a perfect 17 hours

My granddad is the person I sometimes try to model myself after.  He’s 96 and has many decades of practice on me but still, I find it hard to believe he conducted himself much differently when he was my age.  He’s the one who taught me to be self reliant, considerate and generous.  Always be generous, no matter how much you are financially worth.  There’s always something you can offer someone.  If not money, there’s always something you can do for them.  Give your time, your thoughts, your warm wishes, your care, your food, your wine….I hope I get there someday.

I’ve just had one of the most satisfying 17 hours of my life. And it didn’t even involve all that much.  Like most of the things that I’ve noticed that I cherish, the past 17 hours consisted of life’s simplest…

Yesterday while at work, I had the intention of stopping by granddad’s house, also known as ‘121’.  I try to stop by 121 once or twice a week to spend time with granddad.  Even if it’s just for a quick dinner, it reminds me of my childhood dinners which were usually at 121 since my brother and I spent the better part of a decade living there.

By the time evening came, I was running around too much to make it in time for dinner but promised to stop by after to take him out for drinks or whatever he was in the mood for.  I got there later than expected, around 9p, and he was in the mood for takeout instead.  So health food aunt and I drove to get take out xo fish head noodles from dover rise (famous in some way, of course).   By the time we got back to 121, it was close to 10p but as luck would have it, granddad was in a talkative mood and we sat around talking, drinking and eating till just past midnight.  Sometimes, I get in melancholy moods like now when I’m overwhelmed with appreciation.  Appreciative that I’m able to recognize just how awesome it is to be able to spend time with granddad and truly enjoy it.  I think back to when I was living at 121, before going off to college; how I treated 121 as just a living space; a place to be taken for granted because it had always been there, unearned.  Ungrateful is a strong word to describe my mental state then.  But I was definitely far from being grateful.  I was an unaware teenager and young adult.  Someone who needed to go out and see the world, experience things on my own and finally return perhaps a little more enlightened.

Granddad, health food aunt and I sat around the same dining table that I had grown up around – the one that I loved to use for studying because it was large enough that I could spread all my notes and books out and was often left undisturbed at night except for the occasional lizard that would scurry below the lazy Susan (and leave me silently cursing in surprise).  Granddad loves company.  He’ll eat more, drink more and more importantly, talk more when people are  around.  Sometimes, he needs prodding to talk and tell stories and it’s not always that he’s in the mood for talking.  I found him in a jolly mood last night.  We spoke about menial things like how my work day was, how much I enjoyed work, how he was feeling (his head has been hurting for the past few weeks) and about the conversation I had with the taxi driver on the way over…which is of note actually.

Cabbie: if you don’t mind me being a busybody, can I ask why you’re not out (partying) at this time on a Saturday?

Me: I’m actually on my way home then I’m heading out again.  I have a date with a 96 year old man (I’m that cool kid).

Cabbie: wow, really?  A 96 year old?

Me: yup!  I have a date with my granddad.  I’m taking him out for beers.

Cabbie: wow.  Instead of lecturing you about the perils of drinking, he’s actually drinking with you?

Me: yup.  And I’m looking forward to it.

I share conversations like that with granddad because he finds them amusing and it gives him something about me to laugh about.

Another conversation that is one of my all time favorites…

Granddad: am I the best father or what?

Health food aunt: um, actually, I think I could do better if I looked.

Granddad: pfft (with accompanying dismissive hand gesture).  I knew I should never have saved you from the trashcan (which is a joke, of course).

And that inevitably sparks off the discussion about how good his kids are.  Like Goldilocks, his kids are good, but not good enough; bad, but not too bad.  Which in his cryptic language means they’re somewhere in the middle, balanced.  And even though he never says it, the kids know that he’s proud of them and loves them all equally.  The same goes for his grandkids.

My favorite part about hanging out with granddad is hearing him tell stories.  It doesn’t matter if I’ve heard the same story dozens of times.  That’s not the point.  My enjoyment comes from everything else that accompanies our conversations.  Watching him tell a story with pleasure and working in moral lessons at the same time is his special trait, I think.  I’d like to think that I have a somewhat decent moral compass; the ability to at least identify the right decision (or feeling guilty knowing that there is a right decision to be made but making the opposite one instead).  And I believe I learned this from granddad.

He leads by example.  For me at least, he’s always been that way.  Always attentive to minute details, he never lets anything slip by unnoticed.  People always make the mistake of assuming he’s missed something until he tells them to clean the table again because they’ve missed a tiny sauce spot.  He’s also extremely generous – when he was younger and less financially stable, he used to loan needy friends his last dollars and not think twice about whether they would even be able to return the favor (much to the dismay of my grandmother, I imagine).  But he’s never lectured anyone about not being giving enough.

He secretly likes to call himself the poor rich man (coined by one of my cousins) because he’s not cash rich but yet he often doesn’t have to pay for anything when he goes places.  I’m not religious (and neither is granddad), but I believe in karma, to a certain extent.  And I believe that karma is paying him back for all the positive energy he’s invested previously.

I digress.  Back to my perfect 17 hours.  By the time I went to bed, it was close to 2am.  But I thought, ‘granddad’s a late sleeper.  I’ll get to sleep for at least 8 hours before I even need to worry about getting up.’  Wrong.  Just after 8am, health food aunt came into the room I was sleeping in, turned on the lights and said, ‘let’s go, granddad’s ready.’  WTF?  Since when does he rise before noon?  Today was my lucky day, apparently.  And truthfully, I was quite ecstatic.  I (sometimes) enjoy the part of the morning just before the majority of people are even thinking of going out yet.  It’s peaceful and quiet and one feels special being in a place that isn’t overrun by crowds.  Fast forward an hour and we’re at some coffee shop along Zion road with a spread of coffee, kaya + butter toast, half boiled eggs and wanton noodles before us.  Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve felt so disproportionately content.  I can’t remember the last time we were out with granddad at that hour – he had even voluntarily come along.  He usually has to be coaxed into going out and his appetite has spiked recently which has made everyone happy.  Then we went to Cedele across the street for more sitting and coffee where I read the newspaper, granddad people watched and health food aunt got her hair done.  There was some shopping in between coffee and lunch but it was basically a whole morning of granddad time.  And it was awesome.  I felt so lucky to have been there.

To other people, granddad might come across as being just an ordinary 96 year old man.  And maybe he is.  But to me, he’s far from that; too special and amazing to be taken for granted.  I’ve written before that I’ve never looked forward to my trips home.  But time with granddad has always been the ‘right thing to do’ and it’s one of the primary reasons I visit.  For the first time ever, it’s become not only the right thing to do but what I want to do and I’m completely content with being home.  Because it means getting to spend precious time with someone I’ve realized has helped shape the person that I’ve become.  And for now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

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interesting home

i’ve been home for almost 2 months and i think this is the first time i’m actually (gasp) enjoying myself here.  to say that it’s taken me by surprise is surely an understatement.  don’t get me wrong, i don’t hate it here (or maybe i do, but don’t make me say it).  but i’ve never felt completely comfortable living here.  and with every year that i spent overseas, i think i grew a little less local.  it’s hard to explain.

so imagine what i was feeling when after vancouver, i found myself back home, having to re-hash my life’s plan; plotting an escape to somewhere.  anywhere.  i wanted to shoot myself in the face. not in the literal kind of way, of course.  but it’s true.  i felt a little lost and a little sore that i hadn’t planned better.

i was moping around the house the first week when i forced myself to get out of the house to do something ‘fun’.  i found myself visiting iBrew to figure out if i could homebrew in singapore.  being very cynical, i thought the climate was totally ill-suited for brewing.  and to a certain extent, it is.  but a more optimistic person would be able to get around it without too much hassle.  mr boss of iBrew was knowledgeable, friendly and gave off good vibes so after talking to him about what he had to offer, i went home (less cynical), thought about what i wanted and sent out an e-mail requesting prices.

what i wasn’t expecting was a job offer.  but that’s what i got out of our interaction.  a month and a half into working with him and it’s been great.  i get to brew beer, discover home in ways i’ve never had to before, engage in other nerdy things and work with a superb mr boss (we now play tennis together and he calls it an ’employee benefit’).  and i get to tell people that i get paid to make beer.  rock star.  of course, my life would be complete if i said i was brewing in north america.  but i’m taking this one step at a time.  and this is step 1.

have i mentioned that i really love counter culture?  as it turns out, singapore does have a decent counter culture scene.  i guess i just needed locals to show me the way.  oops.  why wasn’t i ever that kind of local?

other things that i’m enjoying about being home:

– spending time with granddad.  and by that i mean he declares happy hour when i arrive at his house.  it’s unclear whether this is a good or bad thing.  am i only a drinking buddy to him?  well, i do help him change the batteries to his solar powered outdoor lights.  so i guess i’m a little more…

– getting to cook during my weekly friend dates with ms han

– being able to appreciate home for the first time in probably ever

about vancouver

this is many months late but vancouver was so fabulous, i didn’t really want to stop to provide updates till it was over.

my roommate turned fake husband, christal, was the perfect roommate for me; clean, anal, and not-so-closet gay boy.  perfect.  i ended up playing on her softball team (i know what you’re thinking) which was loads of fun and as a result, also instantly gained entrance into the otherwise hard to locate homo scene.  i only say hard to locate based on one past bad experience with katherine and chess. i stayed through pride weekend, had a jolly time and then jetted out of there hoping to return again soon.

the things i miss most about vancouver are the fabulous people i met, grocery stores within walking distance, wreck beach and being able to see the mountains whilst out and about.  oh!  and i also brewed my very first batch of homebrew – a hefeweizen which got good reviews from some semi-discerning palates.  i’ll take that as a good sign.

two weeks in the city

the past 2 weeks have passed quickly.  i’ve met a surprising number of new people and i’ve let alcohol knock me on my behind far more than i’m used to.  i will have to get that under control because being a fool in front of my bossman isn’t something i’m trying to do on the regular.  although, i’m beginning to suspect that hangovers could be the norm in this business.

this week’s brew day was similar to last week’s brew day.  it’s usually long but i like processes so for most part, i don’t mind hanging out.  brew day this week coincided with st patrick’s so (of course) we had to start the morning with a stout.  and then from there it was a blur of things and people stopping by.  we did not artificially color any beer although we did try a little essence of juniper in one of the beers which i thought added an interesting flavor.  but then again, i like gin.   yesterday, we distilled whiskey – another long process involving lots of sitting around once everything is set up and working properly.  which was fine with me because it was so gorgeous out.  more people stopping by.  more beer.

i got to check out the homo scene here in vancouver with what could become my new posse.  for now, they’re my roommate’s friends.  we attended an event called lipstick jungle at the heist lounge.  the cover was $12 which is a little steep compared to other homo events i’ve been to but the drinks were decent and the crowd was cute, girly, lipsticky, and given the name of the event, expected.  the music was just ok.  i was hoping for better but for that, we would have to go to a gay boy club.  which is what we did afterwards.  odyssey was steamy for some reason.  the dancers were cute and the music was marginally better.  or perhaps i felt that way because i wasn’t in the dancing mood.  it was packed which is always nice to find and as we were leaving, there was quite a good drum performance happening.  partying with the gay boys is usually a good time.  sorry lipstick jungle,  maybe next time we’ll get along better.

saying that i’m fussy about who cuts my hair is sort of an understatement.  i was stressing out about how to figure out which stylist in this city i’d have to take a chance with.  good thing james knows some people.  thomasina was his recommendation and i couldn’t be more pleased with somebody new cutting my hair.  and she works from her house so we got to watch some of the paralympics while she cut my hair.  extra bonus.  is jeffrey ever going to be replaceable?  i doubt it.  but until he decides he’d like to live where i live, i’m content with having thomasina in vancouver.

i’ve been trying to get through pride and prejudice but while trying to get through that, i finished reading a million little pieces.  perhaps that’s a sign that i should just give it a try some other time.  a million little pieces was a good book though with somewhat graphic descriptions of trips to the dentist and of injuries that made me cringe.  i’m pretty convinced that staying off drugs is probably a good idea.  now i need to find another book to read….

vancouver – day 4

the last several days have been pretty good.  i get to see the mountains on the way to work every day.  it’s been a little chilly but for most part sunny.  and work has been interesting.  the brewery is this weird mix of mad science, delicious beer, the occasional homeless person dropping in for a cup of brew and other not so homeless people dropping in to say hello.  and have a cup of brew.  when it’s nice outside like it has been the past few days, down time is spent sitting on the loading dock, chatting and drinking.  otherwise, there’s much to be done.  brewing, transferring beer, filling kegs, delivering kegs, cleaning….

it was my intention to explore the drive today but when i woke up, instead of seeing the sun, i was greeted with gray clouds and a god forsaken drizzle.  still, i got out of bed early-ish, drank some coffee that my roommate had made (coffee!), did some usual computer things and made some brunch.  when the rain seemed like it was going to stick around all day, i motivated myself to go out anyway.

i walked down the drive with the goal of finding a good used book to read on my days off, finding more coffee and a grocery store to buy more stuff for the week.

the small but stuffed to the brims bibliophile bookstore was cute and a welcome respite from the rain but being on a fairly tight budget, i didn’t feel comfortable buying a used book for how much they were going for and wanted to price shop a little.  otherwise, i thought it had a pretty good selection of books and perhaps i’ll return for a not so common title.  such as ‘a history of the world in six glasses‘.

next stop: santa barbara market.  i happened to walk by this small-ish grocery store and had to turn back to check it out.  i used my asian instincts which are: if a place is super crowded, it’s probably worth the check out.  though slightly claustrophobic, at least it seemed to be crammed with all sorts of interesting goods.  i was slightly curious about their house peanut butter for $1.99/lb or so.  but i chose to get the organic variety instead since it was on sale (and also better sealed).  maybe next time.  the deli was probably the most packed section of the store so mental note to check that out during their off-peak hours.  their produce seemed decently priced which is nice and an indication, at least in my opinion, of how they mark up the rest of their stuff.  so all in all a pretty good grocery store experience.  i will return for sure.

east end food coop was next.  are you starting to gather that i really love grocery stores?  i had failed to acquire some cereal so i thought i’d try at the coop.  they happened to have a bulk bag on sale so i got that and was on my way once again.

final stop: value village.  the size of this thrift store was amazing.  in total, i think they had 2 entire floors’ worth of stuff but i thought i’d save exploring the rest of their offerings later.  my focus was on getting a book to read.  and books there were.  fiction, non-fiction, childrens’, cooking, travel, vintage…anyways, i have always wanted to read the classics so i had to choose pride and prejudice (circa 1962) when i chanced upon a copy.  and for $2, even if i hate it, i’m not going to be too upset about it.

this week, i’m looking forward to learning more at the brewery and checking out more of vancouver.  there are already so many places i’d like to eat and drink at!  i’m also trying to look for a good place to get my hair cut.  katherine very kindly pointed out before i left that i may perhaps be approaching mullethood. and that is not one of the mid-west things i’m trying to hold on to.  that said, my 6 year relationship with jeffrey is not something i’m willing to let go of quite yet.  so, if you’re a hair stylist in vancouver who’s willing to deal with that and also not eff up my hair, please let me know.

more as things develop…

p.s. did i mention how much i miss my social life in baltimore?

first afternoon in a new city

after 2 plane rides followed by a bus ride, i was waiting on the corner of cambie and 12th ave for yet another ride.  it was nice to just stand there for a minute to take in the fresh air, the energy of the city and the pretty view of the mountains to the north. i was still nervous and excited about being here.  nervous about meeting the new roommate and about the apprenticeship tomorrow.  but excited to be in vancouver.

the good news is that the new roommate came by to pick me up as planned.  and she was friendly and nice.  we returned to the apartment – sparkling clean and cozy and she had even put a set of sheets on the bed for me.  nice.  now i just have to get through the next few days of awkward small talk and i think we’ll be good.

next, i went grocery shopping.  and i was able to walk there!  and though it was small, it was pretty densely stocked with most things you can imagine or want.  chinese take out?  done.  they even had a pretty decent asian ingredients section.  but what was i thinking?  i’m in vancouver!  i got to explore the neighborhood a little on the walk there and i think i’m going to like living here.  there seem to be a variety of international restaurants – chinese, vietnamese…there’s the grocery store and the winter farmers market is only a few blocks away.

i’m off to learn the ways of the beer world tomorrow morning and perhaps there will be more exploring to be had…

things are falling into place

everything miraculously fell into place this past week.  my ticket’s booked, i have a place to live, i may already have made a friend and i have something to do….it’s amazing.

for the next few weeks (or until they get tired of me), i will be learning how to brew beer with james walton of storm brewing.  and i will be living 3 blocks away – right off commercial drive which is supposed to be home to vancouver’s counterculture coffee movement.  i think it’s going to be a neat neighborhood to call home for at least a few months.  and i do like counterculture.