Monday, January 28, 2008

America, improved

We're watching the House of Commons on TV right now and I must say that Canada has the most exciting political institution at work that I have ever witnessed. Live broadcasts from the Estonian Riigikogu are a real bore, with half of the representatives shopping for Armani and the other half arguing about things that don't really matter for the common man. The Canadian House of Commons is better than the Maury Show! Picture a room packed with passionate representatives, screaming questions and concerns to each other in French and English, with cheers and complaints echoing in the background. Everybody is involved, every representative is fully and vocally present, to express the opinion of his/her voters. The topic of the day happens to be Canada's involvement in Afganistan and all of the representatives are accusing the Canadian gov't of misrepresentation. This, of course, provides for good bunch of heated arguments and a fully electrified House of Commons.

I have been fully and thoroughly impressed by Canada. From intelligent self-running Skytrains, to governmental support of green living, to the many initiatives for better health and living, Canada truly is an advanced country. Homer Simpson referred to Canada as America Junior, but I would think of it more as America, improved. Many Canadians would dislike the reference to America, but you cannot deny the massive impact that American politics, economy and entertainment have had and will continue to have on Canada. However, it has been truly refreshing and inspiring to witness Canadians stand up for their global involvement, pulling back from the war and promoting clean, intelligent living. There are many areas of improvement, just like everywhere else, but at least there is an overwhelming sense of hope that each and every individual can truly make a difference. The notion may be cheesy and soapy and American, but it's what makes this country tick. With passion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Crack and the Olympics

Today was the first time that I saw someone smoke crack in broad daylight, as people were casually passing by. Kind-of makes you wonder how much they spent on making, say, these three ridiculously cheesy promotional clips for the Olympics, and how many lives could have been changed with this money:

Prettiest man in Estonia

Now that my husband has left the country, this is who is currently the most attractive male in Estonia:

It's the bisexual backstage dancer for weather girl / pop star NIKI ("Äike, päike!"), of course!
The event would be Manhunt 2007.

Is anyone else bothered by the checkered tights / latex boot /rodent combo or is it just me?:D

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


For those of you who haven't seen Douglas Coupland's movie Souvenir of Canada, an Ookpik (sometimes spelled Ukpik - the Inuktitut word for Snowy Owl), could be considered the Canadian mascot. They are often made from wolf fur and other traditional materials.

Also, Chimo. As Tokyo Tintin puts it, "In the 1970s with the Olympics and Expo, draft-dodgers, Trudeau, bilingual cereal boxes and kicking Soviet hockey ass, Canada-mania reached new, dizzying heights. We were hot hot hot, and we needed a word that was cool. A Canadian word. And that word was "chimo." [According to folklore, when two people met on the Arctic tundra, they rubbed their chests in a circular motion and said, "Chimo" , meaning "Are you friendly?" The answer was a repeat of the gesture and the word "Chimo!" ("Yes, I am friendly!)]

Canadians seem to be in a neverending search for their identity. Take Vancouver, for example. Vancouver has been called Vansterdam - due to the city's lax law enforcement of marijuana usage, proliferation of marijuana grow-ops + large drug traffic in the city. Vancouver has been called Hongcouver - as a derogatory recognition to Hong Kong immigration that saw huge spikes in 1980's. Vancouver is also supposedly known as Lotus Land - attributed to Torontonian's view of Vancouver's laid back life style.

And I thought Estonians were overdoing it by looking for a slogan that would surpass the ingenious "Welcome to Estonia!" campaign.

There's a weird mechanical display at the concrete factory on Granville island. Basically, it is one of those fun kinetic installations where metal balls travel through the framework, roll down the paths and get lifed back up by metallic springs, etc. The idea is to provide an entertaining interpretation of how the concrete factory works, while staying as far from truth as possible. To me, this display symbolizes much of what I have witnessed in Vancouver - a recognition of the aesthetically pleasing, environmentally sound and humanly friendly, while voices of protest and images of harsh reality are regularly subdued. Take the guy at the Service Canada office, who was yelling at somebody on the phone - he was instantly silenced by the secretary, since a raise in one's voice could not be tolerated. Or take East Hastings, where junkies and street people pine away while the rich do their Armani shopping five blocks west.

I go through a whole continuum of emotions every time we take the bus through the Downtown East Side. Taking the downtown bus from Mt. Pleasant to downtown Granville is exactly like taking a roller coaster through the house of horrors at the amusement park. The junkies have better things to do with their money than get on the bus, so there's a sick kind of pleasure that can be derived from knowing that you are safe in the clean and happy electrical bus, while the world has come to a horrible zombie movie end outside.

Now, coming from Estonia, it would be easy to say that Canadians are neglectful and not taking care of their real problems, and putting on a happy face while there are serious issues out there. However, living in East Van, I am beginning to realize that some of this ongoing practice of blissful ignorance is not as ignorant as it may seem. It just seems to be a bit of a therapeutic way of approaching the problems that are out there. It is simply easier to tackle serious problems from a happy place instead of a sad place. The majority of people I see on the streets do honestly seem to care about their cohabitants. Many people speak up, whether it's on public television or through the word on the street. There is the kind of Canadian modesty and respect about it, but they still raise a lot of legitimate concerns.

Now whether the government is acting upon it and reorganizes its resources to take care of East Hastings instead of getting ready for the Olympics is a whole other issue.

They're definitely going to have to do something about it, as they can't have the world see the mess. It would simply be too aesthetically unpleasant, too non-Canadian. But what can you even do at this point, considering that there is a whole economy in and of itself in East Hastings - bottle return points, community centers, drug dealers, street peddlers, prostitutes, the full rainbow of all the goods. I hear they might actually have to go as far as making homelessness illegal. Is this even possible?

A United Nations housing specialist who this year blasted Australia for its record on providing housing to that country's poor and aboriginal populations will next turn his attention to Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside. Miloon Kothari, the UN's special rapporteur on adequate housing, will tour the stricken neighbourhood during a cross-Canada trip this October.

The Globe and Mail, Friday, August 31st, 2007.

We'll see what happens. Until then, Chimo!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Enchanted Vancouver

Yesterday we went to the Work Less Party north of East Hastings. I haven't seen this many awesome individuals in the same place since I went to Burning Man. Everybody was dressed up as trolls, elves, wookies, wore facial and body paint. No inhibitions, no issues - everybody was having a wicked time dancing to the super-multicultural lineup, cuddling in the cuddle puddle, hula hooping, and chatting about world issues. What a wonderful party - a true welcome back to the West Coast!

I'm hearing the SkyTrain's distant toot-toot, and it sounds infinitely comforting. The mountains look mysterious this morning, with their tips covered in clouds, revealing nothing about them. Perhaps people are so nice here because they are in constant awe of the nature surrounding them and therefore more aware of the relative insignificance of their day-to-day petty problems.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Something in the air

I don't even know where to get started with this post. We have done so much since my last update.

Regarding my new Macbook Pro, Apple seems to be stalling until next week, so that they can ship me the Macbook Pro with the new Penryn processor. Well, part of it may have to do with the fact that we freaked out after reading a post on Mac Rumors, called the store, left a message describing the situation and asking for any delay/cancellation options we had (in hopes of delaying the order until Apple started shipping with the new processor, IF that was recommended). That magically resulted in a hold on our order, which we found out later when we called up the store to inquire about the unreturned call. We then looked at all the facts, specs and each other, realized that we could no longer keep sharing only one computer, so we called up the store again, to remove the hold on our order. Besides, we had not intended to put a hold on our order, but simply wanted to chat about the upcoming updates and the potential implications. To be honest, I am still not fully convinced by the 45-nm architecture and the SSE4 instruction set. In the new Penryn T8300 2.4GHz 800MHz the Cache is 3MB instead of 4MB, as in the old T7700 2.4GHz 800MHz MacBook Pro 15"/17". So it actually looks like a bit of a temporary downgrade to me if I were to stick with the 2.4GHz, considering that the developers are only beginning to start creating programs for the new SS4 instruction set...
I also no nothing about computing, so I shouldn't sneer at Apple's newest baby. I am sure that is indeed better to stall, I just want someone to hold my hand and tell me it's worth the wait.

I digress... After we had removed the hold and requested a new delivery estimate, we received an e-mail from the salesperson saying that Apple is doing something interesting. This is what they told me:
"The ETA when ordered was 1-2 weeks. If a new model is due to be released in the very near future, *Apple typically holds orders for the model that is due to be discontinued*, then cancels them once a replacement model is announced (which we then have to resubmit for the equivalent replacement). *Based on the ETA and the timing of the quoting of that ETA, that's usually a hint that the machine will not ship and will be replaced with a new model. "

So yeah. Bring it on, Macworld 2008!!! Something in the air? I hope it's worth the wait.

What have we done besides obsess about news in the Mac realm? Let's see.

We went to about 20 companies to drop off our resumes. We found out that the industry is in a somewhat dire state right now, with the writers' strike and the Canadian dollar kicking butt. I did manage to land an interview, and I did manage to survive it, even though I was the usual anxious, trembling, stuttering mess. It was alright though - I did manage to utter at least a few sentences that made some resemblance of sense. Is there actually anybody out there who has mastered the art of interviewing?

Vancouver truly is the Vansterdam of Northern America. You can smell pot everywhere you go, whether it's on Commercial or between skyscrapers. They have several coffee shops here and supposedly there is even a number you can call to order whatever your heart desires. Like pizza. It definitely gives the otherwise sterile pretty city an interesting vibe.

We had burgers at Vera's Burger Shack, where we inhaled two giant deliciously fresh and yummy burgers. I also had my life's first small KFC taster from the corner store near our home and I am never going back. I liked it so much that it scared me.

We also found our new grocery store - Donald's Market! Packed with piles and piles of fresh greens and fruits, this place is THE haven for anyone seeking to buy organic produce. And I don't even feel cheap for saying this, because this store rocks. Everything in there is chem-free, delicious and droolworthy. An absolute heaven, when you compare it to the Buy-Low or Superstore "organic" sections. Yesterday, we stocked up on Annie's and I loaded up on asparagus, salmon, honeydew melons, spring salad, corn cobs, bananas, cilantro, hippie fairy special salad dressing, non-sugary breakfast crunchies, soy yoghurt, you name it. And the total came to pretty much the same that we paid at other places, except that this time we weren't paying for sugared up cardboard. Yay.

I can't believe that we were even trying to think about convincing ourselves that the two Skytrain stops to Canada's Biggest Superstore weren't a big deal, and we could shop there on a weekly basis, because the deals are all better. Being Virgoes, we were set on exploring all the other options firsthand, before committing to a store to visit on a regular basis. Such a waste of time and brain space. Donald's has all the same stuff for the same price, except several notches up along the quality scale. I'll go to Superstore for tampons maybe.

The customer service rep who managed our bank switch has been tagging after us. He hand wrote a Thank You card and sent it to a mailing address. Today, he called up our landline and wished us a happy weekend. Is this standard procedure for all the new TD customers? Let's hope this customer care stays within reason.

Vancouver buses are neat. The seats are arranged in a manner that allows for maximum communication between the travelers. People regularly jump into each others' conversations, give tips and advice, and are simply there for each other. Today, I watched a middle-aged woman patiently listen to an old man telling her about his new walker and all of its awesome high-tech features. The bus driver actually apologized in front of everybody when she used brakes, and everybody thanked the driver on their way out the bus. Then the sun came out and everybody continued their jolly good days.
I am still getting used to Vancouver the Disneyland. It's just too nice of a place.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Taking care of business

Boy, what a week.

On Thursday, we bought a pimped out Macbook Pro and opened up several accounts with TD Canada Trust.

I still cannot believe that we simply walked into a Mac store and signed a purchase for a 17-inch 4GB RAM 2.4GhZ Macbook Pro. And now, as usual, I am having second thoughts about it, because I am the most frugal person in the universe.

The bank took the rest of the Thursday, and half of Friday. We had to schedule appointments with TD representatives. We set up the joint checking account, the savings account and the brokerage account. Then went over to Royal Bank and closed the account there, walked back to TD and finished up business there. We then found out that we do not qualify for a secured line of credit using the minimum deposit amount needed to waive our fees on our checking account, so we proceeded to open up savings account to qualify for a secured credit line to start building up our credit.
We spent a total of about 5 hours in the two branches of the bank, which is absolutely insane, considering that in Estonia, you don't need to sign anything to open up a savings or investment account, and a teller took care of all this business in approximately 10 minutes.

Yesterday we went to the sushi place that our friend James recommended (Tanpopo on 1122 Denman), where we consumed about 40 pieces of sashimi alone.

I also managed to snag a few shots from the downtown area while we were running around doing the banking thing. Here they are:

Thursday, January 3, 2008


I'm in heaven! We finally managed to combat our severe jet lag to the point where we dragged our sorry carcasses downtown, to the legendary Kisha Poppo! They were nice enough to hook us up with their all you can eat lunch special (10.95), and we literally ate all we could. Their tuna sashimi was absolutely orgasmic, and we spent about 1.5 hours stuffing ourselves COMPLETELY silly with different varieties of sushi, miso soup, tempura, etc etc. And we didn't even make it halfway through all the possibilities on the menu - mostly because due to some mixup the waitress kept bringing us doubles of everything. OH MY!

First things first though.

We visited our friend James and spent all morning drinking chai, watching hockey and playing Guitar Hero. James is better than TV! Actually, most Canadians are better than TV. Mind you, TV also really sucks in Canada.

We actually managed to sleep until 5:30am yesterday, so our sleep schedules are somewhat normalizing. To be honest, I've never been hit by jet lag this badly - the last couple of days have been pure physical hell despite all the joy and excitement of being here. I wonder if it has anything to do with age.
Looking back, we could have helped ourselves out by consuming some melatonin supplements before going to bed, but we're already past the worst part. I'll have to get those for when my parents come visit though.

We spent six hours comparing the perks of two banks, Vancity and TD Canada Trust. Both of us really want to go with Vancity for its environmental orientation and care for the community, but when it comes down to it, it simply has less options for us. For example, Vancity does not offer any short-term high-interest GIC-s that TD Canada Trust does. That, however, is going to make a huge difference for us if we want our savings to grow. We're going to call Vancity one more time today to make absolutely sure that their options are indeed as limited as they said they were. It seems absurd, but given that it's a credit union, it may just not have the same options as a big evil bank.

We also submitted the CareCard application for ourselves. That was relatively painless - faxed it and mailed it. Now we wait for three months until provincial health care kicks in. By then we'll already have found jobs and probably have health care perks through them, so the application itself is somewhat of a waste of time, but it's something that they make you do as soon as you arrive in the province, so now it's done.

So we finally made it downtown! For lunch, we went to the above-mentioned Japanese restaurant on the super-gay Davie street. The downtown is strange - not quite what I imagined. Then again, I didn't imagine much. I was, however, expecting a concrete jungle with loads and loads of preppy people doing their business. Instead, there are a lot of trees and gardens, a delightful mix of the new and the old, and the whole area has a strange vibe to it that I cannot describe as anything else than, just, "Canadian". My brain is desperately trying to draw parallels to cities that I have been to it the past, to form some sort of an emotional reaction to the place. Vancouver is just a huge mishmash of everything though, so my brain just shuts down.

The gay district totally different from, say, the famous gay district Castro in San Francisco - the Vancouver one is way more grungy, with people shouting compliments to each other across the street, and less tourists. (That might have something to do with the season though.)

We got bus passes for a month, which cost us 73 dollars. Single bus passes go for 2.50 beginning January 1st though, so the pass is going to save us quite a bit of money.

Vancouver buses are annoying! Yes, they're electric and super clean and awesome and packed with all sorts of beautiful people from all over the globe, but they stop at every freaking corner! It takes you just as long to walk downtown, as the bus does. On a rainy day, it's quite the alternative though. Plus, on the bus you have the awesome bus driver, who always has something interesting to talk about, while everybody else is nodding.

Alright, time to start the day!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

First steps

This must be the most tame New Year's Eve that I have ever had.
We had grand plans of meeting up with a friend at Yaletown Pub and going to a house party south of us. However, after grocery shopping, yummy dinner and a couple of glasses of the triple fermentated La Fin Du Monde, we were totally annihilated. We passed out at around 7pm, and didn't wake up until 15 minutes before midnight.

We're now sitting around watching Canadian TV and debating whether we should go to the all-night keg party. We had the brilliant idea of cracking a bottle of sparkling wine and seeing how we feel after that, i.e. if we feel drained then it's better not to go out, and if not then we can go out at 4 am. So in essence, we're sabotaging ourselves into not being capable of going, as to avoid dealing with too many new stimuli.

The New Year's in Vancouver was interesting. We dragged ourselves to the living room, in hopes of seeing some fireworks on the skyline. We basically saw nothing - all the fireworks must have been shot to the sea. The TV was going extra nuts though, broadcasting live from some main square/venue with a billion people squealing and screaming like it was the end of the world. An awful emo band was playing to them and a Canadian version of Queen Latifah sang the New Year's Eve song after 2008 arrived.

I could go on and on about how ridiculous and bad American-influenced Canadian television programming is, but I think I'll leave it to some other time when I am more coherent. In short, it's basically like American TV on crack, because you have the same shows as in the States, but they don't really have any famous hosts, and everybody is trying way too hard to be like America. No offense or anything:) - a regular dose of The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park is guaranteed!

We also went grocery shopping on Commercial today. I hate to draw too many parallels because everything in Vancouver is wonderfully unique... But for or those of you who don't know, Commercial Drive is reminiscent of The Haight in San Francisco, but with gorgeous mountains on the background, and a wee bit more clean.

Here's what we bought:

12 brown eggs (freerange): 3.79
A pound of premium butter: 4.99
A pound of broccoli: 63 cents
2 litres of organic milk: 3.29
Loaf of whole wheat bread: 1.29
Yellow onions (1.36 kilos): 1.49
Heinz beans: 1.09
1 kilo of red grapes: 4.90
Four bananas: 64 cents
Potato, bacon and romano cheese dumplings (1 kg): 3.99
Fusilli pasta: 1.19
Double spice chai black tea: 2.99
Basil & tomato pasta sauce(700ml): 3.99
Siracha Chili Sauce (17oz / 482g): 3.29
A pound of cured bacon: 4.99
Lean ground beef (1.1 lbs): 2.75
2 litres of vanilla soy milk: 3.79

Here's a rough estimate of what the same grocery basket would have cost in Estonia ( may be a little biased toward my new wonderful life in Vancouver, so the cents may have been rounded up by a few, but do bear in mind that beginning Jan. 1st there's also a minimum 9% (!) price jump in Estonia). I've marked everything that seemed to be the same price or more expensive with an asterisk.

12 brown eggs: 1.48 - 2.32. Organic / freerange wouldn't be an easy everyday option.
A pound of premium butter: 4.40
2 litres of milk: 2.40, again, organic isn't really an option
*Loaf of whole wheat bread: 1.30
Yellow onions (1.36 kilos): 0.93, but they'd be a lot crappier looking than the beauties we got here.
*Heinz beans: 1.39
1 kilo of red grapes: 4.18-4.93
*Four bananas: 75 cents
*Potato, bacon and romano cheese dumplings (1 kg): 5.21, the packages in Estonia are much smaller and there's only the meat option.
*Fusilli pasta: 1.39
*Double spice chai black tea: 2.99 - not an option in Estonia, but much less favorable Lipton teas go for 1 - 2 dollars a pack.
*Basil & tomato pasta sauce(700ml): 5.11
*Siracha Chili Sauce (17oz / 482g): ? Not sure what it costs in the specialty section at Stockmann, but it's definitely more expensive than 3 dollars and something.
*A pound of cured bacon: 5.30 - 6.79
*Lean ground beef (1.1 lbs): 2.80 for the cheapest Rakvere mixed minced meat stuff, but for the real ground beef you pay more
2 litres of vanilla soy milk: 3.79 - no idea, because we never bought soy milk, because it was too expensive.

So all in all it looks like the cost of groceries here is about the same as in Estonia, + 15-20%. The extra percentage could be outweighed by the bulk purchasing options that are available (i.e. buy a case of Heinz beans for X cents a can, instead of over a dollar). Mind you, even with the extra percentage, you are definitely getting a lot more quality and health. So basically, we're just paying extra for the tax, and getting a lot more goodness. (And way better healthcare.)

Organic food isn't really an everyday option for most Estonians. For example, when buying eggs, your only option is to buy something from Tallegg, a company that is notoriously famous for having all of their birds get sick and gassed. Yet they remain in the market, because there is simply nobody else there to take care of the demand.
Although I have to admit that we barely looked into the options of buying eggs from the nearby market - perhaps it would have been cheaper there? (But then nobody really checks up on what is being sold on the markets in Estonia..)

I am very sure that I am being overly optimistic right now, but what can you do when everybody is so freakishly friendly!?

It's 2.03 a.m. on New Year's Day and I am blogging about the egg business in Estonia vs. Canada. Jet lag rocks.

Oh, and one more awesome thing. It turns out that our best contact / former buddy in Vancouver is living two blocks from us. The synchronicity party has begun.


We're finally in Vancouver!

We had a few adrenaline-packed arguments with an uptight security bloke at Heathrow, because he insisted that we check in our carry-on bag that had all of our most valuable fragile items in it. If any of you have ever been to Heathrow, then you know what it means to have only an hour to run from one end of the terminal to the other to catch the plane - it's basically like crossing a small city. It's mind boggling how this insane asylum sustains itself.

8.5 hours of cheesy blockbusters later we finally arrived in Vancouver. Prior to our descent, I was beginning to get really worried that I would just fall flat on my face in front of the immigration officials - the 20hr journey was really catching up with us. However, as soon as I saw the city from the sky, I instantly woke up. This magical city REALLY exists - complete with the fairytalesque mountains, the beautiful hilltops and bridges, and the sparkly downtown! WOW!

The first customs guard we came across was really REALLY nice to us, so it felt like everything was going to be okay, despite the fact that the ground was wobbling and I was seeing little gremlins all over the place. After picking up our luggage, I was directed to line up to speak with an immigration official. The lineup was really the most difficult part of the process - I felt like the ground was banking and I hadn't fastened my seatbelt. At one point we were approached by an uber friendly guy, who showered me with information + two really useful pamphlets containing info on EVERYTHING - from service Canada addresses to info on how to use a computer:) I bet even Canadian citizens aren't this properly equipped for their lives in the country.

Upon exiting the airport, we were greeted by an awesome taxi traffic guy, who hooked us up with a maxi cab in a matter of minutes. Before we knew it, we arrived at our temporary residence in Mt. Pleasant.

We already knew that our landlord was going to be a cool guy, but we didn't know whether he was really real. The man was really understanding of our poor, greasy condition, and provided us with only the bare basics, as to not overload us with information. (Not like everything in the apartment isn't self-explanatory anyway.)

After he left, we did the sketchy thing that we had planned on doing all along - ordered Domino's pizza. We managed to down a few slices and passed out shortly afterwards. We then woke up at 4am, wide awake, and had a few more slices of pizza, and proceeded to fall asleep again. Woke up again at 9am, and went to the Service Canada center, where I was once again greeted by ridiculously friendly people who gave me a social insurance number.

I gotta let Mike on the computer and buy myself my own laptop. We're too hooked to be able to share the same one. I'll write more later.

On our way

I’m posting this from the Helsinki Vantaa airport, where we arrived after our turbulent 20 minute journey across the Finnish Bay. Every five minutes, there’s a kinky sounding female invitation “You want to have a ride?” coming from the crazy-looking pink toy car hinding behind the Christmas trees. Finnair is the official airline for Santa Claus, so the entire nearly empty waiting area is decorated with Santa sculptures and Christmas trees. In Finnair’s waiting lounge it is Christmas every day.

I hear the people at the money changing booth chatting to each other, and ponder about why Finnish sounds so god damn ugly. It’s barely any different from Estonian, but the pronunciation makes a world of difference. Estonian just sounds better. Finnish English is sexier than Estonian English though – gotta give them that. And why bother with a pretty language anyway – provided that you have the talent and brilliance that the Finns possess. Take the Finnish Complaints Choir for example, the Santa Claus parody by Rare Exports Inc., Lordi, or any of the other awesome things that come from Finland. The finns are awesome.

Leaving the hotel was rather interesting. Uniquestay’s shuttle driver happened to be a guy whose father was a former promoter of nationalism, so he also felt very passionate about politics. My father and he spent the entire ride talking about how things were almost better in the Soviet era, when it comes to social care and education. The conversation quickly digressed to blaming the politicians for everything, and talks about the “Estonian breed”, and how all the good genes have already left the country. Fortunately, we arrived at the airport before they got too depressing.