Toronto the Good

Toronto the Good

The best kind of meet-ups are the serendipitous ones, the kind that just fall into your lap one day like a gift from on high. It’s not every day I hear from people who take the time to read things my crazy self says online, so when Miiesche of Soulstriptease reached out, wanting to know what it is like living in Toronto, it really made my day.  And reader, I did get to meet Miiesche last month and it was fun seeing Toronto  again through the eyes of a newcomer.

Although I grouse about living here, especially in the winter, the truth is I do love Canada, and Toronto, the city I now call home. Here, I’m sharing my answers to Miiesche’s questions about Canada, in the hope that it’ll convince others to either visit, or at least consider it as a place to live. The caveat is after a one-year stint in the GTA, I’ve really only lived in Toronto, so a lot of my answers are based on this one city!

What’s it like living in Canada?

My favourite thing about Canada is the quality of their public libraries – access is free, the advantages are legion and one of the first things I did when I moved here was get myself a library card because I am a nerd like that. The minimum wage in Ontario (the province I live in) is $14, which is decent. Over here, anyway. Food staples are affordable, and it’s manageable for as long as you’re not off drinking away your money on the weekends, or have any expensive vices like smoking. Cigarettes are costly, beer, not so much. If there’s anything that’s true about Canadian stereotypes, it’s that Canadians love beer, barbecues and hockey.

Officially, Canada has two languages: English and French. It’s why you’ll see both languages on labelling everywhere, even if most of the Francophones are based in Quebec, a province that spends a lot of its energy trying to ensure everything is in French. They got stymied when they tried to Frenchify the word “pasta”. Truth. They’re nuts. Lol. Most of the rest of Canada speaks English. Toronto, while not actually the capital of Canada (that honour goes to Ottawa), has so much swagger it may as well be the capital. It’s been said that Toronto is like New York City if it was run by the Swiss. I don’t really know what that means, but if it means cleaner and has less crime, then that is true! Rent here is kind of high especially in the downtown area. You’d be lucky to get a one bedroom with utilities included for about $1K a month (this may not be THAT expensive UK-wise, but I’m not too savvy about the rent over there). I would consider the east end the most affordable area rent-wise. Not to worry though, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) is pretty solid, so you’re covered if you don’t drive. That said, one of the favourite things Torontonians like to do is complain about our public transit; some say TTC stands for Take The Car, and there are days when it’s true.

What about taxes?

Each province has a different sales tax rate. Alberta for example, has the lowest at 5%. Here in Ontario, it’s 13% 😭. It could be worse, it’s 15% in Newfoundland and Labrador and some other provinces.

Work, the weather, different neighbourhoods…

Work is plentiful, if you’re willing to work hard and aren’t choosy. There’s a lot of opportunities in the city, and also in the Greater Toronto Area. The drawback is really just that a lot of employers try and use contract work (i.e. hire you for just a year or a few months) to try and get out of paying your insurance coverage, dental, paid days off and so on. I do think that depends though, it’s not always true. There’s a lot of opportunity in the engineering, tech, finance and medical sectors.

Toronto is an amazing city for neighbourhoods – it’s the kind of place where you turn a corner and suddenly you’re in a whole different place. All the cultures and nationalities are well represented – the food scene is vibrant (if you’re into trying out different kinds of cuisine) and I love the diversity over here. It does kind of suck, curfew-wise if you like to party/drink. Last call is at 2AM (ridiculous) and it’s a bit of a challenge to find quality restos that are open around that time. There’s always Chinatown. It’s also a very supportive environment for artists, and very LGBTQ friendly. One of my favourite neighbourhoods is Church Street (I like to call it “the corner of gay and gay”) which has a very active and welcoming LGBTQ community. It’s a madhouse each year when Pride comes around. 

And finally, the weather. I both love and hate the weather over here. Winter unofficially starts about late November, and finally peters out in mid-April, even if that’s supposed to be spring. Winter takes up about a third of the calendar year, and it can be very bitter. Toronto is right next to a lake, and the lake effect causes our winters to be relatively humid (compared to the dry winters in, say, Manitoba or Saskatchewan). It just feels colder, is all. If there’s anything I’ve learned about winter here, it’s that it’s never over until it’s over so I’ve learned never to let my hopes up. The upside though, is that it’s glorious in the summer. Sunshine and cool breezes and all that lovely stuff. Except for the folks in British Columbia (the Canadian version of the West Coast), we have such long winters that when summer comes around, it’s cause to celebrate. That’s why Canadians love to barbecue so much. Fall is my favourite, because it’s beautiful and just the right temperature for me.

I know this got long, and I also liberally name-dropped some Canadian provinces, which might not be familiar. If you have a chance, take a peek on Google maps and see how crazy large the Great White North really is – there’s literally room for everyone, including you! 

The Belgian chocolates I brought home are all gone and now I’m sad

The Belgian chocolates I brought home are all gone and now I’m sad

Things that are worth it are very often fleeting. I think it’s because they’re fleeting that they are worthwhile, because that sense of impermanence, of the ephemeral, is what gives it meaning. So we assign importance to things we know won’t last. Things like laughter. Fresh bedsheets. Life itself. Or, that very last piece of DelRey chocolate, studded with four different kinds of nuts and and a raisin’s fruity kiss. What a slice of absolute heaven on earth.

Smack in the middle of Antwerp’s Diamond District, DelRey is a posh little chocolate shop  whose pralines, truffles and chocolate confections glow almost as brightly as the diamonds in the other store windows. They’re almost as expensive, and goddamnit, I know should’ve gotten more.

This isn’t meant to be a puff piece for DelRey, as much as it may sound like it, but I’m writing about them because their chocolate is exquisite and their shop is native to Antwerp. Belgium is home to a lot of luxury chocolatiers with global reach, so it was still nice to feel as if we were supporting a local business. A very successful business whose flagship store  looks very much like a high-end jewelry shop, but a local business all the same.

So why was a not-so little girl like me being all gross and bougie, spending my time contemplating premium, rich bitch chocolat belge?

The answer is, I sold a kidney.

(No, I didn’t.)

The answer is, I leased my womb to a very kindly gay couple.

(Still no. But hey, make me an offer.)

The answer is, I am a scion of a powerful Philippine political family living high on the hog on the government’s dime,  laughing as we watch the common people suffer.

(Ha! No. But wouldn’t life have been interesting?)

The answer is, I was in Belgium for the first time, and not getting chocolates in Belgium is like going to Italy and never trying the pasta. The country is the birthplace of the praline as we know it today and they take chocolate making so seriously, its composition has been regulated by law for over a century (it must contain at least 35% cocoa fat, and be refined and moulded in Belgium), so I’d have been a fool to miss out on a taste, however pricey.

I know I should’ve just closed my eyes and ignored the price, but it’s hard. It’s hard, no matter how much you try and shove those thoughts away and remind yourself that you’re only on vacation once. It’s hard to,  when a small box of their chocolate costs as much as, say, a Swiss Chalet dinner for two – complete with sides and a drink – and I’m someone who is more than capable of finding happiness in a handful of Ricoa Curly Tops. 

It was worth every penny though, I’ll give them that. I’ve never been partial to chocolate, both as candy or as ice cream, but there’s a reason Belgium is known for their chocolate because the taste was exquisite. So smooth, so rich, none of that weirdly acidic aftertaste from a Hershey bar. I’m sure I’ve had Belgian chocolate before, but never fresh from the source, so this was a nice little return on investment for me.

Gun to my head, I’m still iffy about spending all that much on candy, but I wouldn’t mind a box or two every so often, and while Antwerp gave me a lot of good reasons to revisit it again, this one is as good an excuse as any!

Organs

Organs

“… people often have a strong sense of ownership when it comes to their bodies. Even tiny scraps of them.”
– Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I have mixed feelings about becoming an organ donor.   On the one hand, it’s good to know my organs would go to benefit someone else when I’m long gone; on the other, some latent, buried part of my psyche rebels at the idea of being plundered and reduced to a husk when I go. True, I won’t need my kidneys, or my liver, my corneas or my heart and lungs wherever I may end up. And it won’t matter because I’d rather be cremated than buried. But all that said, the idea still repels me somehow. And I wish it didn’t. I wish I could just be selfless and say  anyone is welcome to use whichever of my innards are still feasible just like that, but the truth is I can’t. Not without really considering how I feel about it. And right now, I have very mixed feelings. I know it makes me sound like a terrible person.

I think about the fact that due to a combination of personal preference and the vagaries of age, I am probably never going to have children. Donating my organs would be the best, most selfless and cost-efficient way for me to live on in someone else. It’s a lovely thought, a beautiful one, the idea that part of me will help give another human being a new lease on life.

Maybe I just don’t want to think of myself in death as something that’s been reduced to nothing but spare parts, like a bicycle that has outlived its shelf life and is now being taken apart to fix another bicycle that might still be worth saving.

I wonder why I feel this way. What intrinsic part of me is holding back? I think a large part of it is rooted in my belief in pre-emption or jinxing things, as if saying yes to offering up my remains accelerates the day of my demise.  I’m weird about death. I still don’t know how to deal with it, and this is an idea too close for comfort. I feel almost as if the action of signing a document that says I’m donating my organs will initiate a countdown clock that the universe will enforce, making me pay up before I can renege on the deal.

Nova Scotia is the first province in North America with presumed consent for organ donation. Like France and Spain, among other countries, this means unless a person opts-out, their willingness to donate their organs upon their demise is assumed. Now that consent is presumed in Nova Scotia, a province that by the numbers, already has the highest rate of organ donors, it’s only a matter of time until the concept ripples across the rest of Canada. It’s a sticky issue because ideally, giving is based on free will, not coerced through legislation. True, one can always opt-out, but not without feeling like a heel.  Whatever the outcome, I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually come to terms with the issues I have about it, however petty they may seem. 

Distractions

Distractions

I haven’t been as regular with this blog lately. What have I been up to, you ask? Today, I got caught in a vortex of cake-decorating videos. You know the ones. Three minute, sped-up clips of anonymous hands handling colourful fondants, expertly piping frosting, spinning cake turntables and chirpy music.

It’s like magic. And they make it look easy. Plus it’s cake. And I like cake. I like cake very much.

Maybe a little too much, truth be told.

I wish I wrote as much as I used to. Le Hubs and I sometimes talk about growing up in the old days. We were a generation with one foot in the past and the other in the future, growing up with dial-up modems, pagers, not-so-smart phones and VHS. Man, the late nineties were fun. There was a purity in having to work harder to get the things that mattered, entertainment-wise. Like listening to DYGB-FM with a finger poised on the record button, hoping against hope the DJ would play something by the Backstreet Boys.

We used to create so much more back then. The hubs is an artist (my blog header graphic is thanks to him!) although like me, he hasn’t made his passion a day job, and he too feels the constant pull of consuming rather than creating. Because that’s what today’s reality is like. It’s become so much easier to consume than create, thanks to the onslaught of the internet and the convenience of having almost everything at our fingertips. And, like cake, that’s not really a good thing.

It is so easy to be distracted. I sometimes wake up telling myself to write more, that I need to put down something, anything, and then I pick up my phone to check the weather and all of a sudden an hour has rushed by and I know a lot more about the Toronto Raptors than I really needed to.

You know what I need? The cone of shame. It’s not really a cone of shame (thanks, Up), it’s just something to keep spayed pets from licking their healing bits. It would be nice to have something like that when it comes to technology, wouldn’t it? Something to help us focus, to remind us that too much time spent online is hazardous to our health. The thing is, I don’t think a cone of shame would be enough. Nothing short of an EMP-triggered shutdown would be enough.

giphy
via Giphy

If I want to be distracted, I will be. And the truth is, after a long day at work and a stressful commute, a lot of the time I actually want to be. I’m not proud of it, but most days I just want to lie on the couch and bask in the UV rays bouncing off of my TV screen.

The internet has been reverse-engineered into a time suck on purpose. It is to the advantage of the puppet masters that be to keep us all occupied, the way parents hope toys will keep their children from throwing tantrums. While that is not fine, it is what it is, and the only advantage we have is that we can still recognize the trap for what it is. I can choose to buckle down, zone everyone and everything out, and just write. Easier said than done, but baby steps. And I’m doing this post today, so yay for progress!

A Really Really Late and Frankly Kind of Shallow Post

A Really Really Late and Frankly Kind of Shallow Post

Last month, the management cut the power to our high-rise.

The reason lay in January of this year, when the residential building across from us experienced a complete breakdown of power and heating when a burst pipe flooded the building’s electrical room with water. They never really stated what caused the pipe to burst, but in particularly harsh winters, extreme cold can cause water in the pipes to freeze. The resulting ice expansion puts pressure on the pipes, which eventually crack, or burst, if the build-up becomes too much for it to contain.

A burst pipe is enough of a potential catastrophe when it happens in a single residence. It’s a harbinger of the end of the world when it happens to a 33-storey residential apartment building that houses about 1200 residents. They had to shut all essential services down while they investigated the extent of the damage to avoid possible electrical mishaps – or worse, a fire.

Imagine what that must have been like. No power, no heat, no light and no running water for three straight days in January, which is the absolute dead of winter.  That means no heat in sub-zero temps and no working elevators, which would necessesitate going up numerous flights of steps if you live on a higher floor. It’s particularly inconvenient for children, the elderly and the disabled.  It wasn’t pretty.  There were fire crews, ambulances, and police cars all surrounding the building to make sure no one emergencies could be dealt with as they worked to restore power to the building. It must’ve been a complete nightmare for the residents of that place.

With all that in the rearview mirror, the management of our building decided some preventative maintenance was in order to avoid the same thing happening to us. Which is how we came to be without power or water for 24 hours.

I suppose it’s nothing to me, a veteran of Noreco II’s regular brown-outs, to amuse myself for the day and find some way to be occupied. I’m easy. Something to read, something to eat, some water stockpiled. But power outages are rare to non-existent in this part of the world, especially with Niagara Falls providing hydro-electric power not too far away from us. Unlike me, Le Hubs doesn’t find escape in books, and his preferred pursuits involve the use of electricity – music, podcasts, and video games – and he was pacing around like a caged thing, utterly annoyed by his regular routine getting upended, which struck me as absurdly funny.

I spent a good while ribbing him about being completely unprepared for the apocalypse, my lack of empathy an unfortunate (?) side-effect of being Filipino. In the Philippines, our matters of life and death are considerably a lot more serious than the loss of power and access to TV or computers for 24 hours. He was justifiably angry with our building’s management for letting things slide so much they ended up having to deal with it by inconveniencing us all, but it was still funny to me. Only those of us who have ever been held hostage by Noreco II will ever have the fortitude.

That said, his reaction to the lack of power was my reaction to the lack of water. I suppose I should’ve expected that the water would be shut off as well – to test heating? – but I am used to constant access to running water. In the unlikely event we would have no water in the pipes, my childhood home has a manual pitcher pump out back and yes, I’ve had mornings when I used to go out back, pump enough water to fill a pail, and lug the whole thing back inside the house just to shower before school.

I had two buckets of water set aside for washing and the water was ice cold, enough to chill the blood. In the Philippines, our water is sometimes warmed by pipes exposed to the sun, and even when it isn’t, the temperature of our regular running water is not hard to adjust to. In Canada, cold water is cold. Bone-chillingly, horribly, uncomfortably cold. I couldn’t  really appreciate the convenience of having both hot and cold water running until all I had to wash with was cold water. This was just before spring came on and the weather had a high of 5C; having a normal shower was out of the question.

I have come to realize that should the apocalypse come, I am capable of living without power for a while. I can live with walking up seventeen flights of stairs even if it really truly sucks and I had a moment where I truly considered living in the tenth stairwell. I can deal with being unplugged. No, should the apocalypse come, true suffering for me would be the inability to take a decent shower, as shallow as that sounds. (And, I suppose, access to the warmth whenever winter comes.) Even us hardened veterans of Noreco II are helpless when it comes to the ice cold waters of the Great White North.

A Less Wasteful Kind of Joy

A Less Wasteful Kind of Joy

 

Marie Kondo is a sweet little bird of a woman. I had somehow imagined that the best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing was a Michiko Kakutani of sorts. I expected her to look stringy, rigid and exacting, not be a tiny slip of a girl with a smile that stretches from ear to ear, who wears prim, feminine outfits and seems to be the human embodiment of the sunshine emoji.

Marie Kondo is the celebrity of tidying, hired to make sense of one’s life by helping one weed out, sort and organize the detritus that can accumulate simply through existing. She currently has a TV show on Netflix, where she helps people decide what to keep and what to throw out, and teaches them how to arrange the things they have decided to keep to spark the maximum amount of joy. Joy is her raison d’etre. The gist of her method, called KonMari, is to keep only the things that give you joy, and to honour the things that no longer do before casting them aside and donating them to charity.

What makes the KonMari method special is that she believes each item that you have in your home should bring you joy. She also believes that every sentimental item has a sort of life, one that needs to be respected. It sounds ridiculous and I suppose on the surface, it is. Inanimate objects are just that, objects. Because I subscribe to the notion that my things turn into the cast of Toy Story whenever I’m not looking (which is why one moment they’re missing  and the next, they’re lying under my nose waiting to be picked up) the KonMari method and the philosophy behind it doesn’t strike me as particularly outlandish.

I like her philosophy on tidying up. One of the things Le Hubs does that drives me up the wall is whenever he forgets to put a thing back where he got it. (He does this fairly often. It’s a source of everlasting frustration.) The control freak in me loves the idea of organization, of knowing what goes where, the empowerment of knowing where everything and anything is at any given time.

The method may seem simple, but it is devilishly tricky and in some cases, unrealistic. Book lovers in particular, myself included, bristle at the notion of only keeping the books I am likely to re-read (she recommends having no more than thirty) and giving the rest – the unread ones, or ones I’ll never read again – away, as the KonMari method says to do. Please keep your happy, well-meaning paws off my books, Marie Kondo. All my books bring me joy. Everything else but the books!

It’s impossible to only keep the things that spark joy. Not everything I own does. Not everything has to, and that’s okay. I may not have a meaningful relationship with my spatula, but it’s not getting thrown out anytime soon.

To be fair, I don’t believe she means for people  to start throwing everything out willy nilly in the pursuit of carving out a space in which to breathe. If anything, I see the KonMari  method as a good way to re-evaluate the reasons we have for buying the things we do.

It’s helpful to have perspective when buying things, something that, in our mad dash to accrue, very often gets muddled. Sometimes we find ourselves buying things for the sake of buying things, stripping them of their meaning in the process, and the cycle of going out to buy things simply because it feels good to buy things becomes a vicious one that’s hard to break. Before you know it you’re surrounded by things  that have no meaning beyond the initial impulse you had to buy them in the first place.

When it comes to acquiring movies and books in particular, I like to make sure the ones I get are ones I really enjoy. Either I’ve seen it at a theatre and loved it, or I’ve borrowed the digital version of a book from the library and have decided it deserves a spot on my bookshelf. This way I know I’m almost never going to throw it out, and they will never go unwatched or unread. Be selective. Aside from asking if something you already own brings you joy, it’s also a good idea to ask if something you want to own will bring you joy. It’ll help you ensure you’ll never have to throw anything out.

 

No means no, Gender Reveal parties are for assholes, and please think long and hard about what to name your child

It’s been quite a few days. I spent a lot of it under a rock (i.e. catching up on my reading backlog) and now that I’ve emerged for some air… nope. The world’s just as hopeless as it was ten days ago.

Like this guy. This guy is an idiot.

Sorry.

Was an idiot.

There’s not taking no for an answer, and then there’s this. Voluntarily signing up to break the law in favour of handing out free King James Bibles to hostile tribespeople who have proven time and again that they don’t like strangers and will kill them on sight. Yay? It didn’t work for Magellan. No means no.

I identify as Baptist – I know, shocker – and am very good friends with a lapsed Jehovah’s Witness as well as a Mormon, so I see no problem with the idea of going out to spread the good word. I also see no problem with living and think people should go out of the way to avoid dying stupid, unnecessary deaths.

Or causing stupid, unnecessary fires.

In one of the best episodes of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, Grace decides to down all the vodka so she can function at a gender reveal party held by one of Frankie’s kids. My guess is that’s probably what everyone involved at this party was doing.

I used to get really annoyed seeing people I knew sharing their ultrasounds and fresh pee sticks on social media, but that pales in comparison to going out of your way to fire a gun at a target rigged to blow up with either pink or blue powder to celebrate and starting a wildfire in the process. I’m dating myself here, but I remember when gender reveals happened when the baby slipped out of its mother’s birth canal and plopped into the waiting hands of the OB-GYN. It’s a boy! Can we please just go back to doing that and stop making humanity look like such idiots who keep making questionable decisions?

Speaking of questionable decisions,

Is it the impending weight of becoming responsible for another human being? Is it the realization of how much time, money and effort it’s going to involve? Is that what caused this bit of mental gymnastics? Help me. Help me understand why someone would name a child Abcde and insist it’s pronounced “Ab-city,” when really, it’s pronounced “my mother is a dumbass”?

I don’t care what people say, giving a child a name composed of the first five letters of the alphabet is cruelty and endangerment when you know what life has in store. Writing Kick Me with a sharpie and slapping it on your child’s back before he/she goes to school is merciful by comparison. At least it wouldn’t be something they’re stuck with for life. And flight attendants wouldn’t make fun of your offspring.

Not that the flight attendant was any better. While I thank her for taking the very courageous, and yet horribly unprofessional step of posting private flight passenger information on Facebook so we could all share in the experience, that was completely  disrespectful and unprofessional. No one won this thing.

No one won the other things up in this post either.

Except the internet.