Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Licensed to drive

I have an Ontario driving license!

[Extended intermission for lengthy, if disappointingly choreographed, dance routine to be performed]

To my amazement, the response to my desperate inquiry revealed that while no road tests were being performed during the strike, a few select centres in Ontario were doing license exchanges. I was pointed towards a website which declared my nearest open test centre was about an hour's drive away and to be prepared for a very long wait, no guarantee of service and maybe swine 'flu. So, armed with a book, a laptop and a box of tissues, I headed off to the town next door to discover the queue ... was outside. Was it really so long that the whole waiting room had filled up before 10:30 am? Actually no... it transpired that this was a rather bizarre way of punishing people who were been served during the strike. We will see you .... but you have to stand outside in the Canadian early-winter looking through the windows at our heated, empty waiting room. Maybe the union found it upsetting they could not see all the frustration they were causing so decided to design an exhibit.

The wait was about an hour; allegedly I had picked a good day since I was told inside that the previous week had seen lines four to five hours long. Oddly, I did not have to sit a drive test (which is fortunate given the strike) or even a written one; I just had to relinquish one of my driving licenses (I hold both USA and UK). Since my US one was expired, I thought this was a good swap. Admittedly, it might have been better to offer up my British license since it had more years on it, but I also doubted the promise that I could switch my Canadian license back to a UK one when I left. "Mutual exchange" or not, I would not put it past my own country to make me sit their notoriously difficult drive test again just for the dry laughs that define my culture.

I left with a piece of dot-matrix paper in my wallet and a photo-card in the mail. Hurray!

I still need insurance. I called a few places and the results were ugly. Perhaps I could hire a good looking Chippendale driver instead.

Incidentally, my new phone can send photos it takes directly to an online scrap book attached to my account. I find that kinda clever.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ice, ice baby

So my moving boxes are now largely empty. The resulting horizontal filing system has been upgraded in almost every room and a clear path to the door is visible in the remaining areas. It was time to get down to the real reason I came to Canada; the ice hockey.

Thursday night I joined my department's twice weekly pick-up game. That's right; the Physics department has a hockey team. I swear they also do research in my field.

This week, we were somewhat short on players. In fact, we had no bench[*]. So my first time back on the ice after almost a year resulted in some body complaints: "You're doing this again?! .... And ... you're not getting off the ice ... at all .... seriously?!"

By the end of the hour, I had remembered how to skate and even regained the use of my legs just in time for Saturday's match with my new city-based hockey league.

Ironically, I was put on a team called "the Canadians" (named after the NHL Montreal team) and was told upon arriving at the rink that I would be in changing room 5. This is changing room 5 .... out of 24.

The "Mohawk 4 Pad Arena" is something out of a Florida hockey player's dreams. Yep, you heard me, "4 pad"; four NHL sized ice rinks sitting side by side like quadruplets with multi-coloured fleas. The fleas in question were the hockey players who were in full swing on each rink when I arrived... and when I left at 1 am after eating in the bar that sits upstairs overlooking the games.

From what I could see, there was no mention of figure skating or family sessions. This was a rink with a single purpose .... x 4. Did I mention the Walmart here is packed full of hockey equipment? Or that I was planning on giving up my apartment and moving to the rink? 

[*] For non-hockey enthusiasts, the bench is where the players not currently on the ice sit. You rotate in shifts, with each player usually being on the ice for a couple of minutes hard skating before changing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

There's a moment you know ... you're fucked.

There are really only so many 0C morning starts you can take before the "Sunshine state" number plate on your car (complete with a large picture of an orange) starts to grind. It also served as a fruity reminder that at the end of the month I would no longer be covered by my American insurance policy and the car had to be registered in Ontario. I therefore gathered together all the scribbly scraps of paper Customs had given me and scooted to the licenses office.

A cheerful woman greeted me at the counter, told me I had all the paper work I needed and I just had to get Ontario car insurance. Well, that sounded very easy and reasonable! Man, I love Canada.

I then called my bank, who I knew also did auto insurance, and explained what I wanted. No problem! They could definitely insure me providing I had an Ontario driving license. I always appreciate how helpful everyone is here.

So I called the driving license authority who told me ...

Screw you. We're on strike.

.... Huh?

Yep. Since August. This automated message will now come to an end.

Okay, I admit it was actually a web page and it did not in fact read "screw you", but the paraphrasing is nevertheless accurate. You know the fuzzy warm feeling you get when you just know everything will work out? Not feeling it, people. Not feeling it at all.

Excuse me, I need to go and buy bus tickets.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The problem with agreeing with yourself

Ha Ha Ha

Laughter ... did someone just tell me a joke? Maybe I heard an a particular piece of music? Or perhaps I am an insane screwed up individual who is on a rollercoaster?

The origins of why people laugh was discussed in a lecture I attended today. The speaker proposed that we laugh when there is a contrast between what two parts of our brain are telling us. He offered this joke as an example:

Two fish are in a tank ... one says "so how do you drive this thing?"

Initially, a part of your brain called the amygdala acts first. It controls emotional reactions and produces confusion, a negative sensation. There is a tiny delay and then cortex reacts, understands the pun, and cancels out the bad sensation the amygdala produces. As a result of this delay and contrast, we laugh.

In the case of humorous music, a tune will deviate from what we expect causing a negative emotion from the amygdala (since the brain's job is to predict the future correctly) but then the cortex kicks in to remind us it's just music, there is no threat, so again we laugh.

Finally, we were offered the comparison of two people on a rollercoaster, one of whom is enjoying it and another sane person who is not. As the foolish idiots who embarked on this ride of doom riders go up and down and upside down, both their amygdala produce an emotion akin to "Holy crap, we're going to die". In the case of the person who loves the ride, the cortex cancels this out a moment later, knowing rashly and with very little evidence that there is no real danger. The person bursts out laughing. For the second individual (a.k.a. yours truly), the amygdala says:

"Holy crap, we're going to die"

and then the cortex follows it with:

"Damn right."

This person is not laughing. No.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A letter to your future self

Due to luggage weight limits on my flight back from Japan, I sent two large boxes and a poster tube to my work address in Canada via sea mail. At first, this seemed liked a great plan. I placed all the heavy books and CDs in the boxes, keeping the lighter clothes in the suitcases with breakable objects wrapped snugly within them. It was only after I'd dropped the parcels off at the post office did it occur to me that, if they were lost, I would be missing almost all the manga I had bought in Japan which was fairly irreplaceable (from this side of the world at least).

At this point, one of my friends decided to post about how she had lost half her sea mail items.

I started plotting ways in which I could return to Japan.

This week though, amazingly, incredibly both boxes and the poster arrived! I was expecting it to take about three months but it has only taken one. In fact it was perfectly timed, since I only arrived in Canada last week. Oddly, the new box I bought gained a split down the side whereas the slightly damp box I rescued from outside a 7/11 supermarket near my apartment is just fine. Even more oddly, a post office somewhere along its journey mended the split box by putting straps around it. I am filled with love for the human race.

Now I have an office full of pornographic doujinshi manga and all my text books are still at home. I'm trying to decide if this is a problem.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Overheard conversation between two graduate students before the start of journal club this week:

Student 1: I've been asked to give a show with the planetarium and to make it romantic.

Student 2: Romantic?!

Student 1: Yeah ... they said they didn't want any of that dry academic stuff but something fun and romantic.

Student 2: Oh...

Student 1: .... it's for two people.

Student 2: ... that could get awkward.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hello, can you make me look like this anime character?

"Well, aren't you the most exciting thing I've seen all week, no all month?"

Complimentary, yes. The first thing you'd like to hear coming out of your hair dresser's mouth? Not so much.

I had been wanting to cut my hair short for quite some time. The prospect of spending four months in Japan stayed my hand (or rather my scissors) since none of my imaginings of how that salon experience would go with my Japanese language skills ended well. So, aflush with the excitement of being able to talk to every street vendor in town (except my new phone voice message system that inexplicably came up in French, but that's another story), I headed to the nearest hair dressers and made an appointment for this weekend.

When you desire a fairly drastic cut, it is always a good idea to give your hair stylist a picture, rather than a few random arm waves. Digging through old photos, I found one of myself from a number of years back with the cut I wished to revert to. The picture was a clear, face-on shot but I couldn't find an accompanying image of the back of my head. Hunting through magazines in the local supermarket only offered me Angelina Jolie (hair too long) or Brad Pitt (facial hair too long) and I was on the brink of giving up (generally; such magazines have that effect), when I glanced down at my key chain. Attached to the bunch of shiny new keys I'd accumulated in the last week, was a small model of one of my favourite Japanese anime characters (Eiji from Tenipuri) and a picture of another (Atobe, from the same series). Both were sporting basically the same hair-do I required. Well ... it was a bit unconventional, but hey if it works ... So along with the photo, I presented both Atobe and Eiji for inspection and preyed to the heavens above that the stylist wasn't a secret Japanese manga fan.

At that point, said stylist started to have far too much fun. We went through a whole range of different styles simply because she wanted to "try things out" as we went down in length. It was during this that the topmost comment made an appearance and I hoped she would remember to stop before we got too carried away.

Fortunately, she did. I now have a funky short hair do .... just in time for the winter. But hey, it's easier to cram under a woolly hat.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Balls of ice

This morning's walk to work was bright and clear. Blue skies and warm in a 2-sweaters-and-a-jacket kind of way. As I approached campus, the skies suddenly darkened and it started to pour.

Ha! You think you've got me, Mother Nature, but I am prepared! After all, I have just been living in Florida where no summer day is complete without a spontaneous twenty minute tidal wave.

I pulled up the hood of my coat and looked heavenwards .... to receive a face full of icy hail stones.

Oh right. That would be the difference from Florida.

A few minutes later and the skies cleared to an innocent blue again and I limped off towards my department. While not particularly wet, I was covered with ice chips and my nose hurt from its shrapnel bombardment.  

Okay fine. I admit it. I wasn't prepared for this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just me

There is an episode in "Sex in the City" where one of the main characters, Miranda, buys her own apartment on Manhattan. No one can believe that she is buying and living there alone and she is persistently asked about the boyfriend who is bound to be moving in there with her. Such was the situation with the movers today:

Mover: "Are you living here alone?"

Me: "Yep, just me."

Mover: "You've not got a boyfriend up here?"

Steady on, buddy, I just moved here on Friday!

Me: "No, just me."

Mover: "Well, I thought you might have a girlfriend or something."

Me: "No, just me."

Well, you know, at this point I gave him credit for open mindedness so I embellished:

Me: "I move jobs every few years, often with an associated continent change so ... a serious boyfriend would completely cramp my style"

I resisted saying the striked comment to the husband & wife moving team since it might be deemed a little harsh and they were in fact doing a great job.

However, despite the fact my cat was not judged a worthy apartment companion (they were deeply underestimating the space she can take up on the bed), I do now have furniture! And boxes! Distributed completely randomly throughout my house ... Evidently though, I have found my wireless router so all the really important stuff is in place.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lug holes

The Ministry of Health office in Hamilton is located on the 10th floor of a downtown office building. It is here that people can renew their health card, record a change of address or, in my case, register as a new resident to Canada.

[Short interlude to allow one big cheer for socialised health care \o/]

I entered the building and headed to the elevator with a gentleman who had obviously made this journey many many times before:

Man: These people are hopeless! If you were born here, they'll do nothing for you. Nothing.

Me: I wasn't.

Man: .... Oh. Then you'll probably be fine.

As indeed, I was.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sim life

As any "The Sims" fanatic will tell you, it's not easy starting a house. Your initial 20,000 simonians are significantly depleted by the purchase of your two room abode, leaving you forced to choose between a bed and a sofa. Many of you will have chosen the sofa with the idea that your Sim can both kip (albeit poorly) and study on said device, enabling him or her to get a job. So you send your Sim off to work as a dustbin man and eventually have enough money to buy a table. Everyone claps.

This is SO my apartment at the moment. Most of my possessions are enroute in a large moving van somewhere between the alligator infested south and the bear patrolled north. I'm fortunately convinced that a desk with bite marks is artistic. With me are the two suitcases I brought to Japan and an inflatable air mattress and small duvet I had the surprising foresight to put aside before I left for the East. Sadly, said foresight did not stretch to the pump so the first night was rather ... deflated.

The cat is frankly appalled by the lack of items in the flat. She walks from one empty room to the other before climbing on the only available item (a.k.a. yours truly) and voicing her distaste. We so used to have more stuff than this...

Yesterday, I visited Ikea in the hunt for some curtain rods my landlord still needed to put up (oh yes, the neighbours are getting to know me very well!). I returned with a large multicoloured rug for the main room and a pump for my bed. If cats had hands there would have been applause.

I want to marry a Canadian

I love Canadian bureaucracy, or rather the lack of it. I am sitting in my new apartment with my newly installed internet connection (from my newly installed phone line) in possession of a work visa, bank account and social insurance number with my car imported and parked outside and my cat imported and parked on my knee. I arrived last night.

Admittedly, I did sort the visa, cat and apartment on my last visit a couple of weeks ago, but the paper work (if not the cat pee) was bogglingly simple.

The Canadians' controversial technique seems to involve informing you in advance that you need to provide easily accessible documents (e.g. passport, car title etc) and then requiring those same documents upon your arrival at border / government office. If they are in order, these crazy people let you in. Don't they know that a real immigration and import process involves premium rate telephone calls, month long appointment scheduling, three documents that could not possibly apply to you, a forth that has not existed since 1776 and queues that aim to define eternity? How are you supposed to feel loyalty to a country where the prospect of reentering if you leave is bearable? Don't they realise that such a lack of stress could make you live a long and fruitful life, therefore adding to the heavy strain in providing social security for elderly people? Are the winters so bad that most people die that way instead?

There was an issue with one broken fax machine, otherwise I might believe I was dreaming. Except that I suspect my subconscious isn't kind enough to give me only a ten minute wait at the social security office.

So on that note, I've decided to marry a Canadian. I see our wedding ceremony going as follows:

"Do you wish to marry?"


And then a everyone gets down to the drinking. Or maybe the ice hockey.