Friday, August 22, 2008

Yaki on the Teppan

Growing up* in Taiwan, it has never occurred to me that Teppanyaki was anything more than common. You walk on the streets and you will see 2 restaurants that offer teppanyaki for $100NT/person ($3CDN!). Sure you have the fancy ones too that cost $1500-$10000NT/person ($50-$200CDN/person) that changes plates for you and give you wet towels every time something is cooked (which, surprisingly, I've gone to at least 5-6 of them if my memory serves me correctly), but really the culture isn't that novel for me and I have never thought about how "cool" it really can be for someone who has never tried it.

A few weeks ago, Adam went to a restaurant called Benihana and told me that he has to take me there. I never asked him what it was, assuming that it was just another Japanese restaurant, until the day before we went when he told me it was teppanyaki. At that point, i felt i experienced a sudden paradigm shift when i realized what i believed was a part of everyday life can be something new for people. But even with this initial realization, I thought it was still pretty funny when Adam's roommate sat down at the grill and looked confused about what was going on.

For those of you who don't know what it is, Teppanyaki, according to wiki, "is a type of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. Although it is viewed in the western world as Japanese cuisine, it is not popular in Japan and many people of Japanese origin regard it as western food; some Japanese citizens might even feel offended to hear that it is Japanese food." Teppan literally means "iron plate" in Japanese and Chinese and yaki means "cook" in Japanese. Teppanyaki is ultra popular in taiwan and most people i know, including my dad, absolutely loves it. Usually, even in the less fancy restaurants, the chef will perform certain tricks and do awesome things with the cutlery used to make the food and light things on fire (if you ever get a philly cheese steak sandwich in the foodcourt, sometimes you might get lucky and see the chefs perform similar cutlery skills on the iron grill). Coincidentally, the chef that did our cooking turned out to be Taiwanese and used to live a few streets down from where I used to live in Taiwan.

For those of you who are interested in trying out Teppanyaki, there are a good number of them in Toronto actually. Akasaka has some pretty neat chefs with three big grills and apparently this fancy Benihana at which we ate can also be found in Fairmont Royal York.

*I use the phrase "growing up" quite loosely, evidently since I totally emigrated when I was 7. But there has not been a single time when I went back to Taiwan that I did not have Teppanyaki at least two times.
testing testing 123

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Dark Knight **spoilers ahead**

So everyone has been raving on and on about the movie and Adam and I decided to wait until I get to Seattle before watching it at the IMAX for $3 using his MS prime card. He bought our ticket a few weeks ago so we can watch it the day I arrived, which was yesterday. Despite the movie has been out for a month now, tickets for this weekend are still sold out and when we go to the theatre just after 9 for our 10pm movie, the line was already really long. However, even at $471.5 million and $800.1 million worldwide, it seems unlikely that Dark Knight will surpass Titanic's record of $600 million and almost $1.9 billion worldwide. You just dont get enough crazy women watching the movie 10 times at the theatre for the Dark Knight.

At any rate, although the duration of the movie isn't as long as Titanic either, 2.5 hours was still really long for me to sit in the theatres to watch that movie. By the time Harvey Dent was saved by Jim Gordon who magically came back from death, I was already hoping the movie would end.

However, that's probably the only major flaw to the movie, because I have to admit, I really enjoyed the movie. The Dark Knight is incredibly thought-provoking and brought a lot of philosophical conflicts into action. When people say that Heath Ledger's performance deserves an Oscar, they are not exaggerating. It's really hard to put the the face of the Joker to Heath Ledger, whom I best remember played the hot teen high school boy in 10 Things I Hate About You (I am sad to admit I have yet to see Brokeback Mountain).

The dark side of human nature was thoroughly examined in this movie. We begin with someone like the Joker, whom Alfred compared as someone who is only out there to create chaos; you can't try to understand him through logic and this was clearly demonstrated by his re-telling of the story of how he got his scars. But to me, I felt that the Joker isn't just out there gain pleasure from other people's pain, but he attempts to draws out all the tension, conflicts, and limitations of our understandings of human nature, human behaviour, and the world in general. He shows the world that everyone is on their own and that when we are pushed to our limit, we are selfish creatures. The prime example was when he broadcasted on TV that he would blow up the hospitals if the accountant who threatens to reveal batman's identity doesn't die. Immediately, even police officers, are chasing down the accountant in order to protect their own family members in the hospital.

Nevertheless, to restore our faith in humanity, we got that scene where Joker makes the social experiment on the two boats. Who will press the button? Although I do not believe that in a real life situation, it is guaranteed that human goodwill will triumph over the will to survive (personally, i think the situation will vary case-to-case depending on who is on the boat) but the scene was definitely needed to redeem what happened with the hospital. What saddened myself though, was when the big black jailmate who tossed the detonator out of the boat. It occurred to me that in spite the fact that I believe that no one should press that button, I never thought about throwing the detonator away. However, after thinking about the situation a little longer, it also occurred to me that to throw away that detonator is to take the choice of surviving away from the other people on the boat, which is just as easily be interpreted as unethical. By throwing it away, you may be the person responsible for killing all the people on your own boat, no?

And this is exactly the other point that Joker is trying to make, how futile it is for humans to try to control their surroundings. He tells Harvey Dent about the difference between schemers and doers, and he makes an example of how much people fail when they try to plan:

Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just, do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how, pathetic, their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say, ah, come here, when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I’m telling the truth.

It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did, to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hm? You know what, you know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger, will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all, part of the plan. But when I say that one, little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

He points out that we try to plan, we try to control, and in the end, the control is really out of our hands. People should just recognize that half the time, the way of the world is left to chance. This brings us to the character of two-face, who eventually realized that he doesn't have as much control has he thought he did, symbolized by his coin with two heads. At first, he had all the control because both sides of the coin were the same, but eventually the control was taken out of him when one side of the coin blackens. It's all 50-50 in this world.

Honestly, I adopt a lot of the philosophies that are demonstrated in the Dark Knight, maybe because I am pessimistic about the world around us. Of course, I still have faith in human nature and I am not as extreme as the Joker, and I do realize, as Batman tells Two-Face, that some things we can still control, such as our free-will. In the end it's all about adopting a principle and standing by it.

Batman, as the movie unfolds, decides to adopt the philosophy of doing the right thing, even if some people get hurt along the way. You can't save everyone. But he also recognizes that people can't accept that--they need more faith than the truth. They want to believe that there is pure goodness and that the world can be black and white. Thus, for Batman to reward the good faith of Gotham, he becomes the dark vigilante so Harvey Dent can remain the symbol of pure goodness for the people. In the end, we realize that the definition of a hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice himself the the wellbeing of the society, not just Batman, but the people who refuse to push the buttons on the detonator. That's true heroism.

Customs Adventure

Visiting Adam is always trouble when it comes to explaining my reason for visiting to American customs.
Q: Where are you going?
A: Seattle
Q: What's your profession?
A: Student
Q: What's the reason?
A: To visit my boyfriend
Q: How did you guys meet?
A: School. He goes to school in waterloo, he's just doing an internship there.
Q: How long will you be staying there?
A: A week.

I think the answer visiting my boyfriend always raises a red flag with the American customs cuz they wanna know why you have a boyfriend in the U.S.

Sometimes you run into some weirder questions, like how are you paying for your ticket, etc. and, in spite that I'm pretty used to it, every time I go through customs, they always manage to ask a new question that makes me feel uncomfortable.

On Saturday, when I got off the little plane from Vancouver to Seattle, there were a group of customs officers standing at the airport way waiting for us to get off the plane and ask us questions (even though we all already went through customs in Vancouver).

After seeing my passport and asking me the usual questions that customs asks me, she proceeded to ask me some more piercing ones.
Q: When was the last time you were in the states?
A: May
Q: How long were you here for?
A: a week
Q: Do you work?
A: Yes
Q: Where?
A: at a software development company
Q: Are you a programmer?
A: No, I'm a technical writers.
Q: Did you go to school for that?
A: No....
Q: Then how did you get your job?
A: Erm...well i still go to school, part-time grad student and part-time employee....

I know i didn't answer her question, i should have told her through my coop position while i was in undergrad, but the question really caught me off guard, since there's not technical writing school that i know of...but regardless, the officer proceeded to ask the officer next to her whether they should check my bags.

The officer same up to us and said, "she's visiting her boyfriend?" and the 1st officer said yes. He then pulled out his cell phone , opened it so he's ready to dial, and asked me if I have his phone number. I was so surprised but i went to pull out my cell phone from my bag and explained to him that he has a seattle number. With my gesture to take out my cell phone, he said, all right, and said I can go. The experience felt so daunting. Like I felt so uneasy the whole time, which is really weird because it's not like I was doing anything wrong. Had they opened my carry-on, all they would have found was a suitcase filled with pure clothes because i put all my non-clothes in my checked-in luggage (which really included my dryer, my hairbrush, my shampoo, etc.) as I'm afraid of losing my luggage again and losing all my nice clothes. It's funny how no matter how innocent you really are, when you are put under this type of spotlight, you still feel scared regardless. Human nature?

Friday, August 8, 2008

About my footwear

This is going to be a very very shallow entry, so please just skip it.

I have small feet, at least by North American standard, which makes it impossible for me to buy shoes on sale.

Anyway, to make a long story short, after a long and arduous search yielding no results, i discovered a solution to my dilemma:
They list all their inventory across the country and you can search by size. Flat rate of $5 shipping fee. I ordered two pairs of shoes on Wednesday and they arrived Friday. Crazy, eh? You have up to 1 year to return them to any Aldo store in Canada too (unworn of course!)

So those two are the only black cork wedged heels that were in my size in all of Canada and I couldn't decide between them. So I bought them both, believing that I'll return one of them. But now I got them, I can't decide!!!

The left one is $40 and really cute but the right one is $20 and really comfortable.

When I ask people about my shallow dilemma, people either vote for the comfortable one or nicer looking one, which doesn't really help me with my dilemma. Plus, I figured if I'm going to keep the expensive one, then whats the point of returning something that's only $20?

But how can I justify keeping two pairs of shoes that look almost exactly identical??????

I decided to make a list of the shoes i own in order to make me feel guilty:

  • Brown cork wedge heel (my fav!)
  • Yellow straw wedge heel i got from shanghai
  • Black/Pink puma flip flops
  • White strappy stiletto heel
  • Black Sling back open-toe high heels
  • Black pointy toe stiletto
  • Pink Nike Air Max
  • White Nike Zoom
  • Pink Puma
  • Brown Sauber suede Puma with blue and red accent
  • Black and white classic suede Puma
  • Black calf-high scrunch stiletto heel
  • Brow knee-high wedge heel
  • black ankle-high chunky heel
Old Shoes (ones i don't really wear)
  • black square-toe platform heel
  • black square-toe chunky heel
  • Black platform sandals
  • black strappy low heel sandals
  • Red platform running shoes
  • gold strappy low heel sandals
  • green slip-ons
Nick says I should just keep these shoes because they are so cheap anyway. But do I really need two pairs of shoes that looks identical??

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lynn's Restaurant Rec's

It's been a while since I've been out and about trying out fancy restaurants. But I often get asked about recommendations on restaurants, especially nice and romantic ones when there's a need for celebration, because I do eat out a lot. and I'm really picky with my food. I decided it might be useful for me to make a list in case next time someone asks me and I blank out. These are the ones I can remember for now. Will update as I remember.

Over $100 for 2
Barbarian Steakhouse: Their steak is amazing. No wonder they have existed since 1959.
Morton's Steakhouse: Steak and Tiger shrimp is too delicious to be true. They also have a special show for you if it's your first time there!
North 44: The definition of contemporary fusion. Their food is delicious and the menu is constantly changing. Love Love Loved it!
Sotto Sotto: They're not lying when they say that they're Toronto's most romantic getaway. Food is awesome too!
The Boiler House: The bathroom is pretty cool looking, but their food is even better!
Fisherman's Wharf: Small and romantic and best seafood in Toronto. Gotta get their platter!
Ki: It's not exactly fusion, but it's Japanese food with innovation. You thought you knew how to eat tempura until you try theirs with Wasabi Garlic Cream dip.
Courtyard Cafe*: I walked out of there feeling like crap because I couldn't stop eating!
Wildcraft: This one is in Waterloo and owned by the Charcoal Steakhouse, definitely a rare find in a poor university student environment.

Under $100 for 2
The Keg: One of my all-time favourites. I have been to so many fancy shmancy steakhouses that doesn't beat the Keg! Best locations have been the Keg Mansion and the one on York Mills. Don't go to the one in Waterloo!
Akasaka: When I'm being difficult and don't want to eat anything, a Tempura roll from Akasaka makes me happy. It's in Richmond Hill though,
Fifth Element: Who knew toned-down Indian food can taste good? They fused it so it's no longer about the spice, but about the exotic taste!
Fred's Not Here*: The only place on that King West strip that actually had good food.
Le Biftheque: Unfortunately they closed down the one they had in Markham. But their steak is one of the few comparable the keg.
Reservoir Lounge: One of my favourite places in the world. A jazz lounge that's perfect for a date. Not really meant for having a big dinner, but their food is really good. Must order their martini!
del Dente's: This one is also in Waterloo and owned by Charcoal group but a lot more affordable. Their pot bread with the dips is so good that you forget you still have to order!

Casual DiningFriday night and you want to go somewhere nice to eat without spending too much money usually equates to going to chained restaurants you can find in malls. The following are ones I really like (not all are chained):
  • Hot Spot Cafe (Church and Wellington)
  • Hey Lucy (King and Spadina)
  • Restoran Malaysia (Bayview and Major Mac)
  • Day and Night Firewood Steakhouse (Steeles and Brimley)
  • Milestone's
  • Baton Rouge
  • Moxxie's
  • Spring Roll's
  • East! (owned by Spring Rolls)
  • Cheesecake Factory (all over the States)
  • Regina's Pizzeria (Boston)
Good food without ambianceCheap restaurants that gives me cravings

  • Hanabi at First Markham Place
  • Congee Wong at Leslie and Finch Location
  • Pho 88 on Spadina or the one in Bamburgh
  • All Stars wings at Woodbine and 16th
  • Lin Garden at Pharmacy and Sheppard
  • 3-6-9 at Peachtree Plaza on Kennedy and 7
  • Salad King by Ryerson
  • Behn Thanh in Waterloo
  • The Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston

Overly hyped fancy disappointments:The following are disappointing strictly because the food just don't taste as good as the $1-200 you put down (money can taste good, ok?). Sometimes you should still go there for the ambiance, view, or status.
  • Canoe
  • Harbour Sixty
  • Oliver & Bonacini
  • Coco Lezzone
  • Spezzo
  • La Maquette
  • Marcel's*
  • Ali Baba (Waterloo)
  • The Space Needle (Seattle)
  • RockSalt (Seattle)
  • Moo (Boston)

*Summerlicious menu was the one I tried

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ten things I like about Toronto

Recently Adam posted on his blog 9 things he likes about Seattle. I asked him why nine and he said he couldn't think of ten things. I then asked him what that means about Seattle if you can't even think of ten things you like about it and he countered by saying I should come up with ten things for Toronto. Now as much as I always say I want to leave Toronto, I can tell you a great number of things that I like about it, and when people ask me where I'm from, I am proud to say, TORONTO!

1. Multiculturalism
Now I know you might think multiculturalism is such a "cheap" answer, but I can tell you that this is not a cheap answer. What I love about the multiculturalism about Toronto is the fact that I can get anything authentically ethnic, especially food, but not exclusively! But we can start with food. If I want something authentically homey, like Taiwanese food, I can walk across the street to Metro. If I want Viet, I can walk a little further to Pho 88. Korean? Little Korea on Yonge, Koreatown downtown. Greek? Danforth. Italian? College or Woodbridge. Indian? Scarborough, Brampton. And the list goes on. Let's not talk about the type of Asian things that are available in Pmall and Chinatown. There's even a little authentic Japanese area across the street on Steeles and VicPark. I can even get my eyebrows threaded by Indian aesthetic boutiques or my hair braided if I am willing to venture into the right area. Who needs to travel the world when you can drive around in your car? Which brings us to #2.

2. Proximity Radius
Maybe it's where I live that's making the difference, or the fact that I have car, but I find that I am close to a lot of things. Not only is Little Taipei and Little HK walking distance to my house, I can drive up to Richmond Hill for more Asian stuff, Vaugh Mills for shopping, Wasaga for some clean Lake water; I can drive down to downtown in 20 minutes to visit the Distillery or the CN tower, or a cruise around the lake on the ferry. I can drive west to sauga in 30 minutes and even Waterloo in 1.5 hrs on a weekly basis. In terms of "things to do" proximity in and out of the city, you gotta admit Toronto has it pretty good. Which brings is to #3

3. Traffic flow
As much as I bitch about driving in general, the ability to go anywhere with not too bad of a traffic jam is pretty bitchin'. Like I said, I can hop on to the 404 and drive downtown in less than 20 and 45 min during bad traffic jam is pretty damn good. Have you seen traffic in Vancouver and DC? I'm not even going to start with NYC. I love the fact that when I live downtown I can walk anywhre and when I live uptown I can drive anywhere. Ok, so maybe i'm particularly good with directions and know when's a good time to get onto the road, or i may just be lucky, but honestly, that's one of the great things I love about this city. I can drive when I want to, which is more than I can say about most other big cities.

4. Vast amount of available land
Now, we may not have mountains to climb, but we sure have a lot of parks that we can go rollerblade, bike, and play beach volleyball. Centre island, Ashbridges, Don River Park, Sunnybrook park. I'm sure there are a ton that I don't know about that I am still discovering. It's nice to walk down the street without feeling like you will be runover my crowds of people too. The fact that we do have so much space and yet everything is still reachable, says something about my point #5.

5. Quality of living
Like seriously, it's not until you go somewhere outside of North America before you realize how good we have it. Most of the people in Toronto are middle class and we have relatively few people on the streets living in poverty. We can afford things a lot of people cannot and we can breathe the clean air that most people cannot (you think the smog is bad here on the 5-10 days we have it per year?). We can walk on the streets and come home not feeling like we gotta go sanitize ourselves with disinfectant 32" Plasma TV is not only meant for the rich, nor are cars and personal laptops. Sure, not everyone drives a Ferrari and Maserati, but we all have a pretty high standard of living, which is also caused by or the reason for the few points below.

6. Safety
I can walk out on the street in the middle of the night and now feel unsafe. This is not just in my neighbourhood, but also downtown Toronto. Of course, anywhere you go, there are a few areas where you should not be heading out alone, but on the whole, Torontonians are a very team oriented type of community where you feel safe walking on the streets feeling that if something bad were to happen to you, someone or some organization will come to your aid. Of course, there are also no mafia to ask you for protection fee.

7. Health Care
Going to the doctors any time you need help is so convenient. When I need to do a checkup or I don't feel well, i dont have to think twice before making an appointment. Whether or not this system is being abused by the rest of the city/province/country, is outside the scope of this entry. Another key thing is that I'm not afraid that the people I come in contact with has some contagious virus that they cannot cure.

8. Career Opportunities
Careers availble in Toronto are not limited to particular fields nor just preference for certain gender. Most people here get paid well and there is a myriad of companies and professions available as long as you are willing to work for it. The city is not dominated by any particular organization and monopoly is illegal.

9. Festivals
Stuff are happening every week here, those of you living here probably just don't know about it! From Summer/Winterlicious to A Taste of Danforth, to the hot and spicy festival to the jazz festival to the night market. We do a relatively good job of attracting tourists (though this year's number is relatively low). There are events and they're not hard to get to. Even artists make a stop here (like the Spice Girls) because they like us.

10. National/International imagery

We may not be New York or Paris, but when you are not afraid of telling people you are from Toronto. It's a big enough city for most people to know but it's not so crazy that people might give you a scared or awed look. Toronto is not known for their 9/11 scare or Champs Elysse, Toronto is known for being a nice place to visit and live. Call us boring or whatever, but we've got it all.

Now that I've listed my ten reasons, I have a few things to say. First of all, if you noticed a theme that runs through this list, it should be MODERATION. Toronto is the King of moderation. We have just enough of everything. Not too little. Not too much. You can get anything you want here, but it's not known for being the shopping capital. You can have all the things you need to matain a good life, but it's not known for its excess. The land is big, but not so big you can't do anything or get anywhere. There is enough traffic to keep the streets in maintenance, but not so much that you're not moving. We may not be Vancouver and have the pretty mountains with the highest crime rate, nor are we the prairies where crazy people and oil and gas are present. We are also not Quebec, since we have relatively few French native speakers (but they're here). You can call Toronto boring (and it really is), but who says boring isn't a good thing if that's what you are known for?

I say I want to get outta here, but I have never said I hated Toronto, because, really, who can hate Toronto?