dal niente

TNG

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.

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“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!

 

Back to work

[CM] and I have been back to work for a bit over a week now– the time off after the weddings was much needed, and was really great for just resting.

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We did a cruise from Quebec City to New York, New York. Many people ask me if cruises are boring– depends on which cruise I suppose. The particular route we were doing had a different destination every day across the Canadian Maritimes and the American east coast, so no, we didn’t really get bored. We ate lobster almost everyday (it’s rather uncommon here in Australia)..

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While we were in NY, we looked up a former Xangan, [VisualNoise]. That was really something– we’ve never met him in person before, but he took us out to dinner and dessert.

 

For those of you who don’t know, a long time ago, I used to blog on Xanga. Xanga has since died as a service, under very suspicious circumstances that basically summarise as “they sold a product that was for lifetime services, and then shortly afterwards, ran with the money”. No amount of hypothesis at this point is open to suggesting that the Xanga owners are anything other than incompetent, or crooks, or both– and I can actually say that, given the community that used to exist there, I hate the operators of Xanga for the way they treated the community.

That’s another story though.

I’ve been reading VisualNoise’s blog on Xanga for as long as I can remember– it’s been around for over a decade (maybe even over two decades at this point, I’m not sure). When all you have of someone is what you read, and all that you read is what they’ve written, you get a particular image of someone in your head. And then you meet them in person, and you can see all those connections between who you imagined and who they are, as well as the differences.

It’s not a good or bad thing– it’s just an interesting experience.

VisualNoise was a great host and really was doing his best to recommend all the best sights and eats that we could cram into our one remaining night and morning in the city. We got to do things and go places we wouldn’t have been able to figure out on our own, that’s for sure. Locals are the way to see cities where otherwise things get lost in the wash.

It’s just kind of cool to meet someone out of the blog. It’s almost like meeting a character in a book in real life.

No, it’s not as good as windows.

I use a lot of older hardware, so I will admit that running a Linux based system (as opposed to Windows) is often a good choice. For some uses, anyway. 

For basic web browsing, using a Linux operating system cuts tons of overhead out and allows you to use a decade old machine as fast as a modern Windows equivalent. I run Linux Mint on one the work laptops that’s over 7 years old– from pressing the power button, I’m in a functional web browser in under a minute.
And that’s good, because if the laptop were running Windows 10, it would be struggling to boot up. Actually, it was running windows 10 before I nuked it and out in the Linux distro. It took about 4 minutes to boot up, and even after I could open a browser, the system would still lag for another few minutes. 
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But Linux isn’t great for many things , and it bothers me when it’s proponents try to suggest that it’s a viable alternative for everyday usage. Simple things make it prohibitively painful to use at times, and they remind you why most people do just go with standard Windows or Mac configurations. 
For example , Linux systems really struggle with simple things, like getting  Netflix to run without the Microsoft Silverlight libraries. Further, office functionality is extremely limited– for all the hype surrounding Open Office and Libre Office, these two suites are a decade behind Microsoft Office in terms of functionality and user friendliness.

Other common software features, such as a proper interface for using Exchange mail offline or even simply annotating PDFs, is lacking out of the box. It takes considerable work tondict tape yourself a solution in these regards, and that’s a provlem– especially considering that computers are meant to make my life easier.


Middle of nowhere with everyone that matters 

It’s 6am somewhere and I’ve just woken up. I have no idea when I will get over the jet lag, but given that we are ona cruise, it doesn’t seem to matter all that much anymore since we are working on whatever schedule we please. It’s nice like that.

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Being on a cruise is a bit of a social connections detox. Part of it is because of the fact that you are on a boat and don’t know anybody except who you come with. CM and I aren’t the type who actively seek to meet new people in these sorts of situations– part of our reasons for being in this type of holiday is to not have to deal with people we know.

The second reason is that there is no internet. Well, there is, but it is only by satellite uplink, and at 75 American cents per minute, it gets real steep real fast. 

So there’s no email and no Facebook and no alerts to constantly demand your attention. That actually counts for a lot.
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Our Montreal wedding was less than a week ago, and our Sydney wedding was less than two weeks ago. It’s only now that we are realising what the whole honeymoon process is for: it is to recover from the wedding. 

CM had more involvement in the planning of the Sydney wedding than I did. It is one of those situations where I know that she has more aesthetic sense than I do, so I necessarily left most of the choices up to her. It’s mostly near the end where i was involved in some of the legwork, like driving things back and forth to the villa where most her her visiting family were staying. I honestly can’t say that I had relatively nearly as many responsibilities as my wife did in setting it all up… And I still felt like it was a lot of work.
For those of you who are not yet married,all I can say is if you can afford it, get a wedding planner. CM mostly planned the Sydney wedding from scratch, and I mostly took care of the Montreal wedding, but they were both mentally very draining. By the time we were at the weddings, we were exhausted and any little thing was making CM upset.

Weddings are a mixed bag– there is so much social expectation to do things a certain way that we really felt string pressure to get things right and to impress in ways that we wouldn’t normally care about. This makes a lot of people upset. It makes a lot of people bitter and angry.
On the other hand, the celebration is something else. It’s a gathering of the people who you honestly like to spend time with but can’t normally coordinate with enough to actually make it happen. You get to catch up and people will tell you, with sincerity, all the nicest things. 

Mileage

It’s been an absolutely crazy couple of weeks.

 

Yesterday was our Canadian wedding. It was actually pretty good– [CM] was starting to crack a bit at the church wedding, as she wasn’t raised Catholic and expressed strong reservations from the beginning. But by the end of the night at the reception, after having the chance to catch up with lots of family and friends, she was having a good time I think.

 

I don’t often dance– pretty much only at weddings– but it was fun to join in with people here and there and just party for a bit.

 

Everyone was so happy for us. They said many kind things to us and of us, and it was all quite touching. [Zanshin] was the best man, and gave a best man’s speech mostly about our times in Korea.

My mom even gave a speech. This was totally unexpected. It was pretty touching as well, considering all the nice things she said and what I put her and dad through when I was young and rebellious.

Everything was all quite nostalgic. I got to catch up with friends from my old apartment, when I was still living with room mates– times have changed for all of us, but when we meet up at situations like this, it’s nice to know we just pick up where we left off.

Perseverance

[CM] and I have completely underestimated how taxing it is on our sanity to have two weddings in two weeks.
On the side , I am correcting the second round of problem questions for the criminal law class I teach. Every paper I complete brings me 0.06℅ closer to completing the entire 160 student papers assigned to me.

Factor in let lag. That means in sometimes up at 3am correcting papers. 

The struggle is real. 

The Wedding Ceremony and Reception

So, you may recall that [CM] and I were actually married at the end of last year (technically). This happened amoung a small group of about 10 friends where we had a simple civil ceremony done by the waterfront of our old Meadowbank apartment.

 

Well, we did the “real” wedding a few days ago. It’s not a legally real wedding, but it is the wedding ceremony and reception that we were finally able to get all the friends and family in on in Sydney. We had about 80 guests, consisting of our friends and family in Australia and Asia.

It was an incredible day.

 

I’m in an airport now, because we’re heading to Montreal to do it all again for the Canadian crowd.

The cavalry is on its way

On Friday, [CM]’s parents are arriving from Asia. On Saturday, my parents are arriving from North America. On Sunday, my sister is arriving.

 

That’s good because there’s a shit ton of things to do before the wedding!

 

***

 

I’m ultra busy this week. I have to grade a gazillion papers, plus I’m teaching twice as many classes for this week and next week in exchange for someone replacing me whyile I’m on my honeymoon. It’s busy.

I don’t really remember many times in my life when I’ve had free time. Nobody would say that this was one of those times though.

 

***

 

Working at the [Firm] has gotten better. As I mentioned, [Bucky] left to work for another company, so I finally got that raise I always wanted, and I’m now working on more legal stuff (as opposed to IT). It’s a good change of pace because I actually feel like a lawyer at work now, and it gives me a bit more confidence in my career path generally.

***

As part of the new home we purchased a few months ago, we have a huge 6m x 6m garage, which is slowly but surely being converted into what CM calls my “man cave”. It’s sorta like a batcave, except that I am not Batman.

I’ve been putting shelving along the walls so that I can store more and more things vertically. It also has a hanging punching bag on a stand, as well as a home gym set which I am in the process of assembling. In my free time. Wherever that is.

***

I’ve been practicing my first dance with CM for the wedding. I am totally not cut out for this, but I can still learn it to the best of my ability.

It’s interesting that in judo, the whole purpose of footwork is to put your partner off balance and make them fall over. I’m told that dancing is a bit different.

Short feed

I’m going to try experimenting with shorter posts. I keep putting off posting because I am always reasoning that I don’t have enough time to really write properly, but that’s becoming an excuse that is making me go months without a peep. Maybe I need to change strategies ?