Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween



Happy Halloween, my friends. I borrowed my roommate's pumpkin for this "photo shoot". It was all I had close at hand. I hope everyone has a fun and safe day.

Take care ~

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Opening a Can of Whoop Ass!



Ouch!

I took this series of shots on the third day of the 10th World Wushu Championships currently being held here in Toronto, Canada. I believe this is the mens' 90+ kg class Sanshou competition (hand to hand combat fighting). Points are given for punches and kicks to certain areas like the head. As well, you can get points for throwing a competitor to the ground or knocking him off the mat. There are three 2-minute rounds. Whoever wins the most rounds is declared the winner of the match. Of course, you can also win by doing what this Chinese competitor did to the Brazilian one. About one or two seconds after the match began the Chinese fellow landed a high kick to the side of the head, and, boom, lights out, it was over.

It was pretty interesting to see. There were a lot more injuries than I thought there would be. The ambulance attendants certainly earned their pay this day. In about half the matches I saw the loser was carted off on a stretcher. Some injuries were minor like a kick to the back of the leg that rendered the competitor unable to stand. Other times it was a bit more serious when the loser lay motionless for a little while.

There are other less violent categories of competition as well. From what I gather there are two main types - Taolu and Sanshou. Taolu is more a demonstrative, not combative competition. Competitors show their form in front of the judges in one of four categories - Barehanded, Short Weapon, Long Weapon and Duilian. Within the first three categories there are sub-categories. I believe different techniques or different weapons are used. In Duilian you perform with one or two other teammates in front of judges. I watched the Taolu Men's Changquan (barehanded competition) and the Taolu Women's Qiangshu (long weapon - spear) too.

It was cool. I'll have to thank my uncle for the ticket the next time I see him.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pedestrian Sunday - Kensington Market



After church, yesterday, I walked over to Kensington Market for their last Pedestrian Sunday of the year. They hold it the last Sunday of every month from May to October.

Pedestrian Sunday first started in 2004. The idea was to close certain neighbourhood streets to vehicular traffic and open them up for people to stroll through while enjoying a diverse assortment of food, music and other performances put on by the local community. At the same time they were trying to "make a statement about climate change, while creating the experience of what a livable city and a sustainable future could be simply by giving walking priority over the habit of driving. It’s a local action that joins a global ecological movement. By hosting a Pedestrian Sunday, a community takes back their common space and celebrates a day of cleaner air." or so says their website.

I arrived in the area at about 3:30 p.m. Pedestrian Sunday was already in full swing. The streets were bustling with people taking in a multitude of sights and sounds. While down here you'll find a myriad of ethnic groups represented by both merchants and residents alike. As well, there's an eclectic mix of caf├ęs, restaurants and vintage clothing stores that's sure to put a smile on the face of any humdrum guy or gal you know. It's a kaleidoscopic ride for the senses to say the least. Musicians were playing curbside with their bands. Various street performers entertained the mass of onlookers. You could grab a chicken empanada from Jumbo Empanadas to go, or sit on a patio at Aspetta with a cold bottle of Peroni and watch the world go by. The choice was yours.

Two performers of note I enjoyed watching were the crazy, half-baked, half-naked, sword-juggling unicyclist DynaMike (Michael Bonnici) and the improv song and dance puppetry of Mr. Verg's Theatre of the Absurd (pictured above). He's an artist I've had the pleasure of seeing in various incarnations a couple times in the past.

DynaMike is totally nutty. But, in an amusing and entertaining way. He plays well to the crowd often getting them to take part in his performance. He starts by gathering everyone around and picking certain audience members to help him with his props such as his swords for juggling or stretch unicycle. This is followed by a balancing act with various objects and a finale that has him strip down to his skivvies then juggle three swords while balancing high atop his unicycle, all the while poking fun everyone that helps him.

Mr. Verg (a.k.a Alexander Winfield) is a little more cerebral. His creative and highly amusing, one man puppet show is utterly charming to both adults and children alike. For the price of a handful of spare change he will sing a song with his funny accent about any topic you care to put forth. According to his CityNews.ca interview he came upon the idea of performing his show back in 2006 when, in his words, he "had enough of trying to make do with very poor part-time jobs." He can be reached at sheepWpunks@gmail.com if you wish to inquire about his services or where he may be performing next.

All-in-all, it was a delightful way to pass a couple of hours on a lovely fall afternoon in the city. Next time you're here, you should make a point of dropping by.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wow...wow...wow...




Living on the 3rd floor of a condo along a main drag of a big city can have it's disadvantages. It's busy, noisy and crowded with lots of traffic at all hours of the day. Today, though, I discovered one of its pluses. If you're lucky enough, it provides a great vantage point for viewing cool cars. I was working on my computer and just so happened to look out the window at the right time. When I did I saw this fantastic looking car the likes of which I'd never seen before. Being so heavily congested it was stuck in one place for awhile waiting for the traffic lights to change. Seeing that, it gave me enough time to run for my camera, change the lens and snap a few photos. I have to say my settings were all wrong unfortunately. The last time I shot was indoors in a low light situation. My ISO was set at 800 and shutter speed at 1/50th of a second. No matter, my camera adjusted itself well enough to get some reasonably decent shots. I tried to readjust the settings again and take a few more, but by that time the car was gone.

I did some research on the internet afterwards. After zooming in on the front wheel I recognized that the logo was from Nissan. So I visited their website and found out the car in question was a Nissan GT-R. This mechanical marvel has a 3.8 Litre twin-turbo charged, 24-valve, V6 engine that pumps out an astounding 485 horsepower. It's top speed is an incredible 310 km/h (193 mph) and it'll take you from 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) in a heart pounding 3.3 seconds (according to the Motor Trend and Edmunds Inside Line reviews). Of course, when driving it in the city you 'd probably average closer to 15 km/h. That's fine. It's an awesome looking car that looks fast even sitting still. And with a starting price of $98,900 (Cdn) it had better be impressive.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Old Friends, New Technology.




Wow... it's been pretty amazing... being able to hook up with old friends again. I owe that joy to the technological giant we now take for granted - the internet.

Donna Roberts, is the third old friend I've managed to reconnect with in recent years due to that technology. I found her, as well as many other former high school classmates, on Facebook. While I'm not an avid fan of the website, it does have its benefits I have to admit.

I first met Donna over 25 years ago. We were probably in grade 8 or 9, I can't quite remember. All I know is that I was pretty young because I used to deliver newspapers to the building she lived at with her parents. We actually never were that close, but to tell you the truth, I sort of had a crush on her. (If you're reading this now, Donna, I'm turning a little red). Anyway, after high school I lost touch with many of my friends. Some went to university here in Toronto. Others went further away, either here in Ontario, or across Canada or in the U.S. After obtaining their degrees some returned, others stayed put. From our home in Toronto we scattered like seeds in the wind.

Donna, was like one of those seeds in the wind. From Toronto she went to B.C. and eventually ended up in Denver, CO. Her life mirrors, in some ways, that of one of my other old friends I found on Facebook, Christine Mulgrew (in the photo on the right). She eventually married, had kids and ended up in the States as well. Christine is currently living in Los Angeles. It was great reconnecting with both of them again. We chatted on Facebook, updating each other on what transpired in our lives over the more than 20 years since we last saw each other. We talked about our relationships, places we've been to/lived in, how we "felt old" being in our early 40's... things like that. There was a lot to catch up on. After all, it was more than a half a lifetime ago since we were last in contact.

I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Christine again this summer (2009) at our high school reunion. She flew in unannounced from California. After gathering at the school to reminisce, a group of us went to the nearby mall to Jack Astor's to have a beer or two. Even the mall has changed. When I grew up in Don Mills it was an open air mall. Not long after they flattened it to make an indoor mall. That stood for about thirty years before they knocked it down and redeveloped the area and built an upscale, outdoor mall once again. Funny how that happened... old becomes new again.

The other picture I have up there (on the left) is with my dear friend, Ron Grunwald. Of all my friends he's one of the people I've known longest. We grew up four houses away from each other. Just down the street. I believe we went to Cub Scouts together. He was on the same T-ball team as me. He was at my fourth birthday party for goodness sake. We've known each other since we were knee high to a grasshopper. Ron and I saw less of each other after grade 9. After graduating from Don Mills Junior High (now Don Mills Middle School), Ron went to York Mills Collegiate, while I went next door to Don Mills Collegiate Institute along with most of my other friends. Not long after, Ron's parents sold their home and moved north of the city and that was that. I lost contact with him. It was like he disappeared off the face of the earth. That was until one day, possibly back in 2005 or so, my mother told me he dropped by the old neighbourhood. She was working in her garden in the front yard of the same house I grew up in when a strange man pulled up in his car and asked if she knew who he was. My mother didn't recognize him at first. After all it had been nearly 20 years since she last saw Ron. When she found out who he was they had a nice chat and he left. I was quite happy when she told me she met him, but equally disappointed when she said she didn't get any contact information from him. All I knew was that he was down in Atlanta, GA now. That's where my good friend the internet came in. It wasn't too hard to do a search for him. Though I have to say I wasn't quite certain the Ron Grunwald I found was the same one I grew up with. I sent a brief e-mail out and, behold, it was. Marvelous! We met a year later, in 2006, when he came up to Toronto with his wife to meet his family and other friends. How great is that? For all the bad things the internet is known for, it has its good side as well.

In the end... I suppose it's best not to lose touch with those we care about. But, if you do, there's nothing that says you can reconnect and be a part of each others lives once again. Take care, my friends.

To see my 50th Anniversary High School photos click here. View as slideshow looks best.

Gym Night



We had Gym Night tonight. Gym Night is organized by a group of my friends who attend Cornerstone Church in Markham. During the fall/winter they rent out one of the gyms at Unionville High School to play a variety of sports. It begins at 8:00 p.m. every Thursday. We started two weeks ago with European handball. We'll also play floor hockey at some point down the road. That's always a fan favorite. Except when you get whacked in the shin with one of the plastic sticks we use. It happens, get used to it. Last year we played volleyball too. I heard we're mixing things up a bit, so we might not play it as much this year.

Of course, you can see from my photo we're not in a high school gym. No, we're at a soccer dome. I assume the gym was being used so that's why we were here. Also, from the photo, if you are very observant, you can see we're not playing soccer either. No, this evening we played Ultimate. It's a frisbee game. The concept is pretty simple. You have to throw the frisbee to one of your teammates, eventually making your way down to the opponents end of the field. When one of your teammates catches the frisbee in their end zone your team scores a point. The team with the most points at the end of the night wins. If, by chance, one of your teammates drops the frisbee or misses it, or it's knocked down or caught by the opposing side, your team loses possession and the other team goes the other way. Not too difficult to figure out. There's a lot of running involved though. Running back and forth and forth and back. A good workout for sure. And fun at the same time. You couldn't ask for anything more. By-the-way... the game ended in a tie, 14-14. No winners, no losers. Everyone goes home in a so-so mood =)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are you there God? It's me, Jeff.



I don't know if you've read the book Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. It's a coming of age novel by Judy Blume, about a young girl, Margaret, and her struggles with pre-teen issues, religion and her faith. Well, for the longest time, I've been in that very same boat (minus all the pre-teen, girl problems of course).

I've been attending church since the mid-80's. My friend, Vince, reintroduced me to TCPC (Toronto Chinese Presbyterian Church) in our last year of high school. It was a fun place to go. The fellowship life down there was quite active. We met every Friday night to sing, do bible studies... church stuff, you know. Most times we'd go out for a bite or meet at someone's house afterwards. It was like a theistic social club if you may.

The question of God's existence presented itself not long after. Being a church, TCPC's mandate was to promote God and the salvation only Jesus could provide. My friends there often asked me what my thoughts on that were. I had to be honest and say that I didn't know if God existed or not. They had their reasons for believing, but I was a born skeptic and needed more proof for myself. Sometimes they suggested books to read. Most of them started with the basic assumption that you believed God existed already and would take it from there. While that might be true for the general population, I had never reached that point. So they didn't offer much insight to me.

One thing I struggled with was that, if God is Love, then why is there so much suffering in the world today? I've accepted our pastor Tom's explanation about that. He says that God doesn't make bad things happen. He lets things play out and doesn't interfere. What we perceive as bad isn't necessarily so. Sometimes we endure trials to build our character or teach us something new. Though, sort of along the same lines... I really haven't seen anything that makes me believe God is out there either. Things just seem to happen in this world, both good and bad. How does that prove God's existence? I'm not sure it does. Of course, it doesn't disprove His existence either. And, that's where I've spent the majority of my life up until this point... not knowing.

Recent events have got me thinking again. This year, 2009, has been pretty tumultuous for me to say the least. I'm a person who doesn't like change, and, so far, this year has been full of it for me. First of all, I was laid off from my job after nearly 21 years there. I had grown so comfortable there I thought that's where I would spend the rest of my working days. It was disappointing at first. The work was relatively stress-free and I had made a lot of great friends there. Of course we would still keep in touch, but it wouldn't be the same. I wondered to myself if this was God's way of giving me a kick in the pants and saying, try something new, try something different... upgrade your skills, upgrade yourself.

The second thing that happened that made me wonder if God was looking out for me happened on my trip to Asia after I had been let go. The main reason I had gone to Beijing back in July was to meet a girl, Ling, I had met on-line. To make a long story short, things didn't quite work out. I was left kind of in a lurch after we parted ways, not having a place to stay or a planned agenda of things to do. That's where I wonder if God first interceded on my behalf by providing me with Yanfen, a friend I first met in 2003 (the same way, through the internet). I subsequently contacted her and she, not only took me in, but was able to show me around the city in a much more intimate and enjoyable way - by bicycle. I had a great time hanging out with her and her friends. Much more so than with Ling, the girl I had originally gone to meet.

As well, on the same trip to Asia, I planned on visiting Cambodia. Well, perhaps, that's an overstatement. There was next to no planning done on my part I have to say. That could have lead to dire consequences to say the least. All I had done to prepare was change money to $300 in US funds and book the airline ticket from Beijing to Phnom Penh. Nothing else. I hadn't even booked any accommodations for my first night or anything. I didn't even have a map of the city. And my flight was arriving into Phnom Penh late at night. Once again, perhaps, God intervened by sending Joanna my way. I met her at the airport in Beijing. She was also going to Cambodia to travel for a week. Her friend, Teresa, was already there and had made plans for their accommodations and to pick her up at the airport. Kindly, Joanna offered to text her friend to see if she could help me out. Teresa agreed and the three of us crammed into a tuk tuk with all our luggage for the ride into town after we arrived. Their guest house was fully booked that evening, but the tuk tuk driver offered to drive me around to find another place to stay. In the end I ended up traveling with Teresa and Joanna for the week. Their itinerary would have been pretty much the same as mine had I actually planned one. We were in Phnom Penh for a day or so, then took the bus to Siem Reap where we saw the temple ruins of Angkor the next four days. Teresa pretty much organized it all. I owe a deep, deep debt of gratitude to her. Same goes for Joanna. If I hadn't met her, who knows where I would have ended up?

Now, does any of this prove that God exists? I'm not sure. But, I'll tell you one thing... it's made me think much more about the possibility that someone's looking out for me than I had in the past. And that's a huge step considering where I was not long before.

Homeless in TO



This is Paul's bed. I can't remember how long he's been out here, but he does sleep on the streets more often than not. He's originally from Sudbury, ON. When times are good he can find work as a roofer. When they're bad... well, you can see the result. Paul is one of a number of homeless men who call the grounds of City Hall home. They're allowed, by city staff, to pitch camp here at night as long as they're gone by 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning (before the good folk head into work nearby). It may not look so bad right now, but wait until February comes round and it's -15C (5F) out and the wind is howling and the snow is piling up beside your sleeping bag. See how you like it then.

I've had the pleasure of talking with many of the guys down here. They're a really nice bunch if you take the time to get to know them. Their backgrounds are as varied as the reasons that they're on the streets. Some are young, some are old. Some have physical disabilities, some have mental disabilities. Some have just run into a string of bad luck. Whatever the case groups like, Andy Coates, Project 417 are there to lend a hand.

Project 417 was started by Reverend Joe Elkerton to, among other things, ministry to the homeless where they live - out on the street. Andy has been on staff full time since January of 2004. He, along with other team leaders, lead volunteer groups through the streets of downtown Toronto on Sandwich Runs. The volunteers come from many different places. Some are high school students, others are church fellowship groups. There's even a singles group that comes out now and then.

A typical night will begin in the parking lot behind Knox Presbyterian Church at Spadina and Harbord. Andy will instruct the volunteers on what they will be doing that evening. He explains the pre-made bag lunches they hand out are a "calling card" that gives them a chance to speak with a homeless person. Many of them have the opportunity to grab a meal at a shelter if they wish. The bag lunch gives volunteers a reason to go up to a homeless friend to see how they're doing and find out if they're alright.

Normally, after Andy speaks, they will split the volunteers into two smaller groups to cover more ground. Darlene's group usually heads north to Bloor, then goes east to Yonge and back down to Dundas. Andy will lead his group south on Spadina, across Queen to Yonge and back up to Dundas. Both groups will converge at the Tim Hortons there where they can grab a coffee and donut and then Andy will debrief them.

Volunteers describe the experience as "humbling" and educating. They learned a lot about a side of society they never had much chance to interact with previously. It made them very appreciative of everything they had in life. And they found out that giving is good for the soul... not just those of the homeless, but their own too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wonderful Day



Today was a pretty interesting day for me. I had the pleasure of bumping into both an old and a new friend. In the early afternoon I decided to head out for a walk. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that the weather was relatively nice. According to the forecast, the following few days were supposed to be wet. So, of course, I didn't want to regret not going out today.

When I got down to the lobby of my condo who should I meet, but my former classmate of mine, Anne-Marie? She moved into the unit two doors down about three years ago. We took graphic design together at George Brown back in the late 80's. Can you believe it? Now, nearly 20 years later, we're neighbours. How cool is that? We still have to meet up for a drink. We've been talking about it for awhile, but have yet to get around to it. Anyway, we had a good chat. We got caught up on the latest news about what we've both been up to recently. She was sick and had taken the day off work. I told her I had been laid off this past summer along with a few other co-workers. Economic downturn you know. It's affected quite a few people. Not only here in Canada, but worldwide unfortunately. I also mentioned I caught up with a couple of our other former classmates, Terry and Norbert, on Facebook. After talking for about 10 minutes we parted ways.

I was heading to a park off Yonge, south of Lawrence called Alexander Muir Park. It's not very big, but it connects to some other parks and trails in the area. At this time of the year it's very nice because the leaves on the trees are starting to change colour. A couple minutes before I reached the park I bumped into a new friend, David. He had just stepped out of his apartment and was waiting for the bus to come by. He was heading to the Bay to pick up a suit he had just purchased. I met him very recently at a career assessment course we had both taken. He's a really nice fellow. Smart and funny. It's kind of odd that he'd be attending a career assessment course. After all he's 65. You think he'd be thinking more about retirement at this point in his life. I guess he thinks he still has a few more useful years left in him before considering going that route. He's going to be going on vacation soon. His daughter is currently living in Australia with her boyfriend. He'll be flying there shortly to visit. It's funny... if I hadn't stopped to chat with Anne-Marie I probably would have never bumped into him. What a coincidence!

The hike along the trails in the park system was absolutely wonderful. The temperature outside was perfect. Somewhere in the mid-teens Celsius (about 60F). Not too hot, not too cold. It was a bit overcast, but I can't complain. Too much sun isn't good for us anyway, is it? The trails were relatively secluded. A brief respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. Every now and then I would bump into a hiker or two. At other times you would see people walking their dogs. There's an off leash trail that many dog walkers frequent in Sherwood Park. You'll see animals of all breeds and sizes there. Many of them are quite adorable. It almost makes me want to become a pet owner. Almost.

Anyway, I had a great time out. I think we all need short breaks like that. Taking some time from our hectic schedules and everyday concerns to just head out and clear our heads. It's definitely therapeutic, no doubt.