Monday, December 29, 2014

Shopping for Glasses


I went shopping for glasses on Saturday with one of my friends. We went to First Markham Place on Highway 7, east of Woodbine Avenue. I went with her the last time I looked. I trust her opinion and she speaks Chinese which helps up there.

We met in the mid-afternoon at the movie theatre. I don't know the mall well, so it was the easiest place to meet up.

I believe we went to less shops than the first time. We window shopped first and went in to the stores we thought had an ideal selection. In total we spent an hour and a half shopping.

I was looking for a similar rectangular-shape to my previous glasses. Maybe a little taller. Of course they couldn't be too big because my vision is poor and the glass would be too thick. So there had to be a balance.

In one of the stores I tried on a number of pairs of Oakleys. I like their sporty look. In another I tried on these glasses called Orgreens that I had never heard of before. It turns out they're handmade Danish frames made of titanium. They looked good, but they were expensive.

The last store we went into was sort of an afterthought. It was smaller than the rest and didn't have young, attractive looking salespeople. Just an older gentleman and someone that might have been his daughter.

I saw a lonely pair of Ray-Bans in his window and thought I would try them on. They actually looked pretty good. Since they were plastic frames, and slightly thicker, he said I didn't necessarily have to get the thinnest lenses which would have cost more. I could have the frames and lenses for $190 total.

Like I told the salespeople in the other stores, I said I would think about it. And that's what I did. I went out into the mall and thought about the different frames and range of prices and, in the end, went back to him.

I upgraded to the thinner lenses anyway for $250. It still was in line with what the other lens-frame combos cost at the other stores. They'll be ready next week.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Wealth Gap


According to the Broadbent Institute in 2012 the richest 20% of Canadians owned 70% of the country's wealth. In it's opinion a great inequity, and I tend to agree. But, do I care much about it? No, not really. Why should I?

Why should I care what others have? You know who I'm concerned about? Me. Do I care that you drive a Mercedes SUV and live in a 3,500 square-foot house in Richmond Hill? Well sure, I'm a bit jealous. But, in the big picture, it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat and a car to drive. And why do I have these things? Partially because of the generosity of my parents and partially because I'm a cheapskate.

My socks have holes in them. Of course I have good ones without holes if I'm going over to someone's house and I'll be walking around in them. I buy Fruit of the Loom underwear from Walmart. I may buy one or two pairs of new shoes a year on average. Rather than take the subway home I sometimes walk 7 kilometres from downtown.

I rarely buy new clothes. Especially since I just deliver towels for work for my friend, Sid. I wear the sports shirts I've acquired over the years from Cornerstone Sports Night and Ultimate. They're practical and functional.

Now I'm not saying we shouldn't have a social network that helps the poor. Of course we should. I'm all for it. And I believe in Universal Healthcare, a hallmark of Canada. But, I also think people have to take some responsibility for their own financial success or lack thereof.

My friend, Markus, works at the LCBO. He's told me stories about people who are just plain stupid with their money. There was the one young lady who bought a $300 bottle of whiskey or something. My friend thought this was a little extravagant and asked her what she did for a living. Turns out she was just a clerk at a law firm or something. This was a gift for her boss, a woman she really liked. A nice gesture, but I think her boss would have been just as happy with a present that cost half as much.

Then there was the fellow who came in to buy some booze and had his credit card denied. He then tried to put it on his debit card which also barely had any money left in his account. So desperate was he for alcohol that he asked if he could put half on his credit card and half on his debit. Are you kidding? You don't have any money. Walk out of the store; pay off your debts; then come back when you're good and ready.

Some people just aren't very bright. In a recent news item Canadians, on average, were $21,000 in debt, not including mortgages. $21,000! I'm sure part of that included student loans which I consider to be a relatively good investment depending on your field of study. But, I'm sure part of that debt incurred included car loans and credit card debt for things you really didn't need.

All I'm saying is take a look at yourself before comparing what you have to what others have. Because what others have really isn't the issue is it?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dinner at Tsuki Izakaya


I went to dinner with Gabe, Justin and Brenda on Saturday. We went to Tsuki Izakaya on the west side of Yonge near North York City Centre. Though, that's not where Gabe and I first ended up.

Gabe had contacted me earlier and said that Brenda wanted to eat at 5:00 p.m. a Japanese restaurant on Willowdale Avenue. I said, I know that place. It's called Inakaya. We deliver hot towels there. But, I don't believe they open until 5:30 p.m. Did you want to ask Brenda about that?

Well, we didn't ask her. We just showed up at the restaurant and, of course, only the staff was there. I told them we were waiting to meet a friend here and asked if it was okay if we just sat at an empty table.

Well, it turns out that we were at the wrong restaurant. Of course. Brenda and Justin were waiting at the right restaurant which was open at 5:00 p.m. I told the guys at the restaurant we were at the wrong place and we, embarrassingly, walked out.

The right restaurant was a nice place. It was lit dimly and had cool music playing. Brenda ordered all the dishes for us. She's a pro at that.

We had Maguro Tataki - Lightly seared tuna sashimi with ponzu, $14; Spicy Sashimi Salad - Sashimi mori with hot sauce on salad, $12; Nori Age - Batterd seaweed deep fried, $4; Okonomi Yaki - Okonomi Yaki topped with vegetable and katsuo, $9; Tako Yaki - Puffed octopus ball served with tonkatsu sauce, $7; Buttered Squid - Squid grilled with butter and soy sauce, $9; Unagi Kaba Yaki - Grilled Eel, $17; Tempura - Shrimp and vegetable tempura, $9; and Calamari - Deep fried squid, $9.

Now I'm not much of a squid person. So, neither of the squid dishes appealed to me much. The deep fried squid was too chewy as far as I was concerned as well.  I wasn't much of a fan of the deep fried, battered seaweed either. But, other than that the rest of the dishes were quite good.

Along with a bottle of beer each (and after tax and tip) we ended up paying $38 a piece. It was nice trying some authentic Japanese cuisine again. But, for a little bit less, I'd rather go to Echo Sushi for their AYCE dinner.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Japan - East Garden; Ginza; Shibuya


Sunday was my last full day in Japan. I started off at the Imperial Palace by Tokyo Station. It was another place from my 2007 trip that I revisited. Unless you're able to score an Imperial Palace tour you'll be limited to viewing Nijubashi bridge and the East Garden like I was again.

Like some of the temples in Nara, part of the building behind the bridge was under renovation and covered up. Annoying.

The East Garden in autumn was nice. There were spots of red, yellow and orange amongst the greenery. Though in a couple parts of the garden I noticed remnants of blossoms in some of the trees. Weird. I have to say, though cool in the morning and at night, the temperatures there during the day were quite warm.
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Jeff's adventure with an empty, plastic water bottle.

After getting off the subway train at Tokyo Station I noticed an empty, plastic water bottle rolling around on the platform. I was surprised to see it because Japan is an incredibly clean place. I rarely saw trash anywhere.

Not wanting to leave it there I decided to pick it up and toss it in the proper receptacle (trash or recycling). I looked around the platform and saw nothing. So I carried the bottle upstairs into the main part of the station and, again, didn't see any sort of receptacle.

So I exited the station and walked through the underground pathway towards the Imperial Palace. There wasn't anything in there either. Upon arriving outside at street level I looked around. There was nothing to been seen in any direction anywhere.

I made it to the Imperial Palace grounds some 15-20 minutes later and notice a bathroom. Finally, I thought, a place with a trash can. I was wrong. Nothing in there either. I left the plastic bottle inside anyway.

Such a clean city with no trash cans! How annoying!
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After visiting the East Garden I went over to Ginza. It's a ritzy part of town with expensive stores that I only walk by (not go into).

On Sundays they close the roads to vehicular traffic and pedestrians take over streets. They even put chairs and small tables out for people to lounge on. Rich people get tired shopping you know.

I noticed an assortment of people with their various pets out. One fellow brought his two cats (well, one was a kitten) and set them on a low street sign to enjoy the view. They were a magnet for photographers and the curious like me.

Another fellow dressed his dogs up and paraded them around. People seemed to think that was funny too.

And yet another fellow had his pet rabbit which he allowed to hop around and let people snap pictures and pet him.

So, besides all the fancy stores, I took a fair number of animal shots there too.
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After that I decided to grab a bite. I headed west over to Shibuya again. I didn't wander around too much since I had gone there the day before. This time I was strictly in search of food.

Of course I wanted to try something different - this time Ramen. I managed to find a place with an English menu and ordered a combo of a bowl of ramen with a smaller bowl of rice with a piece of fried pork on the side. All for under $10 (Y980).

Not bad. Not bad at all.
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That was pretty much the extent of my trip. Monday was my last half day before heading home. I went back to Shibuya to grab a bite to eat. There was a restaurant that had omurice (which is basically flavoured rice wrapped in an egg omelette with sauce and various toppings if you wish).

After that I hopped on the subway and headed for Haneda. I got there at least 6 hours before my flight. I really didn't want to be late.

I spent most of the time either sitting and resting or wandering around the airport taking photos.

Naomi almost missed the plane because she couldn't get a connecting flight from Osaka to Haneda because the hourly flights were all booked. She ended up flying to Narita and took the bus from there to Haneda. It was close, but we both made it back to Toronto on schedule.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Japan - Senso-ji; Tokyo Forum; Shibuya


I did a few things in Tokyo on this day. I knew I couldn't visit all new places so I revisited a few from my previous trip.

I started at Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple in the northeast part of the city. It's Tokyo's oldest temple founded in 628. I believe the subway station you get off at is Asakusa (G19 on the Ginza Line if you take the Tokyo Metro Line; or A18 on the Asakusa Line if you take the Toei Line).

There's a line of stalls for tourists on the road up to the temple that sells all matter of trinkets, food and other items.

Here's an excerpt from a Japanese travel website:

When approaching the temple, visitors first enter through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the outer gate of Sensoji Temple and the symbol of Asakusa and the entire city of Tokyo.

A shopping street of over 200 meters, called Nakamise, leads from the outer gate to the temple's second gate, the Hozomon. Alongside typical Japanese souvenirs such as yukata and folding fans, various traditional local snacks from the Asakusa area are sold along the Nakamise. The shopping street has a history of several centuries.

Beyond the Hozomon Gate stands the temple's main hall and a five storied pagoda. Destroyed in the war, the buildings are relatively recent reconstructions. The Asakusa Shrine, built in the year 1649 by Tokugawa Iemitsu, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the temple's main building.

After visiting the temple I saw some young boys eating pieces of friend chicken from one of the nearby stalls. So I bought a small (3 pieces) for Y300 ($3.00). It was so tasty. I sat and ate it under the shade of a small picnic area.

Next I took the subway down to Tokyo Station. The Imperial Palace is nearby. I wasn't going there today, but I would visit later. No, I wanted to see the Tokyo International Forum. It's a cool looking glass building in the shape of a long, skinny sea vessel. Construction started in October, 1992 and the building was completed by May, 1996. It opened to the public in 1997.

From their website:

With 11 stories above ground and 3 below, Tokyo's first convention and art center is a magnificent venue embracing a glass atrium and four buildings each housing a unique hall.

I spent a little under an hour taking shots there.

Next I headed towards Harajuku, first stopping at Omotesando to go through the mall there (Omotesando Hills). They had their Christmas decorations up and a light display which was nice.

When I got to Harajuku I was expecting the kids with their Cosplay costumes to be out. After all it was a sunny, Saturday afternoon. But, perhaps, it was too late in the season. The temperatures had dropped some, so maybe they had packed it in for the year. Too bad for me. I got some good shots of them back in '07.

I hopped back on the subway and took it one stop south (on the Fukutoshin Line F15 to F16) to Shibuya Station. This is where you find that well known scramble crossing - Shibuya Crossing, one of the largest in the world. It's fun watching the mass of humanity crisscross from all directions while vehicles wait their turn.

There are a lot of stores geared towards young people here. As well you can find a number of places to eat (which is what I did next).

While still in Toronto I researched conveyor belt sushi restaurants. I couldn't find one in this particular area, but I did come upon one that was similar. Genki Sushi offers small plates of nigiri from Y129.

You order from a touchscreen menu (in your language of choice) and the items are prepared then delivered on a sliding device that comes out from the kitchen. Nine dishes comes in at under 12 dollars.

After eating I took more photos in and around the area before heading back to my hotel. I washed and sat in the hot tub again. Then headed for an early sleep... That was before remembering that the observation decks at the nearby Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings were opening late.

I hurriedly got up and rushed over there, not quite sure how late they were open. I arrived with plenty of time to spare. But, found out that only the North Tower was open late. That's the one that has the restaurant in it which obscures around 1/3 of the view around.

To make things worse (for photography)... the lights inside were quite bright reflecting off the windows. It made it extremely hard to get a decent shot of the city lights outside. Try as I might, I just couldn't manage too many good shots. A disappointing way to end the day that's for sure.

It happens.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Japan - Kabuki-cho and Hanazono Shrine


After I washed up and took a much needed nap, I got up to go out and get something to eat. Originally I believe I was thinking about going down to Shibuya to check the area out. But, first, I thought I'd check my immediate vicinity, Kabuki-cho.

Unbeknownst to me when I booked my "capsule", Kabuki-cho has a bit of a seedy reputation. It's supposed to be a "red-light district of love hotels, host and hostess clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs" according to one film review on a movie set in that part of the city.

Anyway, I walked around the area and through other parts of Shinjuku taking pictures of the colourful lights/nightlife for part of the evening before heading towards Golden Gai. It's an area on the eastern part of the district that has a bunch of micro bars/restaurants all crammed together in an approximately 30m x 30m plot of land. Geared mostly towards locals it's supposed to have some English-speaking establishments. I considered eating there, but, in the end, didn't.

Instead I ended up by the Hanazono Shrine. There was a huge street festival over there. I believe it was for Labour Thanksgiving Day (on Sunday, November 23rd), a national holiday honouring labour in Japan. There were tons of open-air stalls selling food, gifts and kumade - good luck "rakes". They are bamboo rakes decorated with different charms. They are symbols of good luck and are supposed to help "rake in" success and good fortune.

It was in this area I came upon a food stall selling what I later found out was Yakisoba. It's a fried noodle dish made with Chinese egg noodles, thinly sliced meat or seafood, chopped cabbage, sliced onion, shredded carrots, spices and sauces, and topped with a sunny side up egg and red pickled ginger.

I saw an older gentleman frying a bunch of it up and decided to try it. I don't know if it was the fact that I was quite hungry or what, but it was delicious. After downing one order I had another to go. Passing the convenience store across the street from my hotel I bought a couple bottles of my new favourite Japanese beverage, Kirin milk tea, and finished it all off in the common room while watching TV in Japanese.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Japan - Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510


It was probably around 4:00 p.m. when I arrived at the capsule hotel. I took the subway to Higashi-Shinjuku station (F12). From there it was about 5-10 minute walk west. I had to ask directions, but it wasn't too bad. It's located near the Okubo Hospital, so I just asked people where that was.

When I got to the hotel I saw a sign saying that it was for "Women Only". I went in and the young lady there repeated that. I was quite worried and showed her my reservation. In broken English she told me the men's location was around the building and up the stairs. My goodness, I was relieved. I thought that I had no place to stay in Tokyo.

I checked in at the hotel. It's more of a customary Japanese establishment. You take your shoes off when you get in. There are individual shoe lockers for everyone right there. I was given some towels and a key (617) for my locker (because there's no other place to store your stuff being that you're staying basically in a long, plastic tube).

After putting my stuff in the locker I took a look around. The first thing I wanted to do was take a shower. I couldn't find the shower on my floor. So I went back downstairs (to the second floor) and asked one of the staff members there. He didn't speak much English, but he was very helpful.

He showed me the bathing room for the men. It's like they have at a traditional Onsen (Japanese hot springs). There are a bunch of little, plastic stools in front of a shower head on a hose along with all the shampoo and soap and other items that you could use for bathing. You sit on the stool and do your business. There's also a large hot tub for relaxing in and smaller pool with cool water that you can use nearby.

The fellow gave me a light blue robe and shorts and told me to go upstairs to change and come back down to use the facilities. That's how it worked here. I had no idea.

It was a little weird washing up with a bunch of mostly older, naked guys. But, I got used to it. And the hot tub was great. I was so tired and sore from walking so much. It was amazing to sit in the pool and let all the weariness melt away.

I took a nap in my capsule afterwards before heading out to see the nightlife.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Japan - Back in Shinjuku


I took the JR bus back to Tokyo from Nara. The reason I went with them was because the Willer bus company didn't have any seats available on their bus back. Now the JR bus was only Y4,020 (as opposed to around Y6,000) for the Willer bus. But it was way more cramped, so I'm not sure if it was worth it. The only saving grace was the fact that some of the passengers who booked seats didn't show up. So a few of us got some extra space.

The bus left the JR Nara Station at 9:15 p.m. It made two bathroom stops along the way (while the Willer bus didn't stop at all. Both had onboard bathrooms). The JR bus also made some extra stops to pick up people which also took some extra time. No matter. It still got to Shinjuku station at around 6:00 a.m.

Of course the city was all but dead at that time. It was too early to check into my capsule hotel, so I wandered around with all my crap again.

My first planned stop was the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings. They're two towers in the Shinjuku area that offer good views of the city from their 45th floor observation decks (at 202 metres). Unfortunately when I got there at about 7:00 a.m. it was still closed to the public. The note on the door to get in said they would be open at 9:30 a.m. Augh!

I spent the time mostly sitting in nearby "Central Park" (I can't remember the Japanese name) killing time. Again.

There was a group of early risers performing Tai Chi to keep me entertained. But they didn't stay too long. A couple of teenagers came by and looked to be practicing a play. That wasn't very interesting. Then a group of people in business attire, all wearing pink scarves, came by with plastic bags and began going around looking for trash to pick up. There's a homeless population that uses the park as their campground.

I went to line up to get to go up to one of the two observation decks. You have the choice of either the North or South Tower. Pick the South. The North has a restaurant in it that takes up around 1/3 of the viewing space. Unless you plan on eating there you won't have access to it. The South Tower provides you more of a 360º view.

After visiting the Metropolitan Buildings I headed to nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It's located southeast of Shinjuku Station. There's a Y200 entrance fee. It's relatively inexpensive. Quite a few people were there enjoying the lovely day. The Japanese are highly regarded for their skill in gardening. It's simply unmatched by any.

I spent two hours at the garden before heading south to Harajuku (Meiji-jingumae station F15 on the Fukutoshin Metro Tokyo Line). I thought I'd try to see if any of the young kids were dressed up in their cosplay costumes to take some shots of them, but there were none to be found. So I headed to the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Since it was my second time there (the first was in 2007 when I first visited Japan) I only stayed an hour and a half before heading up to my hotel. It had been a long few days of travel. First the long plane ride to Japan. Then the overnight bus ride, followed by a day of walking in Nara, followed by another overnight bus ride back to Tokyo. I hadn't gotten much rest, so it was time for a break.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Japan - The next day - Nara


The bus ride to Nara was alright. You can only get so comfortable on a bus. Though this one was specifically geared to overnight travel. There were only 3 seats across and there was a bit more space in front and behind so you could lean back without intruding on anyone else's space. They even provided slippers for each passenger to use if you so desired. Just to make things more comfortable.

The bus went directly from Tokyo to Nara without any stops. I arrived at my stop at the Kintetsu Nara Station at 6:35 a.m. It was the final stop on the route (one after the stop at the Nara JR Terminal). So, again, I had a lot of time to kill. Most of the temples didn't opened until 8:00 or 9:00.

The first temple I planned on visiting was Todai-ji. It's probably only a kilometre or so from where I got off the bus. I was able to pass the time taking pictures of the many small deer in Nara Park along the way there. They're pretty much tame. You can approach them and they won't run away.

I was even able to pat a few of them on the head. They didn't seem to enjoy it so much like I thought they would. I thought they would like it the same way dogs do. Most of the deer just walked away when I started rubbing their heads.

I visited four temples in total in Nara - Todai-ji, Kasuga Taisha, Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji. Unfortunately, being off-season, many of the temples were under partial renovation and/or had certain areas closed off to visitors. That was really annoying. Especially since I discovered that after having paid to get in.

I was pretty much done temple hopping by 3:00 p.m. I had to rush around because, at this time of the year (late fall), the sun sets early. Not good for photos at all. There are a lot of heavy shadows that make for terrible shots.

Thankfully I was able to find a bus (#70 and 72) from the east side (Todai-ji and Kasuga Taisha) that took me the 7-kilometre trek to Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji in west Nara for Y170. That saved me valuable sunlight time (otherwise I would have walked).

I did walk back from Toshodai-ji to the JR Station (some 4-kilometres away) after finishing there. I had all afternoon/evening to kill, my night bus not scheduled to leave until after 9:00 p.m. That left me an hour and a half, on average, to walk each kilometre.

I have to tell you, unlike Shinjuku, there's not so much to take pictures of at the JR Station in Nara. I tried dragging it out, but it was pretty, pretty boring. Four hours of walking around the station or just sitting in the waiting room. What can you do?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Japan - First Night - Shinjuku


Our trip to Japan finally got off the ground. It was hit and miss as far as flying on standby was concerned for Naomi and I. But we were able to leave on November 18th.

Flying in business class is pretty sweet. I guess that's one of the perks of working for an airline. It's going to be hard to go back to economy in the future, that's for sure.

We arrived at Haneda in Tokyo in the late afternoon on Tuesday. Naomi immediately transferred (on standby again) to another flight to her hometown of Osaka. I headed up to Shinjuku Station where I was scheduled to take the 11:15 p.m. night bus to Nara.

This was my second time to Japan. The first was in 2007 with Diane. On that trip I spent time in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto with side trips to other cities and attractions in the vicinity. This time I thought I'd like to go somewhere different.

I picked Nara because of a picture book on World Heritage Sites in Japan that I took out from the library. There seemed to be a number of beautiful temples there.

Originally I wanted to stay there two days and one night, but circumstances didn't work out. Partially it was because of the busy time (Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan was celebrated on Sunday, November 23rd) and partially because of our unsure travel times. So I ended up pretty much making it a day trip.

Anyway, in Tokyo I had quite a bit of time to kill. From the airport I believe I took the Keikyu Line to Sengakuji on the Toei Asakusa Line (A7). After tranferring I took the subway to the Daimon station on the Toei Oedo Line (A9/E20). Then I took the Oedo (E) subway up to Shinjuku Station (E1/E27).

After departing the station I asked friendly strangers for directions to the nearby Willer bus stop. That's the company I was using to go to Nara. It's on the west side of the station perhaps 5 minutes away providing you go out the correct exit. Many of Tokyo's train/subway stations have multiple exits.

I wandered the area taking a bunch of photos then stopped for a bowl of Udon noodles with pork for Y500. That's about equivalent to $5 Canadian.

Shinjuku is pretty amazing. It's busy beyond compare. The night life has a life of it's own. There are bars, restaurants, clubs... what have you. Everything to keep you entertained all night long. There were plenty of things to take pictures of that's for sure.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Last Minute Trip to Japan


Things have been a bit hectic for me over the past week. My roommate is going back to Japan and asked me if I wanted to come along. She works for Air Canada and gets a special employee rate. It's really inexpensive. So, even though I had next to no warning, I jumped at the chance.

The first thing I did was to see if I could get the time off work. It turns out my boss is actually going on a boat cruise the same week, so that wasn't good. One fellow employee, Sam, agreed to fill in for me for the week making my deliveries. So that worked out.

Next I had to try to figure out what I was going to do in Japan. We were flying into Tokyo and, originally, I was thinking about spending the whole seven days there. But, since I had already gone to Japan in 2007 and spent 5 or 6 days in Tokyo, I thought it would be nice to see some other places.

In that same trip I also visited Osaka and Kyoto. At the library I found some guide books and I discovered there were a number of nice looking temples in Nara (which is in the same general area as Osaka and Kyoto). So I decided to split my time between Tokyo and there.

Next I had to find accommodations. My roommate mentioned it was a national holiday in Japan (Labour Thanksgiving Day) on the last Sunday of our stay (November 23rd). So a lot of places would be booked and finding transportation might be hard.

I managed to book a bed in a capsule hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo for the night of the 22nd and 23rd on Hotels.com. I proceeded to book a relatively inexpensive hotel room in Nara for the 20th and 21st.

Next would be arranging transportation between Tokyo and Nara (and back). The least expensive way would be by overnight bus. My roommate sent me some links to some Japanese bus companies. Not all of them were in English though. So she had to help me out with booking.

Our concerns with things being busy because of the national holiday were well founded. We couldn't find a return trip on Friday night (the beginning of the holiday weekend). So she suggested I return to Tokyo a day earlier. I agreed because 2 days (and one night) in Nara should be enough to see seven temples.

Where I ran into trouble was trying to revise my accommodations. I tried to do it on-line on the Hotels.com website, but it didn't work. So I called the 1-800 number and spoke to a customer service representative.

She seemed to be able to make the changes. I was sent an e-mail confirmation that I was only booked for one night. But, when I checked my account on-line it hadn't changed, so I called back the next day. The second customer service rep had similar difficulties in trying to cancel the second night. She assured me that they would refund the amount for the second night on my VISA card. So, hopefully, it all works out.

The last thing I had to do was buy some Japanese Yen. My mom was going to do it for me, but waited too long. The local branch needed three business days to get the money in. So I went with a money exchange company another friend recommended. They're actually giving me a better rate than my bank.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sika Deer - Shanghainese Cuisine

I went to dinner with my friends, Gabe and Daphne, at Sika Deer, a Shanghainese restaurant located on the northwest corner of Finch and Midland on the weekend. Gabe had been there before and suggested it.

The restaurant isn't too large. They have three private rooms that take up a fair amount of space. That being said, we didn't have to wait very long to be seated (even on a Saturday night).

The staff were friendly and fairly attentive. The food we had was tasty and reasonably priced. We ordered a dish of Mapo tofu, $3.75; Double-cooked pork belly, $5.50; Griddle-cooked shredded cabbage with spicy sauce, $8.99; Sautéd beef with pepper, $9.99; and Shanghai-style rice with cured meat and vegetables, $8.50.

It's a nice place. A cut above some of the more budget-conscious Chinese restaurants I normally frequent. I look forward to going back for another visit.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fall from Grace: What's happening to our Heroes?


I don't know what to say. It's happened again. Another one of my heroes has fallen from grace.

First it was Lance Armstrong. The ultimate comeback story. Having survived testicular cancer that very nearly cost him his life, he went on to win cycling's greatest, most gruelling race, the Tour de France. Not once, but an astounding seven times. A feat unmatched in history.

This achievement was marred, however, by the fact that he cheated. He took performance enhancing drugs which his team knew about and covered up. Along the way he ruined the lives and reputations of many who sought to expose him. A liar, a cheat and a fraud.

The next person I looked up to and admired who's fallen from grace is former CBC radio personality, Jian Ghomeshi. I had been a regular listener to his CBC Radio One program "Q" for a couple of years now.

It's a talk program where Jian interviewed many well known personalities from actors, to authors, to musicians and everything in between. He was always so well spoken, insightful and intelligent.

Then the bombshell... CBC announced it was cutting ties with Ghomeshi. They fired him from the very show he co-founded. It turns out that they had information on his sexual practices that they found unseemly we'll say.

On his Facebook page, Ghomeshi fired back by saying that he did partake in BDSM (bondage, domination, submission and masochism), but that it was all consensual (contrary on to what he was accused of).

He said a jilted ex-lover was trying to get back at him and that he should not have been let go. He threatened to and made good on his promise to sue the CBC for $55 million.

I, for one (along with many others), supported him initially. I took his word above his three anonymous accusers. That was until more and more women came forward and said he attacked them without their consent.

As well, some of his accusers chose to shed the cloak of anonymity and go public with their claims, unafraid of the possible repercussions of being publicly attacked by his supporters. They put a face to his victims and gave more credibility to their claims.

The full story has yet to be played out. But, at this point, things don't look good for Ghomeshi. I feel saddened, disappointed and betrayed.

To his victims - I hope you recover from your trauma. I hope you find justice for the pain and hurt he caused you. There is no happy ending here. For anyone.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toronto Zombie Walk - 2014


They held the 12th annual Toronto Zombie Walk at Nathan Philips Square the last Saturday of October. It's the third year it's been held there. I'm not sure where it was held before because it's only the second time I've attended.

My first year was three years ago. Last year I was planning on attending, but the weather looked threatening. Because of that I skipped it.

The weather this year was similar. They predicted a 30% chance of precipitation and were pretty close on that count. On my way down it drizzled part of the time and there was even some light rain. By the time I arrived it stopped, thankfully. I was happy about that.

Assembly time for the zombies was between noon and 3:00 p.m.. I got there around 1:30 p.m.. There were quite a few people (zombies, photographers and others) there already.

As usual there were a number of children. Being so close to Halloween I think they quite enjoyed dressing up. None of them were afraid of the grown ups with their scary looking faces.

All the zombies looked great again. Their make-up and costumes were really creative. They were more than patient with the "paparazzi" like me who swarmed them for pictures. I stayed until 3:00 (the time the walk started), then headed over to the Eaton Centre.

I caught the zombies on the tail end of their walk coming down Yonge Street (on their way back to Nathan Philips Square). Their route took them up University Avenue to College Street, across to Yonge, back down to Queen and over to City Hall again.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lunch at Touhenboku


I met Gabe for lunch at Touhenbouku on Queen West on Friday. I have Fridays off so I walked downtown to meet him.

It was my first time there. I met Gabe at Osgoode station and we walked over. Gabe has gone there a few times before. It's not too far from where he works.

At lunchtime, they have a special deal. For $12 you can get a bowl of ramen (normally $10.50) with a bottle of Sapporo beer. After perusing the menu that's what we both decided to get.

I chose the original recipe ramen with pork shoulder (if I remember correctly) while Gabe chose the spicy version with pork belly. We both had the thick noodles (instead of thin).

The ramen was good. Of course it would have been better if the portion was larger. But, that's what I say about most dishes when I go out to eat. If I go again I might try the light version with clear, chicken broth instead of the rich, creamy broth I had this time.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Metro Toronto Zoo


I went to the Toronto Zoo with my sister a couple of Saturdays ago. She has a family pass. In October the Zoo had a promotion where you could take a guest for free. On this particular day that guest was me.

I rarely go to the Zoo. Mostly because it costs so much. A typical adult admission is $28. The last time I went was in March of 2012. I had a voucher I bought from Groupon or one of those similar merchants.

The reason it was so cheap was because it was the off season. We pretty much saw nothing going through the African section. The only animals I saw outside there were the lions, cheetahs and hyenas.

This time it was better. We went on a partially overcast fall day. I was hoping to get a few more outdoor shots of the colourful trees, but that didn't happen. I always take such a long time taking photos and I didn't want to keep my sister waiting any longer than necessary.

We started in the Indomalaya section and went clockwise from there. While there we saw the Indian Rhinoceros, some butterflies, tigers and a couple of bored orangutans.

Next was the African Savanna section. The first animals we saw there were a young giraffe and an older one (its mother, perhaps?). We actually got there at feeding time. One of the keepers hand fed the adult, while the youngster preferred the hay placed in the feeder.

As well as the giraffes, we saw cheetahs, lions, a white rhinoceros, baboons, gazelles, zebra and hippo (among others). This section was the largest.

I have to say, we skipped the Canadian Domain... I mean, we live in Canada already. It's not like the animals there are rare and exotic.

In the Americas Outdoor exhibit we saw the flamingos and the rare Black-handed spider monkey. The flamingos were pretty. I don't know why they couldn't just fly away. The monkeys swung around a bit like monkeys tend to do.

We also saw two jaguars there. They were cute. There was a traditional tan-coloured one with black spots as well as an all-black one. They played around with each other like big house cats, rolling around and licking each other and stuff.

In the Tundra Trek section we saw the European reindeer, Arctic fox and polar bears. I believe the young bear we saw was Humphrey. He's around two-years-old I think. I first saw him a couple of years ago when he was a cub. He was really adorable then.

The second last exhibit we saw was the most special. It was the Giant Pandas. There were two of them - Er Shun (the female) and Da Mao (the male). They were kept separate. I don't know who was who.

The first one we saw was kind of far off at the back side of its pen behind some of its play apparatus. The second one was situated more in the open, walking around its pen. Everyone had a good view of it, so that was cool.

We finished off in the Australasia section. There we saw a lone Komodo dragon, some seahorse and jellyfish in the indoor section. Outdoors we saw some wallabies and kangaroos.

It was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Nice to get a walk in, see some interesting animals and take a few shots.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sad Days for Canada


We've had a couple of sad and tragic incidents here in Canada recently. Two Canadian soldiers were murdered in cold blood by two lowlife cowards.

The perpetrators were what I'd call homegrown terrorists with twisted ideologies. I'd be willing to bet they were ISIS/ISIL sympathizers. Ever since Canada agreed to support the coalition in the fight against this terrorist organization we've come under threat from its supporters.

The first attack happened in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, and another soldier were run over by Martin Couture-Rouleau. He waited in his car in a parking lot for two hours and when he saw the soldiers (one of whom was in uniform) he ran them over.

Vincent died of his injuries. Couture-Rouleau, was shot and killed by police after a high speed chase in which he flipped his car.

The second attack happened at the nation's capital, Ottawa. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, of Hamilton, Ontario was one of two soldiers standing guard at the National War Memorial when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau came up and shot him twice in the back with a rifle. Bystanders attempted CPR, but Cirillo was mortally wounded.

Zehaf-Bibeau continued from the War Memorial to Parliament Hill in a car he had driven there. He exited the car in front of the main gates and stole another one inside the grounds. He drove this one to the Centre Block all the while being chased by the Mounties.

He gains access to the Centre Block where he is confronted by security guards. He shoots one in the foot then continues further into the building. Around the Library of Parliament a gun battle ensues. Zehaf-Bibeau, who is wearing full body armour, is fatally shot here. Kevin Michael Vickers, Canada's Sergeant-at-Arms, is given partial credit for stopping him.

To Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent and all the men and women in our Armed Forces you have my utmost respect and admiration. Thank you for your sacrifices in holding up our ideals and keeping our country safe from those who seek to harm us.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hike at Glen Major


We went on a hike at Glen Major Park out in Ajax a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping to see some of the fall colours, but I believe we were a bit early in the season.

We had a small group. It was only Emily, Lawrence and I. I met Emily and Ken for lunch, but Ken couldn't join us because he had to meet up with his mum to view open houses. They've been looking for over a year now.

The trails are out east. I usually take the 401 to Salem Road; go up to Kingston Road; head east to Lake Ridge; and head north to Concession Road 9/Highway 5.

My church friends and I used to mountain bike at Glen Major in the late 90's/early 2000's. We went quite often. There are rolling hills and the trail system is quite extensive. Of course we wouldn't be able to hike as far as we used to ride, but we made a good attempt.

Emily and I got there around 3:00 p.m.. Since we notified Lawrence late it took him an extra half and hour to get there.

Though there were a number of new trails, many of them were still the same. I believe they change them up every now and then so older ones get a chance to regenerate.

Even though I hadn't been there for a number of years, I recognized most of the paths. And for the ones I didn't, there now are markers with small trail maps on them. So we weren't in any real danger of getting lost (unlike the first few times we rode there).

We got back to the cars about 3 hours later having walked nearly 7 kilometres. Despite the fact that it was mostly overcast and the leaves were mostly unchanged, we still had a good walk.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nuit Blanche 2014


It's that time of year again. The first Saturday of October. Time for the ninth annual Nuit Blanche. The all-night art/performance festival held here in Toronto.

I've gone every year since it started. And, except for the first year, I've tried to stay out almost all night (if not all night). This year I didn't quite succeed. I packed it in 1-1/2 hours early at 5:30 a.m. By then I was pretty tired having walked 10-1/2 hours through the city.

As I've done over the past year or two, I parked down at my church. This means I started at the AGO (which is less than five minutes away).

Like last year they weren't really ready at 7:00 p.m. (around the official start time). So I headed to the next stop with the intention of returning at the end of my night.

The next stop was a film installation at the east end of the AGO. After that I headed next door to OCAD where they had an installation too.

Next was Nathan Philips Square by 8:37 p.m. There was a lot going on there. It's a big place and a lot of people were there. I even bumped into Changhwan who was volunteering there. He's an international student from Korea studying English here.

Of the nine installations around Nathan Philips Square I took photos of six of them from 8:30 to near 11:00.

The organizers changed things up quite a bit this year. Over the previous few years they closed down much of Yonge Street. As well there were things going on at Yonge-Dundas Square, the Eaton Centre and Ryerson University. This year they were empty. Perhaps participation was down.

Instead of shutting down Yonge, they closed off Queen Street West and part of Spadina Avenue to cars. That's where I headed after City Hall.

Queen Street was absolutely packed. There weren't that many installations along there - only six. Though it lead to many more north on Spadina or, the way I was heading, south towards Fort York. I spent a bit over an hour along Queen taking pics and a bit under an hour along Spadina on my way to Fort York.

It was my first time ever to Fort York. Like Liberty Village, it's a great place for installations. But here they didn't have to worry about keeping residents up overnight with the noise. I guess that's why they stopped having them there a few years back.

There was around a dozen installations at Fort York. The one called Between Doors had a line up to walk through the doors set up there. One of the nicer, more colourful ones was Melting Point which had bright lights "dancing" to music. I was in the area for about two hours to near 3:00.

The next 2-1/2 hours were spent walking back up to my car while checking out six installations in between. It was a long, tiring night. Of course it was fun. I enjoyed taking in all the creative projects and taking pictures of them.

'Til next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cold Hard Truth On Family, Kids And Money by Kevin O'Leary pt. 4


Part Four: Family

Chapter 12: All in the Family

This chapter is about small businesses which I’m not really interested in. If you are, you can take the book out from the library.
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Chapter 13: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Make sure you have enough money saved up for retirement. There are a lot of huge costs when dealing with the later stages of life. From unexpected health crises to long-term care facilities things can add up quickly. You have to make sure you’re prepared monetarily.

Costs for long-term care facilities for seniors vary by province. B.C. is one of the less expensive places coming in at $16,243 per year. In Ontario it’s 25,550, which is a little bit above average across the country. O’Leary advocates buying long-term care insurance. I guess that depends on your particular situation.
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Four questions you need answered before the end (death)

1) Do you have a will? You need a will. Especially if you have dependents.

2) Create a file for your surviving family members. It should include all the steps to take before your will is probated, including tax assessments and a potential phone call to the bank. (If you have money in a joint account with your partner, you may need to notify the bank to make sure the account holder’s names are separate so that your money isn’t frozen in the event that one of you dies.)

Indicate where important documents can be found, such as property deeds, tax papers, insurance and medical claims. You’ll probably want to keep your birth certificate, passport, social insurance number and any other official, hard-to-replace documents in a separate place for safekeeping (like in a safety deposit box at the bank). To be extra safe scan each of these documents so you have digital copies as well.

Write down a list of people who should be notified of your death. People who will need an official copy of your death certificate. These include: the civil authorities in your province, your financial advisor, the lawyer who drew up your will, your pension fund providers, your health insurance, other insurance companies, your various credit card providers, the office that issued your driver’s license and your tax account (if someone else does your taxes). List their names and contact info (phone numbers and e-mail addresses).

If you own real estate, indicate the address and expected resale value of each property. This can help your beneficiaries decide whether to keep, sell or rent the property in question.

3) Have you made funeral arrangements?

4) Have you written down all of your e-mail and social media passwords? Write down the site name, login ID and password for every single site you use (and your computer itself). Bank websites, sites for auto and property insurance, Facebook, Twitter, and any kind of e-mail accounts.
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Chapter 14: Midlife Crises & Money Mismanagement

Pretty much he’s saying, don’t do anything stupid with your money.

In your 30s you want to focus on paying off your debts. Your 40s are for saving and investing. If you’ve accomplished your goals by your 50s you can reward yourself (within your means). Treat yourself to a little gift. In your 60s you are rehearsing for retirement. Live within your means, and do not deplete your principal. You do not know how long you’re going to live, so spend like you’ll live to be 100.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cold Hard Truth On Family, Kids And Money by Kevin O'Leary pt. 3


Part Three: Kids

Stats Canada says it costs $243,660 to raise a child to age 18. That’s about $1,130 a month. And that’s not including post secondary education which can cost anywhere between $20,000-$64,000 for a four-year degree. If you can’t afford it, don’t have children.
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Chapter 7: Give your children an MBA (Money and Banking Awareness)

It’s up to you to teach your children about money. O’Leary said when they were young, he tried to instill in his kids two basic principles: money just doesn’t materialize - you have to work for it; and if you don’t have any, sometimes you have to borrow it, and that’s a bad thing. Rarely in life is debt good.

Take your kids grocery shopping with you. Pay with cash so they understand that something left your wallet forever. Invite your kids to the kitchen table with you while you settle the household accounts. Bring them to your next portfolio review so they see how your money is growing.

Don’t spend too much. Mostly save. Always invest.

Things you can do for your children even at a relatively young age - open them a bank account; take them to work with you so they can see how you earn money; get a part-time job (when they’re slightly older).
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Chapter 8: Kids: Get a Job!

A spoiled, pampered kid isn’t helping anyone - including him- or herself. Your kids ned a job as soon as they’re old enough to work. Even young teenagers should find ways to be employed (part time, of course, and not in a way that interferes with school). Every job will give your kid a new experience and perspective, both the good and the bad.

In his teens and early 20’s, Kevin O’Leary had many backbreaking jobs that made him appreciate the value of hard-earned cash and a well chosen career. At age 17 he got a summer job planting seedlings for a logging company. It was strenuous work. They had to carry around heavy bags with the sun beating down on them all the while being eaten alive by mosquitos and blackflies.
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Six Safe Summer Jobs for Teenagers

1) Golf caddy. Most caddies earn between $50-$100 a bag. Your child will have to been on his or her feet 4-5 hours at a time.

2) Summer entrepreneur. If you live in Ontario, your children have access to a program called Summer Company. It’s designed to help young entrepreneurs between the ages of 15-29 start a summer business. Your son or daughter can apply for a $3000 grant. If they are selected they will receive the start-up money as well as advice and mentorship from local business leaders. http://www.ontario.ca/business-and-economy/start-summer-business-students

3) Product merchandiser. At grocer stores they hand out samples as well as stock shelves and take inventory.

4) Camp counsellor/lifeguard.

5) Junior park ranger. Parks Canada (www.pc.gc.ca) offers over 1,000 student jobs across the nation. They typically run from May to September and give students opportunities to work in resource conservation, visitor services, heritage preservation and waterways. Your teenager will gain valuable experience and a great boost to the résumé.

6) Caregiver. Does your teenager have a passion for helping the elderly? He or she will need to be up front about their age and lack of professional training, but there are plenty of positions for non-medical assistants. This could take the form of helping an elderly neighbour or relative, or offering services at a seniors’ facility.
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Chapter 10: A Letter to your Teenager from Uncle Kevin

You’re never too young to establish credit. You can become an authorized user on your parents’ credit card at age 16. Make small purchases and pay them off fully on time. Never, ever carry a balance. This will help build your credit rating making it easier to get a loan in the future.

Be safe when concerning sex. As stated before, children cost $243,660 from diapers to diploma. Guys, you can’t afford to get a girl pregnant. Girls, the cost is much higher for you. The correlation between teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates is huge. If you do drop out of school, the future gets bleaker. According to Statistics Canada, women without a high school diploma make, on average, less than $30,000 a year.

Stay away from drugs. Besides messing up your head, you definitely can’t afford a drug addiction. Period.

You have other options besides going to university. If you don’t think you have the smarts to go to university or it just doesn’t interest you there are many other jobs you can choose from that pay very well. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that 40 percent of all new jobs will be in the skilled trades and technology industry by 2020.

10 Cold Hard Cash Careers:

1) Oil and gas drilling supervisor. Top 50 ranking #1. Median salary: $74,880.

2) Audiologist and speech-language pathologist. Top 50 ranking #11. Median salary: $77,813. This job requires a master’s degree.

3) Construction manager: Top 50 ranking #13. Median salary: $72,800.

4) Registered nurse: Top 50 ranking #16. Median salary: $72,072. This job normally requires at least a bachelor’s degree.

5) Dental hygienist. Top 50 ranking #18. Median salary: $69,992. You must complete either a bachelor program or a dental hygiene diploma to be licensed and registered.

6) Metal-forming contractor and supervisor. Top 50 ranking #21. Median salary: $65,874. Normal Metalworkers make around $55,000.

7) Pipe-fitting contractor and supervisor. Top 50 ranking #23. Median salary: $66,560. A regular Pipe-fitter can make $40-50,000.

8) Electrician. Top 50 ranking #31. Median salary: $68,493.

9) Mining supervisor. Top 50 ranking #43. Median salary: $64,480.

10) Construction inspector. Top 50 ranking #48. Median salary: $62,400.
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Chapter 11: A Letter to your 20-Something, from Uncle Kevin

In the new reality of 2014 youth unemployment is currently at a sky-high 19.6 percent. If you can’t find a regular full-time job you may have to create your own opportunities. If you have a skill set find a way to monetize it. You might end up as a freelancer working part-time for different employers. Or, perhaps, you’ll find a niche as a consultant. In 2012, 29 percent of Canadians between ages 20-24 were employed in temporary positions.

Open a RRSP. Even if you contribute a small amount it all adds up. RRSPs are a tax deferral program. You only pay taxes when you withdraw the money from the RRSP after you retire.

(This is advice from me). Consider putting away money in a TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account). It’s sort of the opposite of an RRSP. Currently you can put away up to $5,500 a year. Any interest/capital gains you earn on your investments are tax free.

Don’t buy things to make yourself feel good (shopping therapy). A lot of people do it. Big mistake. All those seemingly small purchases add up.

Don’t overshare on social media. Saying the wrong thing or posting inappropriate pictures can hurt your chances of employment if the wrong people see it. Be cautious.

Don’t over-educate yourself to avoid setting foot in the real world. More/higher degrees doesn’t necessarily mean higher income. Especially if getting a job in your particular field of expertise is rare. All you’re accomplishing is putting yourself deeper in debt and wasting time you could be using to potentially generate income.

Consider interning (paid or unpaid). It’s a good way to get your foot in the door of a company. And you gain experience at the same time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cold Hard Truth On Family, Kids And Money by Kevin O'Leary pt. 2


Part Two: Marriage

Chapter 4: (What to look for in a mate)

1) Homogamy. noun - Interbreeding of individuals with like characteristics. Pretty much O’Leary is saying, aim to marry someone with a similar sociological background to you if possible.

2) Health. Marry someone who is relatively healthy. Research has shown that couple who exercise together enjoy lower stress levels and greater happiness.

3) Social tendencies. Look for someone who is social. Studies have shown that couples do best when they engage in the larger community, be it through clubs, service organizations or religious groups. Invite friends over for dinner… join a hiking group.

4) Education. The better educated you are the better off your marriage will be.

5) Money. Look for someone who is good with money. A Meanie, who saves, invests and spends within his means.
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Chapter 5: Establish your Financial Indepdence

Save 10% of your income for future use. Hire a financial planner or broker* separate from your spouse’s . You both need one. If one person ends up losing their money you can rely on the savings/investments of the other. And, in case of divorce, you’ll be protected. A divorce is so much easier if you have your own advisor and your own funds; you’ll be able to split your assets without missing a beat.

*note: Financial planners can only buy mutual funds while brokers can buy stocks and bonds.

Kevin also says you should sign a prenuptial agreement before getting married. (p 213)
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Kevin O’Leary’s Investment Philosophy

1) Never let a stock, bond, commodity or any investment become more than 5% of your portfolio.

2) Never purchase a stock or bond that does not pay a dividend or interest. In the last 40 years, over 70 percent of stock market returns have come from dividends, not capital appreciation.

3) Keep a balanced portfolio. O’Leary personally keeps his portfolio 50% stocks and 50% bonds. He actually isn’t a good stock or bond picker. That’s why he created O’Leary Funds. He lets the professional managers pick the stocks and bonds he owns and gets a dividend and/or interest check every month.
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Chapter 6: Build the Bedrock of your Partnership

Setting financial goals, making a plan and sticking to a budget are the mortar that will make a solid, good life possible.

O’Leary suggests calculating all your income (net salary, bonuses, interest/dividends earned etc.) over a 3-month period. Then do the same with all your expenses (rent, mortgage, utilities, insurance, car payments, property tax, groceries, child care, health care, gas, eating out, clothing, entertainment, magazines, donations… even that pack of gum you bought… everything.

Add up your income and minus your expenses. If you’re in the black, good. If you’re in the red, you’re in trouble. It’s time to declare a state of emergency. Eliminate the car you can’t afford. Stop taking vacations. Do not go out to dinner. You have to correct your bad spending habits now.

You only have two financial goals: get out of debt and pay off your mortgage; and keep putting 10% away in your Secret 10 (that’s 10% of your income that you’re putting away and saving for later). For every dollar you earn, 90 cents should go to paying off debt, and 10 cents should go to your Secret 10. The 90/10 rule supersedes everything until you’ve paid off all your debt.

When you get a mortgage, you want to design it so you can pay it off as soon as you can. Don’t invest in anything until you’ve paid it off. If a fixed mortgage goes up to 7% or 8%, your rate of return is 7% or 8%. Good luck with getting that sort of return with no risk or volatility in the stock market.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cold Hard Truth On Family, Kids And Money by Kevin O'Leary pt. 1


I'm reading through the Cold Hard Truth On Family, Kids And Money by Kevin O'Leary for the second time. It has some really good advice for people in general (whether or not you're looking to get into a relationship).

Here are the gems I've picked out.
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Part One: Love

Chapter 1: The Dating Game

For someone of more than modest financial means, Kevin O’Leary is surprisingly stingy when it comes to spending on dates. It’s because he came from humble beginnings where money didn’t grow on trees. He learned to respect it and wants to pass that sentiment along.
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Love, marriage and kids can provide some of the richest rewards in life - but only if you have a strong financial foundation to support them.

On spending freely while dating - “She won’t love me if I don’t shell out.” Really? If spending your money is her main goal, I’m (O’Leary) giving you free licence to dump her. Now. Cut your losses now. You’ll thank me for it later.

Relationship Due Diligence - Date at least 3 years before getting married. When you first meet you’ll be head over heels with your partner. Your view of them will be skewed. You need time to truly get to know one another; to discover compatibilities as well as potential problem areas. And you need time to figure out if you can work through them or not.

Pay attention to your partner’s spending habits, including how cavalierly they whip out their credit card. And do have important conversations about where you see yourself in the future. You have to articulate your long term objectives and see if they line up with your partner’s.
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8 Dates that won’t Break the Bank:

1) Take a stroll. Go for a bike ride, take a hike. In the winter rent skates and go skating.

2) Explore a museum or art gallery. Some of them offer free admission on certain days of the month.

3) Do some physical activity together. That’s sort of like number 1. to me.

4) Play board games. Many cities have board game cafés where the price of a coffee or beer will grant you access to stacks of games.

5) Go to lunch or brunch. It’s much cheaper than dinner.

6) Dinner and a movie… at home. Borrow a DVD from the library and make dinner at home.

7) Find a meetup group. You can meet people with common interests and possibly meet someone you click with.

8) Join a free online dating site. Don’t shell out your hard earned money on one with hefty membership fees.
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Chapter 2: Choosing a Mate

Kevin O’Leary’s advice on getting your potential partner to fill out a “Due Diligence Checklist” before considering them for marriage seems a bit over-the-top to me. It may be a smart and practical, but I doubt it would go over well with him/her. I’d suggest bringing up these topics over time through day-to-day conversation and making note of them instead.
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Red Flags to Look out for in a Mate:

1) Long-term liabilities. You’re not just marrying your spouse. You’re marrying his or her family and everyone in it. Do they have the ability to look after themselves in old age or will you guys be asked to help finance their long-term care?

2) Potential health problems. Is your partner healthy? Does he/she take care of him/herself? If not, it’s going to probably cost you later.

3) Crushing debt. It could be student loans, medical bills or credit card debt. How much of your partner’s debt you’re willing to accept is up to you. But your partner should be paying down the principal every month and working diligently toward a plan to pay off the debt completely.

4) Past bankruptcy or foreclosure. Do not get into a relationship with anyone who has declared bankruptcy or been foreclosed on. There is no better proof your partner is not good with money and assets than this.
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Chapter 3: The Five Languages of Money (or Four people to avoid… and One to search for)

Here are the ones to avoid:

1) The Mooch. He’s someone who’s always sponging money off people because “he’s forgotten his wallet.” or some other lame excuse. He always says, he’ll pay you back but never does.

2) The Spendaholic. He’s someone who’s always trying to buy friendship/love. Don’t be fooled. All he’s going to do is end up being in the poor house.

3) The Loafer. He’s someone who has a low standard of living and lacks ambition to aim for more. To me, he sounds a lot like The Mooch. He’s been pampered by his parents and relies on them to bail him out of financial trouble. (Sounds like me?)

4) The Thief. He’s someone who steals money outright or bamboozles people out of what’s rightfully theirs.

Here is the type of person you should be looking to meet:

1) The Meanie. He’s someone who lives within his means. He has a healthy approach to saving and investing money, and he knows how to set a budget and stick to it. He only buys what he can afford otherwise he abstains.

____________________________

Saturday, September 27, 2014

No Confusion Here


This has been puzzling me for quite awhile now. Earlier this year I was watching the news and a reporter named Charlsie Agro comes on and does a report on an event down on Front Street.

Sometime later I'm watching the news again and the same reporter comes on. But now she's introduced as Carly Agro. I think to myself, the news anchor has just gotten her name wrong.

This goes on for a number of months where I hear her introduced under one name and then the other. It was only until tonight when I finally figured out they're actually two different girls - twins Charlsie and Carly Agro.

Now what kind of twisted parents would give their identical twin daughters such similar names? And what kind of nutty broadcaster (CBC) would hire them both at the same time? By-the-way Charlsie is a reporter for CBC News Toronto, and Carly for CBC Sports.

Mystery solved!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bowling with the Guys from CPC


Willie organized a bowling outing for a few of us guys down at CPC (Chinese Presbyterian Church) on Sunday afternoon. We went to Club 300 up on Old Kennedy Road north of Steeles. Ed and Pastor Tom joined us.

After service Willie and his 14-year-old son and I went to Rol Jui for lunch. Then we took his son home (because he didn't want to hang around a bunch of old guys) and drove up to meet the others.

We got there 15 minutes early at about quarter to 4:00. Ed arrived next about 1/2 hour later followed shortly by Tom.

Willie and Ed actually went bowling about three weeks earlier. Before that they hadn't gone in 10-15 years (or something like that). I believe I last went a couple of years ago or so. Like them, I rarely bowl. Tom actually has his own shoes and ball. He took bowling when he was at the University of Illinois. He hasn't gone in many years either.

The last time Ed and Willie went they paid $30 to bowl for one hour. We were going to do that again when I noticed that, for $9 more, you could bowl for 1-1/2 hours. So we did that instead.

Now, I'm not a great bowler, but I'm normally not terrible either. I believe all of us threw a gutter ball on our first ball. I have to say, my game didn't improve much after that. The whole first game I failed to get even one spare. It was the first time I didn't break 100. That was pretty embarrassing.

The next two games weren't much better. I did improve, but not much. Everyone was pretty inconsistent going on hot and cold streaks. Tom ended up getting the high score of the day hitting 170 on one of his games.

Willie wants to go again in 4-weeks. I'd better improve next time for sure.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kevin Trudeau's - Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About


I have to mention I haven't finished this book completely yet. But I think I get the gist of it. To avoid getting sick/diseases the author, Kevin Trudeau, is advocating a natural, healthy lifestyle. One free of drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) with plenty of exercise and eating only organically grown food (fruit, meat, vegetables, dairy etc.)

Though I think he's a bit fanatical at times, a lot of what he says is plain common sense (like avoid eating at fast food restaurants and living as stress-free as possible). Most of us know what's good for us only we don't do it.

He does go way overboard on talking about how the pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. government and many other health care agencies aren't there to find cures for you. They want you to be sick. That's how they make their money (by providing products that only relieve the symptoms). If they found a cure to the common cold or cancer or whatever and let everyone have it they'd put themselves out of business. It's a point he hammers home relentlessly.

I can't vouch for some of the advice he gives (like using magnetic rings or going to see a "bioenergetic synchronization technique practitioner") because I really have no idea if they're helpful or not. He's completely against seeing traditional doctors though. And he's against getting vaccinated (which I don't agree with).

He says the body can heal itself (which I believe is true). If you cut your finger it will heal itself in time. Taking Tylenol or any other medication won't fix it, it may only relieve the pain. Or taking products like Buckleys or Benlyn won't cure your cough or cold. They'll only help relieve the symptoms (which I believe is true too). You have to go to the root of the problem and fix that to feel better. He says that most of our maladies are caused by our poor state of health (which I believe is mostly true too).

He's right about us consuming too much garbage too. He says traditional grocery stores pretty much sell crap and he's not far off the mark there. If you read the ingredients on any of the processed goods they sell you'll see a long list of chemicals and other additives there. I agree when he says to stay away from them.

He also says most fresh fruit, vegetables and meat (fish, chicken, beef, pork etc.) that you get from a regular grocery store is bad too. Because a lot of them a genetically modified and/or have many other chemicals and things sprayed on them to help them grow bigger faster and/or keep bugs or other things off them. He advocates only buying food from an organic producer/seller (which would be okay if you had that kind of money).

That's as far as I've gotten in the book. If there's anything else of note, I'll be sure to pass it on.

For now... eat your veggies, exercise, don't get stressed out, don't buy overly processed "food" from the grocery store and try not to eat too much fast food crap.

*Note - In March of 2014, Kevin Trudeau, was sentenced to 10-years in prison by a U.S. federal judge for bilking consumers via infomercials for his best-selling weight loss book.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Labour Day Weekend @ Justin's Cottage Pt. 3


Sunday started off with a late breakfast at The Fort at Hotel Pontiac, 35 kilometres from Justin's cottage. If you had a boat you could take a more direct route 10 kilometres west straight up the Ottawa River. By car it's about 45 minutes over the bridge through Chapeau.

The restaurant/hotel is located right on the beach. While we were there we saw a number of small boats pull right up onto the beach and people come right in (just as if they drove up by car).

We had a variety of things to eat. Some of us had 2 eggs with either bacon or sausage plus home fries and toast. Others had the pancakes or French toast with bacon. All the choices were really good.

After our meal we headed 52 kilometres straight east on Highway 148 to Chutes Coulonge Park. It's part historical park and part adventure park.

The historical part tells the story of the logging business in Quebec in the early to mid 1800s. The adventure part is part climbing, part zip lining. It's $8 to get in. More if you want to do the adventurous stuff.

We walked around checking out the historical part. The scenery was nice with the waterfalls. We even saw a neat, brown snake. I have no idea what kind it was, but it was the largest snake I've ever seen in the wild. Usually the ones I see (if I see any) are really small.

After the park we bought popsicles and ate them before returning to the cottage and going to the big beach. There we gathered some wood and lit a bonfire and sat around it relaxing before going in the water again to play Frisbee.

Dinner was meat, meat and more meat. Justin cooked pork chops on the barbecue outside while Peter worked his magic on the lamb and beef short ribs from the night before. We cooked up some yams and corn on the cob to round out the meal.

In the evening we drank beer and played board games. This time until around 4:00. Good times.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Labour Day Weekend @ Justin's Cottage Pt. 2


After staying up past 2:30 we were up relatively early the next day. Except for Peter, most of us were up by 10:00 a.m.

Gabe and I woke a bit early because he heard some rain falling on our tent. Not wanting to take any chances we decided to set up the my sister's tarp that I brought.

We tied some rope to the corners and tied the corners to the surrounding trees. After that the rain pretty much let up. But, since we were up, we stayed up.

I went around the grounds and took a few pictures before breakfast. Peter made some eggs. As well I believe he made some French toast too. Justin brewed some tasty coffee and we ate on the front deck of the cottage.

Following breakfast we just went over to the big beach (behind the cottage). We didn't want to go too far because we were waiting for Emily and Janice to arrive. Instead of leaving Friday night they decided to come on Saturday morning.

At the beach we threw Gabe's Frisbee around while standing in the shallow water. It was a bit cold at first, but it didn't take us long to get used to.

After we finished I took a quick dip in the water. There was a lot of seaweed (or some other sort of underwater vegetation) in the area I was in nearby the dock with the Seadoos on it. So I swam in from there and came ashore.

Emily and Janice arrived shortly after. I believe we ate something for lunch, but for the life of me, can't remember what.

Following lunch we went on a hike. I don't know where we went, we just followed Justin's car. He took us to a trail that had to have the most mosquitoes per square kilometre anywhere. It was crazy.

Right after getting out of the car they started coming around. And once you entered the trees it was "run for your life." (which is pretty much what I did).

I only took around 3 or 4 shots along the whole length of the trail (about 3.5 kilometres each way). If you were foolhardy enough to stop you would have been eaten alive.

The trail ended by a river (I believe). I ran around and took a bunch of shots there before packing my camera bag back up and running (as much as I could) back to the car.

My bug jacket was essentially useless. Since I had it pulled tight around my arms they bit through the mesh. Most of the others suffered multiple mosquito bites too, even though they had sprayed themselves liberally with repellant. These Quebec mosquitos are tough mothers it seems.

Thankfully the bites didn't affect me too much. After the initial swelling subsided I avoided scratching and hardly even noticed them. I was so happy about that.

We cooked a lot of meat for dinner. Peter brought marinated lamb and Emily had Kalbi (beef short ribs). I cut them into smaller pieces and Peter cooked them on the stove. We also had some carrots and one parsnip to balance out all the meat. Since it was raining outside we had dinner in the living room.

After we cleaned up Emily brought out some of her board games. The first one was a new one called Ca$h 'n Guns (second edition). Players have to try to accumulate cash and prizes while avoiding being shot by the others. If you're still standing by the end of the game you total your loot. The person with the most money wins.

Next we pulled out the expanded version of Saboteur. It's quite a bit more complicated than the original. Besides the saboteurs there are teams of gold miners as well as a number of other characters. There are new path and actions cards too. It's pretty complicated, but we figured it out.

Both games were fun. We played until at least 3:00 a.m.