equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
01 May 06

Summer Housemate

Thumbnail: Sleepy Bronwen

This is what I wake up to every day.

What I enclose in arm and leg at night, or press my back against when I roll over.

They say it takes weeks to get used to sleep­ing with some­one (or with­out some­one, when the rela­tion­ship is over), but for me, the tran­si­tion is seam­less. All it took was an extra pil­low, and some space accom­mo­da­tion for two stuffed ani­mals, and a braided shred of old blankie.

Every day, I wake up between two and five in the morn­ing. It’s an afflic­tion I’ve had for years, some­thing that wouldn’t be so bad if I could fall asleep again, but my mind always races, keep­ing me up for another hour or two. When she’s next to me though, my thoughts remains calm.

This body keeps me warm, rested, and pacified.

So what will I do when she’s gone?

26 Apr 06

My Average Life

You ever read any Nietzsche?

Nietzsche says there are two kinds of peo­ple in the world. People who are des­tined for great­ness, like Walt Disney, and Hitler. And then there’s the rest of us. He called us “The bun­gled and the botched”.

We get teased. We some­times get close to great­ness, but we never get there.

We’re the expend­able masses.

—Jack Lucas, The Fisher King

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When I lis­ten to this song, a post-hardcore blend of catchy, melodic gui­tar lines and tech­ni­cal scream­ing, a feel­ing washes over me. I rec­og­nize it immediately.

Envy.

It’s the other, other, Jeff’s band, and he fits the eccen­tric rock­star per­sona to a tee. His clothes are all tight-fitting, thrift-store finds and Sally Ann recy­clables. Even his frames are a mod­ern­ized ver­sion of the old-school bad-boy sun­glasses. An unas­sum­ing type until you talk to him about his music, and then he’s a gal­va­nized, ani­mated per­son. He spends his money on stu­dio hours, and his free-time lay­ing down tracks, mix­ing songs, jam ses­sions. I don’t even know the name of his band.

I do know that this song is a huge improve­ment over the mate­r­ial he gave me a month ago. The struc­ture is less exper­i­men­tal, the sound is more pol­ished. The result of a new drum­mer, and redone vocals. Jeff’s goal is to get his name out there, win a record­ing con­tract, and spend the rest of his life mak­ing music. I can already tell that he’ll catch the atten­tion of the right per­son at the right time.

The envy burns a hole in my chest.

Knowing that this young man, in his mid-20s, is going some­where, is what fuels it. He has the ambi­tion, the abil­ity, the mind­set to achieve great­ness, while I remain one of the many.

If I had the time, the money, the ambi­tion, I’d do the same. I’d be a direc­tor. A pho­tog­ra­pher. Things I think I’d be great at. Instead, I sim­ply use video and pho­tog­ra­phy to doc­u­ment my life, as an extra form of expres­sion over the writ­ten word. As a result, my desire to improve is solely dri­ven by my per­fec­tion­ist atti­tude, not a desire to be great or to make money. I under­stand that to become one of the few is an invest­ment of one’s entire life, and the risks of doing so are severe. Too severe.

It’s my choice to live like this: risk-free and secure. It’s a part of my per­son­al­ity. I invest in gov­ern­ment bonds over stock. I’m a 9-to-5 guy, who doesn’t like going out on week­days, whose pri­mary goal is to pay off the mort­gage before I retire. My great­ness is a steady pay­cheque, a cat who jumps on my lap, and eight full hours of sleep. I enjoy the sim­ple things, and sat­is­fac­tion with what I have.

And I real­ize that not know­ing the name of Jeff’s band is a sub­con­scious choice I make. That way, there’s less chance I’ll learn of his suc­cess when I’m read­ing the paper.

Less chance I’ll be reminded of how aver­age my life is.

22 Apr 06

No More Tea

Thumbnail: Hong Kong milk tea with menu

Walking in, the first thing to notice is the aro­matic smell of freshly brewed tea that per­me­ates the air.

They wait on us using Cantonese with var­i­ous accents, an assort­ment of dialects from minor provinces. They rudely throw the dishes on the table, and tell me that I can’t take pic­tures of the menu. My par­ents com­plain to me about the ser­vice, about their main­land man­ners, and say that they’ll never come here again.

I slowly sip my tea, and leave before it’s half fin­ished. Even on a full stom­ach, I can feel myself get­ting uneasy.

The caf­feine is mak­ing me anx­ious, a sub­tle reminder of the panic attack I suf­fered last year.

It’s been six months since I’ve had a glass of authen­tic Hong Kong style milk tea. No more, I’ve decided.

Saturday morn­ings won’t be the same.

20 Apr 06

Spring Thaw

I can feel myself get­ting run-down, a vic­tim of my own active­ness. There’s barely enough time to do any­thing dur­ing the day now, and week­ends leave me with lit­tle more than time to cook. Last week I went home with Bronwen to meet the par­ents, and hav­ing caught another red-eye, was jet-lagged the whole time.

Pita comes over to cel­e­brate his new career this week­end, with John vis­it­ing at the end of his exams the next. The week­end after is help­ing Pat move into his new place, then Aaron, then a break, then Nick’s wed­ding, which brings me to the end of May.

I was plan­ning on hav­ing a bar­be­cue at my house, but real­ized that I have nei­ther the time nor the money. Bronny’s also mov­ing in for the sum­mer next week, which will def­i­nitely cut down on travel time, but increase my photo explo­ration pro­por­tion­ately as we do things around town.

07 Apr 06

Birthday Rounds '06

Thumbnail: Lacey and Rick 
Thumbnail: Aaron 
Thumbnail: Two strangers 
Thumbnail: Trivial Pursuit pieces 
Thumbnail: Buddies 
Thumbnail: 6th floor apartment view 
Thumbnail: Pat playing poker 
Thumbnail: Phil and Nick 
Thumbnail: Me volunteering for something 
Thumbnail: Karen 
Thumbnail: Girls play Trivial Pursuit 
Thumbnail: Rick 

To cover three birth­days (Pat’s, Aaron’s, and Karen’s respec­tively), we all met up at McEwen along the river. The mer­ri­ment con­sisted of some light drink­ing, friendly poker play­ing, and rather seri­ous photo taking.

They say that the ruder you are, the bet­ter a pho­tog­ra­pher it makes you. Since being rude goes against the very basis of my per­son­al­ity, get­ting can­dids of peo­ple with a large cam­era and flash becomes quite a men­tal chal­lenge. Some peo­ple really don’t like to have their pic­ture taken, and they sig­nal this by blink­ing rapidly with bewil­der­ment, com­bined with the fur­row­ing of their brows in annoy­ance. This reminds me that I pri­mar­ily bought a cam­era to have mem­o­ries of my friends, who are all com­fort­able with my paparazzo ten­den­cies. It cer­tainly makes me appre­ci­ate the strangers or acquain­tances who don’t mind.

It was also a hap­pen­stance meet­ing of the four bosses, although def­i­nitely not the pri­vate affair that it usu­ally is.

05 Apr 06

Greyhound Home

Thumbnail: Bus seats
Thumbnail: Sleepy Passenger
Thumbnail: Half way scenery

I’m on my way home. It’s early morn­ing, and the air is clean and clear. Everyone on the bus is asleep, and even­tu­ally I suc­cumb to the drowsiness.

Half-way through is the Log Cabin, a Greyhound autho­rized stop that’s a com­bi­na­tion con­ve­nience store and restau­rant. Out of the dozens of times I’ve trav­eled this route, I never get off the bus. It’s some pho­bia I have of los­ing my seat, or los­ing my place, or for­get­ting to get back on, but this day I grab my cam­era and step off, giv­ing up to my wanderlust.

This shaggy, old build­ing, located on the side of a two-lane asphalt road stretch­ing end­lessly, is sur­rounded by wilt­ing trees and grass. There’s noth­ing else around but an aban­doned red struc­ture 50 metres away. I walk behind. To my sur­prise is a frozen river run­ning par­al­lel to the high­way, a stark win­ter scene I rarely get to see. The ele­va­tion and veg­e­ta­tion keeps this hid­den from my view on the bus.

And once again, I’ve taken a chance, and this is my reward.

03 Apr 06

Cold And Sterile

Thumbnail: Circular ceiling
Thumbnail: Seeing around corners
Thumbnail: Geometric roof
Thumbnail: Campus stairs
Thumbnail: Map reader

The cam­pus life when you’re just a num­ber, when you choose not to party with all the brain­less idiots, when uni­ver­sity is just another awk­ward tran­si­tion out of high school.

I remem­ber this.

30 Mar 06

A Quiet St. Patty's Among Others

Thumbnail: Old film Canon
Thumbnail: Lindsay's place
Thumbnail: Darren
Thumbnail: Lindsay
Thumbnail: Incense
Thumbnail: Digsby the cat
Thumbnail: Candelabra
Thumbnail: Scrabble game
Thumbnail: The look

Darren and I had orig­i­nally planned on dri­ving up together, but the tim­ing didn’t work out, so we arrived when we could and played it by ear. Bronny was the point of my visit, while Darren was there to see Lindsay. After a dri­ving from pub to pub, each one full of St. Patty’s day partiers adorned with green horns and hold­ing green pints, the four of us ended up at a small restau­rant, and even­tu­ally at Lindsay’s house.

It was Bronny who made the most inter­est­ing com­ment to me after­wards. “Darren needs to be with someone…deep”, she said, “Someone intel­lec­tual”. I still won­der what made her think so. What did we talk about? As far as I could remem­ber, there was no par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion, just a bunch of us hang­ing out.

But she was right.

26 Mar 06

A Girl's Room

Thumbnail: Green Ikea hanger
Thumbnail: Belts and bracelets
Thumbnail: Dream journal
Thumbnail: Sextrology book
Thumbnail: Valentine's card
Thumbnail: Sweetums

Some of this movie comes from, you know, from me, sure. But it’s not, you know, I’m never going to be able to make a movie that doesn’t, you know. Even if I’m mak­ing a movie about the turn of the cen­tury, I think you’re gonna, it’s always going to be per­sonal. It’s just in the detailed stuff; the horses in Sheryl Lynn’s bed­room, with the rib­bons on the wall, and you got sis­ters or you got a girl­friend who loves to ride horses and all this stuff. And those lit­tle details that you remem­ber, I’ve been lov­ing to put those in a movie.

I think, you know what, when I grew up in the val­ley, I lived there, I was really embar­rassed for the longest time that that’s where I lived and that’s where I grew up, cause I knew I wanted to make movies. And I would look back to my favourite direc­tors, and think, okay, there’s Howard Hawks, and boy, he served in the war. And there’s Ernst Lubich who escaped Germany, you know, and all these won­der­ful sort of things going on in our lives that you could, you’re sup­posed to bring to a movie, you know. But, I don’t have shit to bring, I was like, I’m from the fuck­ing val­ley, you know. And, I was really embar­rassed about that for a long time, I guess, until one day I just woke up and said, “Well, I’m from the val­ley, and I remem­ber things like lit­tle plas­tic horses and the blue rib­bon on the wall with the fuck­ing girl­friend, and you know, I guess that’s what I have to make movies about.”

—Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights director’s commentary

A girl and her things.

Memories of burn­ing can­dles, sham­poo scents. The colours and the smells give me a total over­whelm­ing sense of poignant nostalgia.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a real girls room, and being there, in the mid­dle of all the dainty things and the dif­fer­ent fab­rics, I didn’t know what was more embar­rass­ing: the fact that I felt like I was 17 again, or the real­iza­tion of how much I’ve missed it.

And this is all I can write about.

23 Mar 06

Greyhound To Her

Thumbnail: Greyhound decal
Thumbnail: Toronto city
Thumbnail: Bronwen on bed

They call it the red-eye for a rea­son, and although I’m expect­ing to sleep through most of the ride, I’m not pre­pared to wake up every half hour. The bus was sup­posed to be half-full, being 12:30 on a Friday morn­ing, but when I arrive at the sta­tion, the line stretches across the hall­way, dash­ing my hopes of a win­dow seat. The guy beside me watches movies on his lap­top, while the old man across the aisle works on an assort­ment of papers with the only light in the bus on. He sits alone, away from the win­dow, a big fuck you to any­one who may want a seat. It’s his light that keeps me up.

The grey­hound is sup­posed to stand for speed, named after the fastest breed of dog used in dog rac­ing, but for me it stands for free­dom. The cost is a stranger sit­ting next to you, a cou­ple hours of leg cramps, and a lit­tle over a hun­dred dollars.

The lay­over is an hour and a half. As I sit in the ter­mi­nal, I think of how close my par­ents are. I haven’t seen them since Christmas, and even though they’re an 45 minute drive away, I won’t be see­ing them this time around.

This bus brings me to her.

19 Mar 06

New Lens Path

Thumbnail: Current lenses

Thumbnail: 70mm long

Thumbnail: 16mm wide

So I’ve devi­ated from my pre­vi­ous plan to wait until the new Canon 17–55mm f/2.8 IS came out before mak­ing any lens pur­chases. Aside from the fact that I would have had to wait until the sum­mer for reviews that may be less than favourable any­way, the main rea­son is that my two dream lenses, the Canon EF 24–70mm f/2.8 L and the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8 L were being sold refur­bished and used respec­tively. I make it a habit to check one par­tic­u­lar pop­u­lar online retailer every morn­ing in case of any such deals, since they update their stock some time around five in the morn­ing and most lenses are gone by nine, L glass espe­cially. Although I had no plan on buy­ing either lens (I had yet to see either up for sale until this month), I couldn’t pass up the oppor­tu­nity. It saved me close to $2000 in total.

Now I have my ideal focal range cov­ered with a lens that goes as wide as 16mm for my envi­ron­men­tal and land­scape shots, and another one that goes as long as 70mm for por­traits. Both have ring ultra­sonic motor focus­ing sys­tems, which makes aut­o­fo­cus­ing beau­ti­fully slick, smooth, and quiet, with sup­port for full-time man­ual focus­ing as well. They also go as wide f/2.8, which is per­fect since I do a lot of low-light, indoor shoot­ing, and the extra aper­ture blades pro­vide but­tery smooth back­ground blur.

The trade-off is that both lenses are heavy, one heav­ier than the cam­era body itself. This comes from the fact that the con­struc­tion is rock-solid and weather-sealed, being made from metal and ground glass. There are sto­ries of peo­ple drop­ping their L lenses onto asphalt or rocks and sur­viv­ing with only cos­metic scratches.

After all the money I just spent (more than twice as much than on the cam­era itself), not includ­ing the extra hand-strap/bag/filters that went along with it, I’m try­ing not to think of my next pur­chase. In the back of my mind I know that I want a macro lens or a full frame body, but I think I’ll be sat­is­fied for the next lit­tle while.

15 Mar 06

Ellipsis

Broken, lookin’ up I see the enemy.
And I have swal­lowed the poi­son you feed me.
But I sur­vived on the poi­son you feed me.
Guilt fed. Hatred fed. Weakness fed.
It makes me feel ugly.
I’m on my knees, I’m burn­ing.
My piss and moans are human.
I set my head on fire. I’m dead inside.
Shit adds up. Shit adds up. Shit adds up.
Shit adds up at the bottom.

—Tool, Bottom

Remember those days in high school, when you couldn’t sleep because of upcom­ing finals, or the girl you liked told you she didn’t like you back?

Sometimes I miss those days.

Every time I want to say some­thing, com­plain, vent, I think of oth­ers. I never lost both my legs. I don’t have any crip­pling social dis­abil­i­ties. My par­ents never left me naked on the asphalt. Hell, Aaron went through shit so bad two years ago that I can’t even talk about it, and he’s one of the last peo­ple to deserve it. I really don’t have any­thing to com­plain about.

Then I ques­tion the tim­ing. And every time there’s another load added, I think, “I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS SHIT RIGHT NOW”. I have dead­lines to meet, sleep to catch up on, inse­cu­ri­ties to allay. Is this some divine way of telling me that I’ve been hav­ing it too good lately? A way of bal­anc­ing out how well things have been going? No, the tim­ing is good, my friends remind me. This isn’t in the mid­dle of a divorce, or the death of a fam­ily mem­ber, or mas­sive debt. This is prob­a­bly one of the most con­ve­nient times for all of this to hap­pen. I really don’t have any­thing to com­plain about.

So I have to shoul­der all of it now. Not to put it all aside, but to deal with it head on when I have to con­cen­trate, to stop freak­ing out when I’m lying in bed, to stop being absolutely ter­ri­fied when I’m in an uncom­fort­able sit­u­a­tion. Another roller­coaster ride, another cru­cible, another bridge to cross.

Thank god I’m stronger now. Thank god I have my friends. Thank god I have a girl­friend I can com­mu­ni­cate with. If I didn’t have John, Trolley, Aaron, Pat, Darren, Bronny to call, I’d be going FUCKING NUTS. I’D FLIP THE FUCK OUT. Yesterday, I spoke to every sin­gle one of them through the course of the day.

Shit adds up.

11 Mar 06

Only 19

And she’s all­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­lll mine.

Thumbnail: Bronwen model

After four months, I finally have the per­fect pic­ture for my frame. Ordered a 12x18 print that should be in next week.

10 Mar 06

Table Tennis Growth

When I read the order of play to Norm, he laughed. The first group­ing was against Hit-And-Miss, and being such an active mem­ber in the com­mu­nity, Norm knew them well. Against this team of three middle-aged, white met­ro­sex­u­als and their buddy Chinese cap­tain, we fared what can only be described as holo­caus­tic. They wore tight-fitting shirts, styl­ish tear­away pants, and had the strength, and speed to match.

Except for the Chinese guy. He had a bit of a pot belly, a bit of a scruff, and a very feared, well-balanced, pen-holders grip. And he spoke great English.

It was a plea­sure to lose to such nice guys.

I asked them about the next team we were up against, and they told us that they trashed the two lit­tle guys at the last league meet. Little guys? Kids. But I can already tell that both have improved since last month, the capain told me.

No chal­lenge for four fit men in their thir­ties plus one Chinese guy (40 give or take 10 years). A lit­tle more dif­fi­cult for me and my team­mates, Norm, a calmly pas­sion­ate Chinese guy in his 50’s, and Andrzej, a Polish man who picked up table ten­nis this year after a 40 year break, both of whom are bet­ter than I am.

I never would have believed that an 11-year-old and his seven-year-old brother could be so intim­i­dat­ing, a very FRENCH Olivier and Laurent. As cap­tain, I had the deci­sion to make as to who was play­ing first.

In table ten­nis, as with chess, the strongest player on the team is usu­ally signed to the first match so that the matches may end before the weaker play­ers have to play. Captain 1 signs the play sheet for the order of play for his team, and hands the sheet folded in half to Captain 2 so he can’t see, and use such infor­ma­tion to his advan­tage by pair­ing up oppo­nent styles against their weak­nesses. Out of five matches, there are two sin­gles at the start, a dou­bles in the mid­dle, and two more sin­gles at the end between the first sin­gles oppo­nents reversed, for best out of five matches.

Confused yet?

Before I signed the play sheet, Norm let me in on a lit­tle secret; when Olivier was 10 last year, Norm beat him in the league. Gambling that this would still hold true, and our oppo­nents would fol­low form, I put Norm first, me sec­ond, and Andrew with Norm as dou­bles. That way Norm had the best chance at beat­ing the older brother, I would have a chance at beat­ing the younger brother, they would win dou­bles, and that would be it.

Unfortunately, they decided to play the younger brother, Laurent, first. He could only see about a foot over the table, and I could tell his move­ments were strained from the height dis­ad­van­tage. He spoke no English, except for the phrase “Backhand?” dur­ing warm-ups, and “One mo!” when he was at 10 points. Sometimes he would mimic the table ten­nis pros with lit­tle grunts of sat­is­fac­tion when he got a point. Eventually, he lost to Norm gra­ciously (for a seven-year-old).

Then I was up against the Olivier, the older brother. Believing that a pair of descended tes­ti­cles to be my only advan­tage, I played with a lump in my throat, and he returned like a machine, sur­pris­ing me at every point. I could never keep him off bal­ance, or run him around the table. He just kept land­ing the ball on my side.

I lost. Then we lost at dou­bles, a tremen­dous upset. My mind was out, and I was forced to play the younger brother next. I lost again, although I won one set after Norm told me to serve to the far side of his stance (they had a time-out and eas­ily adjusted for the next set). By that time, we lost three out of five matches, and they were deter­mined to be the win­ning team, but Olivier asked to play Norm for the final match any­way. When Oliver won, he walked over and shook Norm’s hand, a look of proud accom­plish­ment on his face.

And this is what Norm loves the most. To see those younger play­ers grow up and improve and become national team players.

07 Mar 06

Card By Louise

Thumbnail: Gift card from Louise