I just unfriended a lot of people from my Facebook account. It feels strangely liberating.

“Emily Lee” popped up on my Facebook feed and I struggled to recall who that person is. I sometimes wonder what people use Facebook for – to stay reconnected, or to put up photos tagging #instagram in hopes of someone clicking “likc” on the page?

346 connections have just been removed. Since when did we let Facebook govern our social network?

I can still recall the day when Windows 3.1 appeared before me. I told my friend Wella that she’s “got the coolest computer ever”. We then went out to her living room to watch Breaker High on TV. Yes, the days when kids watch TV instead of going on surfing the net.

Well, find me on Twitter if you wanna talk. 🙂

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A series of unfortunate public misdemeanor

So recently I’ve come to the revelation that I happen to be one of those poor souls who’s always stuck at either witnessing a bit too much personal misdemeanor in the public sphere. Somehow in the course of around 2 weeks or so, I have managed to get myself SMACK in the face of watching people pick their noses, being 5cm away from some dude who passed gas on a packed subway car, or other unmentionable activities which some chose to make public in Toronto’s public transportation system. I shall name a few of the said unmentionable activities.

I am most certainly not a neat freak, and it WOWs me so to see someone having the audacity to whip out their whole manicure kit on the metro. It’s technically a physically quasi-impossible act; balancing a nail polish bottle in a throttling subway car often gives a high of 99% of the bottle spilling ALL over. However, that, my friends, still falls under the artistic category. Misdemeanor on the other hand is much, much more colourful than a bottle of Sally Hansen.

So one fine spring day I was happily listening to my ipod and even happier to have found a seat on the way home in the jam-packed subway car. Around 2 stops later, the person sitting next to me left and another dude sat down half-way, with his back facing my left. One more stop away from our silent seat-sharing, I started to smell something very, very putrid. And I realized this guy purposely sat like so next to me because he knew he was about to fart any minute.

Now being stuck in a corner when your comrade next to you passed gas is a very, very unfortunate affair. You are stuck with nowhere to turn. You cannot turn outward, and all hope for fresh air to sift in through the crowd is usually in vain. Worse of all, the feeling of impending warfare between yourself and said comrade makes the air heavier- no pun intended- than it seems. You know they know that you are annoyed and quite likely very upset. Sometimes they might be embarrassed (hence the continuous cold shoulder, whoops, back). Sometimes they even have the guts to look back and give you a “whoops, sucks to be you” look.

And then the other day I managed to sit down beside a very well-dressed young lady whose feet quite literally smelled like the entire city’s sewage system unearthed itself and surfaced and decided to take a bus ride and tour the city. I felt very sorry for her pair of sandals.

PDAs and nose-picking on the other hand came by a dime a dozen. It happened too often for me or anyone to care. As long as the young lovebirds’ saliva and other unmentionable substances do not get on me, I’m okay with that.

However, I will never, ever forget the moment when, near the end of the metro line, some woman presumably assumed that no one would look at her, and started to pick at her nose with such severity and force, that she looked like if she dug any deeper her face would just pop and explode like one of ’em silent volcanos in Iceland or something. Another man was witnessing the whole charade and looked at me, absolutely mortified and embarrassed, for mortal support. I on the other hand completely was stoked beyond words at the sight. EW, EW, and EW.

Next time you are at it with the unmentionable activities, remember: someone might be watching, and they just *might take your photo with their smartphone….

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Which (Japanese) flag is it anyway?

As it is in any global crisis, there are always rumours and misconceptions and misinformed ideas circulating around the world. What with the power of internet and social media channels, it’s too easy to fall victim to ideas such as “consumption of salt can prevent radio-active waves”. The said idea has triggered a massive craze in buying salt in South East China (see a report here)

Being Chinese and coming from a family whose relatives had suffered, first hand, in Sino-Japanese conflict such as the infamous rape of Nanking (or the Nanking Massacre, c. 1937), as much as I love Japan’s culture and appreciate it as a country, I often wince at the image of seeing Japanese people waving their national flag declaring sovereignty over lost battles and decided to put history in the dark (say, the one which took place in Nanking).

That’s another discussion altogether. When the earthequake and tsunami hit Japan, the first thing that came to my mind after seeing all the images and news coverage was: JAPAN IS SUCH AN AMAZING COUNTRY.

You see people lining up, helping one another, the young supporting the old and ailing, the middle agers staying calm. At least according to the images, this a a people whose country has just suffered tremendous loss but remained calm, strong, courteous, and brave. I can’t even imagine this happening in China- I can already see those fake-ass communists fleeing their country with their WIVES and children in tow.

That’s a bit of a side note, but my point is actually regarding something else. Recently I’ve seen that lots of people on facebook or twitter have been adding “buttons” to their profile image in solidarity and support of Japan. However, I wonder how many of these people can actually tell the difference between the two flags below:

Whose flag is it anyway?

The flag on the left is the Imperial Japanese flag. The one on the right is the modern day Japanese flag.

While showing support to the country is GREAT, and I will also do so – and hopefully without presenting myself as judging anyone- keep in mind that the image of the Imperial Japanese flag is a painful image for many countries, in particular East Asian ones. It is the symbolic representation of the over-riding nationalism, torture, pain, warfare and violence which Japan imposed on the continent back in WWII.

As said earlier, my opinion is that we must stay informed at all times. Don’t subject yourself to any visual representation seen on the net as it is. Research the meaning behind, be in the know.

And in the mean time, GO JAPAN GO!

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They’ve got dumplings

    A Toronto restaurant review

I have to admit that as much as the photos of rats running free on top of sacks of flour scared the living daylights out of me, I remain a loyal fan of the Dumpling House. But like any sensible foodie would, I shied away from the place for a while after the big bust. I went to Mother’s Dumplings. I checked out Ding Tai Fung. I went to other dumpling joints around down, from hidden corners in Chinatown to locations in Scarborough- restaurants which often included the words “dumpling” or “house” in their name. None of them really offered any solace. And I wanted was just pot stickers. I didn’t even care much if it was a bargain. Sadly, no dice.

So I contemplated the idea of going back to the Dumpling House again and was OVERJOYED to see the restaurant all decked out with new tables, flooring and even new tiles for the walls (some of you might recall that the old place was so filthy that paper napkins would STICK on the walls). The ever philosophical flashing of the sign outside “Got dumpling?” also added a distinctive flair to the place. And with the loveable spelling mistakes all over the menu, I was so glad to see that the Dumpling House is BACK.

zha-jiang noodles, the Dumpling House
So the three of us stepped in for an early dinner at 5pm, and we ordered steamed dumplings, pot stickers, and zha jiang noodles (szechuan-style meat sauce and veggies on “hand-pulled” noodles). The $5.99 noodles arrived first. As usual, lots of meat and gravy, tempered with salt, pepper, soy sauce and a teeniest hint of chili. A pile of thinly sliced carrot and cucumber added to the whole mix. My only wish was that the Dumpling House would spice up their zha-jiang noodles next time. Or get a new chili sauce supplier. An extra pinch of chili powder will put some much-needed tang in that dish.

The pot stickers were the next to arrive. As usual, the pot stickers arrived upside down on the plate. What makes the Dumpling House stands out among the rest is that they actually GRILL these things. 12 pot stickers would be put into a covered iron pan, and a layer of flour mix is poured over the dumplings. The iron pan is then put directly on top of the stove (well, on the fire, really), and flipped around a few times. The result? Crispy golden, hot, oozing with flavour- our plate of 12 pork and chives pot stickers were done with perfection. Just like how it’s done everytime.

What made that plate even more fingerlicking good was that the chefs went easy on the salt. I’ve always believed the Dumpling House’s biggest vice (other than the rodent presence) was their love affair with salt. The pot stickers these times were seasoned just right.

Still, I had to gulp down a few more cups of tea, and surely enough it was lukewarm. Again, a common vice in most Chinatown restaurants- flavourful food, lower-than-average quality tea. When will they ever step up their game with the most common beverage on a Chinese table?

All the complaint about the tea and chili sauce aside, the last dish that made it to our table tonight was the plate of 15 steamed dumplings. We ordered the combination plate- for $6.99, patrons can choose 3 different types of dumplings for a grand total of 15 pieces. We decided on pork and fennel, pork and bok choy and the seafood combination.

Look at these beauties!

The pork and fennel set came way out on top. Amazingly fresh in taste, the pork was tender, the amount of fennel was just right so that it didn’t mask the taste of the pork. The seafood ones had that weird aftertaste of an overnight storage, but hey, I found a shrimp in every dumpling, so they get kudos for that one, too. The pork and boy choy performed just as one would expect- they taste oh. so. homey. They were a nostalgic reminder of my friends’ annual massive 8-hour dumpling feasts.

All in all, I am so glad to see the Dumpling House back as a “landmark” in Chinatown. Service was still very mediocre- asking for an extra set of utensils took 3 trials, but hey, for those golden pot stickers and the quintessential guessing game of figuring out who’s actually got ’em dumplings, Dumpling House still gets an A on my charts.

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Doodling about Noodle

A Torontonian restaurant review

It is common practice for most Cantonese restaurants to offer up whatever that’s available in the kitchen , but once in a while one of these restaurants would focus on one staple and become pretty famous for it. On one chilly Toronto evening I decided to satisfy my craving for some warm grub by paying a visit to King’s Noodle House, a long-standing noodle joint right at the corner of Spadina and Dundas. And I walked out a decently satisfied customer.

Squeezing into a four-seat “booth”- the Cantonese lingo for a boxed seat or any table which offers some sort of shield from the hustle and bustle of the fast-moving waiters- my Swiss friend and I decided to share 2 dishes. We ordered a plate of barbequed pork on rice, and the scrumptious-looking beef and veggies on noodles.

Surprisingly, the beef noodle arrived first, and was most certainly visually pleasing to the eye:

I took a bite and was instantly impressed. One way to tell whether stir-fried noodle was well-done is to see whether or not they managed to stack one layer of noodles “dry” on top of the “wet” (i.e. sauce-soaked) layer of noodles. Most restaurants manage to pile up a tasty pile of veggies and meat on top of that bottom layer of noodles, but pick it through with your chopsticks and you’ll see the noodles are literally stuck in a pool of sauce. King’s Noodle House did a real decent job though. The dry layer was actually tasty, the texture doesn’t taste like it’s been too deep-fried, and for the ones who love mixing egg noodles in with a sauce, the bottom layer of noodles remain fresh in taste despite having a lot of gravy poured over it. Plus, the pieces of beer were tender, seasoned just about right, and the veggies decently fresh. My only complaint about the dish was that it was not hot enough. Given the chilly weather outside, somehow the dish cooled down rather quickly.
BBQ pork on rice
The barbequed pork on rice, however, did not meet up to my expectations. It was all a little too dry and tempered with too much sugar, and as much as I love having BBQ pork that’s not too lean, there was just too much fat. It’s as if I could hear my own fork squishing down the fat (insert “ugh” here). The rice came as the biggest disappointment, though. Too dry, too cold, and that drizzle of soy sauce on top made the whole dish a sad affair. You certainly won’t find me going back to King’s for their BBQ meat dishes.

Still, the price was decent, the location prime, and service as decent as you’d expect in a busy Chinatown restaurant. My advice? Ask the servers to make sure your noodles come out sizzling hot, and add a pinch more tea leaves in that communal tea pot next time.

King’s Noodle House
296 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON

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Cheapskatin’ in Paris

Did you silently scream “quel horreur” when you saw the bill after downing a couple of drinks at a restaurant? Or get frustrated when you can’t find affordable grub near the Eiffel Tower? Chances are, well, you just didn’t find the right places to go. Or know the rules. Don’t be put off- Paris can be affordable, and often in the most unexpected arrondissements. So stop trying to sweet-talk your way through with the waiter. Just take the bill, pay and don’t look back. Unless the waiter/waitress is breathtakingly cute and somehow asked you for your phone number.

Mind you, I’m no expert, but after living in Paris as a stagiare for almost 2 years and living on a pittance, one is bound to know a thing or two about hanging out in the city with 5 €(fine, make that 10) in your pocket.

Here’s a few tips on how to live cheap (whether for a day, a week, or more) in Paris.

We all know how the French (and francophiles alike) are obsessed with their daily Joe. The rule of thumb is obviously trying out coffee in a Parisian cafe. The most important thing, however, is to know where you stand in a bar. If you are that short on cash and still want that Parisian-cafe-experience, drink your coffee au bar. Going straight up to where the bartender/barista/owner is and drinking your coffee there can save you anywhere between 50 cents to 2€. Often there are stools at the bar- and no Parisian dozes off into space at their coffee like people at Starbucks do, anyway. Stay more than 20 minutes at the bar and er…well, pay up is your option. Call me a know-it-all, but I’m the only person I know who’s stayed more than 20 au bar (because I am terribly, terribly cheap).

Second thing to keep in mind: call. it. right. Ask for your coffee the way a Parisian would. I haven’t seen anyone getting ripped off because of lacking access to this lexicon, but I have certainly seen the quality of their cafe decrease as a result (indicator: amount of chocolate sprinkle or whipped cream on a cafe viennois. Very scientific). Don’t ask for an espresso unless you want to buy a Nescafe machine, for god’s sake. That cup of magic black brew is a cafe. A macciato is a noisette. A latte is a creme. And cappucino is well, a cappucino. If you want a latte with lots of whipped cream on it? It’s not creme avec…er, creme, but a cafe viennois. And a carafe (jug) or a verre d’eau should come for free with every coffee. You might need to ask for it, but every Parisian restaurant should serve tap water for FREE, coffee or no coffee with the order.

If grabbing a cafe and people-watch on a terrace in Saint Germain is your thing, be reminded that it IS an expensive area of Paris. If you insist on going to Les deux magots for your cup, a cappucino there is probably 5€. A salade probably at 15. So make sure you got bills in your pocket. Some restos (that’s right, they call ‘em resto!) don’t take credit card if your bill is too small. There are other options, too. Take a walk around the area. From the exit of metro Saint-Germain de Pres, Near the Cathedral and the rue de Rennes there are quite a few cute bars. Hop in during happy hour and you might be pleasantly surprised. The true finds, however, lies near the Academie Nationale de Medecine and the Ecole des beaux arts. You’ll be happy to find a 1.2€ espresso (“Café”) in the bar aux deux academie; or, a 1.50 € machiatto (“noisette”) in a cute little bar on the corner of rue des beaux-arts. And there are few others like them, too. There’s a secret joy to be surrounded by students and researchers from the ENA or the Academie while stealing a peek at the cute guy scribbling in his sketchbook on the stool next to you. Yes, I am that shallow.

And on your way to get there, don’t forget to hop in Ladurée- the French landmark of dessert heaven. Go to this location to buy macaroons and you’ll skip the line at their store on the Champs Elysée.

The best thing about hanging out in the Saint-Germain area, however, is having a picnic on the Pont des arts. A wooden bridge normally filled by young people and beer-sellers, it is the best place for a relaxing picnic, a read, or a short break- all for free- while enjoying a magnificent view over the Seine River and the Rive gauche of Paris. Keep in mind, however, that there are no supermarkets near the Pont des Arts, so go with a sandwich (better yet, bread and cheese and wine) to enjoy a lovely evening before ka-chingin’ it in the Parisian night life.

Let’s continue with beer, grub, sandwiches, fromage and everything in between in our next encounter. Mais oui.

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The people who I’ve become close friends with in Belgium or Paris might recall that my one year in Belgium was marked by various illnesses; I’ve never been so ill in my life save that one year.

Basically most of the pillars that made up life weren’t going well at that time; some were going straight downhill and I was so stressed out that the aftermath of it all, plus that one nerve/health-wrecking year in MC France, and my love for going out and Belgian beer, erupted on my body. The result of it was that I was sick basically every 2 weeks for one whole year. Developped random seasonal allergies, bruises and cuts (which I can’t remember how I got them), sleeping 12+ hours, perpetual colds, potential liver failure (according to a chinese med doc) and the worst of all was the blocked nerve on my left shoulder (which I got one morning waking up from bed) which is still affecting my daily life until today. At that end of that year in Belgium I was sick of being sick all the time and decided to sort out this health mess and treat myself with a bit more respect.

I did not come to Brazil with the right reasons as I left for another internship because the thought of staying in canada at the time was unbearable- the winter, above all. 3 years living in Europe have reminded me how it’s like to be able to walk around in January without snow boots and I couldn’t stand the thought of being in Toronto for longer than a few months at that time. So off I went again. And left my parents behind. Again. Horrid child.

Brazil was a rough, slow start- 4 years after that first encounter in Curitiba put me in an anxious mode- same place, different people- would I fit in? Having been on the road for 3 years I thought I’m ready to be anywhere but real life isn’t as easy. It takes a while to get used to any daily rhythm of metro-boulot-dodo in any part of the world (commute-work-sleep, a la francaise).

Many think I over-react with awe about Capeoira but few knew that I was once a Martial Arts fanatic and at one point used to train the whole summer practicing almost 6 hours a day. Not that I’m good, but I was practicing. Sports was always a well-liked past time but I am much too lazy for my own good. I am also really shy when it comes to practicing sports with a group of people I don’t know. So thanks to Julia Kuzmits who got me out of my shell I went to Capoeira in March and fell in love instantly (even though that first trial lesson almost gave me a heart attack- that’s how horrid my health was at that time).

4 months after that first lesson and really horrified at the sight of seeing how fat I’ve become – thanks to a lot of facebook photo tags, I am proud to say that today I’ve reached my goal. Now fat not being an exaggerated word because I’ve always been very very skinny- and this has nothing to do with beauty standards- when your pants don’t fit and you need to buy new ones, when you need to constantly wear long shirts to cover a pre-beer belly and you are only 25, when you are sick constantly and don’t know why, you know it’s not just about being “fat”, it’s about being “unhealthy” and something’s gotta be done.

Anyway- 4 months after I first started my capoeira lessons and going for 2 weeks strictly without ANY carbs – which was tough as I am a huge fan of rice and noodles- I’ve managed to control my apetite and moved my eating habits into one that requires more meals in less quantity. Most importantly I’ve managed to shed around 11 pounds in the last 4 months, and honestly without much effort. Just went to capoeira, and after that 2-3 weeks of no carbs I went back to eating normally. Not much cut in the size of my lunch plate either. I actually eat more sometimes because it’s cold in Curitiba now and Capoeira requires a lot of energy. That’s it. Now I feel much healthier and can actually run to catch a bus.

I was once so sick in Belgium that one time I ran for the metro (a short run of around 40 meters), I almost fainted on the platform after and had to call in work because I could not make it to the proceeding train, as I was recovering on the stairs.

So the point is- friends, stay healthy. Take it from me. Stress kills.

Sebas, I never forgot about that message you sent me and now looking back- stress is really insane and make your body react weirdly. I hope you are totally free from it all now as well and doing well in Barca 🙂

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