Thursday, 20th October '05
Strange Canadian Toast
Here I am, blogging along happily as I scarf down my white rice with black and white pepper beef with soya sauce, two week old xiaobaocao, garlic and half a mouldy onion. In think in one of the strange Canadian, pseudo-Chinese, overpriced restaurants around here it might well be called General En Ying's Five Treasure Holy Cow and Green Vegetable Delight. It's not bad, by the way, and I'm feeling decently happy that I haven't blown up the kitchen, set off the fire alarm (yes, someone actually did) or come down with cholera or hepatitis or anything like that in the 2 months that I've been cooking for myself.
But highly irrelevant introduction aside, this particular entry had its genesis in an incident about a week or so ago in the YMCA kitchen. As usual, it involved Germans and a largely amused me. Amused because kitchen conversations tend to revolve around:
(a) How school was.
(b) How drunk and hung over XXX was.
(c) How there's an Idiot around who doesn't wash his dishes, and the various methods for dealing with him (a rather large variety of approaches have been advocated, ranging from David's diplomatic "we should have a meeting and talk about it and then put up signs and make it known that if we catch him he will be reported to Heather-Anne, the Director of Residential Services and be sanctioned accordingly" all the way to Sebastian's somewhat more robust and pragmatic approach of "if I catch him I will Tear His Ass Off").
(d) What XXX is cooking.
(e) The abysmal state of Canadian bread.
Which is not to say that the conversations aren't fun or meaningful - in fact I'm very thankful to have people to talk to while cooking. But anyway, subject (e) was something that intrigued me rather a bit. Coming from a country where Sunshine and other cheap-ass brands of processed bread rule the market, with Bonjour being an expensive exception and Gardenia being the top brand because it's so good you can even eat it on it's own, I had been generally impressed by the state of Canadian bread. Eh, got not only wholemeal and white bread leh. Got loafs and baguettes and halfmeal and cheese bread and all kinds of other things... and not just at Delifrance prices. But obviously I was painfully ill-informed, as the Germans would have me know shortly.
A sandwich making incident with Soenke had him celebrating the fact that he had found "good bread" at Sobey's, and me furrowing my eyebrows trying to make sense of the distinction between "good bread" and (what I assumed that he had been finding all along) "bad bread". I'm not sure I gave a fantastically intelligent or even germane response to that little bit of shared happiness. Subsequently, a few more run-ins with other dudes had them complaining about how hard it was to find bread here, and it all finally culminated one day in Lukas asking how bread was in Singapore. Err, that had me a bit stumped. How would any of you answer that question anyway? In any case he saved me by asking "Is it like the Strange Canadian Toast?". And that's when I realised that what was bread to me wasn't bread in another culture where presumably things didn't come all processed and bundled up in plastic bags. My notion of bread was something they would only use for toast (a presumably lower level of carbohydrate than bread, I guess).
In the interests of completing that story, what happened eventually, I think, was that I trotted something out about how we mostly eat that "toast" thing and then sometimes we have Chinese bread which is came in the form of "bao" and "mantou" - just you try explaining the difference between "bao" and "mantou" to someone halfway across the globe! - and after which time I decided that it would be futile to try and explain about other breads like "prata" and "naan" and "chapati", the differences between which I'm not even very sure of myself.
Imagine my surprise when the one fine day the same issue came up with Jess and Emma. To cut a long story short, Canadian bread sucks, whether you come from Europe or Down Under. This particular point stuck in my head because, hey, it was the first pointed observation that had been made by two sets of very diverse people who found themselves in a foreign land and to some extent, were experiencing a mild "culture shock".
So. That left me with the idea of writing something long-winded and hopefully marginally entertaining, about the differences between them (Canadians) and us (others). I'm going to leave out the rather mundane things that you already know - like how our "petrol" is their "gas" and how we spell "leaves" and they spell "leafs" - and focus on the little daily incidents that had me doing minor double takes.
(Gee, that was a long introduction.)
1. Strange Canadian Poster Putty - Canadian poster putty is abysmal. I don't think I'll be finding anyone to share my pain on this topic anytime soon, but you don't know how much you'll miss blue-tack until you don't have it. I'm not saying I'm complaining, but it's just of a very different consistency and I've had many a night where John (Mayer) and Jack (Johnson) have come crashing down on me, waking me up rudely and essentially being very bad for my mood the next morning. Not that I'm saying either are bad bedfellows, just... oh you know. The irony is that while the putty doesn't stay on the wall very enthusiastically, it is well nigh impossible to remove it from the poster. It sticks to the damned poster like chewing gum to a shoe sole, and attempts to remove it (replacing it with 3M Command Adhesive tacks that cost 5 times the price but work WAY better) tore a small hole somewhere around Kurt's (Cobain) line of sight.
2. Strange Canadian Chlorinated, Flourinated Water - Not a big deal for me, obviously, given that I have a digestive system well attuned to the delicious NewWater, but a major bone of contention for TEMD (my useful abbreviation to take the place of "TinaEmmaMatt&Dave"). Apparently, the water here tastes foul, they can't drink out of the tap! And yes, I did enjoy telling them all about NewWater, and how our government takes issue with chewing gum but not with a population being raised on sai-zhuee. Yummy.
3. Strange Canadian Practices of Eating in Class - maybe not particular to Canadians per se, but an eye-opener for me, nonetheless. It's not like the way we eat in class in Singapore - surreptitiously pop a sweet, or even where it's allowed chow down on a pack of fries / sausage / candy bar or some other finger food. Oh no, here you carry your thermos mug to class with hot coffee in it (a good idea, given the temperatures), you start a first course of say, a doughnut, and then go on to lunchbox of packet food like pasta or rice or something, and then finish of with a whole orange that you peel in class so that the entire class can smell the fragrant oils in the skin. You could even open a tin of sweetened fruits / tuna and dig a real dinner spoon out of your bag to eat it with. Man, I could get into this practice! - only that I somehow haven't mastered the art of taking notes, contributing to discussion and eating all at the same time.
4. Strange Canadian Ways of Sitting in Class - Feet on table, legs crossed on the chair, knee-up like a trishaw rider - no one complains about it looking rude or crude. It only matters that you're comfortable, and I like that.
5. Strange Canadian Pedestrian Cultures - I have totally assimilated into this particular way of going about life, and I swear it will get me killed the moment I set foot back on Singaporean soil. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's a Nova Scotian / Halifax practice because I'm sure in a big city like Toronto it wouldn't work. Here if you're a pedestrian, you're King of the Road. Not in the same way that you're king back home - which says that if a driver hits you it's always his fault, and that there are pedestrian crossings, zebra crossings etc etc. Here it's as if the crossing doesn't even matter, the crossing is purely procedural, not substantive. You can cross when the equivalent of the red man is on, the cars can't do anything, not even horn. You can cross when there's the equivalent of the zebra crossing, AND you can cross where there ISN'T a zebra crossing. Anywhere you stand on the edge of a road the car will just STOP and let you go! Isn't that amazing? And of course no one looks before they cross the street anymore. And you get pretty brazen about stepping in front of moving vehicles even when you see them coming as long as you know the driver's seen you.
6. Strange Canadian Single Item Goods Sales - Probably not the best sub-heading around but I mean that things aren't sold in bulk packets like in Singapore. Like how you can always buy 3 bottles of diswashing liquid together at a time, 6 packets of instant noodles in one pack, 5 boxes of Kleenex tissue in one bundle. Doesn't work like that here. You buy 1 pack of noodles, 1 box of tissues...
7. Strange Canadian Mixed Up Food Pricing Priorities - An even worse sub-heading, my apologies. But chicken drumsticks and thighes are dirt cheap here. And breast meat is bloody expensive. Excellent for me.
8. Strange Canadian Tim Hortons Addictions - Another one of those things that I found strange to start with and now I'm totally assimilated into. Ryder, I think, once mentioned that Tims stuff was extremely mediocre, but somehow if you don't have it everyday you get the shakes. I thought that was absurd, and I thought the first blueberry muffin I had was very mediocre alright, but now I can't live without hot chocolate / cappucino and a boston cream doughnut every other day. I think I'm going to be a very cold turkey when it comes time to go home. And the Aussies and I were talking about talking the franchise back to our home countries - it seems lucrative enough. I spent a morning studying at Timmy H's, and my goodness, the queue stretched out of the door continually for the whole 4 hours I was there! No kidding!
9. Strange Canadian Medicine Dispensing Methods - I think the Candians would actually say "Strange Singaporean Medicine Dispensing Methods" and I might even agree. This just came up in my Medical Malpractice class when we talked about the learned intermediaty exception and everyone was working on the assumption that the pharmacist was a necessary intermediary in the dispensing of medication and it came as a shock to them when I mentioned that in Singapore most general practioners just sell you the medicine right over the counter at the clinic. In fact they were pretty affronted by it, as it would, to them, constitue a conflict of interest that should be avoided at all costs given the fiduciary patient-physician relationship. I never thought about it that way before, and it's a really good point!
And I think 9 is an auspicious number, so I'll stop here. Hands getting too cold to type and I should really be working on my major paper readings.
In the meanwhile, the latest updates are that I'm still having fun, Jess gave me winter socks tied up in a pretty ribbon (I'm really feeling all warm and fuzzy from the niceness of the gesture, not just the socks), Vicki's hopefully still alive and not killed by midterms, I played basketball with the Canadians and they're pretty good, I'm up to speed in my Sale of Goods readings at last, and I'm going to Cape Breton over the weekend!
Till the next time!
[6 photographs developed.]
this is so out of point.. but everything i hear a mayer song i tink of you!
hey hey..the sale of single food items [like instant noodles] not pre-packaged is exactly the same in australia..i had a hard time explaining to people that i was used to buying them in packets of 6..just seems so much more economical right? and the chlorinated water in australia is the same as canada..i have no problems with that as well..i think it all tastes the same to me..but my swedish friends would gladly lecture me any day about how too much chlorine can poison my body.. heheheh and i've heard of the tim horton's franchise while researching my coffee shop..sounds a bit like what coffee bean is to me
Hey girl!!! How's it going?? This is the first time i left u a message eh..sighz..ur blog was dead for so long...Anyway, glad things are looking good in canada. Just saw photos of vicki from ur album..my goodness...haven't seen her in ages!!Anyway, shd really be a good girl and go back to my presentation..ya..2 presentations and 1 in-class essay test this coming week..and i spent the whole day reading 'pride and prejudice'. Can u believe it??! sighz..me and my lack of time management..Think i better stop rambling now..Anyway, u take great care of urse;f girl and say hi to vicki for me too!
Hey sorry to intrude again but how can i see ur previous post?? Have been looking for the 'next post' indication or the likes but couldn't find it somehow...hhaha..juz wondering if i'm the only who can't navigate myself ard...
[bert] ONLY when u hear john mayer songs?
[limin] haha... it's funny how we're at the other ends of the world and experiencing the same things! i just got back from cape breton and i met a guy who spent a year living in the blue mountains (penrith, i think)! another one of those funny incidents... oh and tims is WAY different from coffee bean... and they have doughnuts to rival krispy kreme.
[zhangyi] omg, u're here! heh... haven't heard from u since sydney, u elusive person... the old posts can be found in the archive sections - if u scroll up and look at the left side, you'll see the words "home" and "archive" and just click on "archive".
the cuter strawzb:
NO NEW ENTRIES! BORING.