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

This Is How They Love Me

Thumbnail: Shirt and tie

With presents that come folded to per­fec­tion, boxed in white wrap­ping paper, and spe­cial wash­ing instruc­tions. This is the safest gift for some­one my age, unlike the guess­ing game that music, toys, or games has become.

This spe­cially processed, pure cot­ton fab­ric is designed for easy care and a crisp, con­fi­dent look that lasts. The soft­ness, absorbency and breatha­bil­ity of cot­ton, enhanced with inno­v­a­tive care fea­tures, ensure opti­mum wear­a­bil­ity. Engineered for no-fuss, express han­dling. Requires almost no iron­ing. Today’s quin­tes­sen­tial busi­ness shirt: time-saving, energy-saving, travel friendly.

We rec­om­mend using a mild deter­gent. Spin briefly, then hang to dry. Gently pull col­lar, cuffs and seams into shape. Touch up with a medium iron.

Not that I’m com­plain­ing. If it’s one thing my par­ents have been able to give me, it’s finan­cial free­dom. Never hav­ing to worry about how I’m going to pay for rent, or board, or edu­ca­tion. It’s not easy for Chinese par­ents to show affec­tion, an influ­ence of the cul­ture they grew up in, so they buy me things instead.

I’m the fam­ily pet.

The dog they can love and take care of and want around, but not have to actu­ally talk to or spend time with.

These are my treats.

12 May 06

Thanks, And No Thanks

I’ve offi­cially switched from Movable Type to WordPress, the lat­ter of which I’ve decided is a far supe­rior plat­form. This involved man­u­ally copy­ing con­tent from the old data­base, includ­ing every entry, com­ment, time­stamp, and ip address logged. Even though it took me nearly a month, I was able to go through my old entries and make the thumb­nails, links, quotes, and for­mat­ting consistent.

Thanks to the expe­ri­ences of every day life, for the peo­ple I hate, the peo­ple I love, the ones I respect, and the ones who inspire me to do more. It’s these that make sure I never run out of things to say.

Thanks to Trolley, who reminds me with his com­ments that I always have at least one reader.

Thanks to Aaron and Pat, for show­ing me that they care when they tell me that they keep up-to-date with my life through this.

Thanks to Bronwen, with whom I’m the per­son I’ve always wanted to be.

Thanks to Number18, for giv­ing me hope with her daily life, and her über cool input jacks.

Thanks to Tina and Aurora, for their enig­matic entries that inspire me to write better.

Thanks to Winston and Barb, for let­ting me know that I, in turn, could inspire some­one to start writ­ing for themselves.

Thanks to Sikander for being the guy who shares music with me, even though we’ve never met in real life.

Thanks to Sophia, for intro­duc­ing me to music like CocoRosie, and quot­ing my own old archived entries back to me.

Thanks to Dru, a design artist I’ve admired for years, for unof­fi­cially steal­ing from me, an unspo­ken com­pli­ment I hold dear to my heart.

No thanks to the stalk­ers, who say they’ll never visit, yet con­tinue to read on a daily basis. The ones who hide behind ser­vices like Anonymouse, naively believ­ing that all their http requests are masked. The self pro­claimed hyp­ocrites, who have the FUCKING AUDACITY to tell me about the vices of blog­ging, yet blog them­selves. The exact rea­son why I never answer my phone anymore.

No thanks to the sequa­cious com­men­tors who say stuff but don’t say any­thing, or those who com­ment for the sake of per­sonal advertisement.

No thanks to the hotlink­ers, who con­tinue to steal my images, and in turn, my band­width and money.

When I was con­vert­ing my data­base and going through the old entries, I could recall each and every emo­tion that drove them. My writ­ing has become less ram­bling, less depress­ing, less cryp­tic since I started back in 2002. As time goes on and the entries become more recent, there seems to be a sub­tle, bur­geon­ing hope, a reflec­tion of the expe­ri­ences I’ve gone through and a chang­ing worldview.

And from the begin­ning of this blog to the entries I write now, the most impor­tant thing is that I always have more peo­ple to thank.

08 May 06

Moving And Growing

Thumbnail: Aaron and Karen at their threshold
Thumbnail: Bronwen's belt design
Thumbnail: Pat's bird
Thumbnail: Bronwen smiles
Thumbnail: Lacey licks herself
Thumbnail: Glass shower stall
Thumbnail: Hot chili oil
Thumbnail: Karen's corner
Thumbnail: Chaos in the shelf
Thumbnail: Staples
Thumbnail: Toy guns

Moving is often a task I avoid at all costs. The mess of pack­ing, book­ing ele­va­tors, orga­niz­ing rides, and phys­i­cally shift­ing dirty boxes around becomes a lot more com­pli­cated than I care for. Being approached to help move by a close friend is a dif­fer­ent story, how­ever, as it becomes one of the few times that I can prove how much I’m will­ing to do for them.

It thus becomes a rather gal­va­niz­ing scene to arrive with a party of friends at a doorstep, ready to help bring some­one else into another phase in their life. This week­end was no excep­tion, when help­ing Pat and Jen set­tle into their new place, a newly built four bed­room house out in the west end. Through most of last week, Pat and Jen had already moved the small items them­selves, so the only things that were left were the bulky fur­ni­ture. There were only eight of us, but we were fin­ished before we knew it.

Pat and Jen paid us in beer, pizza, and wings, but given the fact that they had already done most of the work, we hardly deserved it. The rest of the day was spent play­ing Mario Power Tennis, Donky Konga, and table tennis.

Helping them mov­ing was a reminder of how we’re all grow­ing up. Getting mar­ried, get­ting old.

I once asked Darren, the only other male cousin with whom I share a Generation name, whether he thought we’d end up like our fathers, two broth­ers who also share their own. Our fathers who are moody, wasted old men who work too hard, and don’t get enough sleep. Before we real­ized it though, we had already turned into them, sur­viv­ing the days on mostly rest­less sleep.

Look at us now. Pat and Jen are engaged, start­ing their fam­ily here. Aaron and Karen are one block away.

And the cou­ples take home left­overs the way the par­ents do at all the Christmas par­ties dur­ing the holidays.

05 May 06

Fifteen Year Friendship

Being trans­ferred to Bayview Glen in grade five was my first pri­vate school expe­ri­ence. The change from Catholic school was sub­tle; aside from the bet­ter funded facil­i­ties and pas­sion­ate teach­ers, the only dis­cern­able dif­fer­ence was the man­di­tory uni­form. It was there that I met John in my classes, but back then he was the bully who threw me against a wall at first recess. My par­ents inter­vened in the form of an angry phonecall to the teacher, and I learned never to tell them about my prob­lems at school again, out of fear that I would be emas­cu­late me.

John main­tained a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the kings of the play­ground. At that age, he was a pre­co­cious pre-teen, match­ing machismo with Daniel Cappon for the atten­tion of Pamela Arstikitis, the acer­bic, metal-mouthed, blonde beauty. I remained bliss­fully young and igno­rant, and we never really got along.

In grade seven, he changed schools to Upper Canada College, as his grand­fa­ther had done over fifty years ago, while I went through both the test and inter­view, and didn’t make the cut. Our par­ents knew of the school’s pres­ti­gious rep­u­ta­tion and yearned des­per­ately for their respec­tive sons to be alum­nus. Two years later I made a suc­cess­ful sec­ond attempt, and moved there too.

I was by myself, in a school full of jocks, aca­d­e­mics, and artis­tic eso­ter­ics. John’s rep­u­ta­tion didn’t fol­low him to this insti­tu­tion, where he was the odd, alien­ated, aloof, young man, while I remained the small, dys­func­tional boy who never fit in any­where. We were seper­ate lon­ers, and our indi­vid­u­al­ity is what brought us together. We never had any classes together, so lunches were spent phi­los­o­phiz­ing on the bleach­ers when the weather per­mit­ted, or mis­be­hav­ing in Mr. Lorne’s class­room, throw­ing text­books at each other in the win­ter. Eventually we went our seper­ate ways in uni­ver­sity, and John was the only per­son I kept in touch with.


Thumbnail: School choir in grade 8

In the sum­mer between grade seven and eight, as part of the children’s choir of Bayview Glen, we audi­tioned for a part in the Canadian pre­mier of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This con­sisted of a demo tape, a semi-final com­pe­ti­tion between 25 schools, and finals of 10, with only four school choirs being selected. The judges told us to hold our cel­e­bra­tion until all the final­ists were announced, but by the time we were called, we couldn’t hold it in, and let out with a thun­der­ous roar. It was the only time in my life that I was so happy I cried.

The pic­ture of our choir, roughly 25 stu­dents between the ages of 10 and 14, ended up in the per­for­mance book­lets that were handed out to the audi­ence as they walked from the lobby to their seats in the Elgin Theatre. We were far from friends back then, but we stood next to each other. I still don’t under­stand why.


Thumbnail: Me and John on the couch 15 years later

Twelve years later.

John’s hair­cut hasn’t devi­ated from a hastily brushed mop. Mine, on the other hand, has gone through var­i­ous stages of shagg­y­ness, poofi­ness, and occa­sional what-was-I-thinking. It’s just like the two of us. John did all his grow­ing up before he was 12, and at his core he’s essen­tially the same per­son now as he was back then, while I con­tinue the never-ending cycle of learn­ing and growing.

And this will prob­a­bly be true in another 15 years.

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.