Monday, April 29, 2013

The Obligatory Vacation Post


As I alluded to at the end of my last post, I spent the last week on vacation, and went down to Cuba for a week. I'd been planning on going for months, but I waited until the last minute to book (literally a few days) in order to get a really cheap deal. With taxes and fees, it only cost me $580 for a week, all-inclusive. It was my third time down in Cuba, and it was a very different experience from the past two. I stayed at Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca, a three star resort in Holguin. My first trip to Cuba was years ago, and I stayed at Blue Bay, a four star in Cayo Coco, and last year I spent a week at Paradisus Rio d'Oro, a five star also in Holguin.

As you would expect, the three star was nowhere near as nice as the past two resorts. In some ways that did not matter in the slightest, and in others it made a huge difference. The resort is also the oldest in Holguin, and it showed in some ways. The rooms were tiny, dorm room sized really, but that did not bother me at all, even compared to the palatial sized rooms of Paradisus. If you're down there for a week and you're spending more than the absolute minimal amount of time possible in your room, then something's wrong. They had beds, a bathroom, and a working air conditioner, and that was enough for me. An openable window with a screen would have been nice, but I literally could have paid a few dollars per night more for that, and it still wasn't worth it to me.

The rest of the resort's grounds were also older, but still very nice and absolutely competitive with other resorts. The resort is in the town of Guardalavaca, though I didn't stray from the resort much. The area next door is under construction as they are apparently building a new resort, and as a result some of the roads seemed to be blocked off. My resort didn't have their own private beach, but they were right next to the Guardalavaca public beach on the one side, and the Brisas Guardalavaca beach on the other. The public beach had the best swimming, but I spent more time at the Brisas beach as it was quieter. Being in Guardalavaca there were a lot of locals wandering around. It seemed every five minutes someone was offering to sell me cheap (read: fake) Cuban cigars. I also had a few offer to sell me weed, which was the first I'd ever heard of that happening.

The biggest drop off, and the one which I felt the most, was the food. The food at this resort was absolutely atrocious. To be fair, my most recent experience was Paradisus, which represents an unfair measuring line as the food there was outstanding, even by Canadian standards. Still, even though the food in Cuba is almost always bad, this was just terrible. The last couple of nights I literally brought a jar of peanut butter (brought from home) to the buffet and made myself peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. As a vegetarian, I'll always have a harder time finding decent meals than everyone else, especially in a place like Cuba where they make no effort to accommodate vegetarians, but even the non-vegetarians I spoke with said the same thing.

I actually got food poisoning one night, though I'm not sure that was necessarily a reflection on the food. I don't have a particularly weak stomach, but I always seem to get sick in Cuba. The last time I got such a bad infection that I needed three different antibiotics and there was much fear that I wouldn't be able to fly home. This time I only lost a day, during which I was too weak to get out of bed, but after that I was fine again. After last time, one day didn't seem bad at all.

I was travelling with a friend of mine, which was also a different experience. The last couple of times that I've gone I've been travelling with (now ex) girlfriends. Both have their advantages, and I definitely think travelling with a friend is more relaxing, as I wasn't always worrying about what he wanted or keeping him happy, but I still think I'd prefer to travel with a girlfriend. I had one really strange experience; when first visiting the Guardalavaca market, where I had come the past year with my girlfriend at the time, I had this brief sense of visceral panic, as though if I could only find the right cab I could go right back to my old life. It passed quickly, but I've never felt anything like that before, and it was incredibly disconcerting.

The interesting thing is, I'm not sure that I even want to go back to my old life. I miss that relationship sometimes, but life moves on and I've moved with it. I think that really what I miss is just being in a relationship. While I don't hate being single, I've always been happier in relationships than out of them. Still, nothing I can do about that for the time being; I'm not going to rush into a relationship for the sake of it.

Anyway, I only did one significant excursion this time: a catamaran trip that took us for some snorkeling in a reef. I did a very similar trip in Cayo Coco, and it's an amazing experience. They take you out on the boat and then a guide will swim around the reef, and while they suggest you follow him, they don't make you. I'm a fairly strong swimmer, especially in fins, and even though it was the day after I had food poisoning and I hadn't eaten anything in 36 hours, I could still swim laps around most of those people. I tried to stay with the group, but I immediately grew frustrated with the slow pace and being bumped by people incapable of keeping themselves afloat and simultaneously watching around them, so I quickly spun off on my own. It's an excursion that I recommend to anyone who's not afraid of the ocean, as there are so many amazing things to see. Also, though it wasn't during the excursion, I saw a small shark while snorkeling off the beach. It was about four feet long, and I think it was a reef shark. It was really awesome to see.

The rest of the trip I mostly just drank, swam, read, and relaxed, which was fine with me. I'm several shades darker and my hair is several shades lighter. I really enjoyed myself, and I feel recharged in a lot of ways. It seems like I might need it too, since everything has been happening while I was gone. My parents bought a new car (more on that later), the Leafs made the playoffs for the first time since I was in high school, and in the massive pile of emails awaiting my return, I have a number of interesting work opportunities. I also got into all of my summer classes, which should hopefully mean that I can graduate in December. And of course, I turn 25 later this week (ugh). Exciting times.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Running a Relay On Your Own

I actually love my job. I love working with kids and even the teenagers. I love feeling like I've given something back to the communities I work in. I love feeling like I make a difference. I love the program I run, as embattled as it may be, particularly recently. However, there is no denying that it is a lonely job.

I work on my own. There is nobody who works directly with me who does my job, or anything related to my job, ever. I only ever communicate with other staff in Leading to Reading via email, and I only see them once or twice per year. It also just got a lot more lonely. My long-time supervisor, since I was a volunteer in this program in 2003, and a lovely person all round, announced last week that she is retiring at the end of next month. I'm dreading her departure; she is so good at her job that it makes mine infinitely easier. I'll also miss her on a personal level.

On top of that, the Site Monitor with whom I share a location (on different days), and the only one with whom I communicate with regularly, informed me that she's leaving in a couple of weeks as well. As far as I know, that makes me the only Site Monitor left east of Yonge with any significant experience, and possibly the only one left period. It's not a great feeling, being the last of your kind.

Days like this make it hard to get up the next morning. Thankfully, I'm on vacation next week. I need it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Endless Youth


I subscribe to the Calvin and Hobbes Daily RSS feed for two reasons. First of all, Calvin and Hobbes is pure brilliance. Second of all, it holds huge nostalgic value for me. I had all the Calvin and Hobbes collections as a child, and I read the comic every morning in the Toronto Star, until the comic ended. I was unbelievably sad when it stopped running. Even though I've read them all many times, I still enjoy seeing the comic pop up each day in my RSS feed. For me, Calvin and Hobbes holds up like no other literary work.

One of the things I love about Calvin is that he is the ideal of childhood. Mischievous, but also imaginative, trusting, curious, and strangely vulnerable, Calvin represents everything I wanted to be as a kid. Even though I started reading the comic when I was approximately the same age as Calvin is in the strip, he remains the six year old in my mind in every way. Calvin doesn't, can't, grow up. So it came as somewhat of a strange shock to see that date in today's comic. That suggests that Calvin was already 6 years old when I was born! I always knew, of course, that Watterson had been writing the comic since before I was born, but Calvin's age was never rooted in a number for me like that. It made me strangely sad to think that he might be older than me.

It'll pass, and he'll return to 6 years old in my mind, and I'll continue to love seeing those pop up in my feed each day, but it was definitely an odd feeling.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Goodbyes

I had to say goodbye to someone today. I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb by saying that goodbyes suck. Losing someone out of your life is really awful.

I feel like I used to be better at this. When I was a kid, I'd move away or my friends would move away and I might be sad, briefly, but life went on. Maybe I just didn't really understand the finality of it all. Unfortunately that's no longer the case.

These days, I feel like people rarely have to leave my life, if I don't want them too. They may leave my neighbourhood, my city, or even my country, but the magic of the internet allows me to keep in contact with almost anyone, anywhere if I really want to. Unfortunately, that doesn't look like it will work here, this goodbye was probably final. Having to deal with that so rarely I think means that it's much harder to handle when it does come up.

I wish I had better words to convey how I feel, but it just really sucks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jurassic Park

You'll never get a second chance to experience something for the first time, obviously. I don't really remember the first time I saw Jurassic Park. It definitely wasn't in theatres, I was too young for that. My parents owned it on VHS, so I probably watched that on a 19" CRT TV. Not exactly an epic home theatre setup, but that didn't matter. There were dinosaurs, dinosaurs which looked real. It was amazing, and has been one of my favourite all time movies for as long as I can remember. Sure, the plot is ridiculous and the acting in mediocre, but it has dinosaurs.

They just re-released the movie in theatres 3D last week, and even though I own it on blu-ray and have seen it a million times now, I jumped at the chance to capitalize on an opportunity I thought I would never again have, and experience the film on the big screen. Obviously it wasn't the same as seeing it for the first time, but it was still excellent. The special effects still held up, remarkably, and the 3D was very well done (subtle but effective). I also noticed things I had never noticed before; the effect of blowing it up on the big screen and controlling all my attention, I suppose.

Well, almost all of my attention. The one negative was the grandparents who brought their young grandchildren (likely 4 and 6) to the movie. When the kids weren't terrified, they were talking incessantly or up walking around, and the grandparents made absolutely no attempt to reign them in. Mercifully for the rest of the theatre, they left two thirds of the way through the film when the kids got scared. Still, it was unbelievably annoying. Aside from the fact that the grandparents have a responsibility to keep the kids in check as best they can, how do you not know at this point that Jurassic Park isn't a good movie for children that young? It's out for twenty years! No excuses for that.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Drunken Idiots

I went to my first Jays game of the year last night. It was fantastic: 45,000 people came out to boo John Farrell and the Red Sox. The crowd was louder than any Jays game I've ever been to, and it was a fantastic time, which is odd because the rest of this post is probably going to end up a negative rant.

As great as the crowd was when they were into the game, they also were a fucking nightmare the rest of the time. Apparently, dozens of people thought it would be hilarious to throw paper airplanes from the upper deck and try and hit the field. Why people think it is fun to throw things on the field, and why people go to games when they're apparently more interested in cheering on said airplanes than the team on said field is something I'll never understand. I get that there will always be a few drunken jackasses who do stupid shit and ruin things for everyone, but there were literally dozens of them.


Speaking of not paying attention to the game on the field, I realize that I'm far from the first on this bandwagon, but can we please stop with the fucking wave? It's beyond stupid and pointless, and serves to do nothing but annoy those who actually want to watch the game. I don't understand the attraction the stupid wave has to begin with, and I don't understand why some people are so absolutely determined to start it. Nothing makes me happier, though, than watching their attempts fail miserably.

Unfortunately the problems with the crowd don't end with the wave. Every big game there seem to be fights breaking out among the drunken bros in the crowd. Is this a thing now? Do people think it's cool to go to the games, get drunk on $12 beers, and start fights? I do not understand this at all. I'd like to think this happens all over MLB, but I honestly worry that it's a Toronto problem more than most.

Of course, they all seem to be fuelled by the drunk-off-one-beer sorority-rejects. I don't want this to come off wrong, so let me be very clear: they make up a small minority of the women attending Jays games. Most women are there to have a good time, whether actually watching the game or not, without trying to make themselves the show. However, there always seem to be a few of the former in every section. They pay zero attention to the game until JP Arencibia or Brett Lawrie come to the plate, at which point they shriek ear-piercingly for a few minutes, then tune the game back out again. They apparently have zero ability to hold any alcohol, and they spend the rest of the game egging on the drunken bros and trying to start shit, with varying degrees of success.

Every time I read about concession prices at most US ballparks, I get really annoyed that we pay 2-3 times more for beer in Toronto. However, then I go to actual games and realize that given that fans apparently can barely handle the 2-3 beers they can afford, I don't even want to think about how bad it would be if they were half the cost.

There were 45,000 people there, and 44,00 were probably there to quietly watch baseball. Unfortunately, that left 1,000 to be idiots and try and ruin it for the rest of us. I don't really know what the Rogers Centre should do about it either. It seems to me like it's a real problem, but they can't crack down on people drinking, and they can't stop people from legitimately having fun. What we need is for people to independently decide to stop being douchebags, I guess, but that seems unlikely. It may be a problem without a solution, sadly.

I like the product on the field enough that it doesn't ruin my experience, but not everyone loves baseball as much as I do. Hopefully as the season drags on it will get better, but I wouldn't count on it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Annoyance and a Cup of Tea

Today was my last day of class for the school year. I'm now looking at at least a month off, and possibly five months off, though I hope not. Right now, I feel like I could really use the month though; I am absolutely exhausted. I've written here before about how difficult my Tuesday-Wednesday routine has been this semester, but this week it was particularly rough. In addition to the general stress of an array of final assignments coming due, I had a final exam for one class Tuesday night, followed by a major written assignment and group presentation Wednesday morning. Still reeling from my exam, I slept all of a few hours Tuesday night, as I still needed to work on Wednesday's project. I was actually quite pleased with the presentation on Wednesday, despite my exhaustion, but

I'm actually usually really good at managing on low sleep. A lot of people, including my brother, get really miserable if they haven't slept enough, but I'm not usually like that. Today, for some reason, is different. Today, I'm grumpy, and I'm annoyed. I'm annoyed with work, because I'd rather be sleeping, and some frustrations which normally roll off my back are really getting under my skin today. I'm annoyed that school is done, despite my exhaustion, because I will truly miss the social element it brings into my life. I'm annoyed that, with a week to go before registration, a summer school schedule still has not been posted. I'm annoyed with the pile of other work I know awaits me at home; responsibilities I have shirked recently with the excuse that I am too busy.

Mostly, I'm annoyed with myself. I'm annoyed with myself for some things I didn't do, and some people I didn't talk to who I may not see again, and some opportunities I may have let slip by. I'm annoyed that I once again waited for things to come to me, instead of working up the courage to go get them. I'm annoyed that I let my lack of self-confidence trump my desire to do something.

Paradoxically, I'm also annoyed that I'm letting myself become so easily annoyed. I'm not quite sure how to deal with that one.

I'll probably feel better after a good night of sleep. At the very least my annoyance will probably be superseded by disappointment. For the moment, I plan on taking a moment with my cup of tea, before I have to once again mask my emotions and return to doing my job. Anyone who wants to end the tea drinking librarian stereotype is a damned fool. My ability to make and enjoy a cup of tea right now is the only thing keeping me sane.