adventures in the far east β€” of canada!

Archive for the ‘food’ Category

The Vaterland ever calls: farewell to the last German!

In calgary, food, friends, st. john's on September 16, 2009 at 4:03 pm

At the moment of writing, I am on the plane, bound for Toronto where I shall stay for about an hour (and hopefully get something to eat…), and then off to Calgary for a one-week visit. I at last have a very long stretch of time to put towards catching up on this blog!

What a week it’s been…the trip couldn’t come at a better time. Not that I knew it was going to be so crazy busy at work. It just worked out that way.

Anyhoo (a word I am pleased to inform you has been officially added into the Canadian Oxford Dictionary!), accounts of things that happened between then and now (then being Philipp’s departure from St. John’s) may unfortunately be a little fuzzier in detail, given the amount of time that’s passed. Well, maybe only a month, but still. A sad consequence of my laziness in regards to the blog, but hey, I’m already doing something most people don’t regularly! And life’s ever interesting in St. John’s. πŸ™‚

But enough small talk.

Weeks and weeks ago, before Thursday, August 13–an important date, because that is when my friend Jamie arrived in St. John’s for a visit–Jeanne and I would send off Philipp, the last of the Germans we met in St. John’s finishing up a medical rotation.

It was just myself, Jeanne, and Philipp, and what we lacked in people we made up for with (as always) exceptional company, conversation, and food. We went to International Flavours at my suggestion, because a friend/co-worker had recommended the place to me once as a very cheap place that runs a decidedly unconventional menu that is wonderfully tasty.

Their menu is different because there really isn’t one–you go in, and the lovely east Indian lady and owner of the place explains that the only thing you can choose is chicken, lamb, or a bit of both. Excepting the meat chosen, the generous portions of curry, rice, and various sauces were the same, and they were very, very tasty. I’d also ordered the mango milkshake, because reviews had heaped praise on that as well.

I recall that day was a very rainy but warm day. I walked there from work, and I was soaked through. Upon arrival, I was assured to find that the restaurant had earned a “Places to Eat in Canada” sticker for a certain recent year (2008? 2009?). That label always impresses me, and I see it as a great affirmation of quality food by customers who vote restaurants to the honour each year. Towa Sushi in Calgary has a collection of them, but for a restaurant that has virtually no menu, that to me is pretty cool.

Taste-wise, the food reminded me of the Afghan Restaurant, as the food is from a similar region. However, I would say International Flavours (an inaccurate name indeed, seeing that they only serve one thing from one culture) does a better job of it, and the service was much more personable–the lady was a delight to talk to! She told us about her life here, her children, and her successful little restaurant despite hours that only went from noon to 7 pm and no Mondays.

The restaurant also sold various Middle Eastern groceries I haven’t seen anywhere else in the city for fairly cheap! I bought a big jar of minced garlic and ginger for a great deal, considering grocery stores sell them separate in mini jars at about $3 or more.

In the end, we were stuffed, and dinner outlasted the downpour. After making my purchase and bidding the cheery owner a good evening, we concluded the evening with ice cream at Moo Moo’s!

Moo Moo’s was fantastic as always. There was a rum and raisins ice cream that I had to have (RUM!!), as well as something caramel, I think. Philipp ordered a fudge or something, and a wonderfully tart partridge berry (I know because we let each other try our order). Jeanne was being lame (and if you’re reading this…I ordered that much to share, dammit!!) and got nothing and would not try anything, citing the “full” excuse. Bah! I ate a lot more ice cream than I’m used to that night…

Soon enough, however, it was time to call a close to the night. Philipp had a last bus fare on his card to use up, the bus was coming soon, and so we idled the last of our time together in St. John’s at a nearby movie rental place. Jeanne wanted some brainless movie (maybe her brain was also “full!” :P) and got it, haha. Back out we went, the bus was on its way, and we said our goodbyes to Philipp and each gave him a hug…

Did I mention before how people are still leaving me all the time? 😦 C’est la vie. Again, one of these days, I want to head to Germany, and hopefully see the crew again. There’s nothing better to feed a travel bug–the promise of seeing friends again!


Auf wiedersehen, meine Freunde!

In food, friends, st. john's on August 12, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Regatta Day had a curious effect on people. Not all, but certainly myself and many others at work.

It felt like a Monday; it felt like we just had a weekend. I called a morning greeting to a coworker, and just stopped short of asking, “So how was your weekend?” I told him what I’d wanted to say, and he told me he had just done some maintenance stuff at the studio, a procedure he only does on Monday…and then he realized that it was actually Thursday. Needless to say, it was an off day, and people were tired. I believe the coworker who rowed took a day off to recuperate.

I don’t recall if I said so, but during our discussions splayed out upon the grassy shade near the lake on Regatta Day, we did come to a decision on where to eat, with the basic goal that the Germans wanted more seafood. They tell me it’s terribly expensive back home, and Maria said she had only had lobster once in her life as a child before coming here. Once! Poor girl…

So off to the Murray Premises I went, a square courtyard I didn’t know existed that grew right off of Water Street until I set out looking for it. There, we waited for everyone to arrive, and for a table at the Hungry Fishermen on small bleachers set up around the courtyard. There was a hotel there as well, and some small shops, and curiously, a few international flags hung bordering the area’s handful of picnic tables. I wonder what that’s all about? Perhaps I’d discovered a new happening place in St. John’s…plays? Performances? I’m not sure, and no one was 100% certain either, including native Newfoundlander Angus.

Our table was ready in about half an hour, and everyone was present except Celine. Before we went in, though…

Leading up to her departure from St. John’s, Maria had a small list of things she’d wanted to do before she left, as it related to Newfoundland and Canada (even though she’s visited the country before). The other day she went to the Regatta and had maple syrup at Angus’s, but there were still a few things she missed, like seeing an iceberg. She was also set on eating moose sausage, and we were light-heartedly recounting some of these things as we got ready to head in. She was extremely mock-disappointed that moose sausage had eluded her (though with these things, I do suspect there is some real regret, of course).

And lo and behold…Philipp hands her a tinfoiled plate. She didn’t know what it was; it couldn’t be, could it?

IT WAS! Haha, she was delighted…Philipp’s roommate’s parents hunt or something, and they had a freezer full of different meats. He said they had plenty of moose, and apparently, sausage is one of the things most people like to make out of it, because it keeps well. Along with the meat was also a generous pool of mustard sauce.

She happily ate it, proclaiming another item struck off her list, and joked that it was her appetizer for the meal. Offering it around, I declined, despite not having tried any moose sausage myself…it was her moment, you know? πŸ™‚

Inside, we chatted and waited for Celine some more, until it just got later and later. Despite the free buns and butter, we were hungry, and she was not answering her phone. Leaving a day after they were (except Philipp), they told me she had endeavoured to pack up, finish up all her own chores here, and bake a lot of treats for the hospital for her last day. She was probably still rushing about.

I can quickly gloss over the food at Hungry Fishermen. As I had said before, Karen told me most Newfoundlanders don’t go to seafood restaurants–it’s much cheaper to buy and prepare it yourself, and many have family out in the bay towns, and they can get freshly caught fish and lobster from them if they wanted for free.

It was a fine restaurant. It was priced very lavishly, but we knew that going in; however, to send off these good friends, we were all more than willing to. The food was good, but there wasn’t very much of it, and for what I paid, I could have had a whole lot more shrimp and scallop! The Germans were very pleased though, so I was, too–they had lobster bisque and a wonderfully chunky seafood chowder, a salad, and a variety entree that had a bit of a lot of different seafoods. For example, it was the first time they’d had halibut and scallops, which to us may sound weird!

Unfortunately, one of their coworkers from the hospital (from NL) had to abruptly leave–as is the case for many hospital staff, he was on call, and while they told me it’s rare after their long day, he got buzzed in and had to leave…the girls packed up his dinner (before it’d even arrived), and would give it to him afterwards.

As we concluded dinner Celine at last arrived! Actually, she’d thought the event was an hour later, and had just finished up her chores. She apologized profusely, we were cool with it, and she ordered some salad, telling us about the berry cupcakes she’d baked after picking a whole bunch here.

At dessert time, the table was too curious not to try Screech Pie, so the table ordered 2 to share…but I must say it was quite disappointing. It was a rich chocolate cake with cookie crumble bottom and tasty fruit reductions drizzled around, but what could have been (I imagine) a very subtle and successful rum accent was in reality far too strong. The flavour of the cake was ruined with how alcoholic it tasted, and we joked that people shouldn’t be allowed to drive after a slice (the not very attendant waitress had joked that we’d still be able to). I bet you the pie was flammable.

After a hefty bill, we headed to George Street! We went to Lottie’s, a place Angus tells us is very disreputable (creepy guys, crazy anything-goes), but it was a Thursday night, and they’re known for $4.50 White Russians every day, all the time. So we had some haha–Maria insisted on buying mine, because I think she felt it was her last opportunity to pay me back a little for the hospitality. I never need to be paid back for kindness, and I was putting up some fight, but I could tell it’d mean a lot to her, so… I gladly accepted. πŸ™‚

Throughout Regatta Day and today (still), Lisa was rounding up the last signatures for Maria’s gift mug, and it was at last time to present it. They tasked my with the job of chatting with Maria until 10 to 12 or something (11:50 pm), while Lisa, Celine, and Philipp set up by a stand of trees across the street. Jeanne and Angus were still with me, and I carried on the conversation…with some difficulty! We’d spoken a lot already these past few days, and were comfortable, so there were no more getting-to-know-you-more kinda topics…so there was weather…plans and things she’ll have to do in Germany…uh….

I kept making these less than discreet yapping motions at Jeanne and Angus, who both either did not see, or did not care lol. Angus was busy, mind elsewhere with mime-drumming some live music heard from within a bar, and Jeanne later told me she just wanted to see me struggle! Maria at one point asked what I was doing. “Oh, nothing…” I rolled my wrist to the flow of the music (as you would typically do with an index finger), and bobbed my head more. Haha.

At last, we were retrieved! And Maria was surprised with a mini cake (more a cupcake) impaled with a handful of candles, but only a few were lit (Lisa was having a lot of trouble in the wind). There was also some champaign that Philipp brought, and her gifts arrayed around the set up, and they sang “Happy Birthday” in German, and us in English.

And then all too soon, the night was over…the rest of us had work to return to the next day, and Lisa and Maria’s separate flights were both long; one even had a stopover in Ottawa for 10 hours! Yes, it’s true–flying somewhere from St. John’s is tough, and usually ends up with you flying away from where you want to go for a distance (if you’re lucky, the shortest delay is to Halifax), and then flying to your destination…and on the way traveling back over St. John’s! It’s not a huge enough city that all the big destinations go there, so you connect via cities like Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa.

Alas I did not bring a camera that night–forgot! Hopefully I will receive some pictures from the others soon.

Well, it’s really no matter–honestly, thinking back, I still hold onto the memories closely and gladly. We only knew each other all briefly, but as we hugged goodbye, I think we all felt we’ve become good friends. It was sad to see them go, and indeed my plans to one day visit Europe seem that much more urgent, with something more to look forward to than just discovery and adventure: meeting old friends again.

Auf widersehen, meine Freunde. We will meet again some day!

Me, currently

In food, friends, internship, me, st. john's on August 4, 2009 at 2:30 am

Introducing a new category of posts: “me”! Yeah, it’ll be about me, a little more personally, rather than just my musings and observations of events and life here in St. John’s.

Firstly, weekend wrap-up: yes indeed, it was a good one! George Street Festival on Friday with the lovely Germans, which amounted to much chatter to catch up, some drinks, and some dancing. This took place in a few bars and pubs, because during these big events on George Street, it’s sectioned off, and to enter, you pay $15–but this is cover for all the bars on the entire street! On a normal night, there may or may not be cover at pubs, depending if they have performers or events, and it usually ranges from $5 to $10 and above. Of course, that’s just only one establishment…if you wanted to check out the entertainment elsewhere, you might have to pay another cover. So, the George Street Festival and any other similar big events are a great deal.

Before Jeanne and I met up with them, we had dinner at Zapatas. It was Mexican cuisine, and it was rather bloody tasty. We were going to have the supper with Maria, one of the Germans, but in the medical field being on call is pretty rough and demanding, so she just couldn’t get off in time, even though she planned to.

Anyway, it’s another restaurant that gives free stuff! Free homemade (or at least it seemed like it) tortilla chips, extra thin, very ungreasy, and definitely homemade salsa that the waitress gladly refilled for free. Good stuff.

You know, it’s the first time I’ve actually eaten at a fully-fledged, self-identified Mexican restaurant. You know, everywhere has like tacos, nachos, fajitas, enchiladas, and such, but here was a restaurant whose menu gave some history on the revolutionary hero Zapatas, whose interior was decked out with lovely Mexican art and wall paintings, and the background music added to the ambience.

I had their beef chili–super amazing, sweet, spicy, cumin-y and thick, but you know, it actually proved something else for me–how good The Sprout’s vegan chili was. Minus the meat, that chili was very similar, so I appreciated that day at The Sprout even more!

I had a thick enchilada with a twist, as it had a bunch of Newfoundland seafood like shrimp, and it comes with a dollop of more chili, some rice, veggies, and beans/lentils on the side. Topped with sour cream and a generous heap of homemade guacamole, it was pretty heavenly. It was hot, I sweated as much as I ate, but we had a great meal. I helped Jeanne finish hers, because she wasn’t going to package it, and take it around with her to George Street.

In short, I’d go again.

Anyway, afterward we met up with the Germans, and they filled us in on their Gros Morne trip (jealous!), and their capelin encounter (jealous!), which Jeanne also had. I was so determined to see the capelin roll in when I learned about it maybe last month, and I may have missed my chance this year. 😦 Some of my co-workers saw it too, and gushed the awesome experience to myself and another coworker friend (“WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL US?” we demanded), just as Jeanne and the Germans did.

Basically, every year near the end of July or in early August, small capelin fish (sound familiar? Their roe is the mini orange fish eggs you can typically find in Japanese sushis) come to spawn in the thousands on the shores of Newfoundland. As far as I know, you can only see it here. They roll in for a few days in hours, and people await sometimes with barbeques or fires by the shore and bring nets or buckets; just dipping it in the water will net you hundreds. Maria told me they caught like 240, and have over 100 left after some major fish eatin’, and I’d be welcome to it if I like. It is a generous offer, but I’m more interested in the experience.

These capelin are destined to spawn and then most of them die, washed up on shore to dry or snapped up by birds. So no, it makes no difference if people catch them, and indeed it is an annual event for many. They are eaten cooked whole, dried, dried and salted, or smoked, and are usually available in grocery stores here (but this is free!).

Anyway, one of my friends at work gushed her amazement: how the water in buckets used to catch them seemed to boil, because they were so full of darting fish, how going knee-deep in water was so ticklish with the silver swarm of capelin thronging you, and Maria told me how she caught 10 just by sticking her hands in the water and bringing them up! Oh man, I can’t believe I missed this!! The season may be over now…

On Saturday, myself and that other coworker friend tried to go see them at around 2 pm…we could see three little masses of them in the distance (“boiling” water, and birds were diving down to eat them), but they didn’t come ashore. She brought a friend and the friend’s mother, and they got impatient, so we left. 😦 I needed the ride back, but I betcha they did eventually come in (I read more about it–best time to see it is generally during high tide, which was like past 5. I woulda gladly waited).

The Germans have been rushing to do and see as much as possible here, because they leave Friday! They’re pretty heartbroken, having had so much fun and met such friends, and I’m just as sad to see them go. I will be joining them for a farewell dinner Thursday.

Meanwhile, I’m on a similar mindset, because I don’t know what the future holds for me (but dammit, I missed the capelin!). Will Target keep me? All my plans kinda hinge on that–if they’d like, I’d stay, if not…well, time to uproot and return. Whatever the case, I’d like to know sooner rather than later…and either this week or next, I’m supposed to meet with the creative director and at least one of the art directors or writers to discuss my future. Yikes!!

Saturday was a house party at Jeanne’s and her roommate’s. Met some nice people, the coolest being a guy insistent that he could show us some of the things a little ways outside the city such as Salmonier, because we had no car and Jeanne’s due to leave in August… Argh, I’m going to have to deal with another round of people leaving soon!

Sunday, a plan to go sea kayaking with the Germans sadly fell through for me, much to our mutual disappointment. We’re running out of time!

Okay okay, back to the “me” part, the deep dark secret stuff you’re privy to only if you’ve read this far (good for you!), or just skipped ahead (tsk). Actually, I was editing one of my former instructor’s work, and went to something she highlighted,

Taking it, I recalled I’d taken it before in the past, and that it was eerily accurate for whatever reason. I wondered whether results changed…you know, as you progress in life, maybe it picks up different things, reads into current situations?

Well…let’s just say I was a little spooked by the results. All very true…and all from me choosing the colours I liked the most right now two different times?! Thought I’d share…and provide commentary. Because I feel some things, read alone, might make me seem not so great, and I don’t want anyone to be concerned, and you kinda need to live my life to understand stuff, haha. Nah, no deep dark secrets (that was just a hook), but it is more personal, if in an abstract way–because gosh knows, I don’t write about absolutely everything I do or go through here, and no one should assume so! There’s blogging, and then there’s diary material, and while I don’t keep a diary, I never think it’s cool for anyone to record such material in such a public format.

But enough blabber. My results:

My Existing Situation
Desires to be respected by others in order to gain their trust and support for his own personal gain.

Well okay, yeah. Since day one at work, I’ve consciously worked very hard at proving myself and my skills to both earn respect and trust (to get more advanced work and duties), in the hope that I can continue. So yes, it’s “personal gain,” but the wording sounds incredibly selfish when all I’m guilty of is desired career advancement.

My Stress Sources
Feels empty and isolated from others and wishes to overcome this feeling. Believes life has more to offer him than what he has experienced thus far, and doesn’t want to miss out on anything. He purses all his goals and dreams, fearful that any missed opportunity will cause him to miss out on even more. Quickly becomes an expert in any field he pursues and can sometimes come off as overbearing and nosy.

This is really evident–couldn’t you tell from my angst at missing the capelin?! lol…kidding aside, most people know I value time highly, and that I don’t know where I’ll be when my 3 months are over…I want to see and do as much here as I can if I may have to leave!! I’m all about efficiency…totally, that’s how I think–if I miss out on x, maybe I’ll have missed out on y, who knows? Everything’s a chain of events.

And yeah, I’m young yet, I totally believe life has more to offer than what I’ve done and seen thus far (at least I hope so), I haven’t been around for long. As to being overbearing and nosy, I really try not to.

My Restrained Characteristics
Current events leave him feeling forced into compromise in order to avoid being cut off from affection or future cooperation.

Indeed. Hard to explain. I plan for the future, and don’t prefer cutting anything off–what if I realized later it was useful, worthwhile, or important after all? As I said, chain of events. Generally, I don’t like being boxed in, I like my options and doors open, and this pertains to both how I relate to people and opportunities.

Emotionally demanding and will involve himself in close relationships but won’t get too involved or give too much of himself.

Agreed. I demand emotionally because I feel I give a lot…to make others happy, make sure they’re okay, etc. I often feel I put more into others than into myself. So please, I demand you don’t be angry or depressed around me; not that I’d be very irritated, but because you’d drain me in my efforts to make it more bearable for you somehow. As to the last, I’m terribly empathic. If I latch onto someone, I’ll essentially share every pain, disappointment, and worry. I need to keep a little distance until I’m sure of a few things.

Is feeling emotionally drained from stressful and tense situations. He is in need of peace and quiet in order to overcome his lack of energy and may become irritable if he does not recover.

It’s another work thing. Not stressed per se…but I’ll tell you my efforts are having an effect. I have more work and responsibility than ever haha, but if anything can be gleaned from my work posts, I’m having a blast. My peace and quiet time is weekdays, there aren’t many events as they’re bad times for everyone. Haven’t become irritable yet.

Feels he is not receiving his fair share and is unable to rely on anyone for support or sympathy. He keeps his emotions bottled up, leaving him quick to take offense to small things. He tries to make the best of his situation.

All true. I just said I sometimes feel on an uneven place in terms of emotional support, didn’t I? I’m always Mr. Sympathy, and I’m fine and happy to be that–but sometimes I have to wonder, where’s my support? I do take offense in little things, because I am personally very mindful of my words and actions; people who aren’t are reckless and often disrespectful, and often need to grow a brain and some sensitivity. I ask very little of people and anything I seek is usually very minor; I admit then, that I am sometimes galled when it is refused (mental reaction: “I’d totally do it for you no problem, anytime!”). Lastly, I always, always make the best with what I have.

My Desired Objective
Feels hopeless and depressed and looking for some relief. Wants to feel safe physically and emotionally and a chance to recover from the depression that he feels.

Not depressed. Just need the relief of knowing what’s to come in my near future at work. Rest is true.

My Actual Problem
Fears he will be held back from achieving things he really wants, leading him to search endlessly for satisfaction and become involved in activities which are pointless.

Same deal–all true. What I want to achieve is the start of a career I love, and I’m afraid of being held back, yes.

My Actual Problem #2
Feeling held back and restricted from moving forward, looking for a solution that will give him more freedom and less obstacles.

In closing, I only feel this way by not knowing what’s to happen at work. With more experience, I’m told I may be able to work anywhere–a great freedom.

Well, how creepily accurate was that? I guess you can only take my word on it: whether in-depth or glossed-over in detail, it is very spot on.

Board games!! And the Target Wii-mbledon

In calgary, food, friends, internship, st. john's on July 29, 2009 at 12:33 am

On Sunday, Jeanne and I went out to a late lunch (we stayed up far too late the previous night at Mercy, the Sexton’s gig) at Get Stuffed, a lovely little restaurant (classy, lounge-y interior, plushly plump seating) that served brunch.

Afterwards, we were due to meet a couple I contacted via Board Game Geek, yet another community I’m a part of. I’ve been there a goodly amount of time, exploring the immense world of hobbyist board gaming (we’re not talking about Monopoly or Life, here). I’ve got a decent collection of games myself (say around 20 titles), and back home in Calgary, I played them with my brother and various friends. It’s such a great hobby–board games may seem so trivial, but it really brought a lot of my friends closer, because of the shared social experience beyond trying to kick their asses. πŸ™‚ It was a regular-ish thing, and I think we all looked forward to it.

Obviously, moving to St. John’s diminished my games group–or rather, obliterated it altogether. And it’s fairly apparent that it’s not really a huge thing in St. John’s–not that it was a huge thing in Calgary (or in most places, I imagine), but it definitely had a presence. Here, there is little more than a whimper.

Through BGG, I contacted a user based in St. John’s. We corresponded via email some (she was actually not in town for a while, before moving back in preparation to go back to Memorial University), and at last, with her and her boyfriend’s return to St. John’s, a meet was scheduled Sunday. And they’d even give us a ride, too!

I’d coerced Jeanne to come, so there’d be another player, and she was curious, anyway. It was supposed to happen 1 pm, but let it be known that Get Stuffed is a rather slow restaurant. However…to their credit, their food was delicious.

I had a Get Stuffed Omellette–I have this theory that any restaurant that has a dish named after themselves (not entirely uncommon) that it has to be pretty amazing–because it would be stupid to associate a dish so closely with your own name if it sucked. I was proven right–I’m not sure I’ve had a better omellette, or more tasty hash browns!

It was a beast that looked more steak than egg, and it was filled with leaks, artichoke, some salami that had a special name, some sorta great cheese, onion…I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Such are omellettes, though, so mixed up it’s sometimes hard to separate. In any case, it was so very fluffy, moist, juicy, and savoury. The hashbrowns I would describe more as potato cubes, baked with their skins still on, and they were seasoned expertly. Where very often you would have ketchup or something with such fries-like things, to spoil such grandness here was out of the question!

Jeanne had a masterful seafood chowder (of course) and a pulled pork sandwich that was marinated very well–you could plainly taste the cider vinegar it described in the menu, it was juicy, and there were two! There was also a fried pickle, a thing that puzzled both of us, and we concluded it must be a Newfoundland thing.

After brunch which I took care of (she’d paid my cover and a few drinks for me the other night), we got picked up at 1:30; Daisy and her boyfriend were lovely people, and were as excited about playing some board games as I was!

We ended up playing like 7 hours worth, haha. There were some breaks where we fooled around with their 2 ferrets as well–so cute!! They’re like…furry slinkies, so flexible. They’re quite playful as well, and so soft; the girl, Kaylee, was practically obsessed with the Pooh Bear toy she had, and she brought it along everywhere, snuggled with it in a small shelter, and would dutifully fetch it back every time Flint, the other ferret, stole it. We’d sometimes take it and it could be used to steer her, she would just not let the thing out of her sight!

We played Aquadukt, Animalia, Ys, and Cuba; the first two were gateway games (easy to learn, easy and quick to play, meant to ease in new players or those new to hobbyist board gaming), and the last two were deeply strategic games that were new to everyone, because they had a backlog of titles they still haven’t tried. Between them, their collection of board games numbered over 200 titles!! I was much impressed, and I’d like to try as many as I can…

Because it would only bore you to get into details, lemme just say Ys and Cuba were both pretty cool. I’ll have to make note of them…this will be a great way to expand my own collection, eventually!

We finished the day in great spirits, and they urged us to do this again. Better yet, I found out they were huge fans of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books (Mark’s favourite–I also cite them as my favourite all time novels, as well), and they’re both big fans of the show Battlestar Galactica. Oh my goodness, I was in heaven–geek-splosion! I’m so glad to have made these 2 new friends. πŸ™‚

In other short news, at work, we’ve begun a Wii-mbledon Tournament. Haha, you guessed it–Wii Tennis! A round robin has been set up, and I’ve won my first match to advance. The ultimate winner…gets a vacation day!! I’m very determined; my friend will be in St. John’s soon, and I have off 4 of the 5 days she’s here. This is my chance to get that 1 missing day!

But I gotta say, the competition may be stiff–the guys here, few as they are, are pretty intense at the game. On Monday after work, I spent an hour in the office practicing. Will it be enough?? I may need more practice to beat them confidently…I can’t afford to mess it up. I’ve asked various friends to give me tips, tricks, and strategies, and they have been more than obliging (one even sent me a video of his technique!). In my hour of practicing, I found value in all their collected wisdom.

I can do it fairly often, but if only I can perfect the smash serve 100% of the time….

Wish me luck!

Pure magic (“ALALESTO!”)

In culture, food, friends, st. john's on July 27, 2009 at 2:17 am

Saturday evening, I went to the Lantern Festival at Victoria Park.

The event began since 2 pm, but I was exhausted Friday night (Jeanne and a coworker friend of mine went to see Orphan at the theater–a rare, decent horror flick, and Esther may become the new, evilest child to beat in the genre), so I slept in, and had a sloooow day. I did some chores, cooked some, and finally decided to go at around 8 pm. The march or procession was slated to begin around 8:30 or so, and it was a little over half an hour to walk to. Thankfully it was a cool night, some light drizzle had stopped so the march would go on, and so I trekked it happily with camera in tow.

In short, it was gorgeous, and the lanterns were utterly enchanting! I took 3 million and 8 pictures. Or so.

But first, some background. Friday, I was also helping Jeanne put up posters for the event around town; she was volunteering, and so would be there all day Saturday. Prior to the event, there were a number of free workshops around the city where you could go in and learn how to make a decent lantern, which she and a friend of ours did. I must admit–I did not do it because I thought it’d be lame. My first instinct was that it was for children, a silly bit of amateur craft designed to make you feel good about the project, satisfy the kids and their parents. A cynical view, I know, and one I regret…

Tangent! St. John’s, a small city with 10x less population than Calgary (fast becoming a favourite comparison of mine), is far more open-minded and liberal in its attitudes. See, this is counterintuitive for me, albeit in a delightful, welcome way: I’d always generalized that the bigger the urban centre, the bigger the mix of people, cultures, and lifestyles. With enough people, any minority will still number as a large group, making them not so alien, easier to relate to, encounter, and learn from. It works the other way of course–very few people will dispute that in very small towns, folk tend to have very limited experiences and be ultra conservative, and be much more likely to be racist, religiously hardline, and homophobic.

Here, however…as we put up Lantern Festival posters, we noticed there were Pride event posters (it was Pride Week here in the city until Saturday or Sunday) listing every event around the city, its venue, time, and without any vandalism. These existed right alongside other posters advertising bands, flea markets, dances, shows, etc. This may not seem significant; perhaps it is an isolated event.

But I doubt it. Karen told me about her friend or something who used to live here, a straight dude who supported the community and either put a mini rainbow flag on his truck, or a mini rainbow sticker. He never had a problem here…but then he moved to Calgary. And suddenly, he would sometimes find his truck tires slashed, the windows cracked, the paint scratched, and his siding spraypainted on; the last, she said, is a startling indication of vandalism done by younger people–it just can’t be 30 or 40-somethings or older running around with spray cans. After the guy quietly endured some of this, she told him, “Stop, it’s not worth it–it’s nice you support the community, but it’s not worth all the damage you have to pay for.” So he stopped.

Sorry, why is this important? Only recently have I become more or less certain my renter and her best friend are a couple, and so have a vested interest in the community. Tracy even told me outright that people here are very good with this stuff, and she feels safe. That’s when I told her it was too bad I couldn’t with any confidence say it’d be the same way in Calgary…

The longer I live here, the more I miss my good friends back home–but not the city.

Anyway, the Lantern Festival promised free entertainment (live music, of course!), food concessions, face painting, bellydancing, a magician, and so on, until the main event, fire juggling and acrobatics and the procession. For all my languor of that day, I didn’t take in the rest of this (Jeanne told me it was nice, but not amazing anyway), but I’m pretty sure I saw the best of it that evening.

Soon after bumping into John and meeting up with Jeanne, a rousing drumbeat began, accompanied by a bagpipe (sounding joyous, rather than the sombre tunes we’re used to on Remembrance Day), and together they led people on a march around the park if you cared to follow the leader. Little lanterns swayed on sticks, and people clapped along until the circuit was complete. Before long, the fire juggling, twirling, drumming, whipping, eating, blowing, sparring, etc began on the cordoned-off baseball pitch of the park. It rose to hills all along one side, and that’s where everyone sat amidst the trees to spectate and cheer.

It was a good show, but myself, I was more taken with the stretch of lanterns arranged up the hill and watched closely by fire wardens and volunteers behind yellow caution tape (later, Jeanne told me they strung all the lanterns together with invisible fish line, so it was a definite fire hazard should the general public be allowed in too close). As the sky darkened, the lanterns came to life–and what a setup they had! Is there any wonder why I took 22 trillion and 6 pictures? Unfortunately, many are blurry, because to take these images with a sucky digital camera, it takes several long seconds before it can gather enough light. And no one–no one–can stay absolutely still from head to toe until the picture is captured. I did not bring a tripod over to St. John’s, or have a much nicer digital SLR.

If it’s not apparent from the pictures, the setup they made (Jeanne told me it was not planned, but constructed into its scene based on what lanterns were available from submissions) was like a little city–there was a beautiful river and boats at harbour on the bottom of the hill with a lighthouse, city buildings spread out to one side with cars and buses, stars, suns, the world, and air balloons twinkling above, and some miscellaneous–like the drum set, the dragon, the puffins, the mushrooms and caterpillar… I’m disappointed many of the pictures are blurry (I have even more than what I’ve put here), and I’ve tried to choose the best here. Some turned out excellently–but I must say, these are still a poor substitute for the real thing! It really was enchanting that night–I felt like a kid again–and everyone was just marvelling at and enjoying the soft, wavering glow, the artistry, the gentle sway of those suspended in the breeze… As I said, it was magical.

After the show, Jeanne, John, and I headed to you-know-where for a drink and to chat some more. On the way home, I passed an awesome store that sold sheet metal, fronted by many tin men. It was hilarious. After a few drinks at Bridie Molloy’s, we all headed to The Rock House to take in Mercy, the Sexton, a very talented indie rock/pop group also doing pretty well for themselves. We met and spoke to the keyboardist Duncan prior to the show, and the backup singer/tambourine player Geraldine afterwards. Again, people here, performers even, are so willing to meet with you and talk.

Also ran into a group of my work friends there, so I visited between my friends. πŸ™‚ It was a lovely night, and I had a little too much to drink with too little food in me, so I had to indulge in some Newfoundland chips, dressing, and gravy (their “version of poutine”) at one of the sinfully delicious mobile concessions outside (the most popular here being Ziggy Peelgood’s, but John recommended to me Winky’s for their wedge fries); dressing is a term easily misunderstood (“More sauce?”), and is actually like stuffing. Very tasty, but something I’d typically avoid, but it was a good night, and we stayed at the show until closing (around 3:30 am) before trekking it back home in a soaking rain.

As a result I was tired Sunday, but not as bad as before. I may be getting partied out! Nevertheless, I still can’t wait for next week–the fabled George Street Festival. Oh my goodness, my brain’s going to explode! πŸ˜€

International Relations

In culture, food, friends, st. john's on July 20, 2009 at 12:07 am

Saturday, I was phoned up by Jeanne–

“Hey, do you want to play squash today?” Yes. YES! Oh my gosh, yes!

“Oh, this afternoon? Uh…sure, yeah.” πŸ™‚

I had asked her if she wanted to try it one day, and she was game. So we went in the afternoon, she borrowed a racquet, and a guy leant us a ball (it seems Kevin, now back in Calgary, took the ball). I taught her how to play, and we spent a few hours rallying, and me running her through some exercises and practice things, and so on. She said she liked it, and we could try again another time. Another newbie initiated…

Anyway, it was late afternoon, it was pouring out, and neither of us had had lunch yet. I proposed that we try out the vegetarian/vegan restaurant in town, Sprouts (upstairs, it’s also where the Idlers practice their stuff). We walked to my place (we both needed to shower), had some rum and Coke (one of the only places I’ll drink pop; rum is one of my special weaknesses, especially Lamb’s spiced with vanilla and cinnamon–liquid heaven!), took turns in the washroom, and then we were off!

It was almost 4:30 when we arrived, and they told us they closed until 5 (for dinner). No late lunch for us, then. Oh well, we walked around downtown instead, and Jeanne wanted to see if she could find a cheap wok.

Along Water Street, we bought some stuff at various stores. Myself, I went back to the sports store and bought a new squash ball, and “speed” jumping rope–I’ve started to skip like mad between sets of things at the gym to keep the heartrate up, and it really makes for a more intense workout. Anyway, the guy at the shop remembered me, and he asked how my squash was going. We chatted briefly, and I explained how my partner returned back home and such–I was a little caught off guard, but pleasantly surprised. When we bade each other goodbye, Jeanne and I talked about how nice and common it is here that shopkeepers, staff at places, and so on all seem to make a special effort to remember you and your unique situation and treat or chat with you more personally. It’s a nice feeling!

We also stopped by Hava Java, so Jeanne could speak with her roommate, who I’ve also become friends with. At the cafe, we bumped into Ben, the big tattooed dude at the bonfire! We all chatted briefly, we extended an invitation to our Sprouts eat-out, but he had other committments. However, he informed us that he’d be hosting a house party at his place for CS members and friends next week, and he was going to tell everyone soon and that we had to come. Of course we would…and just like that, there’ll be another lovely get-together. πŸ™‚

Anyway, he had to leave, and Jeanne consulted with the roomie–they were off to a show that night on the last evening of the Jazz Festival on George Street, and they had to figure out the ticket thing and other logistics. We let her go shortly (it was busy and she was harried), and continued looking for the Asian Variety Store (to see how they compared to another Asian grocery/paraphenalia store, The Magic Wok, a place we’ve both visited). As we left, we caught a glimpse of Mark, the frontman for the Idlers walk by in the opposite direction, but he was already too far along when we exited the cafe. First Ben, then Mark…one random encounter is one thing, but two…little did we know, however, it was just the beginning!

As we continued down Water Street, we suddenly ran into Maria, one of the CS German ladies at the bonfire event we had such a great time meeting with. She was wanderin around alone, and we were all pleasantly surprised to see each other. Discovering that she was indeed just wandering about, we invited her along to our (eventual) Sprout dinner.

She was initially hesitant–she had no money, as the ATM system that day had totally blitzed (it was not just her Euro currency thing), and of course there weren’t tellers around this late into Saturday. She insisted she’ll come, but just not eat, but I assured her it was not a problem if I paid for her dinner, as we’d rather have her along than not, and how often do I meet friends from Germany? It was my pleasure.

We continued just as before, chatting happily, and I’m pretty sure that’s why we totally walked by/did not find the Asian Variety Store, even though I had had an idea of where it was. Suddenly, we found ourselves near my work place, and Water Street did not continue much further. Oh well! I settled for showing Maria the War Memorial by Target instead, explaining its significance and the wreaths and such.

Jeanne decided the wok could wait for another day, and that we should eat–a wise decision. So we went to Sprouts…

Such amazing vegan food. I was mighty impressed by the menu–I really did want to try it all! Well-priced, and they all sounded so tasty! It was a cute place, too, with stuffed puffins suspended flying over our heads, and the interior delightfully coloured. I knew it was going to happen, but Maria humbly ordered only a single small soup, so Jeanna and I resolved to share as much of our food as she’d take, and she was just overwhelmed by the gesture and our insistence, and told me I was sweet. πŸ™‚

And just to be clear, we’re just friends–she has a Mexican boyfriend, but was just genuinely touched by all the friendliness of the place (beyond myself and Jeanne). Besides, I love to feed people, and a bit of food is small beans for an international visitor!

Speaking of beans…I’d ordered a black bean chili, and asked for spoons for everyone to share–it was big enough that it could have been a meal in itself for one person, along with the bread. Wow. That was amazing chili, so expertly spiced, and so cumin-y. It was so good, you wouldn’t even notice the absence of ground beef. Maria was being a little cautious again, so near the end, I made her eat the rest.

She had a miso soup (“Me-so Hungry”), and they really did it different–this wasn’t the standard miso soup you get so easily from Japanese restaurants, they really refined it from just the miso paste with water thing. It was tasty.

For the main, I had their vegan Pad Thai (I’ve heard that it was amazing), and Jeanne couldn’t resist trying a vegan poutine “with a twist” (remember, vegans cannot have cheese). The Pad Thai may actually be better tasting than real Pad Thain with meat–not kidding. Wow, that was really good stuff! And the “poutine”–very interesting and tasty, but not so different. We shared everything, and after dinner, we just sat there and talked and talked and talked!

Jeanne had earlier in the day informed me that Montrealer Jason was getting screeched in today, as he was leaving soon–he’d be at Christian’s Bar at 10. I told Maria about it, and she on board as well–and bonus, there will be people there (aside from Jeanna and I) that will have already done it, so we can take all the pictures for them!

After dinner, Maria had to meet up with Celine at her place, so we all went. She was thrilled to see us, and invited us in–later as we chatted over their dinner (with Celine’s roomie, from St. John’s), but minus Jeanne who had to rush home and get the tickets to Shannon. I stuck around, and the ladies had delicious cod, salad, and German-ish potatoes (they insisted I have some, so I took some salad…); I also stayed because I was optimizing the roommate’s laptop. She’d told me it was slow–a common complaint–but boy did she mean it! Launching Internet Explorer literally took 20 minutes from when it was clicked…I offered to try and fix some things up given her permission (I’m not about to rummage through another’s laptop uninvited), or at least do the best I can.

As I got to know everyone even more, the Germans once again marveled at the people here, telling me that they have never gone anywhere or met anyone so briefly (and they’re fairly seasoned travelers), and so quickly invite us into their home. It was such a warm and gracious compliment.

In the end, I did a big cleanup of the HP Laptop (crap, just like Dell’s stuff–both of them fill their computers with dozens of useless junk programs many people don’t know how to remove), and while it was agonizingly slow at first, it got faster and faster and faster. Near the end, things actually happened as you clicked them, in real time! Stacy was so excited and impressed. πŸ™‚

As I worked, Lisa arrived from an on-call shift at a hospital (always grueling work), and they fixed up dinner for her. By 10, I wasn’t quite finished my work with the computer, but it was already so much better than what it was, and I promised I’d be back if she didn’t mind; she couldn’t have been happier, and she saw us off as we made our way to Christian’s.

Jeanne and Jason were already there, as well as some other friends of the ladies’, including another German there for the same program/work, a dude named Philip. Another great guy, if a little shy because of language, but we got him talkin’! We all went upstairs, they signed up for the ceremony, and chatted jovially yet some more over beers, waiting for the event to begin at 11:15 pm.

What can I say but it was another full house, and everyone was super entertained? Every screech-in is a little different, and I was glad we all goaded Celine into doing it, as she was so adamantly against kissing the frozen cod. In the end, she had a lot of fun. πŸ˜€

With that, Jeanne had to leave for her show just a little further into George Street, and the rest of us sat and…you guessed it, chattered! And marveled at their certificates…Maria seemed so pleased, she handled hers so carefully! I’m so glad it’ll be something she’ll remember, none of them could stop smiling.

It was getting late for me–I do the morning runs on Sunday, and regretfully had to take my leave. When I left, they all gave me a hug, declared we had to hang out some more before they leave (too soon, too soon!) and it was once again quite astounding to think we’ve only just known each other for two days. Jason told me if I ever went through Montreal, I had to give him a message, and the girls, when they did leave, the same for when (not if) I visit Germany.

They were in a dancing mood, and I believe Jason led them to O’Reilley’s (Irish pub), where people inside seemed to be having way too much fun–from what we could hear and see, there was a lively band of musicians playing that traditional fiddly jig, and at the front of an enthusiastic crowd were guys and gals doing their best Riverdance impression. Brilliant…wish I coulda went, if not for the run!

I closed the book for that grand day, and hurried home before I regretted it too much!

An evening on Water and Duckworth (Afghani food)

In culture, food, friends, internship, st. john's on July 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

CBC was in the studio yesterday to film about the Pitcher Plant, part of the logo Target developed for the provincial brand. There was a lot of hustle, pretend meetings, and warnings of no phone calls to Creative; I wondered if another free music concert at the Park (despite not being Friday, it just happens a lot) was annoying the film crew. Hopefully not.

After work, I met another person in response to my long-ago ad. If they don’t drop off the face of the earth a step before meeting, I always set up a meet with them (at a public place, of course).

Hava Java again, one of the popular, hipster coffee/tea places here, such as in Calgary Higher Grounds (Kensington) or Caffe Beano (downtown). Had a hot chocolate–literally! It was called “Cocoa del Mexico” or something, and it burned your throat. It was good, though, but it made for a bad impulse purchase on a very hot day…

The girl I met was nice, if a little shy, but it certainly says something that she agreed to meet. I found I had to start the conversations or topics usually, until much later when she decided I wasn’t horrible or something, haha–which is fine, I can work with that, I like trying to make people comfortable. She pretty much grew and lived here her whole life, so there was good chatter about the city and how things go here. I am still learning!

After over 90 minutes, I declared I shouldn’t hold her up any longer–it was a little past 7, and neither of us had dinner, and she’d told her parents she’d be back for that! So we departed, and hopefully I’ll see her again.

On the way home, I decided I didn’t want to do some late cooking, and strolled down Water Street instead (which is where the cafe was located, anyway), scoping out a restaurant to try.

Thursday evening there were buskers as always, a guitarist/singer, the bagpiper, a group of 4 young guys drumming…as ever, downtown St. John’s was fairly lively. There was a big lineup by a cotton candy machine on the sidewalk, and I stepped aside, not really looking to buy sweets. But the lady asked me, “Do you want some free cotton candy?”

I looked again–their sign proclaimed jubilantly, “FREE COTTON CANDY!” Cool! People were happily clutching big clouds of the pink fluffy stuff on paper cones, adults and children alike. I laughed a little (it just made me happy), but politely declined–true, I wasn’t looking to buy sweets, but hunting for dinner, I guess I wasn’t looking for free candy either (appetite and all that). But I thought it was a lovely little thing that they were giving free cotton candy to passerby. There was no event happening, at least not that I could tell.

Anyway, there seems to be a lot of tourists in town at this time of year. A lot of families and groups clutching maps, walking around, heads up looking at everything. I’m still like that, minus the map, now; I pointed the way to one group looking for George Street, as they were heading completely in the opposite direction.

In the end, I found the tiny little family-run Afghan restaurant on Duckworth, just one street up. I’d looked it up before, and knew it was either on Water or Duckworth. Their menus proclaimed they were St. John’s first Afghani restaurant, but I thought they could up the prestige and change the wording to St. John’s only Afghani restaurant. Because categorically, they’re the only one listed…but it may not be correct, as there are some fast-foody, bistro-ish places that sell shawarmas and such.

For such a tiny place, I was surprised how fast the food came. I ordered, and a few minutes later, it arrived. It’s really tasty stuff–I don’t think I’ve ever went to a self-identified Afghani restaurant that serves nothing but–and the food really reminds me of Indian food, but much milder, and a little less elaborate (not a bad thing, just a characteristic). And it was super, super cheap!

You can easily have a satisfying dinner for about $10 there, but since I was there to try something new, I ordered almost $20 of food. I was hungry, but more importantly, I was curious!

Super cheap, but weird pricing–why not just round it to the nearest dollar, or 5 cents? I thought it had something to do with the HST–once factored in, I guessed maybe it would even out the sums. Nope.

I had:
Beef kabab (apetizer, $3.99)
Chicken curry (main, $7.83)
Rasgulla (dessert, $1.74)
Baklava (dessert, $1.93)

The chicken curry is more complex than the name suggests. Besides a huge serving of basmati rice and a sauce that covered their own halves of the dish, there were 5 smaller spots of different marinated vegetables or sauces on the rice. Very flavourful, and very fresh. Speaking of cheap food, I recall in the appetizers there was a Vegetarian Pakora available for $0.50, and a Veggie Samosa for $1.50!

I went home suitably pleased; service was quick and pleasant (if a little shy), the food was wonderful and inexpensive, and I didn’t have to cook for a night. πŸ™‚ I don’t get lazy with that often, but it happens!

Besides…I ended up cooking anyway. Another big pot of spaghetti sauce for future lunches, a light, citrusy curry chicken, shrimp, and scallop sauce, with onions, carrots, cashews, and asparagus. Mmm. Now I have a larger roster of food to choose from: Thai curry, butter chicken, beef stir fry, and now this!

A weekend of good b’ys

In food, friends, st. john's on July 12, 2009 at 5:24 pm

No, not goodbyes. If you thought that…then you’re just not paying attention!

After the excitement of Friday, I barely woke up in time for a lunch thing with the Memorial University prof I met (first meeting at Christian’s Bar last week, of course) who also does high school. MATH of all things, haha. Yikes, my worst subject, and I liked to say that I was done with math for life. It seems not, at least as it comes in the form of a person.

Anyway, this came from that Kijiji post I made weeks ago, to which I’m still receiving some replies. I have a lovely batch of friends now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t meet with these people if they’re willing–you can never meet too many interesting people, right?

He introduced me to Leo’s, a quaint, family-run restaurant that he says serves the best fish and chips in town. I’m not usually a big consumer of fried things, but every so often sure, and in the name of a new experience, I’ll do just about anything once. Afterward asking around, many others have also confirmed the superiority of Leo’s over Ches’s, another restaurant literally steps away that is more famously cited as being the best fish and chips place. Leo’s is more a best-kept secret; prof-man says Ches’s has embraced the whole tourism thing, and have some gimmicky thing (certificates, but not a screech thing) to attract visitors.

Fish and chips has never been expensive. The fries were good, but the fish…wow! I wasn’t expecting to be impressed…they were large hunks of cod, lightly fried. Thought they’d be like fish sticks, or something.

Somehow, the people of Leo have perfected the art of frying up fish so it is just cooked on the inside…it was still soft but flaky, moist and juicy. I was told that they only ever use fresh fish, just caught that day, and never frozen; if for whatever reason they have to use frozen fish, they will put up an apologetic note to inform everyone. The staff at the restaurant knew my host well, and they bantered in a way that was familiar and warm.

Afterward, he drove me to Quidi Vidi, the village absorbed in St. John’s by the Atlantic, but sheltered by what’s called The Narrows, exactly like what it sounds, but hard to visualize just how narrow it is before it widens into this cove where the village is. He told me there can be a raging storm on the Atlantic, but because of the Narrows, it’s still very calm at Quidi Vidi. Oh, I didn’t have a camera with me, but he was good enough to drive me back to retrieve it before this little excursion. I don’t feel too bad, because given the size of St. John’s, you can drive across it in 30 minutes (confirmed with Google!).

A view of Quidi Vidi

A view of Quidi Vidi

Quidi Vidi village home

Quidi Vidi village home

The Narrows

The Narrows

Then he showed me his place, and we just hung out and chatted. He’s nearish the airport…so, Jamie, you may have a better picker-upper when you arrive! I’ll ask him next I see him…he’s pretty chill, I don’t foresee any problems, and he’s on break with school out. But he said something about a math convention in August…hmm.

Delivered back home, I met up with Jeanne again, and she gave me my screech certificate (she held it for us Friday night, as she had a bag). Then we strolled to Harbourside Park and its section of St. John’s harbour to just relax and chat by the sea breeze, because it was too bloody hot but too nice not to be out…

St. John's harbour

St. John's harbour

Anchors by the harbour

Anchors by the harbour

Rocky outcrop of St. John's harbour

Rocky outcrop of St. John's harbour

I was impressed to discover that the Harbourside Park had more free shows during the weekend, singers doin’ their thing; a schedule was posted on benches. Is there no end to free music and performance in this city? πŸ™‚

Harbourside Park

Harbourside Park

Later, we headed back to my place, and I fed us Thai green curry. The superior stuff to the restaurant, of course. She loved it, as did Ruth…I love feeding people! πŸ˜€ Next came Karen’s birthday party at her place, and we got picked up by a co-worker of hers. A real funny guy whose humour reminded me of one of my own co-workers, and lo and behold, he told me he was great friends with Chris. I have begun to see what I’ve been told so often here–it’s a small city where everyone seemingly knows everyone. 6 degrees of separation? There’s probably like 3 in St. John’s! I’m quite liking it, but some of the people who’ve lived here for years say sometimes though, they wish they could be a little more anonymous. I can see what they mean, but I haven’t reached that point, yet!

Her party was lovely, BBQ and cake in her lawn…and a lot of us were under these makeshift tarp tents to…shelter us…

Under the tent at Karen's

Under the tent at Karen's

Ahem. I have not talked about this yet, but it is certainly a…uniquely disgusting negative of St. John’s (and it’s only a problem here). 5 or 6 years ago, the city’s deciduous trees were overrun by spanworms. People figure being a port city, every so often something like this is brought across from wherever. Albertans, think pine beetles (a pest they don’t have here), but for elm, maples, and other trees with leaves.

They’re these startlingly large brown caterpillars that eat and crap like machines; if you look up at trees, many leaves are chewed through. People tell me when you squish them, they’re all gooey green, because of their diet. Anyway, years ago when it was really bad, the city’s trees were nearly leafless! I’m told now they’re nearing the end of their cycle, and will soon (thankfully) die off.

They wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t like to dangle on a thread of silk and hang there like twigs (which they resemble as camouflage if they still very still), or writhe on the end of their bungees. I’ve literally run into a few myself–yuck. Every time trees overhang the sidewalk (very, very often in this old city), you’re bound to see some, and I’m constantly alert to spotting and dodging them, but sometimes you just don’t see them…

Ruth told me that when it was really bad and she slept upstairs in the house, she once thought the pitter-patter on the rooftop was the rain. But it was not raining–it was a mass of spanworms eating and crapping simultaneously onto the roof and car, so many of them it sounded like water! Don’t believe me? An image I found that friends have described to me (that I didn’t initially believe either…”A solid mass of worms on a tree or side of a house.”):

Spanworm infestation

Spanworm infestation

Back to the tent…it was to shelter us from the many worms (not nearly as much as the above image nowadays) that can drop or hang down, and their poo. And I’m not joking…throughout the night, you would hear some pitter-patter of their crap hitting the tarp! Ugh.

The party was another great venue to chat up some new people. It wouldn’t get too late into the night, though–many were planning to head downtown (George Street), and many were bound for the Idler’s second show at The Dock. As much as they rocked, I could not go this time, despite wanting to–I had a group run today with The Running Room I wanted to check out at 8:30 am…and I did manage to drag myself out to it.

Walking by The Rooms at night...blurry but cool

Walking by The Rooms at night...blurry but cool

Oh, and that gets into my Sunday, a short, uneventful day usually. I tend to do laundry and relax; the peace was not unwelcome. Any more excitement and I’ll go into overdrive!

The run was alright, but I must admit, slightly too easy. We did almost 9 km in 70 minutes or so at, to me, a fairly leisurely pace. However, I did not know the route, so I had to run by the front leader (there’s also a mid and back leader). I would have happily led further ahead if I knew which paths to take among the many running and walking trails, but oh well. Good people though, and I think I’d do it again. There are other groups of harder difficulty…they had groups for 3 km to 16 km, but I thought I’d start somewhere in the middle and see how it is.

I may do the harder ones next time, but…to me, increasing distance only does so much. Yes, it’s more “challenging”–but effective running for the body is faster, or you do interval training (very fast, very slow). I may not be able to do the 16 km, for example, all the way through at the front of the pack, but somewhere along the looooong run, your body has quickly adapted to the constant stress, so it’s not as great as most believe. Maybe you can run 90 minutes non-stop for a year, but a few months in, it does less and less for you.

But I digress. It was still not bad, but again, too bloody hot. Damn you, good weather!

I am an honourary Newfoundlander! And a note of sadness

In calgary, culture, food, friends, internship, lingo, st. john's on July 12, 2009 at 1:18 am

On the long-awaited Friday night, I got screeched in with my friend Jeanne!

But firstly…holy hotcakes, we’ve been having great weather. So good, I don’t like it–like 26 degrees, very sunny (I gradually get more uncomfortable for every degree above 20). I’m baked.

Friday at work was great…it was a light day, and most everyone left earlier on account of the weather. In fact, we were encouraged to–“Get the fuck out of the office!” the higher ups in the offices urged. I did, but only an hour early, because I was finishing up some work I don’t ever want to touch again. You’ll begin to understand why with this brief description: densely packed maps I standardized, only to find out each one is sized differently depending on the section (so some maps are 83%, 100%, 125%…). I had to proportionally determine the ratio to increase or decrease each symbol on the maps, and rearrange the type…the stuff of nightmares.

But that’s been how I’ve been discovering some of Newfoundland’s crazy place names like Dildo and South Dildo a little further…south. A few more random ones: the town of Goobies, and an island called Random Island.

Target is near the harbour, and right across from Harbourside Park. Beautiful place, and every Friday afternoon, there’s a free lunchtime concert there! And as it so happened, the Idlers did a free hour show there, to a very large crowd. It was great, kids dancing everywhere, people basking in the sun listening, and while watching (even though I would be at the show that night), I met some of the friends I’ve made there. The other Karen was there too (being a co-worker of John), and she invited me to her own birthday event at her place Saturday. Suddenly, another event, but that’s another batch of stories and pictures.

Some of Friday's crowd at the Lunchtime Concert

Some of Friday's crowd at the Lunchtime Concert

Idlers at Harbourside Park, across from Target

Idlers at Harbourside Park, across from Target

After work, myself and two co-workers (including my lovely intern buddy) went to Taste of Thai. Hmm. Good food, but pricey, no free foodstuffs, and honestly–the Thai green curry I make is far superior. I ordered it to see how well they do theirs, and it was white. Guys, it’s called green curry for a reason…I knew instantly it wouldn’t taste right, as it had to be lacking a whole lot of the green herbs. A disappointment overall, sadly (my first…not bad, but disappointing eat out in the city), but it’s the only Thai place in the city. Maybe there needs to be at least two of something to upkeep quality, like the two Japanese restaurants, or the two Indian places?

However, that’s not the note of sadness I mention. One of the friends I’ve made, Kevin the fellow Calgarian, told me he was leaving for home…flight at Saturday 9 am. WHAT! We got along great, we played squash, dammit, shared a number of beers, and were looking forward to hanging out more. He couldn’t find a job in his few weeks here–I think he was getting a little impatient, he’s only been around for 3–so he won’t be back until September for school. 😦 He was awesome, and now I am back to having no squash partner.

I found out when I called to confirm with him our screech in; obviously he couldn’t come, as he had to pack and leave so soon. So, it was down to myself, Jeanne, and her roommate, who is tons of fun, and I know we’ll be seeing more of each other. My intern buddy showed up to take pictures for me as well, which was brilliant because she had to cancel earlier as well.

Anyway, the screech in…so much fun! The guy at Christian’s Bar is so entertaining. The ceremony was full of laughter and good-natured fun, and telling locals afterwards, they’ve all been pleased we did it at Christian’s, apparently the best place for it.

The place was jam-packed. It cost $15 a person, and the presiding guy was larger than life–he was dressed in fishing gear, and carried a big wooden canoe paddle, and his accent was wonderfully befuddling. He regaled the crowd with jokes, and asked everyone participating their names and where they came from. There were surprisingly a ton of people from out of town, and I don’t just mean elsewhere in Canada. When I announced my name, he remarked to the crowd, “Well, we don’t get many Natrix’s out here, I tell ya!” and so he renamed me Captain Eli for the remainder of the ceremony haha.

Keith, master of the ceremony, myself and Jeanne

Keith, master of the ceremony, myself and Jeanne

Keith's fierce!

Keith's fierce!

We all ate a hunk of canned fish meat on toothpicks, and he told us some of the history of screech and such which was cool, and then led us through a raucous sing-along of a tune that reminded me of the Twelve Days of Christmas. No, not the melody itself, but the way it was structured…you know…”5 golden rings! 4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree! On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” It started at 1, progressed to 2, then 3, and so on to 10, and each time, he sang what preceded it, faster and faster. It was quite impressive actually when he got to 10, he was singing the words faster than any auctioneer!

Fish cube on a toothpick!

Fish cube on a toothpick!

We had easy responding lines like, “What will you sing me?” (about him singing us a song, to which he answers that he’d sing us a number*, which increased) and then we sing back something like, “What will the one* be?” All the numbered things were all nautical…I think haha. His accent was impressive.

Then we were made to get down on our knees, and he produced a frozen cod from a bag; we each had to kiss it on the lips. What a riot, eh? Okay, thinking about it more thoroughly, probably not the most hygienic thing, but it was fun, and most of us did it with gusto. One young woman near me was so freaked out about kissing it…she got within inches of it many times when it was offered to her, and she was always at the last moment turn away in disgust, grimace, and physically shudder! Even our peer pressure couldn’t get to her, and the host (Keith, I think) playfully jerked it and cried, “BOO!”, startling her after a few too many tries. I mean seriously, it’s all in good fun, lighten up lady!

I'm kissing the cod, you just can't see it...

I'm kissing the cod, you just can't see it...

KISS IT! Lady in red had the trouble

KISS IT! Lady in red had the trouble

Next came the screech…we each had mini shots of Newfoundland rum. I love rum, so it was no big deal for me…it’s a little stronger, yes, but still tasty to me. Earlier, the host taught everyone the appropriate response to a question often asked by Newfoundlanders: “Have you been screeched yet?” The proper answer is:

” ‘Deed I is me ol’ cock, long may your big jib draw!”
(sounds like: “Dee-die is me ole cock”)

BRILLIANT. Let’s break it down…” ‘Deed” is a contraction of indeed, ” ‘ol” is of course old, and don’t think inappropriate things for “cock,” it’s shorthand for the British cockney, which over here can mean friend. To the question “Have you been screeched yet?” the first part in essence says, “Indeed I have, my old friend.” The second part is wishing someone good fortune, a saying you can find in many cultures. A “jib” is the triangular sail on a ship, so literally you say to the person, “May your ship’s sail draw wind for a long time.”

After the shot, he went around challenging the participants to recall and say it again. Most couldn’t without screwing up, but I did fine. πŸ™‚ One guy who disappointed got his bottom paddled a few times by Keith’s oars! Acting frustrated that most couldn’t say it properly, he just told us all to keep saying, “Yes.” After the great show (because it was that enjoyable), he pronounced us all honourary Newfoundlanders, and passed out certificates!



Just screeched in

Just screeched in

My screech certificate!

My screech certificate!

Keith was great man, he kept us on our toes, and he was good on his own–every performance has to be a little different. He worked fluidly with what he had–for example, when Jeanne (again, from Montreal) was passed the fish, he warned, “No French kissing!”

Something to remember for sure. Immediately afterward, we went to The Dock beside Christian’s and watched the Idlers play. They’re so good live, we danced our shoes off! I stayed after their show (ended 3 am), bought a CD from John for $10 (such a good price, and so well done), went up with John and Kate to the band suite (bands get like a top floor suite above the establishment with its own bar, nice washrooms, couches, flatscreen TV, etc) where we hung out for a bit, and then we all had to leave (bars legally should not be open past 3 am, even on George Street). But the three of us and Mark, the frontman and trumpeter for the band who I’d also met that day at the cabin, invited us over to his place for a nice chat until like 5 am. It was nice, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him much at the cabin, and he’s a remarkably cool and down-to-earth guy for being a frontman. He grows so much of his own food in gardens, and he’s so socially and culturally aware.

Idlers at The Dock

Idlers at The Dock

Friday was everything I’d hoped for and more! And I’ve found out that I may have a day off Monday. Huh. My afternoons and evenings are so delightfully occupied these days. I slept late, and almost missed a lunch thing with a university prof I met here as well, but that’s for later.

My Basilica pics, and Sunday: I’ve never felt so helpless (plus local lingo!)

In accent, food, lingo, st. john's on June 22, 2009 at 3:03 am

*As in my brother’s pics…I absolutely adore the stain glass figures in this style. The people have such a look to them…they don’t look overly decorated (like the fanciest stained glass windows lining the top of the Basilica), but they remind me of the work of confident illustrators, as they feature well-applied exaggeration of form and a cleanliness of line.

After the gym I mentioned before, this is really really the end of my Saturday, now! Actually wait–when I got home from the gym, I was surprised to be greeted by Ruth. Ruth is the lady who actually owns the house, who is only there periodically, as she works mostly in Halifax, and was vacationing in BC; she wasn’t due back for another 2 weeks at least. Due to a mix-up on her part with flight tickets, she was in St. John’s for a night, and back off to Halifax the next morning.

Anyway, another lovely lady! I offered to cook something for her as she was so tired off the flight so recently and I was about to start cooking my own dinner, and there was a bit of confusion back and forth: she hadn’t checked their (Karen’s and hers and Tracy’s) fridge to see what was there yet for me to prepare, but I was talking about stuff from my own stash. It was no big deal, because I planned to grocery shop Sunday anyway. Realizing the charity, she told me only something I didn’t have to take long to prepare–so the last of my pasta it was! I love to share, and particularly to feed people just because with no strings attached. After bringing the sauce back up to a boil, I quickly served it while I made my own meal, a lovely piece of steak I set to marinate earlier in the day. She loved it, and we had a lively chat. πŸ™‚

Alright, Sunday for reals now–what an ordeal…

Walked to Dominion (this region’s Superstore; elsewhere in Canada, it is also Loblaw’s), 20 minutes away. Made a list (checked it twice), brought 4 cloth bags, it was a nice day again.

Initial confusion: shopping carts. This Dominion had a second floor, and you got your cart on the bottom. There were escalators up, but surely you can’t put the cart on the escalator!

Introducing the cartveyor. I kid you not; I did not understand what that contraption was, so I was confused. The little sign crossed out the cart and people, but I realized later it meant, “Do not ride with the cart up, just let the cart go by itself.” It was so…weird. You roll your empty cart onto the cartveyor (yes, it was called that), and then you take the people escalator up right beside it! I looked for an elevator first (fruitless), because that’s the only reference point I had…

Anyway, got the cart up eventually with me, and found out that I unknowingly came to Dominion on a No Tax promotion! Newfoundland has something called an HST–Harmonized Sales Tax. That’s fancy talk for, “We combine the GST with the provincial tax.” It’s at 13%, so the PST is really 8%–steep stuff coming from Alberta, the land of no PST. So I took advantage of it and bought more than I planned to–it was cheap, and the variety was good, and I always buy groceries for a long term (long being a few weeks).

After I finished (and down about $100), I confidently took the cartveyor and escalator down. Weeeeee!

Here comes the ordeal. Stowing the cart, I retrieved the cloth bags–4 of them, bulging, and each a few kilograms (one item in a bag, a package of chicken, was already over 1 kg). No car, too cheap for a bus (and no knowledge of the bus routes anyway, and the buses here run hourly or so), and home is 20 minutes away. Taxi out of the question, that’s even more expensive!

And it was later in the afternoon–it got warmer. All in all, it took longer than 20 to get home, and I’ve never felt so helpless! It may sound silly to you that my most helpless moment was this, lugging home way too many groceries in hot weather. But truly–I was going at a crawl, the bulging bags kept almost bumping into my feet and nearly tripping me, when I kicked them it was heavy enough for the whole bag to twist my arm a little, and I’m not kidding when I say I was soaked through with sweat in the heat. People say that a lot, but really. At a few points, I stopped to rest and wipe my face–we’re talking really wet, like streams; it didn’t even feel sticky anymore, there was so much it became water.

I’m not a big sweater. Even when I run, I don’t really. Other guys I see, with those puddles on their chest, under their arms and down their backs after a run–that’s always puzzled me. I run harder than most of them–genetically, I’m just not much of a sweater. Not today, I felt bathed when I got home, my mind was despairing, and I was going to collapse. I HATE THE HEAT, I thought, and, Oh, to have a car…

That’s even considering how frightening the roads are here…

But I did get home, finally. Ugh, that was horrible (and if you thought about it–no, I couldn’t get Karen to drive me, and I think she would’ve. She was out of town for the weekend).

ANYWAY…I made a big communal pot of cream of broccoli soup (delicious), and Karen came back later in the evening, and gave me some truly brilliant Atlantic crab from her trip. It was already cooked, I just needed to reheat it–and you’ve already heard my lobster praise. Well…the crab praise is much the same. Condensed: HUMONGOUS. I said the Atlantic lobster was big, but not particularly bigger, but Atlantic crab is quite massive. SWEET–oh so very sweet and meaty, their legs yield thick sticks of perfectly whole meat. And again, more intensely flavoured–crab times 1.5, and also a little saltier. Awesome.

Over dinner, I was chatting with another rentee, Sam and her friend. They’re both from around here, and we got to talking accents…

I apparently have an accent, so Sam claims! Well, I guess I would, if they talk with their accent (in my point of view)! I observed the whole “bot/but” “whot/what” thing to them, and she agreed, and I suggested then that the way I speak is flatter (“but”–the UT sound, rather than an airier OT sound, that pronounces like “aught”), while they speak…almost a little…higher or “rounder” in tone. It’s hard to explain.

Then her friend gave me some local lingo! πŸ™‚ And it’s catchy–the more I say it, the more it rolls off the tongue. It may stick….

“What’re ya at?”
=What are ya at?
=What are you at?

It’s a strange one, no? I told them, “It sounds like you should be saying, ‘Where are ya at,’ which makes sense; because if you break it down, ‘What are ya at’ makes no logical sense whatsoever.”

That’s not the point, they still say it haha. It means simply, “How do you do?” or “How are you/ya?” You say it really fast–there’s barely a pause between “ya” and “at.” It sounds like “What-er ya-at?” It’s a friendly greeting or inquiry.

“What’re ya at by?”
=What are ya at by?
=What are you at by?

Again, if you looked at each part and together, there is no logical sense of meaning whatsoever, but it’s still used. It’s just a beat behind “What’re ya at?” by a single word, so it’s also real fast–but this is used negatively. It’s something you exclaim, or say in frustration or sarcasm, and it would mean something like, “What are you doing?” or “What are you thinking?” (emphasis mine to convey that it is not a question, but an exasperated expression), or tell someone they’re being pissy.***

***UPDATE: my intern buddy was puzzled by this, and explained it differently. She says it’s like “What are ya at?”, only “by” is a stand-in forΒ man,Β dude, orguy. She did not agree with the negative connotation, but admitted yes, you could say it in such a way to make it hostile, but that’s like everything else.Β So, it’s essentially “What’s up, man?” or “How are ya, man?” (She tells me that in Ontario, everyone uses “guy” forΒ man orΒ dude–“What’s up, guy?”). She also gave me:

“Luh!” (or is it “Le”?)

Very simply, it’s an even shorter way to call attention to something–someone may, for example, see something, point at it, and exclaim, “Luh luh!” (We don’t know how to spell it; it rhymes with “duh,” though). It’s equivalent is “Look look!” It needn’t be so urgent, (one “Luh” may be adequate), but that’s what it’s used for.

Fascinating, eh?? And “eh” is still common, no matter where in Canada. πŸ™‚

Now you know how to respond if someone (or me…) throws such a phrase your way!