Lilac Festival and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra

Warm weather has come late to Calgary, but it is quite a relief that it finally has. Shorts, sandals, t-shirts, and (almost) no fear of waking up to a White Christmas every morning. I haven’t seen my breath in well over a week, and if the forecasts are (reasonably) correct, I won’t see it again for a few months.

Deciding that I needed to take a break or suffer the consequences, I make a mental note not to go into the office on the weekend past. Well, except for Saturday — but it wasn’t to do actual work. It was to finish construction on a site for the Toronto Railway Historical Committee (of which I’m on the Communications Committee) — www.trhc.ca. They’re (we’re) just getting off the ground, but the president has done much in a very short period of time.

There’s a couple of weird bugs (only with Macs it seems), but for now it serves the purpose.

After that, I adjourned home. To watch movies. Not having Chris around to talk with at home really brings me down sometimes.

Sunday was significantly better, not only from an activity perspective, but also from a weather perspective. It was already well into the mid-teens when I left to wander around the Lilac Festival that was taking place on 4th Street, from 13th Ave. SW to Elbow Drive. Almost 15 blocks of street vendors, street performers, and about half of Calgary. Despite all the people, I found it almost impossible to walk up and down the street without a huge grin — outside, in the sun, and doing what could easily be construed as summer activities.

My first stop along the way was at Sushi Kawa, at 4th St. and about 22nd Ave. Not only was I deeply in the throes of sushi withdrawal, it was a good chance to visit with Kaz, who works there.

It was a bit of an odd experience going into a restaurant on my own. Sure, I’ve gone into fast food joints on my own before, but an actual restaurant — that’s a new one for me. But there are advantages in Japanese restaurants: Stools at the sushi counter.

The road was beyond packed by the time I got back outside. But I pressed on, walking the length of the street to see anything of interest. Aside from a steel drum band (that actually made Enrique Iglesias sound good), a one man band that did a startling good rendition of Kurt Cobain, a belly dancer, and the living statues … it wasn’t all that thrilling. I kind of missed the Buskerfest in Ottawa during the summers. Far more entertaining.

Reaching the other end of the road, I returned to the apartment to rest a while before heading over to Millennium Park for a free concert by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. The CPO, like many orchestras, is suffering from lack of interest. This was their attempt to make themselves better known, and hope that it will generate a little more revenue for them in the long run.

It was really nice to sit on the grass (but watching for all the goose droppings) and listen to a good orchestra play live music. It was really good to really see the stereotypical view of Calgary being shed away as they played traditional English folk tunes, music from Les Mis, even a piece composed by the resident composer (which sounded not unlike a Stravinsky-influenced John Williams).

Until they started playing fiddle music. So much for smashing stereotypes.

They finished off with the theme from Star Wars. They did a pretty decent job of it, although I personally think the tempo was too fast.

Concert over, I proceeded to wander around the river and see what there was to see. People were out skating, biking, jogging, walking, but most of all, enjoying the warmth. It’s been a chilly start to the year, and I think we’ll all very happy to have it a little nicer around here.

And now that I’ve said that, we’re probably gonna have a blizzard on Sunday…

Star Wars and the Last Episode of The X-Files

Long weekends are rarely long enough. I’d like one to last about a year, personally, but without all the seasonal changes. But I suppose that’s what Hawaii is for…

My weekend (sort of) started on Thursday night, with the premiere of “Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones”. Although I’m still not sold on the title, I think the movie is a vast improvement over Episode One. And it’s gonna be a heck of a lead-in for Episode Three.

One thing that was definitely missing this time was hype. True, hype can severely detriment a film. It can drag it down by setting expectations far too high. But at the same time, there’s such a powerful excitement that you really don’t care if the movie sucks or not — you just want to be there. While I can’t speak for either Therese or Stuart, I was a little disenchanted this time. Even when the words: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” came up, and the audience went ballistic (I love opening night crowds), I didn’t feel that excited grin cross my face. It was almost as if I was just seeing another movie.

Maybe I was, but wasn’t willing to accept it. Who knows — a few people have speculated that this hasn’t exactly been the best year for me: My father passing away, my workload and responsibility load increasing dramatically, and now Chris having left for Japan. (And we’re not even half-way through the year yet.) I suppose it’s entirely possible that the joy I should feel last left. Is it time for a change in lifestyle, perhaps? Well, I’ve got one coming soon…

The date of closure of my house is coming soon. In less than two weeks, I’ll be in my “new” house. I had originally feared that the excitement I first felt upon buying the house would eventually dissipate, and I wouldn’t end up wanting to move. Thankfully, the last few days have shown me that I am not only ready to leave my apartment, but I can’t wait to move into the house. Right now, I need the patience of a Jedi just to keep from bursting my skin wanting to move in. I’ve started driving by the house, just to remind myself. At times, this still feels like a dream. Whether or not it turns out to be a nightmare remains to be seen…

On Friday night, I was supposed to attend Star Wars with friends from the office. However, I had other plans — seeing friends I haven’t seen for a very long time: Ed and Jen. Ed is one of my friends from first year university, and was one of my roommates during my second year. Both years rank very highly in my best and most cherished memories. It had been over four years since I’d last seen Jen — about one and a half since I’d last seen Ed — and in both cases it had been far too long.

They arrived on the 9:45pm flight from Toronto, and despite looking a little dazed (and being quite hungry), they looked almost exactly the way I’d last remembered them. It’s good to know some things don’t change too much. We picked up their luggage, arranged for their rental car, and headed to my apartment. (Although I had sent them instructions on how to get there, I figured it was just plain easier for me to pick them up. Long flights and detailed instructions rarely mix well.)

After unceremoniously dumping their belongings at the apartment, we adjourned to Ceili’s for a late evening meal (of chicken wings and seasoned chicken bites) and beer. It was also a chance to retell old stories, catch up on new ones, and retie the old bonds that had kept us friends. If anything, it reinforced the need for me to visit with friends this year, especially those I haven’t seen for a long time.

We were in bed relatively early (I was plenty tired, and they were jet lagged), and up by 8:30. Ed and Jen were parked out on the street, which expired by 9:00 — besides, they wanted to get a start on the day and get on their camping vacation. The first order of business however, was breakfast. I knew of two places not too far away that were supposedly quite good, but only one I knew of for certain — The Galaxie Diner.

This is probably about as landmark as a Calgary restaurant gets. And it has, according to my breakfast cohorts, some of the best breakfasts available. You just need to get there fairly early. Something I definitely need to keep in mind for the next time people are out this way.

Following breakfast was a series of trips to get provisions and supplies for Ed and Jen. Luckily, they had upgraded their car reservation the night before from a Ford Focus to Pontiac Intrigue. (Yeah, I know, “upgrade” is subjective. Simple fact: the Intrigue is bigger. Hence, more room to store all the stuff they had.) By 2:30, they had all the things they needed, had seen a bit of Calgary, and were ready to head into the mountains.

I spent the rest of the day watching TV and movies. I felt a complete lack of desire to go outside.

Sunday morning, met up with Kaz for dim sum. She had called me a couple days earlier interested in going for dim sum, if there was a party going. I had some difficulty raising anyone else (turned out to be a case of missing people), so it ended up just being Kaz and myself.

A first note on dim sum for two: Can’t be done, especially if you know what you’re getting and have been with large groups. Both Kaz and I overate. But it was all good — I didn’t eat again until much later.

Going to dim sum with Kaz was a little uncomfortable. It was just me, so I lacked the “safety in numbers”. I know this sounds strange, but look at it this way: I was out with my best friend’s fiancée, while my best friend is half-way around the world. It’s a little disconcerting, and only because I’m still getting to know her, and she’s getting to know me. But by the end, I was feeling much better — I think it’s just a case of finding ground on my own. (Previously, Chris had always been around.) One thing the dim sum did give us was a chance to talk. There were a few things Kaz needed to know, not only about Chris, but about the rest of us, too. Barring a change in plans, Kaz will become Chris’ wife, and therefore someone who’ll need to know who we are.

After dim sum, I wandered about downtown for a while, but ended up at home. Watching TV. And movies.

Luckily, I was rescued by Stuart and Therese, who invited me over for the first barbecue of the season, and to watch the final episode of the X-Files. The three of us (and often with Chris) had watched the X-Files religiously for years — often in our parents’ basements when were in Oakville, with my travelling to Guelph a few times to watch season premieres (and finales) when we were in university, and sharing stories and theories during the summer breaks. But no more, except in reruns.

Today was … pretty much a nothing day. I needed to come in to work, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I forced myself outside for a couple of hours, but soon found myself wanting to go home again. It was a warm day, but hazy … the Weather Network put it down as “smoke”, but from what I don’t know — the mountains are still thawing out.

Another week is underway, and it brings me another week closer to changing my life. I, for one, can’t wait.

Chris Goes to Japan … the Second Time

Maybe this is forever,
Forever fades away,
Like a rocket ascending into space,
Could you not be sad,
Could you not break down,
After all I won’t let go,
Until you’re safe and sound.
— “Safe and Sound”, Sheryl Crow

Today, a dream came true. Today, Chris left on his jet plane; destination: Narita International Airport, Japan. For the next 365 days, he’ll live in a different country, a different culture, and experience something that many of us never will.

Last Thursday (9 May 2002) was Chris’ first attempt. This was a bit of a false start, which we could only owe to a fair amount of miscommunication.

Chris, Kaz, and I arrived at the airport just after 9:30 that morning, and wheeled Chris’ copious amount of heavy luggage to the check-in counter. The clerk took Chris’ ticket, and started the process to get him all set to go. However, part-way through checking him in, she noted something odd. Chris only had a one-way ticket. This prompted the following discussion:

Clerk: Going to Japan?
Chris: (Excitedly) Yes.
Clerk: Are you going to work in Japan?
Chris: Yes, I’m going to teach English.
Clerk: Where’s your visa?

At this point, my heart sank. I think Chris’ started to, but he quickly started telling the clerk about the arrangement he had with the company. As far as Chris understood it, there was a visa with his name on it, just waiting for him in Japan. However, as the clerk knew it, Chris would not be allowed into Japan without a visa, and without a round-trip ticket he would be viewed as an immigrant, rather than a tourist. Without a work visa, Chris would be denied entry … and Air Canada would be fined $10,000 for sending someone without proper papers.

Chris started making (somewhat frantic) phone calls to the Canadian branch of his company, based in Montreal. I’ve known Chris for half my life. But I have never seen him look as despondent as he did when the truth slowly started to form. It was becoming quite clear that Chris would not be going to Japan that day.

Now here’s where I was really impressed. Air Canada is notorious for being the worst airline in Canada when it comes to service. Well, not only did the clerk retrieve Chris’ bags (she had sent two down before realizing that there was going to be trouble), but she also managed to convert Chris’ non-changeable/non-refundable ticket into a changeable ticket, where the issuing agent would “refund” the price and immediately roll it over into a round-trip open ticket.

Here’s what’s *supposed* to happen: Chris is to travel to Japan with an open ticket. He can enter the country as a tourist for 90 days on a “tourist visa”. (Doesn’t actually exist, but that’s what it’s referred to as.) Once he’s in the door, he can convert his “tourist visa” into a work visa. This is the way his company operates, mostly because they get teachers on short notice, and don’t have three months to wait to clear visas from the originating country.

So Chris got to spend nearly an extra week in Calgary, with his fiancée, and with his friends. After he got his new ticket, it suddenly seemed more real than it had the first time. It was almost like I knew that he wouldn’t actually leave the first time — that something would keep him here. Today, it was real. Today, I knew I would see him walk through security, and not come back.

Chris, Kaz, and I arrived at the airport shortly after 9:00 (his flight to Vancouver left a half-hour earlier than the previous one). This time, checking Chris in took about 15 minutes — less than three of which were at the counter. Boarding pass in hand, all we had to do was wait.

Just after 10:00, we proceeded to the gate to show Chris off. It was just the three of us. I had always imagined this giant throng of friends who would be wishing him off, causing a massive traffic jam of people. But it was just us. I think I actually preferred it that way.

It was a lot easier seeing Chris off than I thought it would be. It’s probably because Chris and I know each other so well now that it really doesn’t matter where we are — halfway around the world is a short distance for people so close to each other.

Chris and Kaz, on the other hand, weren’t quite as easy. I can’t blame them — deeply in love, recently engaged, and the single largest test of distance just beginning. But they’ll have others for support, and the knowledge that Chris will be coming back.

I suppose the whole thing hasn’t fully hit me yet, though. I’m going to go home to what’s now just my apartment. No roommate. (Not counting the cat, that is.) No-one to talk to. No-one to laugh with. No-one to watch bad movies and rhyme off childish one-liners with.

A little over two years to the day that Chris arrived here, Chris left. The day he arrived, I felt an intense anger that I was cohabitating again (I hadn’t gotten over the ex-girlfriend issues at the time). Now I can’t imagine not living with him. But I know that while he may be gone, he’s still there. And he always will be.

God speed, dear friend.

A Surprise Engagement

Ever tried to catch a thrown brick? It ain’t easy. First, you prepare for the heavy weight, which often has sharp edges, and then you try to position your body so that you can buffer the shock and try to prevent bodily harm. But in almost every case, you end up dropping it because it’s a lot heavier than you think it is.

Such is what happened to me last evening. It started innoculously enough — a simple phone call from Chris. Well, “simple” in its simplest meaning, but loaded with a lot of “something big”. It went like this:

Me: Hello?
Chris: Hey man, what’s up? (Standard opening to a phone call for us.)
Me: Not much, the usual hell of my daily life. (Standard answer to the question.)
Chris: You doing anything tonight?
Me: Nope. (Knowing full well that I was supposed to meet with an insurance agent, who never ended up showing.)
Chris: Great! Kaz and I would like to meet you for coffee.

That’s when my “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” alarm went off. Chris has never, EVER, asked me to go for “coffee”. And if he would ask, the question would be posed as follows: “Wanna grab a coffee after work?” or something similar. The question was too formal, and loaded with the “Kaz and I”. Immediate thoughts ran through my mind:

  1. Kaz is pregnant.
  2. Chris has decided not to go to Japan, and is moving in with Kaz.
  3. Chris and Kaz got engaged.
  4. I’m overreacting, and it’s nothing.
  5. Kaz is going to Japan with Chris. (She’s Japanese by birth, so it’s not *that* big of a stretch.)
  6. After I move to my new house, Chris is hoping I might take Kaz in as a roommate.
  7. They’ve eloped and are married, bought a house, and Kaz is pregnant with twins. (Like with all things I do, even my paranoia follows the adage: Go big, or go home.)

These flitted through pretty quickly, and none stuck. I figured it was just Chris being a little strange because of having a new girlfriend (Chris sometimes gets like that).

That evening, I ducked out shortly before 6pm and headed home. I was hoping to meet up with the building manager to try and swing a May 31st departure. But the manager I needed to talk to wasn’t in. I instead went up to the apartment for a few minutes before heading out to meet up with Chris and Kaz at the Starbuck’s on 17th Ave. (which was where I was supposed to meet the absent agent) for 7pm.

Although I didn’t notice it at the time, Chris was a little … nervous. And for good reason. We took up a seat next to the fireplace, and almost immediately Chris and Kaz held out their left hands. On their ring fingers were matching (but differently sized) plain white gold rings.

Number three.

There are few things that will shock me. There are few things that will surprise me. There are even fewer things that will stun me so completely that for about a minute I can’t think of anything to say. I finally had to force out “My most sincere congratulations” and stifle the “Are you out of your collective minds?!”.

Once we’d gotten by the uncomfortable silence that followed the “announcement” (it took a little while for it to sink in), I had to start asking questions. As one of Chris’ friends, one of my responsibilities is to be his conscience, whether he likes it or not. The trick is not to ask questions that could be construed as insulting. Chris knows me well — I can ask him literally anything and he’ll understand it’s just me checking my own sanity as much as his. Kaz, on the other hand, is only just getting to know me. Having caught the dropped bomb, I now had to be careful about laying the landmines.

A lot of people would sit back and suggest that they’re moving too quickly (which is a perfectly valid thought), that they haven’t thought things through, that this is inherently risky (especially since Chris is going to Japan for a year), and there is no way they could possibly know each other well enough.

Any question you ask, they’ve thought of. They’ve considered it. There is no fear, no doubt, no hesitation. And above all, there is sensible thought about all of it. That was one of the first things I checked. Having been engaged in the past, I know what kind of pressures they’ll be under, and having popped the question so soon after meeting each other (about three weeks, by my count), they’ll be under way more pressure than most.

Needless to say, I’m totally happy for them. I think it’s great that they were able to find each other, and able to realize very early in the relationship that this wasn’t just some iffy thing — they could see it in themselves that they were ready to be with each other for the rest of their lives. I will be lucky if I have that happen to me. I’ve seen it a couple of times before, but I guess with my own history, I’m not too optimistic for myself.

So as if my anxieties about losing Chris weren’t bad enough, now he’s getting married (no plans beyond coming back from Japan, sorry). That means more isolation for myself, and the inevitable sound of little feet (though hopefully, no time soon).

I’m too young for this shit.

Preparing to Move to Japan

Although it’s very tempting to say that it’s the beginning of the end — it wouldn’t really be appropriate.

It’s no longer a guess, it’s not a possibility, it’s not even a plan anymore. It’s fact. Chris is going to Japan. On Thursday (9 May 2002). For an entire year, he’ll be teaching children of all ages the fine art of writing, reading, and speaking English.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday marked Chris’ last day at Critical Mass. It was an emotional day for many people, including myself. Although it does sound a little strange that Chris and I not only work together but live together, you do need to understand that it works very well for us. We don’t see each other much around the office (we’re on different floors, different projects, and more times than not, all we get to do is nod at each other), so a lot of the time we see each other is at home, or when we’re out with friends.

I’ve known Chris a very long time — now over half of my life. (I’ve known Stuart just as long, and Therese not too far off.) I’ve lived with him for two years. (In fact, Chris will be leaving just a couple days shy of his two-year anniversary in Calgary.) It’s going to be hard to not have him around.

To mark his departure, we wanted to do something special. We wanted to give him something that he’d not only remember us (and I’m not referring to just Therese, Stuart, and myself — I’m referring to almost everyone he knows in Calgary), but something he’d use. Knowing that Chris will be completely overwhelmed by everything he’ll see and do while he’s in Japan, I figured the best thing was to give him a digital camera. I threw the idea out to the ABC — the “Asian Brother Crew”, who pretty much all agreed that it was the best thing going.

There were two tacks that we could take — get him a cheap camera and have a small number of people, or get a good one and include a larger number of folks. Teak and I discussed this at length and decided to “go big, or go home”. (Or as my dad would say: If you’re going to do something, do it right.) So Teak gathered a small flock of people and raised a small fortune. Although I was prepared to put in the lion’s share of the cost, I didn’t have to in the end.

This wasn’t Chris’ only gift from friends. Jensenne and Jeanette, with photos and blurbs from friends, made Chris a scrapbook to remember what he was leaving behind. It was a great combination of fun, goofiness, old pictures, silly pictures, and a lot of people who wanted Chris to not stay away.

As for the last hurrah, we all agreed that Sakana Grill was the place. Teak made the arrangements — actually talking to the manager (it’s a lot easier to have a guy who can speak Japanese to make a reservation at a Japanese restaurant), and reserving enough places for 50+ people. This wasn’t all just for Chris, though — this was also for Nathan (in our AppDev department) and Jen (who had been filling in as our receptionist), who were also celebrating their last day at Critical Mass.

We had 43 confirmations on Friday morning. There were at least 60 people when Chris, Tamara, Stuart, and myself arrived. (Stuart is not Therese’s Stuart — this is a new co-worker who’s trying to get to know people.) We had a hard time sitting in. But we weren’t the last. We actually overflowed the area we were sitting. It was crazy.

After dinner, the immense crowd broke up, and we ended up with the ABC, plus a couple of others. Plans were loosely set, mostly that Chris had to go pick up Kaz. It was decided that the bulk of the group would go to Cinescape to play video games, and we’d give them a call when we were more organized.

Who’s Kaz, you ask?

Kaz is short for Kazumi … and is Chris’ new girlfriend.

Yeah, he has a girlfriend. It’s kinda creepy how well they get along, especially considering at the time the two of them hooked up, Chris already knew he was going to Japan. (Kaz, by the way, is Japanese, and has only been in Canada for about a year.) She knew he was going to Japan. But they’re both serious about each other, to the point where they’re waiting on each other until Chris gets back a year from now.

We picked Kaz up from the Petro-Canada on 4th St. (she had just come off work) and dropped her off at home. We returned to our apartment where Chris got cleaned up, I tidied the apartment, and then starting calling around to see what people were interested in. The plan ended up with everyone coming over to our apartment for video games and movies. Not particularly original, but still fun.

It would be the last game/movie night in our apartment.

Chris went off to retrieve Kaz as everyone started to arrive. Pretty soon, the living room was full of people yelling and screaming (due to invigorating games of Virtua Tennis). We switched to a movie a little later on, “Shaolin Soccer”, which several people hadn’t seen.

The last game night ended around 2am, with everyone heading to their respective homes. Unfortunately, Chris and Kaz didn’t get back until everyone was leaving, and missed out on the festivities.

Yesterday, we planned to have the whole crew go down to Chinook Paramount to watch Spider-Man, for a last group night at the movies. I tried to organize this within the span of about 20 minutes, with some degree of success, but in the end (owing to scheduling and communication problems), Chris was unable to come (he has promised to pick up Kaz after work, which conflicted with the movie time). We did luckily end up meeting for tea/coffee/dessert at Bubblemania on 16th Ave.

This morning was one of the big “lasts” — the last dim sum. This was when it finally hit me. The other lasts hadn’t done anything, but this one left me really thinking about what was going to happen. Although Chris does intend to return in a year (because of Kaz), there will always be the possibility that he may never return from Japan. I had to give a moment of pause when I realized that there was the chance that this is another chapter of my life about to close.

The next few days are going to be odd. They are going to be hard.

But not as hard as the ones that will follow.