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Rob Ford at the 100th Grey Cup celebrations on November 20, 2012

Sometimes I miss living in Toronto. But this is not one of those times. In the past two days all my friends have been bombarding me with messages of the likes of, “Look what’s happening in your home town!” or “What on earth is going on with your city?” or “Oh dear, Rob Ford.”

I agree, but I’m more concerned for the city: Oh dear, Toronto.

I left Toronto for Montréal before Rob Ford, current mayor of Toronto, was voted in 2010. Ford’s popularity is mainly backed by the support from the city’s suburban ridings which contrasts sharply with the votes from the downtown sectors. Suburban Toronto’s unwavering support for the fumbling, erratic mayor is named Ford Nation, and this enduring love was clearly demonstrated after the Toronto Police confirmed the existence of the video “consistent with what had been previously described in various media reports.” Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair was referring to Gawker.com and The Toronto Star’s assertion that their editor and journalists, respectively, viewed a video of mayor Ford smoking a crack pipe in May. And how did Toronto react to the news on Hallowe’en? Rob Ford’s approval went up by five percent.

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It was bound to happen. I knew that I would eventually become a victim of theft while living here in Montréal because just about everyone in the city gets robbed at one point. But what does this say about Montréal’s crime trends, culture, and urban living?

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Virtually everyone I have known that have, or are, living in this beautiful city has been robbed. That includes stolen cars, stolen electronics, stolen wallets, and home invasions. This is in contrast to the life I lived growing up and working in the Toronto suburbs and downtown neighbourhoods. I actually don’t know anyone who has been a victim of personal (non-business) theft in Toronto. But as soon as I moved here to Montréal a few years back, I knew right away that the crime trends in this city were different.

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Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs

It is an established fact that summer is a season that doesn’t lend itself to serious cooking. Far before the heatwave hit London, I’ve been using summer as an excuse to eat out a lot – burgers and pizza and beer to be more precise. And when I do retreat for some time at home, I’ve put what I call the picnic diet into action — hummus and bread and the occasional tomato. Maybe a rotisserie chicken will make an appearance if I’m putting on the ritz*.  It has worked out well for me. Junky pub food is the perfect complement to drinks on evenings out, and the picnic diet has shaved my time spent in the kitchen down to an all year low, thus maximising my precious time in the sun.

But all good things must come to an end.

I’m all burgered out. I haven’t even made it to Shake Shack and Five Guys and I’m already over this burger fad (for the time being). My wallet is also over it. And I’ve eaten so much hummus that I can’t look at the stuff anymore.

As a result, I’ve been trying to cook a bit more often these days, and I’ve been making use of one particular blog that I feel a strong desire to share with every beginner cook out there: Food52. My friend introduced me to it some time ago, and basically every recipe I have used off the site has been freaking awesome. The secret? Look no further than THE POWER OF THE CROWD.

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My dad in Banff, Alberta, as a recent single parent

Is it enough to only have a father?

I have a mother, of course, but she died more than a decade ago. And since my undergraduate university years, my dad has fronted the parent fort, watching my sister and I go through years of tuition fees and multiple boyfriends. And as much as I felt the gap left by the absence of a parental figure, I never thought I lacked a looming force of authority in the family. A feminine one.

But I often rethink this when certain people react to the fact that my sister were still relatively young when our mother passed, and we are guided by only our father at the helm. For example, when I was working full-time in Toronto I worked with “Tom” who was nearing his retirement, an older gentleman in his 70’s. This was at a financial firm and the recession of 2008 hit us big, meaning Tom had too much nervous energy and time to wring his hands, filling his days with multiple coffee breaks and some times intrusive chatter. Tom often barged into the office I shared with two other co-workers, all female, and we would all politely listen to Tom’s banter while multitasking on Excel sheets. He was an interesting character, an old-fashioned but a vehement feminist, shaking his head with emotion as he talked (yelled?) about how “Women are going to rule the world!” and “Children are nothing without women!” The latter statement being not really a feminist one … but Tom meant well.

I had to graciously interrupt him, however, when Tom minimized the role of fathers, to phrase it nicely.

“Well, I only have a dad and I think I turned out OK,” I chirped in, smiling.

Tom did not expect that, and he became flustered, repositioning his head back inwards after stretching it out and wide for his rants. And then it became awkward at the office between me and Tom, that is, until I soon packed my bags and moved to Montréal.

I knew Tom was only trying to extol the place of women in society, but he was falling into that belief that women are better parents than men. And such perspectives embrace women as “natural” caretakers, caregivers, and parents unlike men, whose natural space is elsewhere, usually at an office where he can bring home the bacon. This belief is very hardwired in Korea, where I was born, but as I was raised in Toronto I was not aware that Korean culture perceives children without mothers with a critical eye. So when my mom died my dad warned me that other Koreans may see me differently, that they would think that my character and foundation was lacking because I did not have a mom. And this meant, to some Koreans, that I was not marriage material. (Not that I really care about my grading on the marriage-worthiness scale. Plus I was never meant to marry a guy straight from Korea and not raised in this culture.)

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I also go to the cinema alone – is that sad too?

This man sits alone

This man sits alone

I like going to the movies, and I occasionally go alone because it can be hard to get someone to pay over 10 pounds to spend two hours of their time watching something they unsure about in the first place. Maybe IMAX or 3D can get some people out there, but that’s cool, I get it. Movies require a time commitment, not to mention a decent amount of cash these days.

Proclaiming that I attend movies by myself isn’t meant as a grand statement about my level of cinephilia, or lack of concern with social norms, though if it is to be construed that way, I won’t object. I do like my movies, but I certainly am no expert. Also, like most people, I like to avoid awkward social situations which may involve me being pegged as a social pariah. But even the most insecure person needn’t worry about going to the cinema alone. I’m not revealing anything new by pointing out that watching a film is not the most sociable of activities (at least in the West – I once tried to watch a Bollywood film in India while pretty much the entire audience chatted amongst themselves, the man behind me bellowed into his mobile phone…snacks were also hurled across the room…but I digress). It is therefore not a big deal to buy a ticket and sit in a dark silent room for a couple of hours. People may expect you to be accompanied, but if they even notice you at all, it will be for a minute or two before and after the film. I think most people can handle that level of scrutiny.

Logic then, coupled with the findings of the informal poll (Gchat) I’ve conducted with friends (they think it’s fine) lead me to the conclusion that going to the cinema by oneself is generally considered as socially acceptable. As a rule, people don’t assume you’re a outcast for doing it. For those who remain unconvinced, the discrete nature of the venue is a safe setting where one runs little risk of being found out.

Apparently the same is not thought to be true about going to gigs alone, however. I discovered this harsh reality while informally polling friends once again more recently.

I first thought about attending a concert alone not too long ago – I saw that rapper Le1f is to be performing in town in June. I’ve only heard one or two of his songs, and am not a die hard Das Racist fan. But in keeping with my birthday resolution to start going to more shows, I figured that it could be a fun one to go to. When I sent a few messages out inviting friends to go, there was a pretty blatant lack of interest. So “fuck it!” I thought. I’m an adult. I pay rent and utilities! I know what I want.

I went online, added a ticket to a basket and started entering my bank details. This, the more I thought about it, would be quite the statement when compared to solo film attendance. It’s not that I thought attending a concert by myself was socially unconventional per se, but perhaps just a little more daring then booking a single ticket to the local Odeon. I was proudly telling my friend over Gchat about my commitment to the art, and growing indifference about the opinion of others whilst buying my ticket when he attacked my decision with a “dude, that’s weird”.

I was somewhat surprised by his dismissiveness, especially given his passion and dedication to seeing live music. I asked around, and it seemed everyone agreed – going to a gig alone is seen, amongst my, for all intents and purposes, self realized adult friends, as sad.

I wondered why is it seen as weird for me to attend an artist’s musical performance by myself. While an arguably more social event than going to the movies – alcohol is consumed, and there is an opportunity for swaying/dancing – doesn’t my commitment to the music trump all that? Apparently not: “I dunno, it’s just kind of lame”.

This all leads me to believe that it is only acceptable to attend cultural events solo if you can creep around in the dark without anyone seeing your face. That’s very limiting. You can make out people’s features at most social gatherings, let alone cultural ones. I can’t think of very many other activities than the cinema that involve said dim lighting, with the exception of dark rooms of the nightclub/bathhouse variety.

But then I wonder, for whose benefit should I refrain from attending a concert alone – if I’m ok with it, then maybe it’s that we make other people uncomfortable when we go to events without a date. Maybe my laissez-faire attitude would make others question the merit of seeking out friends and loved ones to accompany them to shows. Or maybe they’d think I was an important art critic and feel intimidated and threatened in my presence.

Clearly I was overthinking it all. Why again, would going to a gig alone be perceived as sad? My friend Dean put it succinctly:

maybe it’s simply because movies aren’t cool
and gigs are
and not having mates isn’t cool
also, gigs are more scene

That actually helps.

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It was around midnight when I saw The New York Times’ Twitter feed linked to an article on its opinion page about Angelina Jolie. It read: “Angelina Jolie on why she had a double mastectomy, and how it could save lives.” I clicked on the link.

Reading Jolie’s explanation of her recent decision to undergo a double mastectomy — as a preventative measure against breast cancer — was fuzzy late at night. I had been engrossed in my school work and holding late night vigils in the glow of my laptop, eyes at half mast but open from the effects of too much coffee. Jolie wrote about how, in 2007, her mother died of cancer after a ten-year battle. Jolie had then decided to become tested for the genetic mutation that substantially increases the risk of the carrier of developing breast cancer. The tests confirmed that she did indeed carry a gene mutation and in her case, she had approximately 87% chance of developing the disease. She completed her series of preventative medical procedures and surgeries in April.

Well, both myself and the rest of the world had not been privy to Jolie’s health circumstances until the publishing of her article. For a Hollywood actress and paparazzi magnet such as Jolie, her private life and medical decision had been very carefully under wraps. But she chose to write a public and very moving account of her medical counselling and surgery through her own words and terms. Her article is clear in that her motives are not to broadcast circumstances of her non-acting life to the world but to spark a discussion on women’s health, breast cancer, and cancer prevention.

Jolie’s article comes two days after Mother’s Day was celebrated here in Canada and many other nations abroad. I had sent a message to a friend now living in Hong Kong to wish her a happy first Mother’s Day, then enquired about whether Mother’s Day is actually celebrated in that part of the world. It was, in fact, and her husband took her and their infant son to Hong Kong Disneyland. I laughed at the photo she sent to me of her and her family posing with Mickey Mouse.

On Sunday I was and still am away from my family in Toronto, and spent the day here in Montréal with my head in my books. But I thought about my mother who passed away when I was twenty years old after battling cancer for eleven years. It also happened that I saw a breast cancer surgeon a few days earlier because, as I explained to my boyfriend, it was time again to have old doctor hands feel my boobs in ways no one else has ever felt my boobs.

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It took me a day and a bit to digest all the information concerning the Boston Marathon bombings. During the last 30 hours or so, I read various news sources to keep up with the streaming and constantly updating information. There has been so much information from so many news sources, often with conflicting reports, especially during the first few hours of the explosion. And accordingly so much has changed since I first received the New York Times News Alert on my cell phone about the non-verified reports of two explosions at the popular race.

I was studying at a café here in Montréal when I received the news alert, which prompted me to check my Twitter feed and see the incoming tweets regarding Boston. I definitely did not realize the magnitude of the situation — obviously anyone outside of the immediate aftermath could not at first — and I went on with my books and sipping on much needed coffee. Then, more information became uploaded to news sites and photos were posted. I, with the rest of the world, began to realize the severity of the situation and was horrified to see images of the carnage, some appropriately flagged as graphic content. The pictures of severely injured spectators, many missing limbs, became seared in my head and I had much trouble focusing on my tasks at hand.

A café patron sitting next to me eventually received news of the explosions, and began to chat with me about the situation. The café we were sitting in was mainly quiet, most of us having hauled laptops and books to the neighbourhood outlet, and plugged into our respective ear phones. My seat neighbour dropped his pen and paper, and sat clicking away at various news sites for the rest of his stay. When he was leaving, he said to me, “They found the person who did it. He apparently is in custody.” I cocked my head and said, “Really? I was just checking the news and did not read anything about this.”

I was constantly reading updates on the Boston situation, mainly relying on The New York Times, which put down their pay wall for articles regarding the tragedy for the day, as well as Slate and The Atlantic. There had been one news item that I had read which indicated that “a person of interest” had been spoken to by police at a hospital, and that his apartment had been searched. However, other than that bit piece of information, not much was said about any real suspects. Later, I found out that the New York Post had been maintaining that the “person of interest”, a Saudi student, was a suspect and with reports that he was tackled when seen running away from the explosion. (Um, perhaps because there was an explosion?) The New York Post continued this angle of the foreign student being a possible suspect despite The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Slate, and other news outlets having dismissed the reports. It was only around 3 pm today that the New York Post tweeted that the student was no longer a suspect. A suspect to the bombings has still yet to be identified.

Meanwhile, the Internet has decided that the event is a conspiracy and even planned, with a video juxtaposing two different parts of an episode of The Family Guy to illustrate the conspiracy on YouTube. The episode in question was edited so that it seemed that Peter was using his cell phone to set off bombs at the marathon, causing Fox to pull the episode from the Internet and Seth MacFarlane denying any connection. Gun-loving right-wing person, Alex Jones, is also claiming that this is a government conspiracy.

Additionally, there were reports that another explosion, this time at the John F. Kennedy Library, occurred a few blocks away from the marathon’s sites of bombing. While the two events were first suggested to be related, this was later rebutted by The Boston Police Department who confirmed it was a fire, not an explosion. Furthermore, reports that the government had shut down phone networks was also proven to be false. The problems in connectivity that many people were experiencing following the attacks were later attributed to overloaded local cell towers.

This all made me think about how hard it is to receive accurate and unbiased information, especially during times of crisis. First incoming reports regarding a tragedy may be subject to error — when emotions are high and the dust has literally yet to settle. Keep in mind that the news is coming from reporters, whom are human, whom are prone to failures. At such situations, it is also so easy to jump to conclusions and rely on our prejudices (a Brown man running away from the scene? Stop him!) when we try to make sense of a horrific situation. I am not excusing anyone for racial profiling but I am trying to understand the situation in context of an American culture that still bears the marks of the events and politics surrounding of 9/11.

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