dal niente

Life as an adult

I’m not sure where it happened exactly, but for some reason I’m now in a category of people called “adults”.

I know that when I was younger, so much of my time was spent trying to get adults to take me seriously– and now, I hang around paralegals or I teach law students on a daily basis who are more than a decade younger than me. I do judo with people who are a little over half my age.


I don’t know when the transition just happened– it really kind of snuck up on me, I think over the past two years.


I don’t know if everyone gets this feeling at some point. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad one– it’s just different, and it takes getting used to. Sort of like how I don’t ride a bicycle so much anymore– I mean, I still do, maybe once every couple of weeks as an alternative to the train. But it’s not that daily 20km trek because I wanted to save money. Now, I commute on public transit. When [CM] goes to work, she drives, or sometimes I drive her.

Yes, I drive now. I’ve driven for a bit over two years now.


When I was in Canada a few months back, it was because I went to visit my dad, who I found out, he had cancer. Treatments have been good, and it looks like the got it all– which is a relief. But I wonder and worry sometimes if he’s bored in retirement, if him and mom are getting along well enough… all that sort of stuff. Adult worries.

Maybe that’s been the thing that set this whole “adult” thought in my head. My grandfather passed away less than a year ago. The last time I saw him was when I was in Canada for my wedding.

I miss having grandparents. I keep telling myself that I’ll write down more about them… but then nothing comes to mind. I don’t know what to write about, because nothing comes up.

My dad says he misses his parents a lot.

And so I worry about things back in Canada.


It’s not that I want to go back– I’ve got a  life here now in Australia with CM.  It’s just… adult concerns I guess. These things I think about now that I’m an adult.


Time dilation

My dad’s begin radiotherapy for the cancer in his neck. So far, it sounds like he’s impressed—the process has been more or less painless, and the biggest side effect so far has been that he gets a really dry mouth all the time.


He did explain that, at first, he was having some pretty claustrophobic reactions to having to wear the custom molded face and chest plate. Undrstandably, probably—if I had something form fitted out of heavy radio-proof lead that fit flush with my front, to the point where I couldn’t even open my jaw, I’d probably be pretty fucking scared too.

I’m relieved that he feels better about things.

He did mention in a message that chances are, they’ll completely eradicate it—but that there is always that likelihood that it pops up again in a few years and they’ll have to fight something similar again. I don’t know what I think about that—but I guess we’ll deal with this first.



I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be around people lately.


My grandfather passed away. That was pretty tough for me. The last time I saw him was when [CM] and I were in Montreal for our wedding there. And then the next thing I know–  he was gone.

I wonder sometimes why my parents don’t speak about their grandparents very much. Actually, I don’t know anything about my grandparents. They don’t even really tell me much about their own parents—by the time there was anything to say, it was only in remembrance really.


I’ve been pretty alone lately. This is mostly because CM is up working on her mandatory rural hospital placement—she’s completeld 1 month out of 3 months service so far. We just have to tough it out for a little while longer.

I’ve been alone lately, but I wouldn’t say that I’m feeling ultra lonely—not most of the time anyway. But maybe I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and maybe that’s how I got started blogging in the first place?


I’ve just been thinking about people, and the relationships they have with other people. And memories. And connections. And those sorts of things.

I’ve spoken to my dad in recorded whatsapp messages more in the past month than I have spoken to him probably in the last two years, barring the times when I was actually in front of him on vacation. It’s been strange, but at the same time, it just feel right and familiar in other ways. It’s all just strange.


I know I’m rambling but it’s just that mortality has been a lot on my mind since I started this whole Australian adventure. Both of my grandparents have since passed away with cancer. One of my mom’s siblings passed away from cancer. My dad was recently diagnosed. Hell, even I was told a couple of years ago that I had a growth (in my hip bone, but it seems benign).


When my dad told me the other day that my grandparents’ house had officially been sold—I paused for a moment. I spent so much of my time growing up there. I don’t know if my dad knew when he left me that voice message, but he said something along the lines of “We’ve handed over the keys already, we can’t go back there anymore.” A part of me wanted to go back there I guess. Even if it was just empty rooms, I can even now just picture it all.

My sister and I used to link up elastic bands on end and put a knot at the end of the ensuing chord, then we’d throw one end through the stair rails and swing around pretending to be Spider-Man—back in a day when my uncle used to collect the comics (way before the movies came out). We used to build forts out of the sofa cushions, and hide under the kitchen and dining room tables.

Even if the rooms were empty and devoid of furniture, I could still point out the part of the ceiling near the stairwell where I used to rub off the plaster, because I somehow thought that that was fun. I would probably even remember which steps creaked, and which ones you stepped over so that you didn’t make a sound when playing hide and seek.



I keep forgetting that it’s been a decade since I left for Korea now. Facebook, of all ‘people’, is the source of the reminders. I remember how a decade ago, drama was thick and active, and it happened over the course of hours and days. Nowadays? Weeks go by and I don’t notice all the time.

Maybe it’s because of work. It seems like some silly cliché that lawyers work too much, and I seem to remember thinking at some point that that would never be me. But here I am—putting in 40 hour weeks at the firm, and teaching for 3 universities part time on the side. And since CM’s been one? I’ve somehow managed to fit in about 10 hours of judo into the last week alone.


Maybe it’s because I’m alone at home most days after work—I’m not unhappy, I don’t feel like my life is out of control. But I wish I could stop time from getting away from me.


Getting here to Lithgow was a real pain in the ass. It’s really days like this where you understand why people don’t want to use public transportation, and just go out and buy a car and drive it around as a single occupant.

I’m sitting in a public library, waiting for [CM] to finish work. Even when I worked in a public library as a kid, I always wondered why these places have to have such high ceilings—what’s the point? They never stack the books that high anyway. They could have put a second floor in here.

When I came out of the public restroom, I noticed a wall full of information pamphlets. There’s always all sorts of pamphlets wherever you go—banks are full of product pamphlets and “free advice”. Libraries are a lot like that too I guess, except they generally have more community oriented things.

Huh. I had a browse. Cancer Council: Understanding Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Yep, that’s the one.




On May 4th, 2017, Dad sent me an email from Canada in the middle of the night.

Apparently he has cancer.


It’s a bump on his neck. It’s probably a “non-hodgkin lymphoma”. I’m told that, as far as cancers go, this is the kind that you want. It’s a “good cancer to have”, inasmuch as that seems like an oxymoron. They’re quite common, and, assuming that’s what Dad has, apparently not too bad to treat.

Yeah, to be honest, I don’t know what “not too bad to treat even means.” But maybe this pamphlet, which really, is more of a booklet, can help with that.




I haven’t really dealt with the fact that Dad has cancer yet. The first day, when I found out, my brain went into autopilot. I was 75% of the way to work when my wife, who replied to my messages, told me she was coming home to see me. She told me to go home. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I almost just went to work as if nothing had happened.

I almost cried on the train suddenly. Didn’t know what I was thinking.

When I got home, it was just the two cats and I until CM got home. I crawled back into bed, still mostly in my outside clothes, and wept. One of our cats, who is seldom as affectionate to me as she is to CM, came up to me and was stepping all over me, which is her way of showing concern I guess.


I’m better now.  There are more tough times ahead I imagine.

But first, I guess I have to read this booklet.

April Grab Bag

International immigration systems are stupid.

I’m not even talking about the American travel bans which I keep hearing about from Australia.

[CM] and I recently found out about this “6 month rule” thing that many countries have on passports. Basically, CM and I are landlocked in Australia because, although we have valid passports, the countries that we are supposed to be flying to (we’ve missed the first 5 days of our planned overseas annual leave in Malaysia and Hong Kong) won’t accept you unless you have a passport which is valid for at least 6 months past the last date of your travel.

Normally, when you book through a travel agent, apparently the travel agents tell you this. But since we booked directly on the Malaysian airlines website, and we didn’t know about such a rule, we only actually found out at the airport at the baggage claim. Basically, sorry, you can’t get on this flight.

Um… what?

The details of that don’t matter too much at this point. It’s very upsetting generally. That’s an understatement. You only get so much vacation in a given year, and to really work your way through difficult jobs up until the point of physically being in an airport and then refused… it’s frankly heartbreaking. It’s terrible for mental health. It makes one think that you’ve endured all this time just for some reward which you don’t even get.


Malaysian Airlines, throughout this ordeal, has been terrible, every step of the way.


On separate accounts, dealing with the Canadian embassy, as well as the Malaysian and Chinese embassy (for the issues above, as well as for other issues) has proven to me that these places are all stupid. The level of service you get, compared to the amount of useless red tape and administration, is ridiculous.



I’m in a Ford dealership right now, just waiting on our car to get serviced. Not exactly how I planned on spending a day of my vacation.  But I guess it’s a good use of time to catch up on “life-administration” that I don’t normally get.

Keep your hands up

There was a fight on my train home. I was minding my own business in the crowded lower compartment of the train– I had foot on the floor and on the stairs, with a huge cardboard box on my knee (a worm farm that had finally been delivered to my office00 this is another story).

Out of nowhere, I hear some big yelling from the standing area (up the small stairs from me).

From what I gather, an local Australian lady is telling off some guy who apparently was muttering racist things against some Chinese passengers.

I was thinking to myself, well, at least my station is next.

Train stops, and they’re still arguing. In fact, from what I can see, the situation has escalated to an all out yelling match, with lots of swearing, a lot of finger jabbing,a nd now some pretty serious pushing and shoving.

Anti-racism Australian gets off the train and is still yelling at him. She basically shames the guy to get off the train —  and the people in the standing compartment start clapping when he does. Cause it’s always a great idea to provoke a racist, right.


So the racist jumps back into the train, does this epic flying tackle into the posts, and now the people in the standing compartment are scared.

Racist guy gets back off the platform to confront lady. The shouting match countines, this time on the platform. It’s my stop, so I and others get off.


So I’m watching this all going down, never more than about 5 meters from the people who are shouting the most. Somehow, the woman is going toe to toe with the guy. She is literally a foot away from the guy, and it’s just this ring of people, nervous and scared, watching from a safe distance– but it is racist guy (and his Aboriginal girlfriend) basically having a schoolyard shouting match at point blank range.


Next thing you know, someone tries to hit someone, anti-racism lady takes a big shave and almost backs up into the train wall. An indian guy gets involved and starts getting beaten on, and I’m there holding my worm farm and like FUCK this is soooo annoyyyyyyyyinggggggg someone will get hurt.


So I stepped in and ended it with a throw. (O soto gari , in case you were wondering which one– turns out that throwing someone whose attention is focused on someone else is really easy). I remember that this is concrete, and so I make a note of not smashing his head on the ground and let him down ‘gently’.

So tedious. I just wanted to have dinner and here are these idiots getting into eachothers’ faces…

Next thing I know, some of the crow is suddenly full of righteous anti-racism heroes, and they’re all coming in and grabbing and maybe even hitting at the racist guy (who is now on his back). So now I’m kneeling over the guy, telling people to back off, and asking the racist guy “are you ok? Are you ok?” beacuse people are actually hitting him while he’s down. 


So it’s a bit fucking mess.


After things calm down a bit (not much) and the racist guy is back on his feet, he’s trying to leave the station by the stairs and the anti-racism Australian lady STILL wants to detain this guy, so she’s pulling him down the stairs from behind. I step in again and put my arm in her way saying “just let it go, it’s not worth it! Someone’s going to get hurt, it’s not worth it!”


… and that’s when an closed umbrella whizzes around, and if it weren’t for the fact that i had my arm up, it would have nailed me in the head. At this point I’m really yelling “just let it go!” and am pretty annoyed with everyone.


She does let it go. And at this point, oh, where were you official train employee? Comes in with his walkie talkie and starts ordering people down. I think he was probably there the whole time, but just did not get involved until it was safe. Fair enough, I supose.

I left before police showed up since there were already like 100 witnesses with mobile phone cameras, but maybe if we’re lucky someone will upload a youtube video of me not only throwing someone but then trying to keep a mob from stomping him in revenge.


It has been a long week and it occurs to me that maybe I’m not normal. I wasn’t scared in the situation, just very annoyed that I had to be delayed. I was more concerned about where I could put down my worm farm, and if someone would take it. I even thought to myself… hmm… if I get involved, I probably don’t want to be wearing my bag, but at the same time, where will I put it down?



I understand what the lady was doing. She did a good thing. She was standing up for some asians on the train I think who were just being insulted. I don’t mean to simply call her anti-racism lady out of some disrespect– she’s got guts, and I was really impressed that she not once, not twice, but more times than I could count, actually went toe to toe with him. Nobody should give in to bullies.

But it’s not a question of being scared or not. That is a dangerous situation. You cannot go up to someone’s face and trade insults at point blank and not protect yourself– it literally only takes one badly received punch, elbow, or headbutt to cause serious injury or death.


Meanwhile, don’t you feel sorry for the racist guy? And what’s the point of detaining him until the police arrive? So him and his idegenous girlfriend can go to jail for a couple of nights? Have something else on their record? Is public shaming or jail time really going to teach this guy a lesson, or reinforce his views even further? Maybe I’m thinking too much like a criminal law teacher and a lawyer– but isn’t this “us versus bad people” dichotomy too convenient?

There is so much anger out there– what struck me the most is how you have this cowardly crowd who is hiding back and letting one lady do all the talking– and the best they can do is clap, or try to kick a man when he’s down. I mean… seriously??


To be fair, there were a handfull of people who were just trying to stop the fighting with me. Good work.


But just… sigh. That whole situation was just bullshit– people were stupid, people could have gotten seriously hurt. There’s a time for words, and there’s a time for fighting– and there is also a time for just walking away and spending your energy some other way.


Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

When I was growing up in pre-in internet 90s Canada, one of the only real connections that a kid in Montreal had with the rest of the world was channel 6 television. CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
I watched the local news (though I thought it was boring). Except for the weather.  I don’t know why, but I really enjoyed keeping the evening weather stats on graph paper charts, and predicting what the day would be like to my parents before they went to work. 
It’s a very different world now. I don’t have any “rabbit ears” on my TV, and in fact, my TV only gets video feeds from the internet. I don’t subscribe to any cable stations and I don’t even get local news. 
I wonder if kids still use graph paper?


There was a trending idea in 2016 that things were more terrible than other years. Lots of famous celebrities died, certain people were elected, and certain countries separated.

Does that really affect you? And by affect you, I mean, does it change the way you are going to live your life?

I going to be in my mid thirties this year– and maybe it’s because [CM] and I have been living such busy and isolated lives out here in Sydney that I’ve become cynical of cynics.

My grandfather passed away in 2016. It was a bit difficult for me, because there are dimensions of strangeness to experiencing an environment of family grief vicariously through Google Hangouts and emails. But I also got to see my family come together a bit. And that was nice.

As time goes on, I am appreciating family more and more. This is a strange turn of events, considering that I am also further from most family than ever before.

I got really injured in 2016– I tore my adductor longus doing judo, which is the muscle in your groin area that alows you to pull your leg inwards. I coulding walk for a couple of weeks, and even now, more than half a year later, I still feel weakness in my leg to do a soccerball  pass type kicking motion.  That injury put me out of sports for half a year. It was a very tough time for me mentally– but I think I’ve gotten over it, and I’m mentally a tougher person because of it.


In 2016:

  • I got married. (Twice! Once in Sydney for our new Australian friends and family, and once in Montreal for our Canadian friends and family.)
  • Grandpa passed. Which was a bad thing, but if you know what I mean, it’s also a good thing.
  • I got to visit family in Montreal for the first time in a long time– Grandpa even made it to our wedding.
  • We bought a house. And we put down a deposit on an investment property.
  • I built a floor! Or rather, we tore up all the carpets, and replaced it with wood. This might not seem like much, but when I was growing up, my family was all about home renovations. My parents are very handy people, and it was always a matter of pride as much as economics to build the home up to be a place to live in which has history in the actual walls. This was my first major project.
  • I also built a bedside nightstand. The finished product doesn’t look anything like what was planned, but the cats like to sleep in it, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
  • I quit a part time job as a tutor (the equivalent of a “teaching assistant” in North America) and was lucky enough to land a job as a lecturer (a higher ranking sort of teacher) at a bigger university, as part of the law school I attended.
  • I was given raises at my primary job. Twice. And I now have an army of interns to help me out.
  • I finally managed to fix up my garage gym.
  • I finally got a driver’s license. After over 3 decades on this planet, yes, I have a driver’s license. That also entailed actually learning to drive, which wasn’t easy. Aside from the problems that come with learning manual generally, being a cyclist, I had this problem of constantly wanting to centre myself in the lane according to my field of vision (rather than the shape of the car)
  • I finally managed to go back to New York, and we even managed to meet up with a form Xangan, [VisualNoise]. I’ve been reading his stuff for… what? A decade? Almost two?

Maybe it’s because I don’t spend all that much time on Facebook nowadays (believe it or not, I actually have to manage my online persona for professional reasons) but I don’t see what was so bad about 2016. Maybe social media makes us feel more a part of something if we jump onboard and have a big bitch together.


I frankly don’t have the time or energy for that. And further, I don’t see the point, if I’m not going to or can’t do something about it.


I was just reflecting on something– when I was younger, when I was leaving high school and spending time in college, there were a number of things that I wanted to do with my life. WIthout even remembering my goals back then, they just sort of happened. It just took another couple of decades to make it happen.

When I was young, I thought it would be great if I could open up my own martial arts school. Well, I’ve not exactly done it, but I’ve done it pretty damn close– I’ve opened (and closed) a handfull of martial arts clubs by renting other peoples’ gyms over the past couple of decades. I’ve taught a bit too, basics anyway.

And now I have a home dojo set up in the garage– with 8 sections of tatami set out. I’ve had people over a handful of times so far, and it has been great.


I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was in college, I was too much of  fuckup to do things by the book– I spent too much time skipping classes and playing videogames to really get the paperwork and grades straight.

But now, I’ve graduated with honours, have been working as a repsectable lawyer for a couple of years, and have a part time gig lecturing at my old law school.


“People change” and “people never change” are cliches, I suppose.


In 2017:

  • Finally got issues sorted out with Red Cross, and am back on the donor list. Apparently since I started donating blood for shits and giggles a few years ago, I’ve saved 36 lives. That is probably a lot of marketing exaggeration, but it’s nice of them to say things like that nonetheless. GIven that I’m one of those almost universal donor types, I guess you can say that I’m hot stuff in the blood donor world (ahem). But the way I look at it, if you believe in tit for tat, one day I might need blood, and being a universal donor also means that I’m a rare blood type that has a lot of trouble finding people who can give me blood. I guess you can say I’m hedging my cosmic bets and hoping it all balances out.
  • I’m back in training. There is a new generation of fresh 18 and 19 year old judokas at the dojo who are only getting stronger and faster as the weeks go– but I’ll do my best to beat them down and, if nothing else, use me as a stepping stone to greater heights.
  • We’ve started gardening. There’s some satisfaction that comes with growing things again– I haven’t done any gardening since I lived at my parents’ place, about a decade ago. It’s the mark of “owning your own place” to be gardening.
  • We’ve got a worm farm composter on the way (in the mail). Again… we get satisfaction out of really making our home our castle. It’s a nice state of life to be in because we’re finally in a place of our own, as opposed to something we’re renting and have no control over. We don’t actually know anything about composting, but as we become a bit more in control of how we live our lives, it’s our chance now to dictate with more control how much of an impact we have on our environment.
  • We’ve started bushwalking (“hiking”, as it’s called in North America). Which is what you should do in a place like Australia, because there is so much out there that we’ve never taken the time to look at while we were in law and med school.

Just saying–2016 doesn’t look that bad, and 2017 looks like just as many opportunities. Shit happens, but it only gets real bad if we don’t do anyhing about it or spend too much time thinking about things that don’t matter.


Anyway, I’m off work sick today. Should probably get back in bed.


When admin gets in the way of real work

For those of you who don’t know, [CM] is a doctor and works at a particular Sydney hospital.

Healthcare, as a system, has always been this complicated mess of institutional problems due to a hundred different agendas. It doesn’t help that hospitals are festering grounds for bullying, sexism, and racism as well.

Yes, you hear a lot of great stuff on the news about happy stories– miracles and good positive things that make you feel good to your core. But the everyday churn of hospital work is a very complicated love-hate relationship.


A few months ago, CM messaged me, in a tone where she uses my first name and I know either she’s really mad at me or something is wrong.

Turns out she was crying.

A particular administrative department which is meant to support residents had scheduled her so that she was was working night shifts up to the day that she would be taking her vacation time for our wedding celebration.

Normally, if you do a week of night shifts, the hospital can’t schedule you to work for one week. It’s the “7 days on, 7 days off” rule. CM had scheduled a work week off leading up to the wedding so that she could spend time with out of town guests and simply make last minute preparations. She’d specifically requested the week off, giving the admins the explanation that she needed time to prepare for the wedding, etc.


But what the admins were basically doing using the normal 7 days off to overlap on her paid days off. Which is bullshit. Basically that means, “Oh, you’re taking 7 days off? Why don’t we ruin all of that by making you work nights in the week leading up to it, so you’ll just spend those 7 days being jet lagged and sleeping during the day. And since you’ve already requested to be off, we won’t even have to give you any extra time off (paid or otherwise).”

It’s a pretty dick move to do.

But that’s just the start– when she called the admin department and asked how they could do that to her– where was that 7 days on 7 days off rule? They blamed CM for not having made a special request to not work nights.


So… do the wrong thing by your own internal policies, and then blame the victim. Yeah, good job, hospital.

* * *

I started working in hospitals in the early 2000s, and only stopped working in hospitals about a decade later when I moved to Australia. If you go through the extremely old archives of this blog (the posts that were conversions of my old archives from Xanga) you can even find quite a few of my stories from working in hospitals– it is gut-wrenching and soul-crushing at times, and I largely think that working in that environment shaped me to be the person I am today.

I’ve only now thought about it, but one of the reasons why I was so guarded about what I would post about my work in hospitals was because of the fact that I was afraid of being fired. Actually, I twice had to make decisions to work in different units after significant policy arguments I had with my managers.

* * *

I’m no longer in my 20s, and I’ve been working as a full time lawyer for some time now. Now that I’m older and have been around the block more, I understand now that fighting the system from the inside isn’t the only way to do things. In fact, it’s a hella lot of work and if the right people aren’t listening, you’re just going to get marginalised as a troublemaker. Actually, because I stood up about employmee rights issues and bad management, I was essentially forced to switch hospitals once, and to change departments twice.

There was some truth to what I was complaining about, but it’s more easy to see in retrospect, especially from the eyes of an employment lawyer, how these are institutional issues that are coming into being because of the corporate structure of the typical hospital system. It’s even more obvious now that I’m out of hospitals and work in law fulltime, with only CM’s stories about how things play out. When we have dinner with other doctor friends, 1 time out of 4, someone will be asking me “Can they do this to me?”


The answer is, yes, they can. But not legally. But the problem is always going to be that delicate balance between what weighing up your rights versus how far you want to get in your career.

At a motivational speech when CM was still in med school, one of the female speakers recounted how she was sexually harassed and bullied by a doctor during her early years. She spoke up about it, and went through the whole process– and then, her career never went forward. She was passed up for promotions and research opportunities. Her advice to the audience? “Don’t complain.”


Which is ridiculous. Hollywood is largely to blame for this idea that doctors are godlike beneveloents whose only worries are personal dramas and saving patients– in reality, a lot of the everyday is struggling against the institution to simply be allowed to do your work in a safe environment.


I’m not making this stuff up either. I’ve recently been made aware that one of the hospitals that CM worked at actually has a webpage about it: http://www.westmeadhospitalwhistleblowers.com/ “Westmead Hospital Whistleblowers”.


Have a look, and understand why when you go to a public hospital, sometimes the service is simply shit.


Last wednesday, my phone starting ringing at about 10AM at work. It was a call from one of my cousins from Ontario– which was out of the ordinary. I took the call outside of the office, and discovered that it was indeed my cousin, but she was in Monteral, with all of the family.


I knew that the funderal was going on at some point on Wednesday in Montreal, but when  you factor in the 14 hour time difference, and how my family isn’t the greatest at using instant messaging, things just get confusing.

We had a short video chat, where I saw everyone in the family.

They were all at Auntie [SH]’s house, which I thought was wierd.Mostly because my mom said “We’re all at Auntie SH’s house.” You’d only know that was weird beacuse up until that moment, for as long as I can remember, that house was alwasy refered to as “Gramma’s house” or “Grampa’s house.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the video call– but to my surprise, everyone was in pretty good spirits. People were smiling and generally seemed energetic, like any other family reunion we might have in a year. I was, frankly, taken a bit aback.

I had lunch with [BM] the other day, and I feel a bit selfish because I was probably talking her ear off. I pretty much have come to terms about Grampa’s passing at this point. But it’s just a bit strange to be away for the whole experience due to the time lag and the bottleneck of information that comes to me from overseas.

“ba bai, gampa”

I remember the hallways of my grandparents’ place. My earliest memories of the place are the early 90s. Gam-ma was how we referred to my grandmother, even in Cantonese. My sister and I never used the Chinese words, and I remember thinking it odd my cousins would call her pau pau. For my grandfather, it was gam-pa. In retrospect, it might have been because they couldn’t prounce the “r” or “nd” sounds in “grandma” and “grandpa”.

Throughout their lives, they never learned more than a little English. I can only remember them every speaking to English people with the quick and effective words, like “hello”, “bye bye”, “yes”, “no” and “thank you.”

Grandma passed away while I was in my final year of law school.

Grandpa passed about an hour or two from the time that I started first writing this post. It is still new in everyone’s minds. I am in Australia, and I received the message from my sister at about 2AM Sydney time. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but he was in hospital, and he’d been sick for months with advanced lung cancer. The morphine was probably it. I mean, I hope so anyway.

I am glad he’s at rest.




I’ve been crying on and off for the past hour or so.

I keep feeling this need to think about my life decisions– to come to Australia, for example, and to not have been there with Grandma or Grandpa when they passed. I can’t have that back. But do those moments… matter? I don’t know.

It’s cheap of me, but in some ways,I know that I’m actually kind of cheating by only remembering them in the select ways, the best good and bad ways so that I can remember them in this particular way.

It’s ironic that a seminal part of my growing up was working in hospitals and really struggling to deal with people being sick and dying, and eventually getting pretty comfortable with it (maybe)… but not ever really having to ever have dealt with it in person next to anyone in my own family.


Legend has it that when I was in elementary school, I was struggling with language a bit. In school, we were supposed to speak English and French only, though my elementary school was probably two thirds italian. At home, I spoke English with my parents and uncles and aunts and my sister. When my grandparents were in the room, my dad and his siblings all spoke a mix of Cantonese and English. My grandparents always spoke Toysanese. I’m not sure what I spoke,. and neither did people at my school apparently.

The principle apparently called in my family to discuss my language learning issues, because I was falling behind others, and the suggestion of the principle was that I not be spoken to in Chinese at home, because it was confusing my ability to pick up languages.

The legend was that when this concept was translated to my grandfather, he burst into a rage and threatened to kill the principal.


I’m sure bits of the story are exaggerated and that this isn’t actually how it went down, but grandma and grandpa have always been my impression of what it meant to be Chinese. I don’t know if I’d characterise them as stoics– they were tough, and this is coming from me, I’ve seen tough– but they also had the biggest smiles. They could also be in so much pain sometimes, even before the last years of their lives. They were normal human beings who did life they way they knew how.

My ability to identify with “being Chinese” has changed a lot over the years. My core values though, that is, what I think it means to be Chinese, has always naturally come from family.

For the earliest years, my parents were constantly working. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. On school days, in the morning, I’d go to school. The schoolbus would take me to my grandparents for lunch– my grandfather would be waiting at the bustop, sitting on a wooden stool which he had made himself. There were several different versions of this stool over the years– grandpa was the original handyman in the family. Even though my dad and uncle would eventually become great amateur handymen and be able to do some pretty fantastic things with home renovations, until his final years grandpa was still hammering and duct taping innovations into his home.

I remember being upset one day in winter to find out that my navy blue and red jacket had a couple of small cigarette burns in it– that was because grandpa used to smoke. Smoking was just so common in the kitchen culture, and it was probably why my dad, and I in turn, grew up with asthma. I don’t know how my jacket got burned– it probably happened from a loose ember when he was walking me home from the bus stop.


During lunch, almost every day, they’d cook me some sorta instant noodles. I never really remember grandma and grandpa cooking me anything but Chinese food until I was in my teens. I had never even tried maccaroni and cheese until I got to high school.


While I ate lunch, I remember that there were a dozen VHS videos that we had copied from somewhere– I watched them daily. Over and over. Disney’s Peter Pan. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Once Upon a Time in China. 

I’d get walked to the bus stop to go back for afternoon classes.

When my sister was born, same deal– Grandpa would be there to pick us up until I was old enough to walk us both home ourselves from the bus stop. The bus driver’s name was Marsell, or something– my grandfather would exchange hellos and goodbyes with him.


After school, it was back to the grandparents. They had a TV with rabbit ear antennas, and at the time, I remember that in their area, they could reach an american station– WVNY ABC-22. I don’t know if that station even exists anymore, but I think it broadcast out of vermont. After school, although I know I was suppsoed to be doing homework, I most likely was watching the GI Joes, because channel 22 had all the good afternoon afterschool cartoons.

Every second weekend, my sister and I would stay over at my grandparents’ too. More cartoons.


Grandpa could not really speak any functional English. It was a bit easier perhaps, because nobody really expected an old chinese guy to be able to in those days. He used to take me to a McDonalds which was  a walk through a park. It probably took over half an hour to go to that McDonalds because I was so small. I remember liking chicken nuggets. I have no idea how we managed to order them, but we always did.

When I was older, I would walk my gandma and grandpa to Place Newman, which is the closest mall in area. They were the slow ones then, and I was trying to be helpful. By the time I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was going with them to do groceries and to translate at the bank.


Grandpa used to love fishing. The first floor dining room had a wall unit and a bookshelf, and you could find, on most days, probably 2-3 fishing rods and reels, tackle boxes, and spare fishing line.

We used to go on boating trips. I later came to be very bored with fishing as I grew older and stopped doing it, but I remember that grandpa was always there when I was first learning to fish. He would always get very excited about it.

I remember one time he was so excited that I’d got a bite, that he took the rod from me and caught my fish for me. I was a bit upset, but he cooked that fish for me later.

I also remember that once, when  we’d gone as a family to the Lachine canal to fish, grandpa had slipped a bit on the rocky wharf and gashed his leg pretty bad. He didn’t even care– he was bleeding from somewhere below his knee with a pretty substantial wound, but all he wanted to do was keep fishing.


Grandpa used to maintain a garden. It was awaful in the front– a huge mess of all sorts of bright and beautiful things, without any sense of arrangement. He just wanted to grow things, and in that respect, he was remarkably succcessful.


Like many of the Chinese on the street, he grew chinese vegetables in the backyard. I remember getting splinters on some of the melon vines. I remember that every year, I helped him cut down the vines and clear away the dead leaves and vines in preparation for winter.


I remember he used to keep rows upon rows of styrofoam cups near the windows. They had soil and seedlings in them.

He and grandma used to set a broostick across two chairs and dry fish near one of the other windows.

We had jars full of tangerine skins, also self dried.


Grandma and grandpa were never easy on my dad or his siblings. But they were always ultra nice to my sister and I.


Grandpa used to always overdo it at christmas. He never shopped for individual gifts because he didn’t know what to get people– he wasn’t really involved in peoples’ lives like that. Nonetheless, despite that we weren’t rich, every family unit got a box of cookies, and all kids got money — both on Christmas, on New  Years, as well as on Chinese New Years.

It was a yearly tradition to pose for family photos, and have every aunt and uncle with a camera take another picture. This tradition persists even to this day, even now that pictures are digital and easily shared, as recently as [CM] and my wedding in October of this year.

Grandma and grandpa would always do their best to smile for photos. They were always surrounded by tons of people.




Grandpa came to the wedding reception of our Montreal wedding in October 2016. big smiles as always. I remember helping him down the stairs afterwards, thinking to myself… I wish I could do this more often. This was what I used to do all the time. I missed being able to take care of him. There were many things I didn’t miss about family and Montreal, but I missed hanging out with my grandparents in their home.

I thought to myself that night that this might very well be the last time I get to really go to a reastaurant with Grandpa. There were so many that he liked to eat at that had come and gone, closed up shop, over the years. He always loved to eat and it was a point of pride for me to be the one in our generation who would be opening doors for him or making sure children didn’t run into him. I liked being a bodygaurd to my grandparents, because these are important people.


When we left Montreal, grandpa said to do well in Australia with my new wife. He just said it like any other day, and that was the last time I saw him.


Grandpa… I’m in tears. CM is asleep because it’s 4AM now. The two cats are keeping me company because they know I’m upset– they circle me with concern and anxiety.

I can’t even see the screen sometimes and i have to stop every now and then just so i can breathe. It hurts so much. This isn’t your fault though– it’s not a fault thing, it’s a compliment. It just means that you were important. You and grandma, you raised me like your own children, and I will never forget that.


I know I’ve been overseas for the last few years… I’m sorry I wasn’t there to take care of you or grandma in the end. You were both two of the toughest people I knew, and you told me to have a good life when I moved. You told me I should learn to drive, to get married to a good woman. You told me I was smart and that I’d done well… you always said nice things even when really, you were just giving me the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes, I was just trash.


I’m happy you are at peace now. Thank you for everything, from someone who is still making use of all the gifts you’ve given. If you see granma, please don’t argue too much– and if there’s nothing else out there, well, you’re still here in a way in me.

ba bai, gampa!