equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
29 Jan 07

An Assortment of Messages

I never used to answer my phone.

Part of it was because I was being stalked by a crazy girl for a while. Somehow she got my num­ber and called a few times, but Trolley picked up and was able to warn me.

The other rea­son was because I used to be stoned almost every minute off work. Dealing with peo­ple in the out­side world was an instant buzz kill.

It’s only recently that I’ve started tak­ing calls again. The lan­guid process of reha­bil­i­tat­ing my social skills has been rather slow. Sometimes I get so busy that I don’t have time to check my mes­sages, and they build up into strange archives like this, circa last month.

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John gives me the fun­ni­est advice some­times. I never did call the girl. Anyone who comes on that strong is usu­ally trouble.


Dan is eas­ily the most loqua­cious per­son that I know, yet he’s per­fectly suc­cinct when leav­ing mes­sages. I find it funny that he always leaves his num­ber at the end. I guess we don’t see each other enough for him to be sure that I haven’t lost it. Last time was November. I should give him a call.


One time, Pat asked me for my birth date. He told me that he wrote down the date and stuck it to his fridge, so he would be reminded every time he went to grab some­thing to eat. Apparently, he’s ter­ri­ble at remem­ber­ing birth­days, so for him to remem­ber mine was quite a gesture.


My dad left me two mes­sages. They’re rather short, so I’ll give a quick trans­la­tion. First call: “Jeff, it’s Daddy. Just call­ing to talk. I’m guess­ing you went out. I’ll call you later, bye bye.” Second call: “Hi Jeff, it’s Daddy. Daddy moved, so there’s a new address and num­ber. I’ll call you later. Bye bye.” The first two words he says are are my Chinese name, and “Daddy” doesn’t need to be translated.


This is the creepi­est mes­sage I’ve ever received. I have no idea who it is, but they know my name. I can’t even tell if they’re male or female. I tried to do a reverse lookup on the num­ber, and called it even, but it’s not in ser­vice. The only words I can make out are “Hi Jeff, this is Emily…had to fight for your number…maybe you want to chill some time”.


Even though we already broke up, Bronwen has no prob­lem telling me that she loves me, then call­ing me a loser. To this day, our rela­tion­ship is defined by this very repartee.

26 Jan 07

Protected: The Old Boys of '99: Seeto and Bunston

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24 Jan 07

The Cutest Thing

At the Tai Chi stu­dio, bath­rooms are shared with an account­ing office in the same building.

Yesterday I found out that the keys aren’t labeled “Men” and “Women”, they say Yin and Yang.

22 Jan 07

Connor, Warrior Fish

So I got a fish.

Thumbnail: Connor side-view

A Siamese fight­ing fish, or Betta, named Connor to be exact. I wanted some­thing lively in my room, since I spend so much time in it. When I went to the store with Pat and Jen, they noticed that one fish was con­stantly flar­ing and swim­ming in cir­cles, almost like he was pac­ing. The fish in the cup next to him (to keep them sep­a­rate or they fight to the death) kept set­ting him off, so nat­u­rally, he was the one. As a clown­tail vari­ant, his fins are extended long like a comb.

I also got some live plants with which came a tiny snail, so small that he was trans­par­ent at first. After a few weeks, he grew con­sid­er­ably big­ger, and sur­vived a cou­ple hours out of water while I was clean­ing out the tank. Bronwen named him Humphrey, but he has since died, found dried up at the top of the tank one morning.

Bettas are funny crea­tures. Supposedly, they have per­son­al­i­ties (for fish), but I can never tell with pets I can’t touch. Sure, he swims towards me every time I turns on the lights or enter the room, but for all I know he could think of me as food. I can only tell that he’s very aggres­sive, flar­ing out his body and swim­ming back and forth when­ever some­thing gets near enough. It’s like he’s a caged glad­i­a­tor, rest­less about his next bat­tle. Dolly likes to sit in my chair and watch him go.

Thumbnail: Connor flares
Thumbnail: Connor flares
Thumbnail: Connor macro
Thumbnail: Pale Connor

I named him Connor, after the immor­tal Connor MacLeod from Highlander, because THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE (Betta in a bowl at a time).

19 Jan 07

The Old Boys of '99: Another Perspective

Note: I asked John, as a guest writer, to give his opin­ion. It’s funny to read his writ­ing; the style is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. It’s obvi­ous that years of law school have changed him.

When Jeff asked me to write about the “Old Boy sys­tem” at UCC, the first thing I asked was, “what sys­tem”? To me, “sys­tem” implies some order or plan or orga­ni­za­tion, and the alumni of UCC have no spe­cial kin­ship or bond. An “Old Boy sys­tem” con­notes one that is dif­fer­ent from the ones that exist in every grad­u­at­ing class from every school I know of.

I had men­tioned to him that one of our class­mates is in my year at law school and Jeff won­dered aloud whether I would have men­tioned it, or noticed it per­haps, if that class­mate and I had not gone to UCC. I replied that I would have noticed him notwith­stand­ing our atten­dance at UCC, as long as we’d been a part of the same high school class as I’m sure most peo­ple would.

My per­spec­tive on the “sys­tem” is that there isn’t one.

I find it inter­est­ing that many peo­ple seem to think that one exists, and note that the main evi­dence used to prove their case is the seem­ing preva­lence of UCC alumni in the halls of power in this coun­try. In response, I would point out that the two things, atten­dance at UCC and later pro­fes­sional suc­cess, more likely have the same root cause — money, fam­ily con­nec­tions, or dare I say it, intel­li­gence.

The like­li­hood of those things being the cause of one’s pro­fes­sional advance­ment is greater than or equal to the like­li­hood that some sys­tem of quid pro quos or school ties. Ockham’s Razor is a prin­ci­ple that I would bring up in this con­text to dis­suade those who would claim that any sys­tem is behind the rise of Old Boys in their occu­pa­tions, the tenet of that prin­ci­ple being that the sim­plest expla­na­tion is more often than not the accu­rate one, and in this case which expla­na­tion is the sim­plest and most elegant.

That Old Boys get together in some nefar­i­ous Cabal to chart the course of the coun­try and select from amongst their num­ber the cho­sen to lead it is a myth.

Or is it sim­pler to say that chaos reigns supreme and indi­vid­ual old boys make their own way in the world, with­out the kind of help that the phrase “Old Boy sys­tem” connotes?

The peo­ple sin­gled out in Fitzgerald’s book are just that — sin­gled out. There are, if I’m not mis­taken, 71 old boys pro­filed in the book who grad­u­ated from the 1920’s to the 1990’s. In that time more than 5000 boys have grad­u­ated. The idea that 1.4% of those grad­u­ates are some­how a reli­able and rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple is ludi­crous. Such a sam­ple should not be used to draw any con­clu­sions or to make any generalizations.

The Old Boys of '99 Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Another Perspective
  3. Seeto and Bunston
  4. Mungovan and King
  5. Providing Ignorance as Bliss
  6. My Perspective
17 Jan 07

Kilted Groomsmen

You’re the per­fect woman.”

She real­izes this as she writes down my chest, waist, and hip size, then asks rhetor­i­cally, “What are the typ­i­cally ideal measurements?”.

Aaron and I could only look at each other, as we had no idea.


Wow, so you’re a really hot chick!”, says Aaron.

Hi-LAR-ious. Years of con­fi­dence I’ve gained, girl­friends con­vinc­ing me that I’m not too skinny, gone.

Reduced to a male fan­tasy, I’m my own dream girl.

And how much do you weigh?”


After he’s had a buf­fet”, Aaron adds. My friend the come­dian. To con­sole me, he says, “It’s okay. Remember, you’ll be paired up with Jenn in the party”.

My coun­ter­part. The tini­est girl I know.

Thumbnail: Aaron's wedding band

In the last few years I’ve been to wed­dings for other friends, but Aaron’s the first out of my core group to get mar­ried (although Pat got engaged before him). To pay trib­ute to his cul­ture, he wants the wed­ding to be a bit Scottish — some­thing his Popa is espe­cially pleased about.

As a grooms­man, I’ll be wear­ing a kilt. As a Chinese guy, I’ll be feel­ing a lit­tle out-of-place.

Thumbnail: Matching the sporran and kilt colours
Thumbnail: Comparing sporrans
Thumbnail: Ghillie Brogues
Thumbnail: Ghillie Brogues

He asked me to give him a hand in shop­ping for the regalia. What a cul­ture shock. Looking through cat­a­logues of claid­heamh, sporrans, Sgian Dubhs, Ghillies Brogues. I can’t even pro­nounce the names. My tongue wasn’t made for these kinds of inflections.

It’ll take you guys longer to get dressed than the bride”.

Before we leave I remem­ber to ask, “Can we go tra­di­tional?”, with Aaron adding, “My Popa would be pretty upset if we didn’t”.

Traditional. The euphemism for com­mando. The euphemism for bear-ass naked.

Don’t worry, every­thing is dry-cleaned”, say the woman reassuringly.

It’s only after we leave that I real­ize every­thing but the shirt is made of wool.

I’ll be scratch­ing my balls through the whole service.

15 Jan 07

The Bias of Insecurity

I like to think that humans are, in gen­eral, cere­bral beings, unaf­fected by bias or emotion.

But every time I’m met with a bigot, who has noth­ing to cling to but the strength of their opin­ions, I lose this hope.

The more they speak, the more they prove them­selves as inca­pable of accept­ing any­thing but their own beliefs. Added to this is a lack of self-awareness, caus­ing them believe that they’re not closed-minded, they’re just right.

Often it betrays an inse­cu­rity. You can tell that under­neath their words, they har­bour a sub­con­scious feel­ing that they’re wrong. To make up for this, they express them­selves strongly enough to con­vince them­selves that they’re right.

As log­i­cally as you explain things, step-by-step, premise to con­clu­sion, they won’t under­stand. They’ll never be able to accept the truth, and remain com­pletely ignorant.

It’s impos­si­ble to have a dis­cus­sion with some­one like this.

The dis­cus­sion is super­fi­cial, and the issue lies within the per­son themselves.

12 Jan 07

The Old Boys of '99: Introduction

An old boy net­work or soci­ety can refer to social and busi­ness asso­ci­a­tions among for­mer pupils of top male-only pub­lic schools (inde­pen­dent sec­ondary schools)…and indi­rectly to preser­va­tion of social elites over time with­out regard to merit.


My high-school, Upper Canada College, is often touted as one of the best schools to attend in Canada. Someone once said that it pro­vides Canada with a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of lead­ers, of whom include a Governor General, five Lieutenant-Governors, 24 Rhodes Scholars, and nine Olympic medallists.

Thumbnail: Survivors
Thumbnail: The flag hug
Thumbnail: Rugby and cricket players
Thumbnail: Trombone trio
Thumbnail: Rowing on Lake Ontario
Thumbnail: Football game
Thumbnail: English department
Thumbnail: Hockey team
Thumbnail: School spirit
Thumbnail: Away game

The fac­ulty was excep­tional. A pas­sion­ate, charis­matic group, some of them for­mer pro­fes­sors, notable busi­ness­men, intel­lec­tu­als. The facil­i­ties were top notch; foot­ball fields, base­ball dia­monds, ten­nis courts, indoor/outdoor pools, squash courts. Even the bands and the­atre groups had access to exotic instru­ments and props. I remem­ber for a pro­duc­tion of Hamlet they hired a fight chore­o­g­ra­pher to lend his exper­tise in orches­trat­ing the final fight scene.

School isn’t just about the edu­ca­tion though. It’s as much about the expe­ri­ence. The class­mates. The con­nec­tions. The Old Boy net­work.

When I first started at the prep at age seven, I was cycling along a bridge with another lit­tle seven year old UCC chap. He said to me, ‘My mother is so happy that we are friends because you are going to be able to do so much for me in later life.’ I remem­ber think­ing, ‘I won­der what it is that I am going to be able to do for this chap?’ Then I grew up and real­ized, ‘So that’s the way it is. That is what peo­ple expect.’

—Lord David Thomson (1964–1967, 1970–1975), Chairman of Thomson cor­po­ra­tion, Canada’s wealth­i­est man, sixth wealth­i­est in the world

The influ­ence of the elite legacy of the Old Boys is far-reaching. Compounding this is the age of the school, and per­haps a degree of nepo­tism. A related male at the school sig­nif­i­cantly increased the chances of get­ting in.

Like his grand­fa­ther, John was in McHugh’s house. If had a brother or a son, they would belong to Jackson’s.

Years later, I insisted that my sons, Hugh and Stafford, go to UCC sim­ply because I knew from my own expe­ri­ence that once a boy had gone to Upper Canada, he would never again be in awe of great fam­ily names, money, power or social stand­ing. He would know that although a good pri­vate school like UCC can pro­duce the best, it can also pro­duce the worst.

—Conn Smythe (1908–1910), founder, Maple Leaf Gardens

It was only when James Fitzgerald, an Old Boy him­self, pub­lished his best-selling book Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College in 1994 (from where these quotes are taken) that the blem­ishes of UCC came to light.

Beneath the veneer of of navy blue blaz­ers and pol­ished shoes were issues like any other school. There were drugs (though much higher-classed because of bet­ter fund­ing). There were sadis­tic head­mas­ters who looked for an excuse to cane their pupils. There were teach­ers who molested — or seduced — their students.

I learned to be a sex­ual masochist at Upper Canada. I’m not kid­ding. Whenever the house­mas­ter caught me mas­tur­bat­ing, his way of deal­ing with it was to cane me. Caning is a rot­ten method of teach­ing any­thing. What it taught me, of course, was the erotic con­nec­tions of can­ing. They are still with me to this day.

—John Gartshore (1935–1943), musician

A cou­ple months ago, I received a copy of Old Times, the semi-annual pub­li­ca­tion for alumni. In a sec­tion called “Class Notes”, they bring oth­ers up to speed on their class­mates. In the last issue, for exam­ple, they men­tion that Michael Ignatieff, class of ’65, had just joined the race for the lead­er­ship of the Liberal Party of Canada.

There are updates start­ing from the grad­u­ates of 1941, includ­ing my grad­u­at­ing class, the class of ’99. Out of curios­ity, I looked back on my year­book, The College Times, Canada’s old­est stu­dent pub­li­ca­tion. I had to won­der just how much the pres­tige of the school had helped them. To com­pare my idea of where I believed my fel­low class­mates would be, with what they’re doing now.

The mem­o­ries I had didn’t always match up with their cur­rent achievements.

The Old Boys of '99 Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Another Perspective
  3. Seeto and Bunston
  4. Mungovan and King
  5. Providing Ignorance as Bliss
  6. My Perspective
08 Jan 07

Video Wrap-up '06

Much like my end-of-year pho­tos, I had a few mis­cel­la­neous video clips that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

Parental Sit Rep

This is the typ­i­cal thing that hap­pens when I first see John in per­son. Since it’s usu­ally only once a year I get to do this, we do all major updat­ing. The minor issues are taken care of on a weekly basis over the phone.

I didn’t real­ize what sit rep meant until I heard it again while going through my footage.

Exhaling Food

And, of course, John gets his turn at catch­ing me up with all his drama. The way John expresses him­self often ends up mak­ing me laugh at inop­por­tune moments, such as when I’m try­ing to swal­low solid foods, which then tries to make its way through my nasal cavity.

PDA = pub­lic dis­play of affection.

Bubble Juggler

Trolley makes a good attempt at jug­gling two vials of bub­ble mix, then gets served by a passer-by.

Drinking Buddy



I had John in a ten­der state, telling me about his moth­ers last moments. Even though I found out on the first day of school in grade 10 that she died, he never told me the details until that rainy sum­mer day.

05 Jan 07


I gen­er­ally don’t like blog net­works. Too often they’re super­fi­cial, cheaply con­structed com­mu­ni­ties used by the cre­ators to give them­selves a sense of belong­ing and pur­pose in the blo­gos­phere. Some of the most promi­nent exam­ples of this are on Livejournal, where any­one will cre­ate a clique if they’re an emo kid, a self-proclaimed “hot mom”, or even hap­pen to hate Rachael Ray.

There was only one com­mu­nity that caught my eye in the four years I’ve been blog­ging. Several pro­lific sites I fre­quent, such as graph­ic­Push, Snook, 456 Berea Street, and even Lorelle fea­ture a small leaf on their site. I had to learn more about this lit­tle uni­ver­sal logo that was on many of the sites that inspired me, and the net­work called 9rules.

9rules logo

I dis­cov­ered that they’re the only com­mu­nity with a phi­los­o­phy and qual­ity with which I agreed. As on their web­site, “9rules is a com­mu­nity of the best weblogs in the world on a vari­ety of top­ics. We started 9rules to give pas­sion­ate writ­ers more expo­sure and to help read­ers find great blogs on their favorite sub­jects. It’s dif­fi­cult to find sites worth return­ing to, so 9rules brings together the very best of the inde­pen­dent web all under one roof.”

Their phi­los­o­phy is based on a set of nine rules to live by:

  1. Love what you do.
  2. Never stop learning.
  3. Form works with function.
  4. Simple is beautiful.
  5. Work hard, play hard.
  6. You get what you pay for.
  7. When you talk, we listen.
  8. Must con­stantly improve.
  9. Respect your inspiration.

Although I can say that I agree and fol­low every sin­gle one of them, num­ber eight par­tic­u­larly res­onated with me. It’s one of my rea­sons for liv­ing, and par­tially why I started blog­ging in the first place.

For once, I felt com­pelled to join a community.

Becoming a mem­ber, how­ever, isn’t a sim­ple task. Every few months, they open a 24 hour win­dow for peo­ple to sub­mit their blogs. 9rules doesn’t have a spe­cific cri­te­ria for what to accept. Sites are judged on con­sis­tency and qual­ity of mate­r­ial, as well the pas­sion for the sub­jects being blogged.

The com­mu­nity lead­ers go through every site together, often sev­eral times, before decid­ing whether to let some­one join. They also main­tain an exclu­siv­ity clause; mem­bers aren’t allowed to be part of any other com­mu­nity. There was even a purge once, to clean the net­work of any sites whose qual­ity had dropped.

In the past, the accep­tance rates have been between 8–16%. The most recent round (the fifth) was last October, with 1190 blogs being sub­mit­ted. At the end of this round, the num­ber of accepted mem­bers stands at a ten­ta­tive 134.

Two weeks ago, I found out that I’m one of them.

01 Jan 07

New Year's '07

Thumbnail: Roast beef
Pat and Jen overfeed us.
Playing Tetris on the DS
Playing Dutch Blitz

Christmas is for fam­i­lies, but New Year’s is for friends. I couldn’t decide between Pat and Jen’s or Aaron and Karen’s this year, so I went to both.

Pat and Jen had me over for din­ner first. I met Sophia for the first time, which was a good way to put a face to the per­son who Jen talks about all the time. It was a great change to be hang­ing out with peo­ple who didn’t mind play­ing con­sole and hand-held games at a New Year’s party. Usually I’m the geek who wants to play games, and most peo­ple are uninterested.

Thumbnail: Poker game
Thumbnail: Rob
Thumbnail: Mel
Thumbnail: Alcohol
Thumbnail: Sarah and Cris
Thumbnail: Brother Mike
Thumbnail: Karen
Thumbnail: Cristina
Thumbnail: Rob humps Mel

I headed to Aaron and Karen’s after a cou­ple hours. They’re only a block away from each other, so it was an easy walk. It was the usual Trivial Pursuit (guys won), poker, and gen­eral row­di­ness. A few peo­ple crashed so they could drink, and the party went into the next day with some early morn­ing Wii.

Mel gave me an invi­ta­tion card to their wed­ding in March, and Rob extended the annual Super Bowl party invi­ta­tion. It was a nice ges­ture, because I don’t know Rob and Mel as much as I’d like. I think I’m given that respect by asso­ci­a­tion with Aaron. I hope Rob knows that it goes both ways; a brother of Aaron’s is a brother of mine.

When I’m host­ing a party, I can see Pat study­ing the other guests. It’s in his nature to be aware of his sur­round­ings, and he always tells me that there are inter­est­ing char­ac­ters. This time it was my turn to observe, and there were plenty of char­ac­ters at both places.

I sug­gested that both cou­ples com­bine par­ties for next year, but I’m not sure if the peo­ple would mix.

Thumbnail: Cristina swings
Thumbnail: Pat swings
Thumbnail: Sarah swings
Thumbnail: Aaron bowls
Thumbnail: Cristina and Aaron

I also had a chance to try the Wii. Admittedly, the inno­va­tion impressed me. Gameplay can be fun for casual and sea­soned gamers alike.

And peo­ple have the fun­ni­est faces when they’re swing­ing that con­troller around.