Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Plan Canada - Because I am a Girl project

Recently I started sponsoring the Because I am a Girl project from Plan Canada. A few years ago I had been sponsoring a child through them, but after not working for a couple of years I stopped. Now that I'm working one day a week I figured I could help again.

The $25 a month that I give will be matched to $100 by Plans partners. So the effects are multiplied by three. And they will issue a tax receipt which will benefit you as well (so everyone is happy).

This is from their website:

Because I am a Girl: the big picture.

Girls represent half of the world’s population, but they account for over 60% of the world’s hungry people. In the poorest regions of the world, they are amongst the most disadvantaged people on the planet, yet they are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty for everyone.

Being Poor

Being poor means more than not having any money. It can mean not having enough to eat or a roof over your head, being in poor health, and having little or no education. It can mean feeling powerless to change your life, and not being able to control what happens to you.

Effects on Girls

Girls and women are particularly affected by poverty. This is partly because they have less power to fight it, less access to the means to overcome it, or their entire families are suffering in poverty. Being born underweight, given little or poor-quality food and having little or no education can prevent girls from developing properly. Poverty can also force girls to work or get married at young age instead of going to school.

Causes of Poverty

The underlying reasons for poverty can include war or armed conflict, natural disasters, population growth, debt, poor government planning, limited job opportunities, as well as inequalities linked to race, gender, age or disability. Poverty is at the root of most problems facing girls today - even issues that at first glance may seem to have nothing to do with it, like HIV and AIDS, violence, or disability, are often related to poverty.

Basic rights are denied to millions of girls in the developing world, just because they are girls. They are denied the right to basic necessities like clean water, healthcare, education, and the right to decide their own futures.

This is the reason we focus on empowering girls in developing countries.

I think this or any other Plan Canada project is worthwhile. For only as little as a dollar a day you can make a significant difference in someone's life. I don't think it's too much to ask so please consider it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ban Shark Fin Soup!

One of my friends posted a link to this video with Chef Gordon Ramsay on Facebook recently. It was an exposé on the practice of capturing and mutilating live sharks for their fins to make shark fin soup. His purpose, to raise awareness of this inhumane practice and start a worldwide ban on it.

I have to say the video is utterly disturbing and disgusting. It's revolting and will make your stomach turn. That being said, you have to watch it. Spend 15 minutes and watch it in it's entirety and tell your friends to do the same.

Next contact your government representatives (local, state/provincial, federal or otherwise) and get them to act. Tell them you demand a ban at all levels of the possession and trade of shark fins. Forget the hundreds of years of Chinese tradition. If our ancestors knew now how out of control the slaughter has gotten, the practice would have stopped years ago. In it's kindest term it can be called it nothing less than barbaric.

I think many governments are coming to the realization of the horrors of shark finning. It is being recognized and bans are coming into effect. According to this article Hawaii, Oregon, California, Saipan and Guam have all passed legislation to ban the sale of shark fins. As well a number of prominent celebrities including Edward Norton, Ian Somerhalder, Kristen Bell, Ben Stiller, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Vartan, Megan Fox, Paul Rudd, Michael Sheen, Yao Ming and Ang Lee have gotten behind the cause. Yes, Ang Lee and Yao Ming. That's great news.

My biggest concern is getting through to the people of Asia, most notably China and Hong Kong. From another website here's a bit of the history behind it -

The majority of shark fin soup is served “big bowl” style during banquets or large dinners for birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers or business celebrations. However, shark fin soup is most notably served during wedding banquets as a sign of wealth and a demonstration of “mian zi”, or face. Traditionally, at weddings where shark fin soup is served, the groom’s side of the family pays for the wedding. There is a long-established expression that says “if there is no shark fin soup at the wedding banquet, the bride is marrying into a poor family”. This folklore has been so deeply engrained in consumers that it is seen as distasteful, cheap and sometimes disrespectful to not serve one’s guests shark fin soup. Shark fin is also expresses a Chinese tradition to share one’s fortune with your friends and family.

I believe most Chinese are proud and stubborn, but attitudes have to be changed. I realize it may be too late to change the minds of our elders. But, the next generation must act. If you're Chinese and you're getting married, don't be bullied by your parents or grandparents to have shark fin soup at your banquet. It's up to you to stand for what you know is right. It's up to you to stop this madness. You can take responsibility and be the first person to stand up and say, no, to something you know, in no uncertain terms, is offensive. Be that person.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rest in Peace, Grandma

This is a photo of my grandmother with her three daughters and my sister (her granddaughter). It was taken in May of 2009. My grandmother loved to knit. Everyone is wearing hats that she knit.

My grandmother passed away last night at 7:30 at the nursing home where she lived. My sister, mother and youngest nephew were there visiting at the time. I was driving home from working in Brampton with my friend's company when I got the call from my sister.

Up until about a month ago my grandmother was in great shape for her age. She would have been 99 in November. Around that time she had a fall in her room at the nursing home. They thought she might have had a stroke. But, when they took her to the hospital they said it was pneumonia. When I heard the news I was relieved because I thought a stroke would have been more serious.

They kept my grandmother in hospital for over a week. I suppose at that age it takes longer for one to recover. Upon her return to the nursing home she wasn't the same. She wasn't able to speak properly. When she tried it came out more like a moan. As well, she had trouble eating. In fact, her new diet consisted of thickened liquids. They had to give her thickened liquids so they wouldn't get into her lungs they said. Most of the time they gave her Ensure nutritional drinks.

I have to say, I wasn't the ideal grandson. I only saw my grandmother on occasions when we met for family gatherings or meals. I never went to the nursing home. It's mostly because I couldn't talk with my grandmother. She only spoke Toisan (a dialect of Chinese) and I, English.

I did visit on Tuesday after work with my mother though. I tried to help feed her, but it seemed to make her tummy really hurt each time she took a sip of the nutritional drink. It was a difficult predicament. To be fed was a painful experience most of the time. But, if you don't eat you won't survive. Anyway, the visit wasn't very good.

The next day (Wednesday), I went back in the late afternoon with my friend, Daphne. She speaks Cantonese. Even though that's not my grandmother's dialect she understands enough of it to converse.

Since my grandmother couldn't speak, when Daphne spoke to her and she either nodded her head to respond, yes, or shook it to say, no. I believe we even saw a glimpse of a smile when Daphne was talking to her. That was wonderful to see.

This visit went much better. We were able to feed my grandmother quite a bit compared to my previous visit. She pretty much finished an entire bottle of Ensure (which is quite a bit for her). Daphne and I gave her a massage too. We did her arms, legs and feet and Daphne did her head as well.

My mom came a little later (after dinner). My parents live close by so my mom has been visiting her three times a day to help feed her. The process can take 1-1/2 to 2 hours each meal. So the staff at the home don't have time to do it themselves.

We fed her more and even moved her to a wheelchair so she could sit up. It's very tough lying bed for nearly 24 hours a day. I gave her a back, neck and shoulder massage and brushed her hair while we continued to try to feed her.

At around 8:00 p.m. Daphne and I took a dinner break. We went to Congee Queen for about 1-1/2 hours. When we returned my grandmother was sleeping. My mom said it was the first time she's had such a peaceful sleep in awhile. Normally I guess she's in pain. Or uncomfortable, at the very least. So, needless to say, I was in shock when I received the phone call from my sister the next evening saying my grandmother had passed away.

I went to the nursing home after stopping briefly at home. My mom was on the phone with the people at the funeral home. She was trying to arrange having them pick up my grandmother's body. The nursing home doesn't have cold storage or anything like that for a person who is deceased. My sister was out having taken my nephew home. She returned afterwards.

While we were waiting for the doctor to come to issue a death certificate I cleaned out my grandmother's room. I had to do it quietly because she shared it with another elderly lady who was asleep.

I packed her clothes and pictures and things. After the doctor came and left I brought them to my parents' place with my sister. After that she returned home and I went back to the nursing home to wait with my mother for the people from the funeral home to come.

We were told by the staff at the home that they would be arriving shortly a couple of times. But, they actually took a fair amount of time to come. Oh well. They arrived a bit after 11:30 p.m. I believe.

They took my grandmother in one of those long, black, plastic bags. After that I took my mom home. She had had a long and emotionally draining day. She had gotten up at 6:00 in the morning to prepare lunch for my dad because she was going to be away at lunchtime (at the nursing home) and now it was nearly midnight.

My mom's older sister and her husband will come on Saturday. They're driving up from Long Island, New York. They'll visit the funeral home on Sunday to make funeral arrangements. Our other relatives will come slightly later. They all actually had planned their trips to see my grandmother while she was alive. But, now it will be for her funeral unfortunately.

Rest in peace, grandma.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TIFF Tough

I saw three movies at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Two were my choice one was my friend's. The two I picked were awful. Though, in my defense, the second one I chose out of the blue because my first choice was off sale and I was in front of the volunteer selling the tickets so I had to make a snap decision from the suggestions he gave me.

I should mention that I didn't have to pay for any of the tickets. One of my friends volunteered and they gave her vouchers to exchange. I would have felt so ripped off if I had to pay for the two movies that totally sucked.

The first movie we saw was called The Silver Cliff. Based in Rio, Brazil it's about a woman, Violeta, who's devastated at the loss of her husband, Djalma. One day he simply disappears only leaving her a phone message to say he no longer loves her. He says he's going away to another city to start life anew.

Taken totally off guard Violeta leaves her 13-year-old son with her 10-year-old niece (really?) and sets off to search for her lost love. Arriving late at the airport she's told the last flight of the day has left for wherever she was trying to go to find her husband. Resigned, she wanders the streets of Rio wallowing in her sorrow and meeting new people along the way.

The movie was so slow. I mean extremely slow. I mean really, really slow. It was slow. Each scene dragged on and on. I can't remember exactly how the movie ended. Probably because I was asleep by then. Oh... it was awful.

I feel like I was tricked after reading the description of the movie online. They made it sound so appealing. What was the programmer thinking when he/she chose this movie to be included in TIFF?

The second movie was much better. I mean it was just an average movie, but compared to the first, it was like an Oscar Award-winning film. It was called Countdown.

Based in South Korea it tells the story of a highly, successful debt collector, Tae, who, one day, collapses in his car. Upon seeing the doctor he is told he has terminal liver cancer. Given no chance of surviving he goes to successive doctors until one gives him the answer he is looking for - That with a liver transplant he has a chance of living.

The film follows Tae around as he searches for a suitable donor which turns out to be an attractive, young lady named, Cha-Ha Yeon. Recently released from prison she's a swindler who's made many an enemy. While struggling with his own demons, Tae, has to keep her safe from her enemies until the transplant can take place.

Movie number three was called Avalon and was based in Sweden. Oh my goodness, it was terrible! Like I said, this wasn't a movie I had originally intended on seeing. So I won't take the full blame for picking this one. But, why didn't they just stick a needle in my eye and get it over with?

It was about an elderly club promoter named, Janne. On the eve of the opening of a new, high end night club with his business partner, Klas, Janne inadvertanly kills Klas' Lithuanian handyman they unwisely decided to hire a couple of thugs to "make him disappear".

Things are further complicated when the dead handyman's girlfriend comes looking for him. Eventually she catches on to the fact that something has gone terribly wrong and confronts Janne who confesses. She takes off into the woods with him chasing her and they cut to a different scene.

Next they're at the night club's opening where we see Janne stealing all the money from the numerous bar tills. He escapes with his sister and Klas in a small, motor boat down a river. Yes, that's what I said... he escapes with his sister and Klas in a small, motor boat down a river. The end.

That's it. The movie is mercifully over. No one claps. In fact two people leave slightly before the end. The rest of us file silently out. Perhaps stunned by the fact we've just wasted the past 76 minutes of our lives. Or maybe still dizzy from the jittery, in and out of focus camerawork, we were all just happy to leave.

The TIFF volunteers at the theatre exits beg patrons to take a Cadillac People's Choice ballot and vote for the movie. No one takes a ballot. I don't think the volunteers watched the movie. Otherwise they probably wouldn't have wasted their breath trying to get votes for it.

So, what have we learned? Not to trust my picks for TIFF movies? Perhaps. But, come on guys (programmers)... why pick such stinkers? Who's paying you money under the table to run these horrible films? Something's going on, but I can't think of any other reason they'd be in the Film Festival.

Friday, September 16, 2011

9/11 - Ten Years Later

Where were you on September 11th, 2001 at 8:46 a.m.? That's when Flight 11, the first plane, hit the north tower (World Trade Center 1). I was at my parents' place, either asleep or having barely woken up. I was staying there temporarily having sold my house in Scarborough while waiting for my new condo to be completed.

My mother was listening to the news on the radio at the time. I think details were sketchy at first. No one really knew what was going on. If it was some kind of accident or something far worse. As we all know now it was something much worse.

After confirming it was an attack and turning on the television my mom came to get me to tell me what was going on. I went into the living room and sat on the sofa and watched the coverage.

The news reporters still weren't clear on what was going on. The was panic because no one knew how many targets the terrorists had in mind. The twin towers had been hit and so had the Pentagon, but how many more. Everyone was on high alert.

Most of the coverage was now focused on New York City. The two World Trade Center buildings were afire. They kept on burning and burning and burning. I watched it live as it was happening. I'm not sure what was going through my mind. Probably I was wondering how they would put the fires out.

To my horror, at 9:59 a.m., the South Tower collapsed. I did not expect that at all. Not at all. I can't recall my exact reaction right now. But, I believe something that terrible would have made me cry. To imagine all the lives lost in that single instant would have been overwhelming.

Nearly half an hour later at 10:28 a.m., the North Tower collapsed. After seeing the first building fall I suppose it was inevitable. Still it didn't lessen the shock.

If I was able to I would have liked to have stayed home to watch the rest of the news. But, it was getting late and I had to go to work. I would have to get updates throughout the day from whoever was following it there.

In the following days I was relieved to hear that since it was so early in the day the buildings weren't completely filled. The loss of life, though quite high, was less than it could have been.

I was saddened to discover that one of my high school friends, Ralph Gerhardt, was killed in the attacks though. My sister read it in the Saturday Star (newspaper). She saw that he graduated from my high school the same year as me and asked me if I knew him. That's how I found out.

While I wasn't extremely close to Ralph, we did go out cycling a few times. I recall he used to start off really quickly on his 10-speed after the traffic lights changed. Me, I started in a higher gear and slowly caught up to him.

Ralph was a really nice guy. He had a big, bright smile. His family held a memorial service for him not long after. Along with other family and friends a group of us from his high school class attended. It was nice to seem them again after about 15 years. Though I know all of us wished it could have been under other circumstances.

In 2005 I was down in New York City. I took a photo of Ralph's name on the memorial at that time. I was down again in 2008. The memorial was gone. There was a lot of construction going on.

The photo above is of the World Trade Center site now (in 2011, ten years later). Progress has been made. Structures are going up. The new memorial is almost complete. Once again the names of the lost will be there for all to see. I will go down again. And I will take pictures. We won't forget what happened that fateful day back in 2001.

Monday, September 12, 2011

If I Ran the World...

If I Ran the World...

There would be no hunger.

There would be less people and we would do less damage to our planet.

People would not be judged upon their appearance, be it colour of their skin, whether they are thin or heavy or any other physical attribute, but as Martin Luther King Jr. said, "by the content of their character."

In the same vein, women would be treated as equals to men because they are. In many, many places around the world today this isn't so and that's a shame and, worse than that, unjust.

We would respect all other life on earth too. No infringing on the territory of endangered animals. No catching sharks and cutting off their fins for soup and dumping their carcasses back into the ocean. No murdering elephants for their ivory or bears for their gallbladders.

No one would be allowed to own a SUV or any other large, personal vehicle. There would be more subways in large urban centres, they wouldn't cost so much to build and people would take them because they were free.

There would be less bureaucracy. Things that needed to get done would get done in a quick and timely manner.

All criminals would be caught and convicted and would be sent to jail, their sentences swift and just. Your lawyer wouldn't be able to do any legal wrangling to get you less time and you wouldn't get 2-for-1 credit for days served in pretrial custody. Your punishment would fit the crime and you would be required to do public service to repay your debt to society.

There would be no corruption. Anywhere.

The workweek would be 30 hours maximum and you would have more vacation time. I think 6 to 8 weeks a year would suffice.

You would be required to do something nice to someone each and every day and it would make you HAPPY.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I've Succumbed to the Evils of Advertising

Yes, I've sold my soul to the devil. I've let Google use ad space on my blog. The last time I logged in there was a message from them saying that I have a reasonable enough number of followers where they'd consider letting me put their ads on my page. I have to say I was kind of flattered, so I bit the bullet and signed up.

So now I'm letting them deface my blog for a few cents here or there. Truthfully, I have no idea how much I'll be getting. But, if in a few weeks I receive a check in the mail for something like 30¢ consider this experiment done.

Though, as my friends and followers, if you feel so inclined to put a few extra bucks in my pockets please click away on as many ads as you can here. I won't mind the least bit.

Under the terms of agreement I'm forbidden to even test click an ad to see if it works. Otherwise you'd never see me outside my condo again. I'd be inside happily clicking away to a world of untold riches.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Long Island, NY (Part III) - New York City

On Wednesday I finally made it out to New York City. I went with my cousin Anna who took the Long Island Rail Road in. It's quite a trek from their place.

We went to the Northport station which is around 10-15 minutes drive from her home (and my aunt and uncle's who live nearby). It's the ride into the city that's a killer. At one hour and thirteen minutes from station to station (Northport to Penn Station) it's quite a ride.

Luckily the ride was free for me. Anna's husband, Andy, works for the railway. So she gets a free monthly pass. Somehow they let her bring friends for free. So I didn't have to buy a ticket. That saved me anywhere from $9.75 (off-peak hours) to $13.50 (peak hours) each way.

We arrived at Penn Station in Manhattan just before 9:30 a.m. Anna took the subway to work and I headed to street level to explore. I still hadn't really decided exactly what I was going to see. But, since I was near Times Square I headed there first.

Now I've been to Times Square a few times already. The most recent, when I was last in New York City in 2008 for a few days. Before that it was in 2005. It's changed a bit though. They closed off some areas to cars and put seating for people to hang out in. That was nice.

Next I was off to Central Park. It was another place I said I wasn't going to go to, but did anyway. The only reason I went was because it was so close to Times Square. But, it was nice there too. The weather was great. It was generally sunny. So that made for some decent shots.

Afterwards I headed down 5th Avenue to check out all the stores that sell things I can't afford. I stopped at the Rockefeller Center for a few shots when I got a call from my cousin Anna. She suggested I take the subway down to the World Trade Center site if I wanted to get there on time. It was getting on in the day and I had to meet her at about 5:30 p.m. to take the train back.

Things have changed a bit since I last visited the Ground Zero site. Buildings are going up at a steady pace. But, there still seems like a lot to go. The 10th anniversary of the attack is coming soon. I believe they want to have some sort of a memorial ready by then.

Time was getting tight after I visited the WTC site. I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to meet my cousin on time. I walked quickly up Broadway Avenue making my way over to Washington Square Park. The last time I was there the "Arch" was being renovated and was fenced off. I thought it would be nice to get a shot of it unencumbered.

After that I hurried up 5th Avenue taking pics of the Empire State Building along the way. I also stopped for a few shots of the Flat Iron building as I passed it.

Now it was really getting late. I phone my cousin to switch up meeting places. Originally we were supposed to meet at her workplace. But, I was closer to Penn Station where we were going to take the train back home. So I suggested meeting here there.

After all that I ended up waiting for her anyway. She got stuck at work and came a little late. It wasn't too bad. I only waited about 1/2 an hour.

Back on Long Island we had dinner at Zena and John's place again. Yum.

That was pretty much it for my Long Island trip. Besides spending a bit more time shopping and hanging out with my nephews and my cousin's kids I did some yard work around my aunt and uncle's place. They have a huge yard. I mean huge.

Their son-in-laws take turns mowing the front yard, but it seems like no one ever does the back. So I did both the front and back one day. It took forever. As well I trimmed back some of the overgrowth in their backyard. After I finished my aunt said there was some poison ivy back there. Now I have a rash on my arms. Thanks for the heads up =P

Still, it was nice seeing everyone again. I'll be back. In thirteen years perhaps.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Long Island, NY (Part II) - The Beach

The next day the husbands (Pete and John) and I took all the kids (my nephews, Donna and Pete's boys, and Zena and John's daughter) to the beach while the girls went shopping.

Zena and John live in the upscale community of Huntington on the north shore of Long Island. There's a private beach for the residents there called Lloyd Neck Beach Club. Only vehicles with the community residential sticker are allowed to enter the parking lot there. So that's where we went.

There isn't actually much sand in the beach area. It's more like small rocks. It's fine for sunbathing. And if you wear sandals or surf shoes you'll be fine either walking around or swimming.

The real draw, at least for the kids, is a small inlet area where they can catch tiny crabs or fish with their nets. They can put them in their buckets to observe before letting them go again. Between that and swimming and eating lunch we killed the whole afternoon.

Since I didn't bring my swim trunks I walked around taking pictures as well as spending time sitting under in the beach umbrella Pete and John had brought along. It was quite relaxing. So much so that none of us even noticed the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that took place some 700 kilometres away in Virginia while we were there. We received a phone call from the girls who had felt it while they were out eating lunch at a restaurant in the afternoon.

In the evening we headed back to John and Zena's place where John prepared a wonderful meal for us. He made steak and shrimp with potatoes, roasted vegetables, corn on the cob and a delicious pasta dish. John's a chef so, needless to say, his meals are really good. Yum.