Thursday, March 28, 2013

Some Tough Questions

These questions were shamelessly stolen from Joey's Pad.

1. Are you proud of your country, if so why and if not why?
I'm not sure if "proud" is the right word.  I feel fortunate to be living in Canada for all the obvious first world reasons.  Relative to other countries, our government isn't entirely shameful; we don't seem to be in immediate danger of going bankrupt; and our healthcare system is decent.  I'm not tempted to move out of Canada in the foreseeable future.

2. What have you given back to the world you live in and/or what do you intend to give in your life time?
I sponsor a couple of children through World Vision, and I support a few other charities.  I love to help out a good cause.  But I feel that the most meaningful thing I can "give" is my love, time, and attention, to the people I care about.  I feel most satisfied when someone says they feel better or have gained an insight after speaking with me.  It's a mixed blessing to have a lot of opportunities to help people through their troubles.

3. Are you afraid of death?
I don't feel afraid of my own death at the moment.  I'm more afraid that it's going to sneak up on other people and snatch them away from me.

4. If you were to meet God in real life what would you do?
I would bask in the Glorious Presence and probably be absolutely overwhelmed by awe.

5. Would you want to make the future not mysterious?
Sometimes I dream or sense things before they happen.  It's never made life any easier, however it does reassure me that certain things are "meant to be".  That makes it easier for me to accept what happens, because clearly a lot of it is outside of my control.  I'm not much of a would've-could've-should've person.

6. Will you stand up for banning capital punishment, if not why?
I don't have to, because it's not legal in Canada at the moment.  Putting that aside, do I believe that the death penalty is an acceptable option? Based on my qualifications as a regular watcher of true crime TV shows, I'm going to say "no", simply because I've heard too many stories of scapegoats being wrongfully convicted of murder, only to have the verdict overturned years later.  The death penalty is one of those bells that you can't un-ring.

7. What would you like to be if given a choice - king, an elected ruler or a fascist?
I'm going to go with king.  There's less pressure without having to worry about elections all the time.  I would be a really nice king, so people wouldn't be upset to have me ruling in perpetuity.

8. Would you like to be like somebody? If so why and if not why?
Mostly I'm happy to be myself, but if I had to pick a role model I'd go for the Dalai Lama.

9. Do you think emotions are for weaklings? If not why?
Who wrote these questions?  No, of course not.  It takes great courage and self-discipline to deal responsibly with one's emotions.  Ignoring your emotions is always terrible as a long-term strategy.  You can put them off for a while (and sometimes that's appropriate) but in the end they'll come back and bite you in the bum if you repress them for too long.

10. What in your opinion is the reason for the misery in the world?
Selfishness, short-sightedness, and poor communication combine in a trifecta of misery-making.

11. If there is another life what would you want to be, male or female?
I'd like to be male next time.  Being female is alright, but I'd like to try life without the hormonal roller coaster, and also, I'm always up for trying something new.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Let's Go To The Mall

Of course Robin Sparkles is one of my favourite musical artistes.  That goes without saying.  We're both Canadian, we have similar names, and we both love going to the mall!

Or maybe not.

I decided to take a day off from work just for the heck of it.  I have some vacation days saved up, and I just didn't feel like going to work.  Instead, I thought the day would be well spent at Yorkdale mall, shopping for warmer-weather pants.  Because a) Yorkdale is crazy-crowded on weekends; and b) since I gained a size over the winter, none of my summer pants fit anymore.

Part a) of the plan worked out perfectly.  The mall was relatively sedate.  I was able to secure a seat in the food court at lunchtime without having to ninja-battle anyone for it.

Part b), not so much.  Every single women's-wear store offered 16 different shades and patterns of pastel or rainbow bright skinny jeans.  There was milky green, sunny yellow, coral, hot pink, flowers on a white background, flowers on a black background, flowers on a grey background, lavender-on-white tiger spots, sky blue, polka dot, and easy-stain white.  Endless choice.  And not a single thing that I was tempted to buy.

My main priority right now is being able to dress properly for work.  I also wouldn't mind getting a few casual-specific pairs of pants, but in the summertime, on a hot day, wriggling into a skin-tight pair of long jeans, even in a light colour, doesn't seem appealing.

The only work-appropriate pants I found were of the unstructured, super-drapey, dry-clean-only variety.    Survey says:

Therefore, the only thing I bought at Yorkdale all day was a burger, fries, and an iced tea.  I will be trying again at another mall soon.  It occurs to me that I may have better luck shopping  downtown, close to all the office towers full of working women.  Apparently Yorkdale is now catering exclusively to people who are too wealthy to work.  They just hang around the Espressamento Coffee Bar wearing loud skinny jeans, sipping no-fat lattes and debating which fluorescent Kate Spade handbag to buy this season.

After I had pretty much given up on the whole pants search, (and yes I even went to plain old Sears and even their plain old trousers didn't fit right), I wandered around the mall for a bit before heading home.  There were some new stores added since I'd last been there.  For example, there is now a store dedicated entirely to selling bottles of fancy olive oil.  Wow.  Who wants to bet on that store staying in business?  Not me.  

I also saw the new Microsoft store.  Yes, Microsoft has opened a store, literally two doors down from the Apple store.  Picture the Apple store exactly, with Microsoft products on the display tables, and obviously the employees are wearing Microsoft T-shirts.  It is a pathetic exercise in imitation.  I didn't see a single customer in there.  I wonder what they have renamed the Genius Bar.  Perhaps Smartypants Central?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wheel of Fortune

Lately there has been some super-ultra top-secret stuff going on at my work at the highest levels of the organization.  It's been quite a roller-coaster ride.  This is how a typical week has played out lately:

Monday:  We're doomed.  Start updating your CV.

Tuesday:  High five!  Everything is going to work out.  Log off of Workopolis and get back to your routine.

Wednesday:  Everything is fantastic!  We're all getting promotions, raises, and bonuses!  Start picking out the big house you want to move into.

Thursday:  OMG it's all over.  We're heading for bankruptcy.

Friday:  It's all still up in the air.  The lawyers want more money in order to work things out.

Needless to say, it's been stressful.  I've been more or less able to maintain my optimism, or at least my equanimity, pretty well.  But after a couple of months of this see-sawing up and down, I started feeling seasick.  What is the current state of affairs?  Still unresolved!  However, I am keeping my chin up.

Here are a couple of things I think of when worry starts to eat away at me.

The Mermaid Girl.  I watched a documentary on TV showing how this little girl whose legs had grown stuck together went through life with her parents.  She had a lot of medical challenges, to put it mildly.  What struck me to the core was the courage shown by every member of that family: mom, dad, and Shiloh.  The love they had for each other was stunning.  In one scene, the mother and daughter are talking about an upcoming surgery that Shiloh is facing.  Shiloh is naturally frightened and dreading the pain.  Her mom looks her right in the eyes and prompts her: "And what are we going to do?"  Shiloh answers firmly, without hesitation:  "We're going to be brave, and we're going to get through it."

When it starts looking like my job might evaporate, and I find myself asking "What am I going to do?"  I always answer myself with "I'm going to be brave and I'm going to get through it."  It really helps.

I also think of a family I saw in a documentary about schizophrenia* in children.  This couple had two young kids, and the older one, the daughter, suffered from frightening hallucinations and out-of-control behaviour.  They were doing their best to deal with her, and then her little brother, still only a toddler, started to show signs of the same illness.  Can you imagine how devastated those parents must have felt?

The dad of the family was absolutely overwhelmed to the point of numbness, exhaustion, and incredulity.  That's how I expect I would feel in those circumstances.  Just getting through each day with those two kids was a battle.

The mom was amazing.  Of course I'm sure there are plenty of times when she breaks down, gets exhausted, and wants it all to stop.  She's only human.  But the side of her that she presented to the camera was fiercely upbeat, loving, solution-oriented, and optimistic.  She said that she has accepted that "This is our challenge."  And she is facing it with gusto.

When I start asking myself "why me?" and wanting to run away from my problems, I sit up straight and declare: This is my challenge.  They I resolve to face it with everything I've got.

*To be clear, schizophrenia is a mental illness whose distinguishing characteristics, among others, are sensory hallucinations and an inability to distinguish what is real.  The term is often used casually to refer to Multiple Personality Disorder, but that is a separate and distinct condition.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

War. What is it good for?

Welcome back to Dr. Spark's adventures in further edumacation.  As it is still essentially winter, my life consists of work, meals, sleep, reading, and TV.  The most interesting element of those is the reading.  I have been lurking around the history section of the public library.  Given that a large proportion of my neighbours are Korean, I decided that I should read a book about the Korean war.  So I did.

Here is what I learned about the Korean war in a nutshell: tens of thousands of people died, homes and infrastructure were destroyed, the economy of the country was devastated, and for what?  Pretty much nothing.  At the end of the war, the boundary between North and South Korea was essentially the same as when the war started.  No one had anything to show for all that suffering, except loss, scars, and PTSD.

What the heck, people?  When will we ever learn?

A little while ago, I read about the Crusades.  I never realized that there were a bunch of them, and that they carried on for several hundred years.  Here is what I learned about the Crusades, in a nutshell: they were a total clusterf***.  Pardon my French, but I can't think of a better way of putting it.

As I understand it, each Crusade went something like this:  A bunch of foolish, puffed-up young men got it into their heads to win Jerusalem back from the Muslims.  They gathered up some weapons and set off across Europe to the Holy Land.  To put it mildly, the exercise was not well-planned.  Along the way, they attacked and robbed the innocent inhabitants of the countries they passed through in order to feed themselves.  Model Christians, those guys.

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they fought and sometimes won.  When they took territory, they could not agree on who should rule the new possession, and so fought bitterly amongst themselves.  The internal divisions were almost as vicious as their fight against their foes.  

Also, they couldn't seem to get it together to manage their supply lines.  Anytime they got their hands on a shipment of food, they would throw a giant feast and waste all the food within a few days.  Shortly thereafter they'd be starving.  This happened repeatedly.  

Obviously, sometimes going to war is the right thing to do.  Getting involved in WWII, for example.  I definitely approve of that.  But I'm starting to get the picture that a lot of wars are pointless.  I guess the problem is that often one would only know that in hindsight.  Lord have mercy.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Max's Restaurant

This week, Ken and I embarked upon a culinary adventure of the Filipino variety.  Instead of heading home for an ordinary dinner of toaster chicken, steamed veggies and a bagel, on a whim we went to Max's Restaurant at Dufferin and Steeles.

I had walked past Max's one time, on my way to another store in the same strip mall.  All the posters in the window are written in Tagalog.  My inclination would be to stay away from a restaurant with only non-English promotional materials (it seems a little inaccessible), but some of the Filipino guys he works with had told Ken that Max's is really great and that we should try it.

We spent a long time reading the menu.  It provided ample English descriptions of all the dishes, and our friendly waitress was happy to answer our questions.  I decided that since I was there I may as well try something unfamiliar, so I went with something... I can't remember the name of it, actually.  It looks like the picture next to Pancit Lumpia on the menu page.  Ken ordered stewed chicken.

We weren't sure what to expect.  My biggest fear was that the food would be very spicy.  I am not a fan of hot peppers.  As it turns out, our meal erred on the side of being bland.  Ken's stewed chicken with rice was served in a coconut-milk based sauce that was quite plain, although not bad at all.  It was a nice, homemade-tasting dinner.

My Pancit Lumpia, or whatever it was, was slightly more exciting.  It was a plate of thick glass noodles (very slippery) in a fishy sauce, topped with pork, shrimp, and egg.  Ken took one fishy, slippery bite, and said no thanks to this dish.  I could handle eating it, so I did.  However, I did avoid the rings of what looked like calamari, having just listened to This American Life's podcast on pork bung being used as fake calamari.  I mean, given that pork was listed as an ingredient, and calamari was conspicuously absent...  Draw your own conclusions.

While I was slurping my fishy noodles, Ken sampled the red sauce in a glass bottle on the table, which turned out to be banana ketchup. (Not the Max's house brand, which as you can see in the link is only available in Manila.  We had to make do with some other brand.)  His feedback on the sauce was that it was very sweet, and tasted kind of like the red sauce that Chinese restaurants give you with your order of deep-fried chicken balls.

Meanwhile, at another table, some lucky kids were getting Halo-Halo Specials for dessert.  The waiter caught us gawking, and tried to talk us into trying one, but we had had enough adventure food for one evening.

Overall the restaurant was very nice (clean as a whistle, helpful wait-staff, fresh food), but I wouldn't make a point of going back.  I just didn't fall in love with the flavours.