Friday, October 31, 2008

yellow autumn leaves

I was born in Calgary. Actually, I lived there for 8 years before moving east with my family. And so I was old enough to have memories from the time I spent there — I remember feeling giddy at the Dinosaur Park at the zoo, buying slurpees at the 7-11 down the street from my house, coming out of my house in the middle of winter and being amazed at the warm chinook weather. One thing I do not remember is Calgary's monochromatic autumn.

Yellow. That's all that happens to the deciduous trees that shed their plumage each year. None of the beautiful auburns and coppers and fiery rusts that we achieve on the east coast. It's because of the poplar and the larch, people told me, that gives Calgary its vibrant mustards. And while it was stunning to see the sides of the mountains swathed in gold, all I could think of was how I missed the east coast rainbow.

CONSUMED: Calgary and Canmore, Alberta

Thursday, October 30, 2008

spicy ramen

Spicy ramen is one of the best ways to finish a night after an evening of drinking. I especially love it the way they served the noodles al dente. It's too bad I gave the cabbie $11 fare when I meant to ask for $11 change. That's what happens when you ride a cab slightly tipsy.

CONSUMED: Minka; W 5th St, East Village (Manhattan)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Reviewing this book is probably a foolish task. So I won't even try. All I will say is that this book renewed my faith in contemporary literature, reminded me about the joy of looking up a word in a dictionary, and held me so fast that I was loathe to finish it.

Please. Do yourself the hugest favour and read this book.

CONSUMED: in planes, bedrooms, hotel rooms, buses, subways, living rooms scattered around Canada and the US, over the course of 2 months

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra

Central Park. Hands down the number one thing that you gotta do when you come to New York, before the Empire State, Rockefeller Center, even the Statue of Liberty. It is the figurative and literal heart of the city, pumping vitality into its inhabitants; without it, the city would gain 10 BMI points, start to balkanise, and finally commit suicide.

It's for this reason that I show the park off to visitors like it was my very own backyard. I still relish in the park's verdure, and in the disparate (though inevitably intertwined) cultures of the native New Yorkers and the weekend tourists.

And so on touring Central Park with an old Haligonian friend last weekend, it was with feigned surprise (I am no longer surprised when the park provides unexpected forms of entertainment) but unfeigned delight that we stumbled upon Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra. Their hot dance jazz ditties had attracted a healthy crowd to the steps of Bethesda Fountain, including what appeared to be true aficionados of the fancy dances of the 1920s. We couldn't help but gawk and share giddy smiles, faintly aware that the city in which we were standing was intricately tied to the anachronism playing out in front of us.

CONSUMED: the steps of the Bethesda Fountain; Central Park, New York

Saturday, October 25, 2008

shadow tracings

One recent evening, likely around 6pm (the time when the long shadows emerge during these ever-shortening autumn days), someone got down on their hands and knees, a stick of chalk in hand, and proceeded to outline the shadows cast by a bike and street sign on the corner of Bedford and N 5th.

Yes, I know this is old stuff. I mean, the NY Times ran a piece in 2005! I doubt it's even Ellis G anymore. But it doesn't make it any less cool when you stumble upon it.

CONSUMED: NW corner of Bedford and N 5th St; Williamsburg (Brooklyn)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cafe Lafayette

Nestled between the more-favoured Williamsburg and Park Slope neighbourhoods, stranded with only the G (for ghost) train to provide sparse service, Fort Greene is a beautiful, brownstoned part of Brooklyn that rarely sees my love. The last time I was there, years ago, I frequented a lovely taqueria on South Portland. This time, I met a friend for brunch at the Cafe Lafayette right across the street.

Cafe Lafayette is a small under-the-stairs type of joint (literally). Somehow the street-level window lighting does the cafe good. Its owners obviously adore the French bistro, right down to having current issues of Voici to be perused in the magazine rack. To be honest, the brunch wasn't anything special. My blueberry pancakes and her eggs benedict were standard fare. But I could tell that there was something more to the place that brought people there.

One of such examples was recounted to me this week. After dinner in the cafe, a woman divulged her accordion (she had just performed nearby) and started to sing Mexican folk songs to the restaurant. Soon, chairs were whisked out of the way and a small dance floor was created in the tiny establishment. Just a glimpse of bucolic charm in the city.

CONSUMED: Cafe Lafayette; 99 South Portland, Fort Greene (Brooklyn)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brooklyn/Not Brooklyn

There's a dividing line running beneath the East River, one that separates Brooklyn from Manhattan. Here, on the pedestrian path of the Williamsburg Bridge, one proud Brooklyner (it's obviously someone from Brooklyn) has decided to unearth that invisible line, letting fellow Brooklyners know when they have ventured off their turf, and welcoming them home upon their inevitable return.

Oddly enough, it appears to correlate exactly with the apex of the bridge. Thus I look forward to it on every ride over the bridge; once I pass this point on my bike, it's all downhill from there.

CONSUMED: Williamsburg Bridge, over the East River

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ra Ra Riot (at the Music Hall of Williamsburg)

Back in Ra Ra Riot's early touring days, their original drummer John Pike drowned mysteriously, tragically after one of their shows. I can only imagine how they all must have come together to weather the tragedy; indeed their recently released debut album The Rhumb Line was dedicated to John. Whether this was the cause or not, you could see the connection between band members on stage, with the guitarist flashing smiles at the violinist; with the frontman climbing on top of the drum kit to tousled the hair of the drummer; with the bassist screaming lyrics into the ear of the cellist.

And their music! You couldn't stop moving if you wanted to, even to their slow jams. The lead singer Wes Miles comes up with melodies that linger, that stay with you even after you turn off the stereo. You could tell they enjoyed playing as much the audience loved dancing. And dance we did, until the lights came on after the second encore, a Kate Bush cover with the final proclamation "I need your love love love love love!"

CONSUMED: Music Hall of Williamsburg; Williamsburg (Brooklyn)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

airport station

Taking the subway to the airport in less than 30 minutes from the city center is a dream. It's a pity more cities don't have the privilege of such an amenity. (One day, I will fly into the Toronto Island airport. One day.)

CONSUMED: Reagan National Airport metro station; Washington DC

Monday, October 20, 2008

ginormous French press

Friday started out perfect. Cloudless azure sky, piercing sun, and a brisk wind that called for jackets (scarves optional). It sounded like fall, leaves crunching beneath feet and the echo of schoolyard chatter.

And breakfast. Oh the breakfast. We had to add a table to the end of ours because so many people turned out. But that's the way it's should be: continually adding people to the table. I ordered the Eggs Rothko (brioche toast with a hole cut out for an egg, topped with white cheddar) with the seasonal greens (kale!). Coffees all round!

The coffee came before the food, naturally. But it came in the largest French press I've ever seen. There must have been a pound of coffee in there (hyperbole)! I've been nursing a new addiction ever since my new roommate moved in. And seeing that huge vat of coffee just sealed the deal: there's nowhere else I'd rather be at this moment.

CONSUMED: Egg; 135 N 5th St, Williamsburg (Brooklyn)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Korean bbq

I've eaten Korean barbecue several times before now. But never with Koreans at the table. (And never in Flushing!) And so I realised during my most recent foray into this savoury carnivore's wet dream that I had been doing it all wrong all along. The bottomless pickled and spiced banchan/sides (I think we counted up to 15?) were not solely for snacking. Nor were the soya sauce-dipped scallions reserved for garnishing the lettuce wrap. As my friend said: "It's make-your-own." Anything goes.

Pictured here was just one of the many many lettuce wraps that I made, each slightly different. What you can see are the scallions, rice and lettuce. What you can't see (or at least can't make out) is the pickled radish, the dried spicy radish root, and the fattiest piece of duck I've ever eaten. Topped off with some mighty addictive soya-ginger concoction, my taste buds were screaming thank yous all the way to the bank.

CONSUMED: Ham Ji Bach Restaurant‎; 4108 149th Pl, Flushing (Queens)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brooklyn neighbourhood poster

There's something kitschy and yet great about the self-referential act of hanging a poster of your city (or borough as the case may be) on your wall. Maybe it wouldn't happen so much in Baltimore or in St. Louis where surely most people are not moving to the city and therefore still going through a rose-tinted glasses honeymoon phase. But here in New York, where everyone is a transplant, it's just as natural as water is wet.

When I first saw the poster (designed by Jenny Beorkrem) in my friends' apartment, I thought to myself: "I could do that!" right down to the choice of DIN Engshrift as the font (it is in my top 5 sans serifs). But the execution is so simple and elegant, that in truth, we should all be happy that I never tried.

CONSUMED: Humboldt Ave; Williamsburg (Brooklyn)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Notwist (at Webster Hall)

Webster Hall is not my favourite concert venue. It's too big, too gaudy, and too club (you can even see the disco ball hovering up by the ceiling, waiting to be lowered for the bridge-and-tunnel crowds that flock there on the weekends). So when people ask if I want to go to a show there, I often give a knee-jerk no.

Except I had never seen the Notwist (pronounced "no-twist" and NOT "not-wist") live before. And I definitely gave their acclaimed 2002 album Neon Golden a fair share of rotation in its day. Their new album The Devil, You and Me hasn't grabbed me as strongly, but despite this I agreed to go to the show. (Actually in my absentmindedness, I asked two separate people to buy my ticket. Whoops.)

Their music, a blend of rock and electronic, sounds like it might could be a bunch of people pressing sample buttons on laptops. And so on Monday, expecting not that much, I instead received an incredible live rock show. The key to the Notwist, I realised, is their live versatility, being able to perform quiet ballad-like songs like "Gloomy Planets" while at the same time successfully delivering plenty of drum-and-bass stylings as in "This Room" (from Neon Golden). And so I found myself dancing during the fast songs and singing along to the slow ones, and being thankful that I had said yes to my friends for bringing me along.

CONSUMED: Webster Hall; New York

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

library book baskets

The Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, located downtown at the corner of Georgia and Homer, is absolutely stunning. With the government office tower mirroring the arc of the coliseum-like edifice (it's the office tower that completes the building, in my opinion), you can't help but feel the centrifugal forces that make you want to sprint around the building, running your hands along the curved spine.

But it was not Moshe Safdie's building that impressed me the most upon my visit to the public library, but rather the simple black book baskets that welcomed me at the door. They just scream with subliminal suggestion: "you're gonna read SOOOO much that you'll need me to hold all of those books!"

CONSUMED: Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch; 350 West Georgia Street, Vancouver

Monday, October 13, 2008

singing wires

We were standing on the sidewalk of West 4th, trying to figure out what to do next, our stomachs revolting for having been promised fried chicken only to have it frustratingly yanked from our metaphorical grasp. Suddenly from behind, the wires above the street started to thrum and sing, followed promptly by the distinctive crackle of trolley poles. My mind raced in a sharp moment of recognition and confusion, suddenly picturing the red and white of the TTC. A streetcar? In Vancouver?! Listening hard, I was half-expecting the inevitable rattle of the rails that come just before the streetcar passes.

My heart dropped as an electric trolley bus hummed passed us, taking with it with my moment of dislocation. Despite my disappointment, I remained impressed; this was either a grand example of my quixotic sentimentality of all things Toronto, or the brain's remarkable ability to remember life's most random ephemera.

CONSUMED: West 4th, between Maple and Cypress; Vancouver

Friday, October 10, 2008

absentee ballot

Monday October 6th: [12-noon] I call Elections Canada and discover that my original mailed ballot got lost due to an understandable misinterpretation of a handwritten "S" as an "5". Hesitantly, I ask if another ballot could be mailed (well aware that the election was happening in 8 days). I am told that yes, one will be sent out that day. [5pm] I receive an email: "TNT is pleased to advise you that ELECTIONS CANADA has arranged for a shipment to be collected from them on 06-Oct-2008, and delivered to you in BROOKLYN." I am slightly upset that taxpayers money is going to paying for courier services for absentee ballots, but mostly excited that I still might be able to vote.

Tuesday October 7th: [4pm] I go online to check out the voting history of my riding. Despite the fact that the Liberal party has held our riding for the past 4 elections, I was shocked to learn that they won the 2004 election only by 744 votes! All of a sudden, I realise that my riding is one of those contentious electoral districts! My vote CAN count if I want it to. [11pm] I arrive home only to find a "delivery exception notice" on my door. I frantically call the courier company and get them to promise to attempt a delivery at my work, as a redelivery attempt to my apartment would be futile.

Thursday October 9th: My ballot arrives! I quickly fill it out (voting "strategically" rather than honestly) and go straight to a courier company here in New York. I pay $40 to ensure that my vote makes it to Ottawa on time.

CONSUMED: at work; New York, NY

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Last weekend I got to reenact my childhood dream of sleeping on the top bunk of a bunkbed. Granted I tossed and turned all night from being too hot (heat rises, remember?), and I feared for my life as the top bunk didn't have a bar along the side. But that didn't stop me from climbing up the ladder for that coveted (I'm not joking) close-to-the-ceiling sleeping experience.

CONSUMED: Paintbox Lodge; Canmore, Alberta

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Camper Locus BCN sneakers

Two years ago, I bought my first pair of Campers, and things have never been the same. While standing still, they looked unremarkable: black laces on a black sneaker. The sly surprise came when you walked: bright yellow soles with the inscription "where do you want to go today?" Thanks to this, these shoes easily became my favoured ones.

There was only one problem. Never before have I ever grown so attached to a shoe. But after two years of nearly daily wear, the shoes have slowly disintegrated, with much of the top layer of the soft leather worn away and with soles that soak your feet from the bottom up when you walk in the rain. I've conducted extensive searches for replacement shoes, something with the universal-use quality of an all-black sneaker, but also something with the same subtle style. And every time I find a candidate, I'm always quick to shoot it down.

The solution? I re-bought the shoe. Camper is known for regularly rotating its stock; thankfully it has held onto this model, at least for one more season. And while re-buying shoes feels a little bit like a symptom of getting older and "set in my ways," this time I am willing to make that concession.

1st pair - Camper; Avinguda Jaume III, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
2nd pair - Freedman Shoes; 2867 Granville Street, Vancouver

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chad VanGaalen :: Soft Airplane

Maybe it's because this guy is from my hometown, which some may describe as a "cultural wasteland." Maybe it's because he exudes awkwardness: he's tall, lanky, his voice sounds like it's always on the edge of cracking, and he's always hermitically making music in his basement!

Or maybe it's because he's making music unlike anything that's coming out of Canada right now. Rather he's been blazing his own trail and wooing Canadians since 2003. But now with this third album under his belt, Chad VanGaalen has proven that he's not going anywhere anytime soon (and thank goodness for that).

With just enough quirk (he went to art school after all) to appease the most discriminating of music critics, and just enough catchy hook to keep him really accessible, he definitely deserves a listen. (There's more of his tracks on the CBC Radio 3 website, if you can figure out their not-so-intuitive music player.)

CONSUMED: Zulu Records; 1972 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver

Monday, October 6, 2008

moose pillows

Something strange happens to you once you've lived several years as an ex-pat. Some may call it homesickness. Others may refer to it as nostalgia. I call it a healthy sense of patriotic identity.

For me, it started with missing those things that I encountered daily: the CBC and the Globe and Mail, Tim Horton's, French on boxes of cereal. Then it manifested itself as cravings for foods unavailable in my new country of residence: ketchup chips, Peak Freans fruit creme cookies, Coffee Crisp chocolate bars. Most recently, after having lived now for over 4 years as a Canadian in the States, it has revealed itself as a sudden penchant for all things kitsch about my home country.

Case in point: A true indicator that I've entered this third phase occurred when I was staying at a lodge in Canmore, Alberta during a trip for a friend's wedding. Of course, there was the typical ski chalet/log cabin decor (see: furniture made from tree branches) as well as the magnificent backdrop of the Rocky Mountains that played a role in sending me into this fit of nostalgia. But despite the jackrabbit wall mounts and the twig clothes pegs, what really caught my attention were these garish pillows on which the silhouettes of moose were stitched onto a background of lumberjack plaid. What could reek more of rustic Canadiana? And yet, I took an oddly particular liking to them. So much so that I considered stuffing one into my bag (but then thought against that since I was staying in the lodge under my friend's hospitality).

Perhaps not surprisingly, there's a store that caters to maple leaf-obsessed individuals such as myself. Luckily, it's far far away from me, up in Toronto. Best to keep it that way.

CONSUMED: Paintbox Lodge; Canmore, Alberta

Friday, October 3, 2008

terimayo dog

Surely it's been blogged to death. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to speak from personal experience. I had heard about Japadog long before my trip to Vancouver, the city of proud Asian ex-pats. The simplicity of the whole concept boggles the mind: Japanese toppings on an all-American beef hot dog.

I arrived on my bike at Burrard and Robson, just as I was instructed. I approached both hot dog stands on the corners of that intersection, only to be rebuffed by the (now) pedestrian menus containing polish sausages and veggie dogs. Where was the Japadog stand? My eyes scanned the other corners, only to confirm that the Japadog man must have already packed up and gone home, after a sold-out day on Burrard. Duly stowing my discontent, I jumped back on my bike and pedalled for the Burrard Street Bridge.


I braked and turned my bike onto the sidewalk of Smithe. There he was at the corner of Smithe and Burrard: Mr. Japadog, smiling widely. Within 5 minutes, I had a secured myself a tastebud-twisting terimayo dog ("the classic," I was told). Two more minutes, it was gone, down the pipes. Who knew seaweed, teriyaki-simmered onions and a good ol' wiener could work so well together? (The wasabi mayo was an added treat.)

CONSUMED: Japadog; north-west corner of Burrard and Smithe, Vancouver

Thursday, October 2, 2008

bakery thriftshop

I've never been a fan of Twinkies. But I've definitely had my share of cravings for those Hostess Cupcakes. You know, the ones that come in packages of twos with the squiggle of white icing over the top. Luckily for me, my exposure to Hostess products came late in life, and so I don't have any childhood nostalgia waylaying my judgment when faced with these supposed "baked goods" at the corner store. Not to mention the nuclear winter jokes have done me well in warding off coercion by friends.

The same goes for Wonder bread. With its legendary shelf life and all but absent nutritional content, I've never found much use for the stuff.

So finding a storefront dedicated to both these brands was mildly disgusting to me. Perhaps more worrisome is the strange phrase on the bottom of the sign proclaiming "bakery thriftshop." This is just wrongness in so many ways.

CONSUMED: North Temple Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"walk buttons" ... for bikes!

The good people of Vancouver don't understand how much of a good thing they have. Streets designated as bike routes? Traffic calming measures that stop cars but allow bikes to go through? Buses with bike racks hitched to their fronts? All of these speak to the fact that the people upstairs not only understand but also actively encourage cycling as a viable primary form of transportation.

But I am most amazed at the traffic signal push buttons for cyclists. They're stationed exactly where they need to be: at all major intersections on designated bike routes, accessible directly from the street (complementing those on the sidewalk for pedestrians), and just a little bit higher off the ground to compensate for the height of a bike. I'm also partially addicted to the satisfying beep they make when pressed. (And they really work, unlike the push buttons in some other cities!)

Oh Vancouver, if only you knew all the kinds of envy you would inspire in the cyclists of New York.

CONSUMED: all over Vancouver!

Shad :: The Old Prince

For three years now, Canada has been the home to the Polaris Music Prize. The award is based on actual artistic merit (as judged by music broadcasters, bloggers and journalists) and not music sales (see: Grammys and Junos). And so the nominees represent the best music that has come out of Canada over the past year.

This year, the award shortlist contained some up-and-comers (Holy Fuck, Two Hours Traffic, Plants and Animals) mixed with heavy hitters (Stars, The Weakerthans, Kathleen Edwards). But after giving everyone a brief listen, what caught my ears were not the indie rock/pop outfits, but rather the lone hip hop album on the list.

Shad's style of emceeing falls under my personal classification as "hip hop" and not "rap," which means that he lays down rhymes about personal and political issues rather than bling-bling and bitches. The best example is in "Brother" where he talks through his frustration of how black youth are tied up in a form of "mental slavery" where the only images of black identity they see involve "makin' tracks or...hoops...or movin' packs for the loot." He calls on black activists to not try to "match any image of blackness" but rather just "do what you're passionate to." In layering his lyrics over a piano/vocal riff not unlike those used by Common, Shad makes this track is one of the sweetest on the album.

But my favourite track is definitely "The Old Prince Still Lives at Home," in which the beat sample cuts out two-thirds the way through the song. "I couldn't afford the whole beat," he says on the track. Then he spits another verse on top of hand claps and a chorus of "hollas!" Even if he didn't win the Polaris Prize this year, he definitely deserves the acclaim afforded by the nomination.

CONSUMED: Red Cat Records; 4307 Main Street, Vancouver