Cool as a Camel

Ever since childhood, I remember seeing teachers writing on the chalkboard and then holding their chalk like a cigarette and thinking, “Wow, that looks cool.”  I always used to wonder if the teacher was a smoker and I would always be disappointed when they were, as if the only reason they held their chalk like that was because they smoked instead of just being naturally cool as a cucumber.

Alas, the last few months have given me ample opportunity to perfect the art of holding my chalk like a Cool Camel.  And I must say, my perception of my own coolness has skyrocketed to otherworldly levels.  The only problem, I have noticed, is that I don’t actually smoke.

I have never been attracted by the pull of smoking.  Its not something I want to do or get into.  Its gross, it makes you smell terrible, and its this ridiculous crutch to your every day life.  That being said, I love the lifestyle of my smoking friends.

What do I mean by that?  I just got finished ranting about how terrible smoking is and what a silly habit it is and now I’m going to say I am jealous of the smoker’s lifestyle?  Well, I’m mostly jealous of the hallowed Smoking Pit.

The Smoking Pit is a place at bars, parties, and general social gatherings where all the smokers go to get their fix.  Its dark, its smelly, its cold, and its filled with desperate, addicted people.  Or at least, that’s how it is perceived by many people.

I see it as a wonderful abode, a 10 minute respite from the hustle and bustle of the party indoors.  It gives me a chance to grab some fresh air; it allows me the opportunity to hear myself think; and best of all, it a hotbed of some weird and wacky conversations.

The conversations that come up in Smoking Pits are usually some of my favourite parts about going out.  Everyone out there knows the deal; its like we’re all part of some agreement to talk about whatever comes up for ten minutes and then go our separate ways, at least until the next smoking (or chatting, for me) break.  Maybe its the edgy nature of most smokers but no conversation seems to be off limits.  This means the conversations can go some very interesting places, very quickly.

These limitless chats are wonderful.  We don’t know each other but hey, we’ve got ten minutes to kill so lets start chatting and see what the end result is.  It usually ends up in some fantastical realm of dragons and knights or somewhere in the depths of art and culture, discussing the finer points of Woody Allen or Radiohead.  And if the conversation doesn’t go anywhere that’s fine too!  Making silly jokes is great fun as well.

Maybe its the new people, maybe its the fresh air, maybe its the higher percentage of tattoos but there is something about Smoking Pits that draws me in, like a moth to a flame.

Actually, who am I kidding?  Its most certainly because I get a chance to recycle my Greatest Hits of jokes on a new audience and then pull a George Costanza and leave on a high note.  And you know what?  I’m fine with that.  As long as I can drop a “All right!  That’s it for me!” then I’m a happy camper!

Old Age

oldMy current Google search history is smattered with searches like this:

  • Health benefits of green tea
  • Morning stretch routines to improve flexibility
  • My age in days
  • Cute kittens

All of these searches indicate a glaring awareness about age (except for the kittens because come on, those little guys are the cutest!)  Is this what it feels like, growing old in the Internet age?

I wake up in the morning and I feel the need to stretch my muscles for a few minutes before I am ready to move around at anything resembling a moderate speed.  Is it because I have been making a conscious effort to exercise most nights and as a result my muscles are tight and cold in the morning?  Maybe.  But that doesn’t explain the fact that I am becoming increasingly susceptible to random muscle tweaks throughout the course of a day.  Stairs?  Used to be no problem.  Now?  Still no problem but don’t be surprised if, while skipping up a three step flight of stairs, I notice a slight twinge of pain in the back of my leg.  Standing up straight all day?  No problem, as long as you don’t mind me rocking the “I’m 8 months pregnant and I need to support my lower back with my hands” stance.  All of these little physical changes that are creeping up are making me take drastic preventive measures.  Hence, the Google search: Morning stretch routine.

I really wonder if all this information at our fingertips will lead to a mass ballooning of hypochondriacs in the future.  We can self diagnose ourselves with as much effort as it takes to hit a couple key strokes.  No more asking friends, family, or professional physicians.  Nope!  I’m an independent man and I can fix myself!  Now, lets load up on sugary green tea from the corner store, do some half hearted stretches with terrible form, and kick this aging business in the butt!

All that being said, I love having this wealth of information available whenever I want it.  I’ve learned all about the benefits of green tea (which I love), the awesomeness that is kale (which is the most expensive now that it’s hit the big time), and the necessity of stretching (which is oh-so-boring).  So now that I have all this information sitting there, waiting for me to explore, I can finally sit back and make my plans for my new healthy lifestyle while enjoying my can of Pringles, pint of Guiness, and chicken wing dinner.  Because, you know, that’s what tomorrow is for.

One of those reflective pieces I’ve heard so much about

It’s a funny thing, nostalgia.  It hits you at the oddest times and you get reminded of the oddest moments.  It isn’t faces of friends and family that pop into your mind’s eye, triggering a wistful smile.  Nor is it moments of happiness or joy that leave you staring into space for a moment while your mind wanders the trails of your memories.  Instead it is random moments, brief snapshots of time that flash through your thoughts. 

Standing in line for the Greyhound on a winter morning at Waterloo Central Station; walking through the parking lot of Fairview Mall; these are the moments that stand out for me when I get hit with a wave of nostalgia or homesickness.  The one thing these moments all have in common is not the scene, setting, or characters.  No, it is the random sense of peaceful serenity that just happens to stop by on random occasions.  Those moments when you feel like everything is coming up Steve and even if something doesn’t, it’s not that big of a deal anyway.  Those moments when you are surrounded by the energizing presence of random strangers, amplified by the tunes pumping through your headphones. 

Maybe nostalgia isn’t the right word.  In fact, looking back over the words I have written I am fairly certain nostalgia is not the word I’m looking for.  But hey, whatever it is, I like stumbling upon it and using its 10 minutes of creative spark to reflect and write a flowery, overly descriptive blog post about it. 

Sports Day!

Yesterday was Sports Day at Wagor High School!  Sports Day is one of those school event days that casts a wide net and starts to bleed into the days leading up to it.  What does that mean?  It means a whole lot of cancelled and modified classes for ‘ol Stever-ino, that’s what it means!  With such a relaxed environment in the days leading up to Friday, I had the opportunity to spend some time thinking about the kinds of sporting activities I would include in Sports Day.  I present them to you in this segment that I am calling Surviving Sports with Steve

Event 1: Egg Race

This variation of the ever popular Egg Race is bound to leave your contestants in stitches!  The aim of the original Egg Race is to carry your egg through an obstacle course on a spoon without dropping or cracking it.  Here at Surviving Sports we’ve adjusted the layout so that our contestants get the opportunity to carry live landmines instead!  Needless to say, this competition will be a blast!

Event 2: Relay

Here at Surviving Sports we thrive on the challenge of taking old, played out sports and putting a new, re-energizing twist onto them.  For our second event, we’ve brought the traditional relay race to the water!  In addition to adding an aquatic element to the sport, we’ve decided to release a live Bermuda Triangle into the mix.  You read correctly; in order to pass on their baton, competitors will have to both find and swim through a moving Bermuda Triangle wormhole at the correct time and, if they do this properly, find their teammates waiting to finish off that always tough homestretch!  So don’t be shy; dive right in!

Event 3: Luge

Its already perfect. 

So there you have it!  Sign up now for this year’s upcoming inaugural Surviving Sports while there’s still time!

Beating the Heat, Taiwanese Style

So as you may or may not know, its gets real hot in Taiwan.  The months of heat are upon us now and sometimes you need to find a way to beat the heat.  This is a story of how two old men decided to stay cool during these warmer months.

I was walking down a small side street near my house to get some fruit juice when I noticed ahead of me two old men in what appeared to be some sort of stand-off.  As I approached them my suspicions were confirmed.  I had just stumbled onto an old fashioned senior scuffle.  An elderly exchange!  A bygone brawl!  A worn-out wrangle!  An aging altercation!  Whatever alliteration you want to you, it was going to be interesting.  Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

Muscles tensed, the two combatants sized each other up, keeping a close eye out for any sudden movements.  Slippers scuffed against the concrete road.  Pyjama bottoms flapped in the slight wind.  Backs were slowly straightened to a solid 30 degree angle from the waist.  These two were ready.

The first one to make a move darted forward at a speed rivalling that of a youthful sloth!  Lunging forward he extended his hand, revealing a open can of beer.  From the can came a stream of liquid, arcing gracefully towards his opponent.  Reacting like thunder to a flash of lightening 8 kilometres away, the second man turned on his heel, somehow keeping his slippers on his feet.  Racing towards a nearby house, the second man grabbed a medium sized wash bucket, throwing it under a running tap.  Capitalizing on this opportunity, the first man swooped in for the kill with the speed of a cold bottle of syrup drowning a plate of pancakes!  Sensing his adversary’s approach, the second man abandoned his initial plan and removed his half full bucket knowing that he had plenty of ammunition to deliver swift justice upon his foe.  Turning around, the second man committed fully to the attack and, using his monumental momentum, tossed a litre of sparkling water.  Crying out in surprise, the first man retreated while the second man cackled in victory and returned his bucket to the tap, hoping to land the finishing the blow before his opponent could recover.  

Gleeful laughter rang out through the street during beer can man’s retreat and I could see in the second man’s eye that he was equally satisfied with their return to childhood water wars.  I was definitely satisfied bearing witness to it.  

Convenience Stores and Weekend Hikes

So, I went on another weekend hike this past weekend.  I love how accessible the mountains are here in Taiwan and I am happy with the amount that I have been able to get out.  The only problem is that walking in the woods and mountains for two days tends to be too awesome and my reserve of feel-goods necessary for Monday morning gets all used up!

This hike was different because of the fact that the weather was very misty and cloudy.  I didn’t get a chance to see any big views until the end of the trip which I was actually perfectly fine with.  I was going into the trip with the intention of enjoying the views but mostly focusing on the more detailed, less spectacular parts of the hike.  So being swamped with mist was actually kind of perfect for this strategy since it gave all the trees and bridges and moss this surreal and fantastical feel.  It honestly felt like I was on a journey through a mystical forest in search of some sort of hidden castle.

One thing I have picked up during my time in Taiwan is an appreciation for the finer aspects of convenience stores.  Taiwan is packed with convenience stores.  The major two are 7-11 and Family Mart.  They are everywhere.  I can stand on a main street and see three or four within 150 metres in either direction.  Its a little bit insane.

At first I assumed that a convenience store is a convenience store and, to some extent, that is true.  One would think that if they are all selling the same products they can’t be any different.  For example, my main purchases at convenience stores are Snickers, beer, and coffee.  After taking the time to compare the Snicker, beer, and coffee that I get from both Family Mart and 7-11, I have come to appreciate the superior quality that 7-11 offers.

As ridiculous as this sounds, the Snickers at 7-11 are fresher.  When I buy a Snickers bar, I give the bar a little squeeze.  The less pressure I have to give to make the bar compress, the fresher the bar.  7-11 CONSISTENTLY offers up soft, delectable Snickers, fresh from the Snickers factory, while Family Mart tends to be overrun with hard, slightly unsatisfying Snickers.  The same goes for Family Mart’s beers and coffees.

The coffee is really the most vital aspect of this whole comparison.  The convenience store closest to my school is a Family Mart so I have been drinking their plastic-y tasting sludge for months now.  This past weekend I drank a few 7-11 coffees and was blown away with the fact that the coffee actually tastes like coffee.  Now I am seriously considering going way out of my way each morning in order to get it.

Why does one care about these sorts of things, you may ask?  I honestly can’t tell you.  The only thing I can guarantee is that if you want a fresh Snickers, beer, or coffee, you’re going to want a 7-11.

Long Weekend!

Here are a few pictures from my weekend trip down south last week.  We had Friday off so I decided to head on down to Kaohshiung, Taiwan’s second biggest city (behind Taipei and ahead of Taichung).  I stayed there for the day, saw a few nice things, generally enjoyed the day and evening, and then headed an hour south to Xiao Liuqui, a tiny island made entirely of coral.

I’ll admit, my first hour and a half on the island were really stressful and I was in a foul mood.  After getting off the ferry, I was feeling great.  My plan was to grab a scooter from one of the many rental guys at the docks, then scoot into town and find myself a hotel.  Afterwards, I would explore the island on my scooter and have a relaxing afternoon and evening away from it all.

What ended up happening was no one would rent me a scooter without a license and an old man ended up driving me around to various houses, trying to find me a place to stay.  All the rooms were expensive and my main goal was to get a scooter.  After an hour of being dragged around to rooms, I ended up settling on a room in a family’s house that came with a bicycle.  Frustrated, I just wanted to get out on my own and be done with people.  I biked into town (which was really far considering that the island was super hilly and my house was about 2 km away).  At this point, I was considering just saying forget it and going back to Kaohsiung.  Then I stumbled across an Electric Scooter rental place, which was exactly what I was looking for from the very beginning.  I got a scooter, brought the bike back to the hotel, showered and then finally got to do what I had planned!  And to top it all off, the family I stayed with were super kind and absolutely wonderful.  They fed me like a starving orphan and we communicated with smiles, laughs, and exaggerated movements.  So I basically felt like a travelling circus performer for an evening.  It was great.

The island itself was also quite beautiful once I got all my things figured out and really quite peaceful after the hustle bustle of city life and school.  It’s always nice to get away and if you can make it to a warm-ish island then you are doing pretty well for yourself.  The sunrise and subsequent couple hours afterwards were probably the nicest as it was extremely quiet and I basically had the island to myself (it felt like!).