely, you'll find like-minded people. Please feel free to bring your business cards, brochures, info sheets, magazines and newsletters to put on a table for people to take away with them. Do make sure to take whatever you left on the table with you when you leave. [Green Drinks Vancouver]:]

Music Review - Know Who You Are At Every Age by Cocteau Twins

I was first introduced to Cocteau Twins through my ex. While we are no longer dating, I took a liking to the wonderful voice of Elizabeth Fraser and the Cocteau Twins. This is one of the songs I like the most. As you may know, sometimes her words become gibberish. But that's irrelevant. Their music is great. Although I wouldn't recommend their music to people who are feeling blue.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas decorations

Well, so everyone on the Vancouver blogosphere seems to have pulled out the Christmas decorations, so I figured it was time to pull mine. This year I'm starting a bit early because I am not going to be in Vancouver for the whole month of December, so I kinda wanted to show that I had some degree of Christmas spirit in my Vancouver apartment.

Besides, I spend Christmas with my parents and while I decorate my Mom's house to my liking (and hers, quite obviously), it's not the same than decorating my own apartment. I haven't taken pictures of my newly decorated place just yet because I've been super busy. Besides, I need to decide whether it's worth it to put up a few more decorations. I am usually reluctant to clutter my place as it is really tiny. But I guess some stuff in the walls would do the trick.

Suggestions for Christmas decorations that don't occupy lots of space are most welcome.

Music Review - Vogue by Madonna

November is a month of birthdays. Many of my good friends, my niece, my male best friend from my undergraduate and my late auntie's birthday are all in November. My best friend in undergrad (LE) has always been very close to me even though we are separated by thousands of miles. He pushed me to try harder, to be better, even if sometimes he was a slacker at school.

Through our friendship, he learned to be sweeter and I learned to be more pragmatical. One of the best ways to remember him is through the song Vogue. I am (as you might have read before) a trained dancer, and I have choreographed many songs before. I put this one together (Vogue) for our undergraduate graduation. LE was the lead (in drag as Madonna), and he did a fabulous job. So I toast to good memories, to his (upcoming) birthday and to our friendship. Gracias amigo :) Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you... Vogue (courtesy of YouTube).