Thursday, January 31, 2008

I jinxed myself - so that was that...

My neighbours upstairs are incredibly noisy and often times, disturb my (and my next-door-neighbour's) quiet enjoyment. They have a 2 (maybe 3?) year old kid who is unbearable by any measure. Admittedly the kid is cute as they come (beautiful blue eyes, blond hair, ultra cute smile) but his behaviour is totally unacceptable. He throws tantrums like you have no idea and gets on my nerves faster than a speeding bullet. He runs in the house (and there is no noise insulation whatsoever in this house), throws things on the floor, etc. True, if I could afford rent elsewhere in Vancouver, I probably would move. But truth be told, I love Mount Pleasant and don't intend to move any time soon.

So this morning, I'm having a conversation with my next-door-neighbour where I say that the best moment of my day (when I am working at home, as I did today) is when the kid leaves the house with his parents. On any given day, they'll give us two or three hours breaks, and then come back and inflict as much noise as they possibly can.

However, today I started to feel strange when by 1.30pm, I was still writing along and enjoying a nice work pace. "Nobody has interrupted me... hmmm... this is suspicious...", I thought to myself. 3 pm came along... still having a wonderful working afternoon. Very suspicious. Finally, I broke down and told my neighbour "hmmm... I think they're gone for the day" and she quickly stopped me on my tracks "DON'T JINX IT!!! If you keep saying that they're gone, they'll be back!!!". Quite frankly, I kind of doubted it, but stopped mentioning it anyways.

So, it's 8.15 pm ... and I jinxed it. They are back. And noisy as ever. I did, admittedly, have a wonderful day of working at home, but I could have used a few more hours where I could have had a nap, or keep working. Now, back to my earplugs and my writing...

The life of a personal assistant

I started working since a very early age. Working hard has always been both a motto and normal behavior for my family. We are so used to being workaholics that most people who know me ask me "when do you sleep?". Truth is, I sleep very little, because I really work very hard. But I also play hard. And one of the things I've done (one of the jobs I have had) is that of a personal assistant. At 11 years old. I am not kidding you.

This post has two reflections embedded in it. The first one refers to me as a personal assistant to people. For the longest time, I have been helping people succeed. So, I often have wondered "well, after all this helping people out, who helps me out?". And that led me to the second reflection, which is associated with the title of this post. I have had a personal assistant. And he was FANTASTIC.

On to the first part. Me as a personal assistant. People tend to ask me for help and/or advice all the time. That doesn't make me their personal assistant, true. But, I have helped my parents, some of my colleagues and my boss to lead their day-to-day lives. That's because I'm pretty damn organized, and I can recall things very easily (since I have a photographic memory). I am, in some senses, the perfect personal assistant.

However, I have to admit that I much rather have a personal assistant than being one. That's the second part of this post. My former personal assistant, MV, started out as just an intern (my co-op student, if you might). He then took on more and more duties, and learned to basically read my mind. How did I manage to finish so many writing projects, papers, attend so many conferences, etc. and still have a personal life? MV was there to help me out. He was the one who convinced me to get a cell phone, he knew what my calendar looked like, we shared access to my Outlook to book my appointments, and he even used to call the people I was supposed to meet to confirm.

Having someone to help you with your day-to-day life is a blessing. Trust me on that one, I've been on both sides. I have been the one who tells my Mom "you have to give a lecture here, you are supposed to meet with so-and-so at 5 pm, this is the dress I think you should wear, etc." Same with my Dad "Dad, so this is your 3 pm appointment, then I am going to transcribe your document, see you at seven - we have dinner with So and So, blah blah".

On the other hand, I have been successful (and as some people have called me, a 'star') because of my very capable personal assistant. Now, there are a few questions I have.
  • First, do people value their PAs?
  • Second, does everybody need a PA or are we so technologically-advanced that we don't need someone to help us with our day-to-day lives?
  • And third, why on the planet does academia fail to recognize the need for a project manager (who will indeed make sure that you don't overspend the budget of your research grant, and ensure that you'll be at the conference in the country you are supposed to be delivering that talk)?
Just some thoughts...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Liveblogging Vancouver Blogger Meetup

9:56 pm - Well, Mom wasn't available on Skype and I feel as though I let down my neighbour DMcN as I didn't pick up a jug of cider but we'll leave that to the weekend. I was too busy with the liveblogging! Exhausted and starving, I had to pat myself in the back for having prepared dinner and lunch for the next three days. Quick defrosting in a microwave and now I'm enjoying a nice curry chicken with basmati rice while I polish my liveblog.

9:06 pm
- This would be the end of my liveblogging as I have to run and chat with my Mom on Skype, but I hope you guys enjoy the liveblog. It was fun. Rebecca, if you're reading this, you can tell me what you think ;) [Man, am I ever hungry...]

Damn - I almost forgot - had a chance to chat with Jan (the great Dane) who happens to be friends with Tanya (aka NetChick). So... in the chat, Richard is mentioning that he is going to do the introduction to blogging seminar at Northern Voice, YET he is not blogging that much! That is so funny :)

Here's the pic with Richard, Jan and Na'im.

8:56 pm - Even though he's about to leave, it was nice to chat with John Biehler. John, Al, Monica and I were discussing about what my blog is about, and Al made an important observation when I ranted about the young woman who refused my kindness this morning - he said "you should've just asked - do you need a hug?".
I normally would be just that bold, but for some reason, I didn't feel up to it. But his point is well taken. In the picture you can appreciate John, Al and Monica.

I also had a chance to chat with Carola from The Jem Gallery and Bev Davies. Bev is a photographer and you should totally check her Flickr stream. And Carola is appearing on The Georgia Straight tomorrow, so we'll have to read it!

8:40 pm - Jonathon and Na'im have left (well, Jonathon is on his way out) but I already made new good blogger friends. Had a very nice (but short) chat with Morten (who has 6 blogs?!)... but it's really hard to liveblog, pay attention, socialize and then upload photos. Hope everyone is having fun though!

8:27 pm - Unbelievably, I bumped into Jonathon Narvey. You'll wonder - why unbelievable? Well, because when you start reading someones blog, it becomes a fun phenomenon when you meet the person. And he is so nice to talk to... we have some very similar interests, and of course, we will continue having opposing opinions sometimes, but definitely, we respect each other very much. That's always fun. And in this photo, you can see Jonathon and Shane (yes, Shane from the contest to reclaim top Vancouver blogger spot). It will be fun to see what happens with the contest :)

8:06 pm
- Just had a very pleasant chat with Ronald where he asked me why I am on Blogspot. Truth is, first platform I knew. So, now I need to move over to WordPress. But I feel a bit as though I'm breaking up with a partner... it's hard to let go! But his site is on WP and he says it is awesome so I have to try it. Angela and Morten also were trying to sway me on the WP bandwagon... and they're right! They are SO right! This liveblog would be SO much easier if I were on the WP platform. *sigh* Lesson learned :)

I have to admit that I was very amused with the Pink and Yellow website (since Angela says she's yellow and Morten is pink - for someone like me, who is an immigrant himself, this type of characterization is fun to make - in my case, I guess I'd be hmmm... red [because of the chillies?] ... dunno, maybe stretching the analogy). In the picture, Angela, Morten, Ronald and ... I forgot his name, rats... I'll ask him :)

7:52 pm - Na'im kindly collected the names and blogs of the "side tables". We're pretty much clustered in two groups (this coffee shop is awesome, but it doesn't have enough seating for us right now I think). I have been to the Our Town Cafe before only once, but EVERY time I walk by, I see at least two or three people reading a book LEISURELY. I am not kidding. You can tell that they are enjoying their reading and it's pleasant. The last time I read a book at my leisure was, what... 2001? *sigh*

Ok, so in the picture above you see Karen, Na'im, Al, David ... I am a bit embarrassed to have had to ask them to write their names and all, given that I have photographic memory, but I think I'm a little bit too excited about being here. Al and I should totally talk, since he is the creator of the Bokashi method, a simple, indoor, hassle-free composting method. And quite obviously I am a student of the environment, so...

* Feel free to submit comments on the liveblog!

7:45pm I begin taking pictures and introducing myself. Maybe a little bit intrusive on my part as I interrupted a couple of conversations. But it's always nice to actually put a face to the person. I am actually missing Rebecca Bollwitt (aka Miss604) a lot, since I spoke with her on GChat earlier and she mentioned she was super busy before she heads to the island with Keira-Anne. And since she's not here, I guess it's up to me to live-blog. I hope I can live up to her high standards, because she IS the top Vancouver liveblogger!!! On the picture you find Isabella and Katy.

7:30 pm Na'im from just came to kindly introduce himself. Very pleasant conversation, we were commenting about the fact that I hate linking my own stuff on, but if you feel some of my writing is worth it, then by all means, please feel free to link it there. As for me, I'll link the stuff I read and I find exciting. Also very exciting to see that Karen Fung is here (the organizer from TransitCamp).

7:15pm - I arrive wet but in one piece at the Vancouver Blogger Meetup. Quickly I get introduced to Isabella Mori and Richard from JustAGwailo (who overheard my blog's name and just mentioned that he 'hears' the voice of the blogger once he meets them). Very fun to be here.

Note - already has a blog!

I have my digital camera so I'll try to post some as soon as I can. We are at the Our Town Cafe at the corner of Kingsway and Broadway.

Snowing in Vancouver (part 2)

Since Blogspost is going to have an outage, I figured I'd take this opportunity to insert a photograph that I took recently. The photo shown below is looking outside my bedroom window. It does look kinda cute. But OMG, is it ever cold! It's hard on my eyes, unfortunately. Not because of the beauty (it is indeed beautiful) but because of the sunlight reflected on the snow.

I won't be a good samaritan anymore (at least in Vancouver)

On the way to my office today I saw a young woman who was on the brink of bursting into tears. As I usually do, I pondered whether I should say something or not. Usually, I try to help people out and offer a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. But in Vancouver (in Canada, in general) I find it really hard to do that, because people are quite jealous of their personal space.

I figured "hey, what the heck..." and I approached her gently, asking "are you ok? I saw you a few minutes ago and saw that you were about to cry. I just wanted to make sure you were ok" and she said to me, rather bluntly "I'm fine." FINE, WHATEVER. That's what I get for trying to be nice.

This is disturbing. In a city already renowned for being aloof and unfriendly, there are still a few of us who will want to approach random strangers and offer our help. And what do we get? Almost a slap in the face. Sometimes, I wonder how can campaigns like "Free Hugs" succeed in a city like this. At any rate, I learned my lesson. No more "Good Samaritan"-ing.

The historical development of Mount Pleasant in Vancouver (teaser)

I promised Rebecca (aka Miss604) that I would write a whole post on the history of Mount Pleasant (the neighbourhood where I live now), but just wanted to give you all dear readers a mini-teaser. I am a bit frustrated because I can't find the photographs I took from the intersection of Main Street and 12th Avenue, but I'll take a few pictures and upload them to complement said guest post on Rebecca's blog.

But for now, let me just tell you that I'm a big fan of industry. Yes, I admit it. Having factories is a necessary element of societal development, and despite the current apparent trend towards a "post-Fordist" society, where industry will decline, we still need industrial plants. And Mount Pleasant used to be an industrial area.

One of the elements that makes Mount Pleasant very interesting and peculiar is that there are still some signs of evident industrial activity. For example, if you have ever been to The Whip (on 6th Avenue and Main), right across from it you can find what used to be a brewery.

I am fascinated by this trend of transforming industrial land to residential zoned areas (this is something I actually analyze in my day job). It was also funny to find out that there used to be two slaughter houses and a tannery (not surprisingly, since these industrial activities are part of the same commodity chain). From the Vancouver Archives, I dug out some information and apparently this tannery was to be built around 1890.

The City of Vancouver's website provides some interesting tidbits on the history of Mount Pleasant: [City of Vancouver]
The proximity to the business district of Vancouver and the availability of a quality water supply (Brewery Creek) made the area an ideal place for early industry and settlement. Early expectations were that Mount Pleasant would develop as Vancouver's fashionable "uptown." The area high above False Creek was named "Mount Pleasant" in 1888, after the Irish birthplace of the wife of H.V. Edmonds. Edmonds, clerk of the municipal council in New Westminster, was the original owner of much of Mount Pleasant.

By 1904, Mount Pleasant was home to a tannery, two slaughter houses, four breweries, and a train station. Industrial expansion brought residential development. By 1912, Mount Pleasant had a thriving residential population and community facilities such as an elementary school (the Kingsgate Mail site), a firehall, a first run theatre, and Vancouver's first skyscraper (the Lee Building). Mount Pleasant was also a terminus for the streetcar network.
I really hope that development plans for this area will try to preserve the peculiar flavor of this industrial/residential neighbourhood. Have you ever walked on 17th Avenue almost corner of Ontario Street? You will find a wax factory (not sure if it still operating, I would seriously doubt it).

My dream house? The house at the corner of 18th Avenue and Columbia Street. It has a little detached place that I am guessing used to be a corner store. I am sure I shared this story with many of my friends: I would have loved to buy that house, and start a little coffee shop or a dance studio in the space where the corner store used to be.

There are lots of haunts that I could talk about and that I am sure you'd love to visit in your next stop by Mount Pleasant. However, that'll have to wait until I finish writing the guest blog post for Rebecca. Until then, stay tuned!

Eatery review - Sushi Sky (West End)

Given that my budget for dining out has shrunk considerably, and that my friends and I are trying to be more conscious about that (I'm glad they are, because I am pretty broke right now!), it was nice to find yet another place with good sushi for less than what I would have paid at Tanpopo or one of those other restaurants.

Sushi Sky is a little hole-in-the-wall kind of place on Bute Street, near Davie. If you know the Jupiter Cafe, it's pretty much right beside it. I have to say that it's such a strategic location. Three of my closest friends live within three blocks of this place. I went there with J for a quick dinner before watching "Brothers and Sisters" at his place a couple of Sundays ago.

The sushi is really good, and for less than $ 6.00 you got yourself dinner. I think the total for two with tip was $ 15.00. I mean, there are times when I pay that much at brunch! So, I'm pretty happy with this little place. Inexpensive and tasty. I'll be coming back again, for sure.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Upcoming event - Vancouver Blogger Meetup January 2008

I have been trying to attend one of the Vancouver Blogger Meetups and haven't had a chance to do it (been out of town, triple-booked, etc.) At any rate, I just checked the link (it says the event is full, but I don't care - I am still going to show up). Here are the details, as shown on the Vancouver Blogger Meetup website.
When: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 7:00 PM
Our Town Cafe, 245 E. Broadway, Vancouver , BC V5T 1W4
I hope to see a few of the bloggers whom I have chatted with on email there.

Snow in Vancouver can make you happy... or not

Some of my Vancouverite friends are so excited about how beautiful the city looks with all this snow. I admit it, it looks pretty. But if I tell you what happened to me last night, you'll understand why I am so angry at the weather. I was working late, but I knew that unless I took the last 99 B-Line, I'd be stuck at my office, so I ran out the door (in the snow, without an umbrella and without a toque) and headed to the bus stop.

As I was making my way to the bus stop, the 99 B-Line started its engine and quickly left. I was literally 4 seconds away from the bus, and the bus driver still didn't wait for me. I screamed "WAIT, WAIT, WAIT" at the top of my lungs and he still wouldn't do it. I'm not that surprised, but I got really angry.

So I figured "oh well, I'll just stay overnight at the office" and what is my surprise when I realize that I don't have my electronic key to the building. So now I am all wet, my hair is white from all the snow, I'm freezing and have to wait for the stupid bus.

It took me a good hour and 20 minutes to get home (a commute that on a good day is 30 minutes). By the time I got home, I was furious. But surprisingly, I was still in good enough of a mood to do some work until 4.30am. I work really well at night. But this morning I saw the heavy snow and I decided I was going to work at home.

I may (potentially) get out and snap a few pictures, just for the beauty. But I am SO happy that a friend e-mailed me the piece of work I had to process today. So very very very happy! I did not want to go to the office today.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I need a new cell phone, so I'm accepting suggestions

I lost my cell last November, and I've refused to buy a new one simply on principle. I hate cell phone companies in Canada (well, don't hate them, but did you know that whenever you receive a call in Mexico the caller is paying for the phone call and it costs you zero, zilch, nada? Same deal in Spain).

Anyhow, so I want a pay-as-you-go, super cheap, no-frills, nothing fancy, ultra-basic phone. The only thing I really, really would like is unlimited incoming calls. The problem is, with the super busy social life I have, it's stupid for me not to have a cell. I *need* a cell. If there's anyone who needs a cell here, is me.

I've seriously considered the possibility of buying the 7-11 package (100 dollars phone with 100 dollars worth of air time). I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Thanks in advance!

Upcoming event - Vancouver's Next Gay Top Model

I first heard about this event from the Georgia Straight, then I saw a link at, and finally I decided to check out the website. Something that really made me happy was to find out that the organizers are raising funds for an important charity: Friends for Life.

This past summer, I Blogathoned in support of 'A Loving Spoonful' (I doubt they actually knew that I did this to raise funds for them, but quite frankly I don't care - I did it because I thought it was a worthy cause). More information about Friends for Life:
The Vancouver Friends For Life Society serves as a catalyst to enhance the wellness of individuals living with a life threatening illness by providing complementary and alternative health and support services.

Friends For Life was built on the belief that no one should have to face the many challenges of serious illness alone. Our philosophy recognizes the connection between the mind and body with a view towards treating the whole person - the mind, body and soul - rather than treating the illness alone. [Friends for Life Society website]
This is a worthy cause and of course I encourage you to participate. It should be fun. The list of contestants (with pictures and all) can be found here.

Weekend roundup

Even though I didn't have my usual Friday dinner with C, B, L and J (as we usually do), I ended up being triple-booked. But that's not unusual in Raul's life. As somebody would say, another day at work, hehe. My weekend started on Wednesday with a lovely dinner at Kishu Mountain with LB. Since we don't work together anymore, I had not had a chance to see her and it was so lovely to touch base with her. It was very refreshing to have again some time just to hang out the two of us.

Friday I went to the office party and then we proceeded to go to a post-office party at J/B/P's house. That was a blast, and I got a nice invite to a party the next evening at B and M's place. I had such a great time at B and M's (although I did manage to exact some damage on my liver and my head - note to self - don't drink and dance). Saturday morning I had brunch with BS at The Nice Cafe, which was also wonderful, and spent part of the afternoon just doing some work around the house.

Sunday morning was my traditional volleyball followed by a very nice brunch with M, L and A. As it has become tradition, Sunday evening was dinner and a movie with J. And strangely enough, I felt a bit depressed/sad after J dropped me off at my place after dinner at The Red Sea Cafe. Not sure why. I think it's because I've had such a social weekend, filled with people, new friends, new bonding processes (friendship bonding, I mean). I am a bit overwhelmed, but at the same time, I kind of miss my friends. It's a strange feeling. I have seen so many of my friends in the past two weeks and yet I still feel as though I haven't seen enough of them. Weird. This too, shall pass.

Restaurant review - Seto Cafe (Commercial Drive)

I write this review as I am listening again and again to the song "Who Knows" by Natasha Bedingfield (by the way, I just found out that the song is not included in the soundtrack, which totally sucks - this song would be the sole reason why I'd buy the soundtrack). Anyhow, this afternoon (just before meeting J for dinner and a movie), I had brunch with L, M and A after our volleyball game at a nice little cafe that has one of the cheapest brunches in town ($3.50 for breakfast is hard to beat).

Cafe Seto (on Commercial Drive) is located pretty close to JJ Beans and near 6th and Commercial (if I'm not mistaken). It only takes cash and debit, so that's a bit of a problem for those like me, who totally love plastic (e.g. credit cards). But the price is almost unbeatable. And the food is REALLY good.

It was very nice to spend some time with L and M (two of my best volleyball players) outside our customary environment (e.g. a volleyball court). I have to say that I am pretty damn proud. My volleyball team this term is super solid, and we get along famously. As S put it very truthfully, "we are freakishly laid-back".

Back to the review. I had their All Day Breakfast (actually I ordered the ADB but they gave me the 2-2-2, 2 eggs, 2 sausages, 2 pancakes). Awesome, very filling. I think that the only issue I am having with brunch at the moment is that I do need coffee with my toast and a soft drink (e.g. Pepsi) with my eggs. Call me weird, but I can't really fathom a brunch without those two drinks. Anyhow, I highly recommend Cafe Seto. Cheap brunch - almost unbeatable!

Music review - Who Knows by Natasha Bedingfield

This song is part of a number of awesome songs that are included in the movie 27 Dresses (which I just reviewed). I have to admit that the song, Who Knows by Natasha Bedingfield, sounds SO MUCH BETTER in a movie theatre. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was so into the movie that it just seemed to fit perfectly. You judge. I love the song. The video shown below is not the official one, but it's one I found on YouTube.

Movie review - 27 Dresses

Before I begin, one disclaimer. Well, actually two. First, I *love* Katherine Heigl and James Marsden. They are two of my favourite actors, so anything with both of them will probably fly with me. Second, I am a romantic at heart, so chick flicks and I are very good friends ;)

Ok, on to the review. This review involves also some degree of personal insight into my own life which I thought I'd blog about at the same time. That element is perhaps worth a completely separate blog entry, but I'll see how the writing comes along and then if I need, I'll expand.

The movie 27 Dresses revolves around Jane (Heigl), who works for an eco-tourism tycoon (Edward Burns) who in addition to being handsome, is filthy rich. Jane fell in love with weddings. Since she was very young, she proved a phenomenal wedding planner (who doesn't actually do that for a living, but is always there for her girlfriends who get married). Hence, she is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Jane is the perfect bridesmaid (and sometimes maid of honor). She keeps being there for her bride friends, in hopes that one day all of them will be there for her. But that special day has never arrived, and now the number of dresses she has accumulated amounts to 27. Actually it's pretty cool to see all the different weddings she's been to (a goth wedding, cowboy-themed, under-water, a Californian wedding, a wedding in Japan, an Indian wedding, etc.)

She is hopelessly in love with her boss, who falls for her baby sister. As you can (predictably) surmise, issues ensue. The great thing about 27 Dresses is that there is an entire side plot around Jane and her (predictably hot) suitor, the cynical Kevin (Marsden), dumped by his wife on the wedding day which makes him obviously sour to the whole idea of marriage.

I have to say that I absolutely loved this movie. There are so many clever and witty phrases in the dialogues that I actually would love to use at some point, it's a really funny and heartwarming movie. Here is the trailer - worth watching. Go see the movie. With a loved one. Now.

Trailer available from YouTube.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My faith in the world has been restored.

Or at least, partially (if my neighbours were a lot more considerate about not letting their kid run in their house, I'd say it has been almost totally restored). Anyhow. Today I went for brunch with BS to the Nice Café. It's a nice neat little restaurant on 8th Avenue and (almost) Main.

We had (as we usually do) a great time. At some point, as it happens when I'm enthralled with the conversation with my friends, I must have pulled (inadvertently) my house keys off of my pocket. Since it was so cold, I didn't have my gloves nor toque, the sensibility of my fingers was minimal. Therefore, the keys fell off without me noticing.

When I got home, my keys were nowhere to be found, and of course, I panicked. I re-traced my steps, hoping that someone would have found my keys and left them at one of the places I had just been to. Well, lo- and behold, my keys were sitting in a small wedge on the corner of Broadway and Main.

I have to say that, while I am extremely grateful, am not so surprised. I have always had a good feeling about the neighbourhood, so finding my keys only came to reinforce that positive energy I get from here. Clearly, there are reasons to be grateful to The-Powers-That-Be, and I am indeed very very thankful. Hence why my faith in the world has been restored.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Restaurant review - The Old Spaghetti Factory (Vancouver)

There is no better way to spend a nice lunch than with extended family and friends, at a great restaurant: The Old Spaghetti Factory. We went to the Gastown location, although I have been there and to other locations with J, my brother, and other friends. I recognize I should have written this review LONG ago, but anyways.

The great thing about the OSF is that there is no way in hell you will not be full at the end of your meal. I ordered a spicy chorizo penne, and to be honest, I don't think I could have eaten it all had it not been for the fact that I had not had breakfast (I was too busy trying to finish off some work, as I knew that my afternoon was a total write-off - I had family members visiting).

The food is, as always, great. The staff (servers and host) were very nice, greeted us with drinks and bread and butter, and provided us with soft drinks refills all the way. So I can't complain. The best part was visiting with extended family, but also it was very nice to just have some really good food. If you have a large group, it's really worth the price of the food (less than $ 20.00 for a REALLY GOOD lunch). I'd seriously recommend it.

Cleaning up the house - literally!

I am a bit afraid that two of my most relevant pieces this week (the diatribe about Translink's decision-making process and the upcoming climate-change related events here in Vancouver) will disappear into oblivion if I keep writing these "light content" posts but I've been wanting to say this for a few days now. So here it goes (and apologies to those who will waste 3 minutes of their time in reading this post!)

Last night, I completely cleaned up my apartment. As in, I sat down, went through the piles of papers that had accumulated in my living room, on my bed, on my kitchen table and on my (rather small) desk. You'll see, I live in a REALLY tiny apartment (to see a layout of what my apartment looks like and be a bit frightened about how much I crammed in less than 500 square feet, click here).
(when decorating apartments in Vancouver, you have to deal with VERY limited spaces).

Anyhow, I digress... Given the very small amount of space I have in my apartment, I really have to keep it rather clean and organized. So, I got rid of a few items (donated to Triage, a non-governmental organization that provides emergency services to homeless and low-income people, but I'll blog about that later) and organized all my files (yet again). You'd be surprised to see my apartment now. It looks almost immaculate.

On the cleaning up the house side of things, I should also mention that I've decided to be more financially conscious. So, the number of restaurant reviews will probably decrease in 2008 (unless I find a REALLY good new job and make enough money to actually dine out as much as I did in the past). Admittedly, all the dining out I did in 2007 has allowed me to have a very clear panoramic view of the restaurant scene in Vancouver and surrounding cities, and I've managed to find some very good cheap eats.

Cleaning up the house also meant reviving a few friendships that were dormant in 2007, and looking forward to spending some good times in 2008. It also means that I have to make a conscious effort to keep my apartment in good condition so that I can feel comfortable both spending more time here and inviting friends over. As J very clearly said, I take pride in being able to invite friends and entertain guests, so I should keep it up.

And while we are at the topic of beauty, I leave you with a photo of the scenery as you would see it from the Rose Garden at UBC. Now, you can understand one of the reasons why I am so happy in this city! (by the way, I have to find a way to upload my photos to Flickr so that people can use them with attribution) - but too busy to do that today! - thanks to Nomade Moderne for the suggestion though).

Dine Out Vancouver 2008 - my $ 25 per person recommendations

Ok, so now on to the $ 25.00 dollar mark recommendations. I've been to these restaurants and I should have written restaurant reviews, might do so in the near future.

- Aqua Riva - I love it.

- Dockside - Love it too (and reviewed here on my blog).

- Gramercy Grill - Not convinced from the brunch menu, but perhaps curious to see dinner menu.

- Hell's Kitchen - Had brunch here, don't know about dinner.

- Horizons - HELL YEAH. ABSOLUTELY. One of my best evenings was dinner here with J.

- La Bodega - YES. HELL YES. OH MY GOD, I HAVE TO GO! Reviewed here too.

- Mosaic - Excellent brunch, figure dinner is just as good. Reviewed here.

- NU - Hmm. Not convinced. May try this one.

- Ouisi - Excellent dinner food. Worth trying. Reviewed here.

- Red Door - I hated it, but who knows, maybe people will want to go. Reviewed here.

- Seasons in the Park - I'm tempted to try this one.

- Steamworks - Not worth it for dinner. Been there, done that. But good food nonetheless. I just wouldn't do Dine Out 2008 there.

- The Boathouse - Awesome food. I fell in love with this restaurant. Worth going on Dine Out.

- The Cats Meow - Hmmmm. Should I attempt one more try? Reviewed here.

- Cloud 9 - Hell yeah. If they have a $25.00 menu, I am SO going. Also reviewed here.

- The Transcontinental - Never done dinner here. Not interested. Good drinks and appetizers though.

- Tropika - J loves it. I hate it.

- Water St. Cafe - ABSOLUTELY. I swear by the Water Street Cafe.

- Trafalgars Bistro - hmmm... curious about it.

Dine Out Vancouver 2008 - my $ 15 per person recommendations

I know, how on Earth did I manage to not talk about Dine Out Vancouver 2008? Particularly since my dining out posts are the most popular on my blog. I know, guilty as charged. Truth be told, one of my New Year's resolution was to be more budget-conscious. And that can't be done if I'm dining out every week/weekend. Still, I've been to a few restaurants already (but trying to have more budget-conscious brunches and dinners). Couple of new restaurants I'll review in the next few days.

Now, since we're talking about budget-conscious, what are your options for Dine-Out that I would recommend. This list is taken from the Tourism Vancouver website, just adding my own personal opinion.

The list of participating restaurants is here.

And now, for my own personal recommendations

- Ashiana - had dinner here once, it was fantastic. Worth trying.

- Nyala - already reviewed on my blog, excellent food.

- The Old Spaghetti Factory - can't go wrong with this one. Abundant portions, tasty.

- The Sunset Grill - reviewed for brunch, excellent dinner items too.

Curious about

- Migz - hmmm... never been, interesting menu.

- Maria Taverna - can't recall if I've been (I think I have). Interesting menu.

- The Irish Heather - I've been, but not in a long time. Interesting...

Let me know if you have any other recommendations.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Upcoming event - Climate change talks organized by VTACC (Vancouver)

Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change (VTACC) is a non-partisan group that is organizing a series of talks on climate change that will take place within the next few weeks. I don't know the first couple of speakers, but I do know Dr. Mark Jaccard and he's a brilliant speaker. Many people may disagree with his views, but he is certainly a rigorous scholar who does good social science and that should not be discounted.

From the VTACC website (all talks take place at the Canadian Memorial United Church at 7 pm, on Burrard and 15th Avenue):

Global Warming: More than Hot Air?
Dr. David Chapman, Professor of Geophysics, Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Utah
Tuesday, February 5th, 7 pm.

Global Warming as Spiritual Crisis and Opportunity
Bruce Sanguin, Minister, Canadian Memorial United Church
Tuesday February 19th, 7 pm.

Lessons for the Future from Canada's Climate Policy Failures
Dr. Mark Jaccard, Professor at the School of Resources and Environmental Management at SFU
Tuesday March 4th, 7 pm.
I am a bit surprised about the fact that very little has been talked about the politics of Canadian climate change policy (that is, about the political climate in Canada and how that is impacting implementation of post-Kyoto commitments). Would be worth examining, I think. And let me know if you attend any of the talks. You're even welcome to guest-blog!

For more information about VTACC:
VTACC is a group of Kitsilano neighbours who are deeply concerned about global warming and want to mobilize people to get engaged politically to call for immediate and deep reductions in emissions.[VTACC website]

Stupid decision-making in Translink?

While I was traveling in Mexico this past December and early January, I felt guilt-ridden because I drove a couple of times a single-occupant vehicle (SOV). Admittedly, most of the time I drove my Mom and my friend ML, in addition to a couple of my nieces, so really it was a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) for the few weeks I was there. Nevertheless, whenever I am in another country (e.g. France, Germany, Canada), I make a conscious choice to commute by transit (bus, train and metro). Thus, as a frequent transit user, it frustrates me to no end that (apparently) stupid decisions are made which affect my daily commute.

Recently, a few of these decisions were put in place: the stops at Main at 10th Avenue (on both the east and west sides) were removed, and the Main and 15th (northbound) was moved to Main and 14th (right across from Zigz). Furthermore, I don't know whose "bright idea" was it to only have a couple of routes on Broadway (9 and 99 B-Line) and one on King Edward (25) but none on 16th Avenue, basically from Macdonald to Fraser. We need a route along 16th Avenue, even if it's only a Commuter Bus (like the ones that Translink provided for short trips within UBC, or the C21 and C23 from Main Street Skytrain station to the West End and back). Why hasn't this happened?

I could cite the other dozens of stupid transportation policy decisions that have been made in the Metro Vancouver area, but there is a point I've been thinking about bringing across. When we complain about transportation policy, we often say "Translink should do this" or "Translink should do that" as though Translink is a homogeneous body. This is not the case.

The truth is that organizations are composed of individuals, each one with a different view of the world. Unless we recognize this heterogeneity in organizational composition, we are bound to be frustrated by the decision-making processes of an organization that doesn't really make decisions itself. When we speak about "Translink's decisions", are we referring to the decisions of its Board of Directors, or their planning staff, or the CEO. Who *decides* within Translink? I am very curious to find out, quite frankly. Translink's new governance model is quite puzzling, admittedly (and this comes from someone who actually has read the academic literature on governance!)

And yes, I recognize that I'm guilty of what I am pointing out (e.g. assuming Translink is a homogeneous entity).
There are two reasons why I pointed this out. The first one, is that the decision-making in Translink (and the rest of this region's governmental agencies) is much more complex than one would think. The second one is that I believe that transportation policy in the Metro Vancouver area should have much more citizen involvement than it has right now. Who was consulted about moving the Main and 15th Avenue bus stop? Has nobody in this city pointed out to the lack of a bus along 16th Avenue? Is there evidence that consultation took place, and is there any degree of accountability for these decisions? How did "Translink" decide? (e.g. who at Translink made this decision and how was it made?)... inquiring minds want to know...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coffe place review - Bean Around the World (Main and Broadway)

Theoretically, this location will eventually become Bean Around the World. Right now, it is a coffee shop right beside where Monsoon used to be and in the location formerly known as the home of SoMa. The coffee is good, not too harsh on my tummy, and the barista is pretty nice.

I actually couldn't use the wireless, although they do have it, but my wireless card didn't seem to be talking with their router. The place is well illuminated, and quite spacious. It looks as though a few people have taken it up as their centre of operations. I still see many more people at Waves, or at Lugz. But as somebody said, there's always space for everyone.

If I had woken up at a decent hour, I probably would have come here to work and spent the whole day looking at the beautiful mountains (this location has a gorgeous view of the snowed mountains). The night lighting is quite good, and if you need to stay late, you could very well stay here until 10pm. But that's the drawback. This coffee shop only opens until 10pm (and I think only until 8pm on weekends).

I would still come back to work here. There's more than enough space to work, and enough hotties that walk by to provide good eye candy. It's a good place to do people watching too.

More Canadian content in the 2008 Oscars nominations

I haven't had a chance to go and see Juno in theatres (and I should, to be quite honest, because everyone thinks it's very funny). It was filmed in Vancouver and stars Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner, two of my favourite actresses. So, there are a number of reasons why I should go and see it. And with the Oscars nominations just announced, Canadians are doing really well.

I am glad that Ellen Page got her nomination. She has taken on some pretty daring and rough roles (such as Sylvia Likens in An American Crime and Hayley Stark in Hard Candy). She has proven she's a very talented actress. And Sarah Polley... well, I loved Sarah Polley since her appearance in "The Sweet Hereafter". I was most impressed with her work in "My Life Without Me".

Polley is up for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Away From Her", a movie that has earned Julie Christie both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination. Despite the fact that I love Ellen Page, this time, I want Julie Christie to win.

There are many other Canadians who are doing well in the nominations, so go on to the Oscars webpage and check them out (or read a few of the summaries available on the internet).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where is my blog headed? A couple of thoughts

Having had dinner with R, T and J last Thursday and being asked "what is your blog about?" I started pondering and asking myself this precise question. I started this blog with a focus on environmental issues (since I study human/environment interactions in my day job). Then I began discussing other things, and opening up my own internal world, my thoughts and activities to the world.

Through the course of the last couple of years (I began blogging in April 2006) I have become somewhat famous for my restaurant reviews, although I have also noticed that some of my most popular posts are actually think pieces (see for example my discussion of Gore/IPCC Nobel Prize and the comparison between transportation infrastructure in Mexico City and Vancouver).

I have training in urban planning, sustainability, policy sciences and geography. I have also traveled and lived in a number of countries, which I think allows me to bring a different perspective to Canadian issues. And I am very interested in the development of Metro Vancouver.

Thus, I think I'll try to write at least one Vancouver-centric, or Canada-centric , relevant think piece a week (or every couple of weeks). For those of you who read my blog for the other stuff (e.g. my adventures, restaurant reviews and all that), I plan to continue doing that. But I also want to contribute to the overall discussions on the future of Vancouver, the Metro Vancouver region and Canada. I hope to make at least a small contribution. Thoughts, opinions anyone?

Coffee shop review - The End Cafe (Commercial Drive)

There is a gazillion reasons why you should mosey over to Commercial Drive. It's a vibrant and diverse community that has managed to create a mosaic of exciting and fun events. If you want to be up-to-date on the comings and goings on The Drive, I'd recommend the blog "Commercial Drive - Live!".

I'm writing this post as I sit at The End Cafe (corner of N Grandview Hwy and Commercial Drive, pretty much at 6th Avenue and Commercial). I have met friends of mine here on our way to dinner or a movie. However, this is the very first time I actually have spent any time at The End Cafe.

I have heard rave reviews of the place, particularly jazz nights on Sundays (7-9 pm). Admittedly, that kind of clashes with my evenings with J, but I am sure I can convince him to come and listen to jazz (he wasn't very keen on acid jazz when we went to the Fairview pub, but hey it's all about having an open mind, don't you think?)

The coffee is pretty good, and I have to say that the layout is very conducive to doing everything: from doing work on your laptop (there are two side bars with plenty of jacks to connect to the electrical energy, and free wireless internet) to having a relaxed evening reading a book and having a coffee (comfy couches) to doing school homework (plenty of tables with enough seating to entertain a small army of school brats) to having a drink (they're licensed to serve alcohol until 11.45pm).

I read on the Girlports website that there is an informal queer women group every second Wednesday at the End Cafe.
Another habitual haunt for the lesbian set, the End Café is especially helpful for travelers with their free wifi access. They’ve got a nice loungey feel and serve coffee, soups, fresh organic sandwiches, burgers, breakfast and desserts. Every other Wednesday there’s an informal lesbian meet’n’greet you may want to keep your eyes open for.[Girlports website]
I can't praise enough the management of End Cafe for being this queer-positive. Of course, this is one of the most diverse and culturally-aware neighbourhoods in Vancouver!

The potential move from Blogger to WordPress

My readership has steadily increased, but there is still a few hurdles to broader dissemination of my writing. Apparently, WordPress is a better platform for trackbacks. Whenever I try to trackback on any blogger's site, it never appears. That's kind of frustrating, as I find the Blogger platform very user-friendly.

So, it seems as though, unless I can find a way to make Blogger speak to WordPress and link the trackbacks, I will be switching to WP any time soon. I'm sort of worried about the amount of time I'll have to spend cleaning up my entries, but at the same time, I do want my readership to increase, and it'll be hard to do unless I switch to WP.

Test the Nation: Bloggers Sweep!

I was hanging out at J's (as I often do on Sunday evenings) and we got to see the first few minutes of "Test the Nation", a Canadian trivia show where six teams of contestants (bloggers, celebrity look-alikes, chefs, cab drivers, flight crew and backpackers) answer trivia questions.

I am a bit surprised that nobody from the psychology field has criticized the show for touting itself as the "Canada's First IQ Test for the Nation". Anybody who has read the literature on IQ (and I certainly have, as my parents sent me off for numerous tests in my childhood) knows that there is a large debate surrounding mental testing.

So, for a show like this, to promote itself as a mental testing show, it does beg the question - how much do they really know about IQ tests? And how much does the team of experts know about IQ tests? Trivia tests are not exactly mental tests that will yield any statistically significant results on mental prowess. And the team of experts does seem to know a lot about culture and pop culture, world affairs, but certainly nothing in their credentials indicates anything about mental testing.

Of course, I'll unashamedly admit that I did want to be invited (I wanted to be on the bloggers team, but for one reason or another, I never made it). I guess I could try to be on the "New Canadians" team. Not sure that after my criticism the producers will want to invite me, hehe. But I still would recommend to the producers of the show to get some expert advice from a Canadian psychologist who specializes in mental testing. It would add credibility and depth to the show, I think.

And on the other hand, I want to congratulate all bloggers, and especially those of you West Coasters who represented us. The two I clearly recognized were Rebecca Bollwitt (aka Miss604) and Lainey Lui (aka Lainey Gossip). Love both of their blogs! Congratulations again!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Upcoming event - Ecodensity workshops (Vancouver)

It annoys me to no end that important events aren't promoted and/or broadcasted in mainstream media. Even though I was alerted to these workshops by an email from my friend J, I didn't see it in the news. Thus, I make it my duty to try and promote local, Vancouver-based events whenever I can. This is one of those important dates you shouldn't miss.

Ecodensity workshops will take place in the remainder of January 2008 and February 2008. From the City of Vancouver's Ecodensity website, here are the dates of the next workshops. If you want to meet me in person, I'll most likely be at the January 30th (unless, of course, Vancouver Blogger Meetup is the same day - which then would mean that I'd have to attend another date for the workshop).

The workshop dates are as follows:[City of Vancouver Ecodensity website]

Saturday, January 26, 1 - 3:30 pm
Van Dusen Gardens, Floral Hall
5251 Oak Street

Wednesday, January 30, 7 - 9:30 am
Polish Community Centre
4015 Fraser Street

Sunday, February 3, 1 - 3:30 pm
Croatian Cultural Centre
3250 Commercial Drive
*Chinese facilitation available

Tuesday, February 12, 7 -9:30 pm
St. James Hall
3214 West 10th Avenue

Saturday, February 16, 1:30 - 4 pm
Chinese Cultural Centre
50 East Pender Street
*Chinese facilitation available

Please RSVP to

Let me note that the locations for the workshops are fairly low-to-medium density. I wonder how would West End or Yaletown residents react to Eco-Density workshops. Same thing goes for areas like Shaughnessy or Dunbar. At any rate, I think you should participate, and feel free to spread the word.

Of bloggers, geeks and other musings

I had the pleasure of having dinner with R, T and J last night. We engaged in a very pleasant conversation where we frequently used the word "geek". Wikipedia's article on the definition of geek is tagged as needing revision, re-writing and pretty much every other "re-" you can imagine. But the interesting thing is that, at least in my realm (in my day job, I'm an academic and a consultant), being a geek is not derogatory at all.

While the definition remains quite loose, I would say that geeks have particular technical skills in a specific field. For example, I am very lucky to have in my life an information technology geek. He is quite competent with computers and is usually the one to whom I run with questions as stupid as "so which webcam do you think I should buy?" or "how the hell do I recharge my iPod?". Yeah, that's me. The non-computer geek. J often jokes that I'm about five years behind in regards to technology (I don't own a plasma TV, for one, and my cell phone is as basic as you can imagine! - no camera, no data transmission capabilities, etc.)

That being said, I think I could say I'm an enviro geek. I am more than happy to engage in long-winded discussions on climate change, pollution, the state of our world's sustainability, etc. One time, I had a 39 oC- fever and had just flown to Germany to attend a conference. I sat through 4 and a half hours (non-stop) of talks on environmental affairs, and I didn't even twitch in my seat. That's a sign of passion, and I am very passionate about sustainability. I guess that also makes me an enviro geek.

I think (and I don't believe I'm that wrong) that many people equate bloggers with geeks, and admittedly, I can see how many bloggers may have great technical skills (web savvy for example). But I would argue that not every blogger is geeky. I, for one, couldn't backtrack to save my life until Rebecca (aka Miss604) told me that sometimes, trackbacks don't work between Blogger and Wordpress. Yeah, sadly, I'm not that good when it comes to platforms, and so on.

I'd be interested in hearing your opinions on the topic. As I had mentioned before, I feel as though I belong to a community of bloggers, and I wonder if this community thinks of themselves as geeks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Provincial Transit Plan and Mexico City's case

There are lots of people raving (and some ranting) about the recently unveiled Provincial Transit Plan, with ambitious goals of a Skytrain to UBC, amongst others. Since there are other bloggers who have covered the issue much better than me (like Stephen Rees, Gordon Price and Paul Hillsdon), I figured that I should examine the issue from a different perspective, so here it is. I'm not a transportation policy expert, but I do know a few things about urban planning and sustainability.

One of the things that surprises me (to this day) is the size of the Metro Vancouver region (formerly the Greater Vancouver Regional District) and it poorly designed transit system. Compared to Mexico City, Metro Vancouver has roughly one-tenth of the population, and a GDP per capita about ten times higher. However, if you look at the Metro system in Mexico City, the latter is so much better and so much more used than the Skytrain, that it does beg the question - why is it that a city in a third-world, relatively poorer country can have such a stellar transportation system as compared to Vancouver (which is supposed to be a world-class, affluent, wealthy, first-world kind of city).

The Metro system in Mexico City [Photo credit: Wikipedia's entry on Mexico City Metro]

Don't get me wrong. There IS a reason why I live in this city. But it's not its transportation system, for sure. I am well aware of the air pollution problems in Mexico City, and I also know the argument that these problems are in large measure due to the excessive number of cars (here is a link to a study that looked interesting). However, it is indeed true that the Metro system in Mexico City kicks ass. You can get pretty much anywhere within the urban core. So much that, when having conversations with residents of Mexico City, they make geographical references to specific Metro stations. For example, one of my very best friends used to live a block away from Metro Mixcoac. The bus station is at Metro Autobuses del Norte. The Benito Juarez International Airport has a station at Metro Terminal Aérea. The Zócalo has a Metro station, so does the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the Plaza de las Tres Culturas is pretty much within five blocks of Metro Tlatelolco.

Having enjoyed the Metro system (and the peseras) in Mexico City less than two weeks ago (accompanied by a Canadian, indeed), I can't help but laugh at the irony that Mexico City's transportation system can be so much better than that of the whole province of British Columbia (in my opinion, of course ... if you have enough data and a good solid argument to defeat my proposition, I'm happy to discuss it).

Viewing this issue from another angle, if you think about it, unless Metro Vancouver creates a smart growth/smart transportation strategy, its air quality going to end up much worse than Mexico City. Just think about it for a second... if it is true (I still have my doubts) that Mexico City's air pollution is due to the excessive number of polluting cars and other vehicles, even with a kick-ass, world-class Metro system like the one it has, can you imagine what will happen to Metro Vancouver a few years down the road?

Sometimes, when analyzing policy (and creating new policies), it's useful to look at how other cities/regions/countries are doing things, and first-world countries can learn from third-world countries too, just as much. It would be good for Metro Vancouver to look at Mexico City as an example of a solid transportation system that moves millions of people around. Thoughts anyone?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Canadian content policy - Yes, I like it

I moved to Canada almost 12 years ago. In doing so, I decided to learn more about the country, its history and culture, demographics, etc. Thanks to the Canadian Content policy (Cancon, as it's often referred), I have been exposed to made-in-Canada TV, Canadian actors, musicians, writers, etc. That's how I discovered Shania Twain, Jann Arden, Sarah McLachlan, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, etc.

Some people seem to find it annoying that Cancon is in place. Even the Wikipedia entry indicates that there is controversy surrounding the restriction of freedom that Cancon puts on choices of entertainment sources. Since this is my blog, I thought it would be appropriate for me to say that I am quite happy with the existence and enforcement of Cancon. I am happy that we are forced to be exposed to Canadian productions, shows and artists.

Admittedly, there is already Canadian content in US television shows. Smallville, for example, employs a large number of Canadians (some of which are incredibly talented such as the Ashmore twins - Shawn and Aaron - Kristin Kreuk, Emanuelle Vaughier, Eric Johnson, Laura Vandervoort to name just a few in the main cast). The show is filmed in Vancouver (although of course, it's set in Kansas). But I think it's also good that Cancon is in place and enforced.

You can call me nationalistic, or weird, but I also enjoy Vancouver-centric or Canada-centric shows. Robson Arms, for example, is a show that focuses on the tenants of a building in Vancouver's West End. From their website:
Welcome back to Robson Arms, the once-grand low-rise apartment building in Vancouver’s West End. Season 2 of Robson Arms picks up 6 months after Season 1 left off. The previous owners of the building are dead, earthquake repairs are still underway, and a “For Sale” sign sits front and center outside. As with any apartment building, some tenants have moved on… and others have moved in.[Robson Arms' website]
Other great shows, such as Intelligence, DaVinci's Inquest, Cold Squad, have done a great job in portraying Vancouver and its problems. I am proud to live in this city and also proud of the great job that Canadians are doing in the entertainment industry. Why not support them? Why not encourage their development?

I like the shows where Canadian life is examined, where Canadian cities are shown as their real selves (not like in the case of Queer as Folk, where Toronto passed for Pittsburgh). And yes, I do support the US writers in their strike and am waiting with baited breath for some shows to continue (such as Smallville, Brothers and Sisters, Supernatural).

But if the circumstances of the writers' strike lead to an increased focus on Canadian shows, I say this is good. Note: I am not saying that it's good that the US writers aren't getting what they deserve, on the contrary, I really support their cause. But what I am saying is that I am happy that, with all the worry surrounding the lack of content in Canadian television because US shows will be doing re-runs, there is more attention being paid to Canadian-produced shows. Too bad it's due to circumstances, rather than based on a strong development plan for the Canadian entertainment industry!


Not sure why I'm so exhausted. Probably because I've tried really hard to juggle a thousand things and because my calendar, both work-related and non-work related, is filling up pretty fast. I had high hopes that I'd be blogging everything I did during my holiday, but I'm getting tired at an incredibly fast rate.

Processing speeds

I've been back in Vancouver for less than a week. During that period, I've had to do a lot of work (both personal, chores, errands and work, work). Normally, my processing speed is quite high and I end up doing a gazillion things. But right now I am tired and don't want to work as hard as I did in 2007, so I think I'm going to take the rest of this evening easy. Particularly since the weather is not cooperating! The wind is so strong that I thought I was going to start flying.

I need some time to just be on my own as well. Some ME time (which seems unlikely since there's a tonne of stuff to do). Perhaps I'll end up going to bed early. One thing I will do is to turn off my phone. Friends of mine have had the bad luck of calling me at 10 pm when I've already gone to sleep, and it really screws my sleeping patterns, so I will nonchalantly turn it off.

Old habits die hard

After spending a few days in Victoria with J, I got used to waking up pretty early and do work, but in the past couple of days, it looks like I'm back to being the night owl. Don't know why, but I'll see how things go. I still wake up early but my brain starts functioning in the afternoon. Maybe it's true that old habits die hard.

What a great weekend!

Phew! Back to the grind, and also back to my usual social routine. I went for coffee with J, B and C on Friday night (lots of laughs and good times). Saturday morning, brunch with Nomade Moderne and CS. Great times too (although I arrived late! ooops, hate it when that happens).

Saturday night, JH was my date for a wine and cheese party. Great hosts, wonderful people, amazing wine, and one of the hottest girls on the planet as my date :) Great times indeed! I got home around 3.30am. Sunday I should have played volleyball but was way too hungover. So I just went out to do some Costco/Safeway/shopping runs with J. We spent a quiet and nice evening, which included installing some software and hardware on my computer (yeah, I'm turning into a geek).

The week looks a bit daunting as I have social and work commitments pretty much all week, and my weekend is already booked (with the mere exception of Saturday morning). WOW. And here I thought I was going to have quiet times when I got back. Think again, Raul!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Restaurant review - IHOP (International House of Pancakes) [Richmond]

Best way to be welcomed to Vancouver? Brunch at IHOP with my close friends C and B. They were kind enough to pick me up at the Vancouver International Airport, and since I had eaten only airline snacks, they thought it would be better for me if I actually ate good food.

I've been a customer of IHOP for many years now, but I rarely go because there's none in Vancouver. I've been to the one in Delta with my brother, to the one in Brentwood Mall (Burnaby) with J, and now to the one in Richmond (close to the airport) with B and C. And if you read this sentence carefully, you'll realize that none of these are actually in Vancouver. Hence why I never go to IHOP. Which is regrettable, because their food is SO GOOD!

I had one of their International Passport, which was enough food to keep me going through a really busy afternoon (had to register my volleyball team by 4.30pm). The best part, of course, is hanging out with B and C. They even took me to my office after dropping off my luggage! They are such a cute couple, and such a perfect team! And I'm very proud of counting them amongst my dear friends.

So, all in all, I would seriously recommend IHOP. Normally, I am the type of guy who will endorse only local products and services (e.g. I'll have coffee from Blenz rather than from Starbucks), but IHOP is a good international franchise, and it's good for your stomach (and your wallet!)

The hard task of parenting

My upstairs neighbours have a 2 years old child, who is by anyone's definition, a living hell. The kid screams, yells, throws tantrums, smashes things on the floor, argues with his parents (!?!?!? - yeah, incredibly, the kid argues with his parents at 2 yrs old, and they argue back!) and has absolutely no sense of when to stop crying.

In my opinion, this isn't the kid's fault, but the result of bad parenting. However we want to look at it, a child is the product of his or her parents. I see my nieces and nephews, and they're all great kids. That's the result of my brothers' and their wives' efforts, not some random DNA strand.

Naturally, some of my brothers are more strict than others. There are specific circumstances that have colored each kid's life. But the overall result are great girls and boys. In the case of my neighbours' little guy, he can be cute as a button, but it's a pain and a torture to live in my apartment when he is around.

Is there anything that can be done? Yeah, for sure. Teach his Mom and Dad how to be better parents. However, there is no real school that prepares you to be a Mom or a Dad. My parents weren't prepared either! Nevertheless, I am proud of what my parents made of me and my brothers, and I'll have to admit that it was pure damn luck combined with a great dose of love.

My parents might have been very strict, sometimes dominant and at times overwhelming, but they loved me and my brothers very much (they still do, because thank God, they're still alive!). They were visionaries in that they wanted to create diamonds out of us, and I believe they succeeded. I don't know how to pass my Mom and Dad's parenting lessons to my neighbours, but one thing I can tell you is that my parents were very disciplined and taught us to behave properly under every circumstance. Maybe my neighbours will learn the lesson sometime.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The things I love...

There are many things I love, but here is a short list that I'm loving at the moment:
  • Chocolate mints - "After Eight". One of my former students gave me a box as a token of appreciation. I was really touched, and honestly, I have to say that it made me very happy as I can eat a full box of chocolate mints, right by my side when I'm writing a paper or a report. Coffee + chocolate mints + my laptop + an interesting project to work in = bliss.
  • A busy social schedule. Not surprisingly, my weekend is full already. Brunch/lunch with Nomade Moderne and his girlfriend tomorrow (Saturday), a wine and cheese party on Saturday night (although truth be told, I will not be consuming cheese for obvious reasons - I hate it), volleyball on Sunday, then most likely brunch with LF and potentially W, K and R. Sunday evenings are already taken by J, so that brings me to next week... and I'm already booked for next Wednesday, Thursday and potentially Friday. Possible tea and coffee tonight with J, B, C and L.
  • My local travel equipment. This includes my laptop-fitted backpack, and my iPod. It's so nice to be able to move around town and know that I have the equipment to do work wherever I choose. That's one of the greatest things about doing the type of work I do, that you can work anywhere...

Transportation policy Hillsdon-style

I learned about Paul Hillsdon's blog through other bloggers, such as Miss604, Keefer, Gordon Price, Erika Rathje and Stephen Rees. I was shocked at first to hear that he was just 16 (at the time, he's now 17). His posts are extremely well written, coherent and articulate.

Well, his readership is exploding now, in part because he wrote a really well-researched plan for transportation South of the Fraser river (I would suggest you go to Price' or Rees' blogs for discussions on the matter, as Paul's server is overwhelmed - you can also check the Livable Region Coalition blog).

The point I would like to make (since I am not really a transportation kind of guy - but I do have other strengths in urban planning and sustainability) is that instead of just complaining, Paul's plan is making suggestions. I would like to encourage other bloggers, readers, citizens of Vancouver and the Metro Vancouver (formerly GVRD) area to write proposals and offer suggestions. It's easy to rant and whine, and hard to research a topic and put countless hours into developing a coherent and well-analyzed report. Let's all try to follow Paul's example and use the second strategy. Congratulations Paul!

Eatery review - Uncle Fatih's Pizza (Commercial and Broadway)

Since I got back to Vancouver, I've been working at the office and doing lots of errands. Thus, by the time I head back home, I'm totally exhausted. As it often happens to me when I take the 99 B-Line home, I ended up sleeping and missing my stop. So I had to go back from Commercial and Broadway (good thing the 99 B-Line wasn't one of those 'Boundary' ones or else I would've been royally in trouble).

On my way back, a nagging feeling and a slight headache started to bug me. Having just shopped at Safeway, I figured that it was nothing, but by the time I crossed the street west over to Commercial and Broadway, the lion inside me woke up and started to demand food. Being the case that pizza is the only thing with cheese that I allow myself to consume (just because I can't even taste the cheese with all those toppings), I stopped at Uncle Fatih's Pizza.

Since I started hanging out on Commercial Drive, I had promised myself that one day, I'd make a quick stop at Uncle Fatih's. The line-up is always long and there's all sorts of people (from men in suits to young guys in rags) consuming pizza. Determined not to let this opportunity pass, I stopped and ordered a full dinner (2 slices and a pop for a whooping $ 3.50, even cheaper than a latte at Starbucks).

Admittedly, my definition of cheap eats is substantially different to that of Andrew Morrison from Urban Diner (I just read his weekly West Ender column on cheap eats, and he suggested that he could do dinner for $20 or so - my definition of cheap eats is dinner for less than 7 bucks). This is most definitely a place for cheap, affordable, tasty and satisfying pizza. I'll be back, for sure!

And apparently other reviewers agree with me :)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Not that I'm endorsing a product, but...

Given that my lower teeth are crooked, I require much more dental care and attention than most people. Not only do I have to floss, but I also need to frequently brush my teeth. Sometimes, since I'm always busy, I forget to do that (or I'm on the road). Therefore, at times I suffer from gingivitis and/or bad breath.

Tonight, just before writing this post, I figured it was time to come back to my normal dental cleaning routine. When I am away, I can't really do as much as I do here (brush my teeth, floss, use plaque remover, and apply a water-jet cleanser). I don't have any reasons to do commercial endorsements (since I make no money out of this blog), but I have to say that Waterpik has definitely given my gums and teeth a great treatment.

Why do I use a water jet? Because the dentist prescribed it to me. But I specifically use Waterpik because my brother S suggested it (he used it when he had gingivitis and it helped him a lot). And since he's the one who bought the water jet for me, I figured I owed it to him to at least try it. And it's done wonders for my mouth's hygiene.

The one I use is a counter top dental water jet, but I've always been tempted to buy a cordless one. But since I usually brush my teeth at home in the morning and evening, I figure I will see how well I do without the cordless. Remember to always visit your dentist at least once every six months.

Almost done unpacking :)

Since I've been suggested by various commenters to just keep writing, I'm doing that exactly... feel almost like I'm live-blogging my unpacking journey. I brought several small gifts for friends, so I also have to organize those. I also did laundry, cleaned up part of my bedroom, fixed a bookshelf, had a shower (that counts as a chore, let me tell you) and went shopping for some soda (I can't have burritos with plain water).

I found out that I'm quite capable of eating half a bottle of cajeta with toast. Ooops... there goes my diet again. But seriously, I'm in Vancouver, it's pouring rain, the sky is gray and dark, and I need a "pick me up" after six weeks of sun and warmth. So hence why I have eaten so much cajeta, hehe.

Sorry for having just wasted three minutes of your time, but honestly, I've got no good content yet. It's either I stop and wait until I blog something meaningful or just go with the flow. I'm testing the second method :)

How fast is your typing speed?

Via Tawcan, who left this at NetChick's website, I tested how fast I type. Boy, am I intense or what? I type 105 words per minute!

105 words

Touch typing free

The writing is not flowing :(

Despite the fact that I've been quite productive in that I've been submitting letters and writing some work-related e-mails, my own writing is not coming. Neither the work writing nor the blog. Not too happy about that. I've been working at home, and yeah, I can't complain about productivity in that I got a lot of my errands and chores done, but still don't feel as though I can sit down and write well.

Not sure what to do about it. And I'm a bit afraid of reading blogs right now as I know I can spend HOURS doing so. However, I would want to accomplish a fair bit (work-wise). What do you do if your writing is not flowing?

It's all about the equipment # 8 - flannel pajamas

For the past few weeks, I've been sleeping in a non-thermally conditioned room, so I've had to sleep with a few blankets and pajamas. Now, I rarely use pajamas because in Vancouver, my room is thermally conditioned. But then my Mom found a great deal in flannel pajamas and bought them for me (baby blue).

Boy, oh boy! Did I ever sleep well! These flannel pajamas are amazing! I have worn thermal underwear sometimes as I'm not very well adjusted to the cold weather yet (despite my lengthy residence in Vancouver) but these pajamas do wonders. I did not wake up a single minute and slept like a baby. Hence the title of the post: it's really all about the equipment, even when you go to sleep!

PS - A good pair of earplugs has also done wonders for my sleeping patterns.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hitting the floor running

While we were at a conference, and after introducing me to a colleague of hers, a former professor of mine used this expression to indicate that I would start working again as soon as I got back from my holidays. I had never heard it before, and found it quite cute.

So, I have hit the floor running... I spent all of today writing letters, in meetings, and running errands here and there. A quick stop at Nomade Moderne's office for a short conversation and catch-up, and had to continue on. I do have a lot of work to do, but I'm intent on taking it easy tonight...

Not sure what to do. I think I might watch a movie or old episodes of TV shows that I like. What I do know is that I don't want to clean my apartment and/or unpack some more. I also want to take some time away from the computer. Geeky as I've become, I'm quite happy to just read a book or watch some TV. Maybe organize my CDs for a bit. Will tell you what I ended up soon enough.

PS - Yeah, I know I still owe you guys a full 411 on my holidays. Too tired to process anything. Will get back into it soon enough though.

Back in Vancouver :)

Well, I'm finally home. My holidays seemed rather long, but to be truthful, I am not sure how well I rested. These days were filled with activities and family reunions, so maybe I'll need some vacations from my vacations! But it was great to see my family and spend time with ML doing something totally different to what we do in Vancouver (this time, for example, I did all the driving!)

I did notice that security checks at the Vancouver International Airport were much stricter, to the point where we were asked questions and personnel checked our passports and visas even before the point of entry (e.g. at the hall). This could be the result of a recent review of the role of CBSA after the death of a Polish immigrant at YVR, after being tasered, or it may be because it was a flight from Mexico, and there were a large number of immigrants who participate in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which (according to Human Resources Development Canada) was expanded in 2004.

While I do have opinions on both of these issues (the increased security measures at YVR and the SAWP), I have very little time to blog about them (and I'm still exhausted from my trip). Will take these issues up again in further posts. I just wanted to say I'm back and will be blogging about my holidays later during the week.

I did hit the floor running, as I have already had administrative stuff to deal with (such as the registration of my volleyball team), and having to write appraisals. So, not likely I'll be resting any time soon. Besides, I think I am back to my usual routine, as I'm already booked for Friday night and Sunday all day... not unusual for me :)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Music review - Love Song by Sara Bareilles

It's Meg Fowler's fault. I am an avid reader of her blog, and we've even corresponded a few times. She allowed me to borrow her idea of the Love Lists (the things we love) for my 500th post. Meg and I tend to like a lot of the same things, and music seems to be one of the things where we have similar tastes.

Sara Bareilles' Love Song is catchy, fun and very heartwarming. The video is awesome. I have to give Sara props for making great music, and thanks to Meg for getting me hooked on Sara's music. Here's the video on the Late Late Show.

Music review - You'll be in my heart (Phil Collins)

Very well remembered as the award-winning soundtrack of Tarzan, "You'll Be In My Heart" is a heart-warming, uplifting and beautiful song. Phil Collins is a master of his art, really. I've been a fan of his music for decades now, and I can say that I hope he will at some point decide to come back (I've heard that he did a farewell tour already).

Here is a video of a live performance of "You'll be in my heart". The song still brings tears to my eyes and gives me goosebumps. I dare you not to like this tune.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Friends are the family we choose

Last night I was talking to JH over GMail Chat and we were discussing the fact that I was going to miss my family in Mexico now that I'm on my way back to Vancouver. She made the point that I will be now returning to my other family, the friends I have there. And I really liked the fact that she reminded me that friends are the family we choose.

I have been blessed with several groups of amazing friends. Receiving emails or MSN chats from my close friends, or even phone calls in some cases, is one of the greatest privileges one can have. Over these holidays, I had the opportunity to see two of my childhood best friends: LDG for dinner one night, AAF literally at the bus depot on his way back to Aguascalientes. I also had the chance to spend some time with three of my very best friends from undergraduate (I and A and their son, and LE and his family). I was invited to be the date of my good friend AE, and got to see my co-workers and friends. We had my good friend CSG for breakfast at my Mom's place and attended several traditional Posadas. I spent New Years' Eve with ML, I and A and their family. And how could I forget two amazing visits to San Miguel Allende, where I spent some time with HZ's parents (particularly his Mom as his Dad had to travel on an emergency trip). I was extremely touched when NZ answered to the question "did your son visit San Miguel?" (referring to HZ) and she responded "no, he couldn't make it but he sent his brother" (referring to me). *swoon*

On the Vancouver side of things, I did miss two really good parties I wish I had attended, Christmas party hosted by HZ and CS and New Years Party hosted by AF and DM. My good friends from Vancouver have been sending me emails saying "come back, we miss you, it's too quiet here without you". And of course, I've been travelling around for two weeks with my Vancouver-born friend ML. It's really heartwarming to feel so loved.

My Mom was in awe (and very happy) the other day about the fact that I got so many amazing friends. The great thing about friend-families, is that they extend and expand, as long as we put the work into it. My Mom now has three new 'sisters' in San Miguel de Allende!

I toast to friendships, old, new, renewed and 'dormant'. To the great gift of happiness. Because we as friends are blessed to be the witnesses to each other's lives...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Travelling in Mexico City

After a week filled with family gatherings, a trip to San Miguel Allende and a few other trips here and there (Irapuato, Penjamo, Guanajuato), I'm finally in Mexico City in the last leg of my trip, and on my way back to Vancouver. I have to say that I'll miss my Mom and Dad terribly. I don't feel as though I spent enough time with them.

I don't think I will have the physical energy to actually write a detailed post about my trip to Mexico City with ML, but suffice it to say that we visited the National Museum of Anthropology, the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Plaza of the Three Cultures), also known as Tlatelolco, and the Zocalo (including, of course, the Catedral Metropolitana and the Templo Mayor).

Our trip has been rather pleasant. ML is a great companion and someone with whom I have enjoyed travelling. And we had a chance to see the Desfile del Dia de Reyes (with Cri-Cri on a float!) and dine at Wings (a great Mexican restaurant that has a promotion with 50% discount!).

All in all, a great experience. We're off to Teotihuacan tomorrow, so if I survive the next couple of days, you'll have a full 411 on the San Miguel trip, Mexico City and Teotihuacan. In the mean time, I'll be in Vancouver soon enough. Despite the great company I have here, the great friends I got to see and the chance I had to spend time with Mom and Dad, my brothers and my extended family , I do miss Vancouver and my life there. Looking forward to a great 2008.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

It's all about the equipment - Entertaining guests

I haven't had the time to process an amazing visit to San Miguel de Allende, so I won't blog about that until probably Tuesday night (I'll be in Mexico City tomorrow and Monday, visiting Teotihuacan and the National Museum of Anthropology and History).

Both sites are world-wide renowned and lots have been written about them, so I'll have a full post in the next few days. But for now, I just want to mention that one of the things I noticed in the past weeks (while I've been a guest at NZ's house and when I've hosted people here) is that, if there's something that makes your life easier when having guests, is having the appropriate equipment.

At NZ's house, I noticed how she had EVERYTHING. And when I mean everything, I mean it in that way. She and her husband have two offices, several living rooms, terraces, alcoves, etc. There's plenty of space (and every single tool you might need) for them to entertain guests at leisure.

In my case, I found that it made all the difference both for me (when I had guests) and for my hosts (when I was a guest) to have everything they could possibly need to entertain: for drinks, a well-stocked wine rack, glasses, trays (to serve), etc. That's why I say that it's all about the equipment: it's easier to have guests when you DO have the equipment to treat them right (in addition to the people's skills that are required to treat guests the right way too!)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Plazuelas (Penjamo, Guanajuato) - a beautiful archaeological site

Since ML is an archaeologist, I thought she would like to see a few archaeological sites, so she and I went to Penjamo to visit the Plazuelas archaeological site. It's a gorgeous place, and the museum is beautiful.

I would say we had a great beginning of the year because we found parking on our first attempt (right by the beginning of the trail), the museum and site visit were free and there weren't a lot of people. Besides, it's always nice to visit an archaeological site with a very close friend who happens to be an archaeologist!

Just take a peek by yourselves [Photo Credit: The picture is totally mine, so if you use it, please link back to this blog].